The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
But although one may bring the absolute skeptic to agree that a difference between good and evil can indeed exist, as he is forced to agree that one does exist between that which is and that which is not, just as I have demonstrated in my preceding Examination; would he not be right in saying, that to know in general, that good and evil can differ and consequently exist separately, does not prevent confounding them in particular; and that he can doubt that man may be able to make the distinction, until one may have proved to him that not alone their knowledge, but that some sort of knowledge is possible? Assuredly, this is pushing doubt very far. One could dispense with replying to this, since the skeptic already interrogated concerning the difference existing between what is and what is not has been forced to admit it and to acquire thus some sort of knowledge of being; but let us forget this, in order to examine why the savants of Germany have inadequately removed a difficulty which they have imposed upon themselves.
It is Kant, one of the ablest minds that Europe has produced since the extinction of learning, who, resolved to terminate with a single blow the struggle springing up unceasingly between dogmatism and skepticism, has been the first to form the bold project of creating a science which should determine, a priori, the possibility, the principles, and the limits of all knowledge. a This science, which he named Critical Philosophy, or method of judgment, b he has developed in several works of considerable length and very difficult of comprehension. I do not intend here to
make an explanation of this science; for this labour, out of place in these Examinations, would carry me too far. My intention is only to show the point wherein it has given way, and how it has furnished new weapons for the skeptics, in not holding well to the promise that it had made of determining the principle of knowledge. Therefore, I will suppose the doctrine of Kant understood or partially so. Several works, circulated somewhat extensively in France, have unravelled it sufficiently to the savants. a I will only say what the authors of these works have been unable to say, and this will be the general result of the impression that the study of this doctrine has made upon me: it is that Kant, who pretends to found all his doctrine upon principles, a priori, abstraction being made of all the underlying notions of experience, and who, rising into an ideal sphere there to consider reason in an absolute way, independent of its effects so as to deduce from it a theory transcendental and purely intelligible, concerning the principle of knowledge, has done precisely the opposite from what he wished to do; for not finding what he sought, he has found what he has not sought, that is to say, the essence of matter. Let the disciples of this philosophy give attention to what I say. I have known several systems of philosophy and I have put considerable force into penetrating them; but I can affirm that there exists not a single one upon the face of the earth, wherein the primitive matter of which the Universe is composed may be characterized by traits as striking as in that of Kant. I believe it impossible either to understand it better or to depict it better. He uses neither figures, nor symbols; he tells what he sees with a candour which would
have been appalling to Pythagoras and Plato; for what the Koenigsberg professor advances concerning both the existence and the non-existence of this matter, a and of its intuitive reality, and of its phenomenal illusion, and of its essential forms, time and space, and of the labour that the mind exercises upon this equivocal being, which, always being engendered, never, however, exists; all this, taught in the mysteries, was only clearly revealed to the initiate. Listen a moment to what has transpired in India: it is the fundamental axiom of the Vedantic school, the illustrious disciples of Vyasa and of Sankarâchârya, an axiom in accordance with the dogmas of the sacred books.
Matter exists [say these philosophers], but not of an existence such as is imagined by the vulgar; it exists but it has no essence independent of intellectual perceptions; for existence and perceptibility are, in this case, convertible terms. The sage knows that appearances and their exterior sensations are purely illusory and that they would vanish into nothingness, if the Divine energy which alone sustains them was for an instant suspended. b
I beg the disciples of Kant to give attention to this passage, and to remember what Plato has said of the same, that, sometimes matter exists and sometimes it does not exist c; as Justin the martyr, and Cyril of Alexandria have reproached him for it; and as Plutarch and Chalcidius have strongly remarked it, d in seeking to excuse this apparent contradiction.
Let us endeavour now to call attention to the point where Kant is led astray. This point, in the philosophical course that this savant meant to pursue, seemed at first of very slight importance; but the deviation that it causes,
although small and almost imperceptible at the first instant, determines none the less a divergent line, which, turning aside more and more from the right line proportionably as it is prolonged, is found to strike at an enormous distance from the mark where Kant hoped it would arrive. This deviating pointwho would have believed itis found in the misinterpretation and the misapplication of a word All the attention of the reader is required here. What I am about to say, in demonstrating the error of the German philosopher, will serve to supplement all that I have said pertaining to the doctrine of Pythagoras.
Kant, whether through imitation of the ancient philosophers or through the effect of his own learning which had made him desirous of knowing the truth, has considered man under three principal modifications which he calls faculties. In my twelfth Examination I have said that such was the doctrine of Pythagoras. Plato, who followed in everything the metaphysics of this great genius, distinguished in Man as in the Universe, the body, soul, and spirit; and placed, in each of the modifications of the particular or universal unity which constituted them, the analogous faculties which, becoming developed in their turn, gave birth to three new modifications whose productive unity they became a; so that each ternary is represented in its development, under the image of the triple Ternary, and formed by its union with the Unity, first the Quaternary and afterwards the Decade. b Now the German philosopher,
without explaining the principle which led him to consider man under three principal faculties, states them; without saying to what particular modification he attributes them, that is, without foreseeing if these faculties are physical, animistic or intellectual; if they belong to the body, to the soul, or to the mind: a first mistake which leads him to a second of which I am about to speak.
In order to express these three faculties, Kant makes use of three words taken from his own tongue and concerning the meaning of which it is well to fix our attention. He has named the first of these faculties Empfindlichkeit, the second, Verstand, and the third, Vernunft. These three words are excellent; it is only a question of clearly understanding and explaining them.
The word Empfindlichkeit expresses that sort of faculty which consists in collecting from without, feeling from within, and finding good or bad. a It has been very well rendered in French by the word sensibilité.
The word Verstand designates that sort of faculty which consists in reaching afar, being carried from a central point to all other points of the circumference to seize them. b It has been quite well rendered in French by the word entendement.
The word Vernunft is applied to that sort of faculty, which consists in choosing at a distance, in wishing, in selecting, in electing that which is good. a It is expressed by the word raison; but this expresses it very poorly, whatever may be the real meaning given it by Kant.
This philosopher ought to have realized more fully the origin of this word and he should have made a more just application; then his system would have taken another direction and he would have attained his goal. He would have made us see, and he would have seen himself, the reality, namely, intelligence and not reason.
One can easily see that the faculty which Kant designates by the word Empfindlichkeit, sense perception, belongs to the physical part of man; and that which he expresses by the word Verstand, the understanding, resides in his animistic part; but one cannot see at all that what he names Vernunft, and which he continually confounds with reason, may be able in any manner to dominate in his intellectual part. For this, it would be necessary that he should consider it under the relation of the intelligence; which he has not done. It is very true that he has wished to place it constantly in the mind, by representing the three faculties of which man is composed as a sort of hierarchy, of which sense perception occupies the base, understanding the centre, and reason the summit; or as one of his translators said, imagining this hierarchy under the emblem of an empire, of which sense perception constitutes the subjects, understanding the
agents or ministers, and reason the sovereign or legislator. a I cannot conceive how Kant, by giving the word Vernunft, the meaning of the Latin word ratio, has been able to say that it is the highest degree of the activity of a mind which has the power of all its liberty, and the consciousness of all its strength b: there is nothing more false. Reason does not exist in liberty, but on the contrary, in necessity. Its movement, which is geometric, is always forced: it is an inference from the point of departure, and nothing more. Let us examine this carefully. The Latin word ratio, whose meaning Kant has visibly followed, has never translated exactly the Greek word logos, in the sense of word; and if the Greek philosophers have substituted sometimes the logos for nous, or the word for the intelligence, by taking the effect for the cause, it is wrong when the Romans have tried to imitate them, by using ratio, in place of mens, or intelligentia. In this they have proved their ignorance and have disclosed the calamitous ravages that skepticism had already made among them. The word ratio springs from the root ra or rat, which in all the tongues where it has been received, has carried the idea of a ray, a straight line drawn from one point to another. c Thus reason, far from being free as Kant has pretended, is what is the most constrained in nature: it is a geometric line, always subject to the point whence it emanates, and forced to strike the point toward which it is directed under penalty of ceasing to be itself; that is to say, of ceasing to be straight. Now, reason not being free in its course, is neither good nor bad in itself; it is always analogous to the principle of which it is the
inference. Its nature is to go straight; its perfection is nothing else. One goes straight in every way, in every direction, high, low, to right, to left; one reasons correctly in truth as in error, in vice as in virtue: all depends upon the principle from which one sets out, and upon the manner in which one looks at things. Reason does not give this principle; it is no more master of the end which it goes to attain, than the straight line drawn upon the ground is master of the point toward which it tends. This end and this point are determined beforehand, by the position of the reasoner or by geometry.
1 Reason exists alike in the three great human modifications, although its principal seat is in the soul, according to Plato. a There is a physical reason acting in the instinct, a moral reason acting in the soul, and an intellectual reason acting in the mind. When a hungry dog brings to his master a piece of game without touching it, he obeys an instinctive reason which makes him sacrifice the pleasure of gratifying his appetite, to the pain of receiving the blow of a stick. When a man dies at his post instead of abandoning it, he follows a moral reason which makes him prefer the glory of dying to the shame of living. When a philosopher admits the immortality of the soul, he listens to an intellectual reason which shows him the impossibility of its annihilation. All this, nevertheless, takes place only so far as the dog, the man, and the philosopher admit the real principles; for if they admitted false principles, their reasons, although equally well deduced, would conduct them to opposed results; and the piece of game would be eaten, the post would be abandoned, and the immortality of the soul would be denied.
One ought to feel now the mistake of Kant in all its extent. This philosopher having confounded one of the principal modifications of man, his intelligence, b whose
seat is in the soul, with one of his secondary faculties, his reason, finds himself, in raising this reason outside of its place and giving it a dominance that it has not, ousting entirely the spiritual part; so that meditating constantly in the median part of his being, which he believed to be the superior, and descending, he found matter, understood it perfectly, and missed absolutely the spirit. What he assumed was, it was nothing else than the understanding, a neuter faculty placed between sense perception which is purely passive, and the intelligence which is wholly active. He had the weakness to fix his thought here and thenceforth was lost. Reason which he invoked to teach him to distinguish, in his ideas, the part which is furnished by the spirit, from that which is given by objects, was only able to show him the straight line that it described in his understanding. This line being buried in matter instead of rising in intelligible regions, taught him that everything that did not correspond to a possible experience could not furnish him the subject of a positive knowledge, and thus all the great questions upon the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the origin of the Universe; all that pertains to theosophy, to cosmology; in short, all that which is intelligible, cannot take place in the order of his understanding. a This catastrophe, quite inevitable as it was, was none the less poignant. It was odd to see a man who seemed to promise to establish the possibility and the principles of all knowledge upon an incontestable basis, announce coldly that God, the Universe, and the Soul could not be subjects there, and soon discover, pushed by the force of his reasoning, that even the reality of physical subjects by which the senses are affected is only phenomenal, that one can in no way know what they are, but only what they appear to
be a; and that even ones own Self, considered as a subject, is also for one only a phenomenon, an appearance, concerning the intimate essence of which one can learn nothing. b Kant felt indeed the terrible contradiction into which he had fallen; but instead of retracing courageously his steps, and seeking above reason for the principles of knowledge that it did not possess, he continued his descending movement which he called transcendental, and finally discovered beneath this pure Reason, a certain practical Reason, to which he confided the destinies of the greatest subjects with which man can be occupied: God, nature, and himself. This practical reason, which is no other than common sense, ought, according to him, to bring man to believe what is not given him to know, c and to engage him, through the need of his own felicity, to follow the paths of virtue, and to admit the system of recompense which proceeds from the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Thus, this common sense, already invoked to aid the existence of the physical subjects which Berkeley reduced to nothingness, was called, under another name, to sustain that of the spiritual beings which Kant admitted baffling the action of his pure reason; but this faculty, vainly proposed by Shaftesbury, d by Hutcheson, e by Reid f by Oswald, g by the celebrated Pascal himself, h to give a support to the first truths, and to furnish the principles of our moral and physical knowledge; this faculty, I say, whose seat is in the instinct, has been easily challenged as incompetent to pronounce upon the subjects which are outside the jurisdiction of its judgments;
for it has been keenly felt that it was abandoning these subjects to the prejudices of the vulgar, to their erroneous opinions, to their blind passions; and that practical philosophy or common sense, acting in each man according to the extent of his views, would only embarrass relative truths and would create as many principles as individuals. Furthermore was it not to run counter to common sense itself, to submit intelligence and reason to it? Was it not subverting Nature, and, as it were, causing light to spring upward from below, seeking in the particular, the law which rules the Universal?
The skeptics who saw all these things triumphed, but their triumph only proved their weakness; for Reason, by which they demonstrated nothingness, is the sole weapon of which they can make use. This faculty overthrown in Kant, leaves them powerless, and delivers them defenceless to the irresistible axioms that the intelligence places a priori upon the primordial truths and the fundamental principles of the Universe, even as the sequel of these Examinations will demonstrate.
206:a Kritik der Reinen Vernunft (Critique de la Raison pure), s. 6.
206:b Du mot grec κριτικός, celui qui est apt à juger.
207:a LHistoire comparée des Systèmes de Philos., par De Gérando, et des Mélanges de Phil., par Ancillon de Berlin. These two writers, whatever one may say, have analysed very well the logical part of Kantism, and have penetrated, especially the former, into the rational part, as far as it was possible, for men who write upon the system of a philosopher without adopting the principles and making themselves his followers.
208:a Krit. der Reinen Vernunft; çà et là, en plusieurs endroits.
208:b This is taken from the Vedanta, a metaphysical treatise attributed to Vyasa and commented upon by Sankarâchârya.
208:c Justin, Cohort. ad Gent., p. 6; Cyrill., Contr. Julian.
208:d Plutar., de Procr. anim.; Chalcid., in Tim., n. 293.
209:a Plato, in Tim.; ibid., in Theet.; ibid., de Rep., l. iv. Conférez avec Proclus, Comment. in Tim., l. i.; Marc-Aurel., l. iv., l. ix., et l. x.; et Beausobre, Hist. du Manich., t. ii., p. 175, etc.
209:b The idea of making the quaternary spring from the unity, and the decade from the quaternary is expressed literally in the following lines of Pythagoras, preserved by Proclus:
210:a The nearest root of this word is find, whence is derived finden, to find; its remote root is hand, the seat of touch, whence comes finger, that which feels; its primitive root is אד or יד (âd or id), the hand in Phnician. This last root, becoming nasal at the final and aspirate at the initial, has produced hand; fang, a capture, and find, a discovery. The syllable emp, which precedes the root find, expresses the movement which lifts up from below; lich designates that which disqualifies by identity, and keit, that which substantiates.
210:b The root of this word is stand, a fixed thing, a state; its remote root is stat, that which is permanent. Its primitive root is שדד (shdad), firmness, force, constancy. The initial syllable ver expresses the movement which carries far away, which transports from the place where one is, to that where one is not.
211:a The nearest root of this word, as well as its remote root, has disappeared from the modern German, where one finds only its derivatives. Its primitive root is in the Latin word opt, whence comes opto, I choose; and optime, best. This root is attached to the Phnician עיף (whôph), anything which is raised above another thing. It becomes nasal in the German word and has changed the ph to ft. From it is derived the Saxon, English, Belgian, and Danish word up, which expresses the movement of everything which tends above. Also from it, the German word luft, air, and the English word aloft, that which is elevated. The preposition ver has taken the final n, placing it before unft, as it carries it constantly in its analogue fern, that which is distant. Likewise one says fernglass, a telescope with which one sees at a distance.
212:a De Gérando, Hist. des Systèmes de Philos., t. ii., p. 193.
212:b Brit. der Rein. Vernunft, s. 24.
212:c In the Oriental languages רו (rou) indicates the visual ray, and רד (rad), all movement which is determined upon a straight line. This root, accompanied by a guttural inflection, is called recht, in German, and right in English and Saxon. The Latins made of it rectum, that which is straight. In French rature and rateau. The Teutons, taking right in a figurative sense, have drawn from this same root, rath, a council, and richter, a judge.
213:a In Tim., cité par Beausobre, Hist. du Manich., t. ii., p. 174.
213:b The word intelligence, in Latin intelligentia, is formed of two words, p. 214 inter eligere or elicere, to choose, to attract to self interiorly, and by sympathy. The etymology of the word expresses exactly the use of the faculty.
214:a Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, s. 662, 731; De Gérando, Hist. des Systèm., t. ii., p. 230.
215:a Krit. der Reinen Vernunft, s. 306, 518, 527, etc.
215:b Ibid., s. 135, 137, 399, etc.
215:c Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Critique de la Raison pratique), s. 5, 22, 219, 233, etc.
215:d Characteristics, London, 1737.
215:e A System of Moral Philosophy, t. i., eh. 4.
215:f Enquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principle of Common Sense.
215:g An Appeal to Common Sense, etc., Edinburgh, 1765.
215:h Pensées, § 21.