Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fear of happiness and beauty

If you except the ascetic ideal, man, the animal man had no meaning. His existence on earth contained no end; "What is the purpose of man at all?" was a question without an answer; the will for man and the world was lacking; behind every great human destiny rang as a refrain a still greater "All is vanity!" The ascetic ideal simply means this: that something was lacking , that a tremendous void encircled man—he did not know how to justify himself, to explain himself, to affirm himself, he suffered from the problem of his own meaning. He suffered also in other ways, he was in the main a diseased animal; but his problem was not suffering itself, but the lack of an answer to that crying question, "To what purpose do we suffer?" Man, the bravest animal and the one most inured to suffering, does not repudiate suffering in itself; he wills it, he even seeks it out, provided that he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. Not suffering, but the senselessness of suffering was the curse which till then lay spread over humanity—and the ascetic ideal gave it a meaning! It was up till then the only meaning; but any meaning is better than no meaning; the ascetic ideal was in that connection the "faute de mieux " par excellence that existed at that time. In that ideal suffering found an explanation ; the tremendous gap seemed filled; the door to all suicidal Nihilism was closed. The explanation—there is no doubt about it—brought in its train new suffering, deeper, more penetrating, more venomous, gnawing more brutally into life: it brought all suffering under the perspective of guilt ; but in spite of all that—man was saved thereby, he had a meaning, and from henceforth was no more like a leaf in the wind, a shuttle-cock of chance, of nonsense, he could now "will" something—absolutely immaterial to what end, to what purpose, with what means he wished: the will itself was saved . It is absolutely impossible to disguise what in point of fact is made clear by every complete will that has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hate of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this desire to get right away from all illusion, change, growth, death, wishing and even desiring—all this means—let us have the courage to grasp it—a will for Nothingness, a will opposed to life, a repudiation of the most fundamental conditions of life, but it is and remains a will !—and to say at the end that which I said at the beginning—man will wish Nothingness rather than not will anything at all. Translated from the German by Horace B. Samuel (1913)
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Jeremy Bentham Chapter 2, Footnote #01
Ascetic is a term that has been sometimes applied to Monks. It comes from a Greek word which signifies exercise. The practices by which Monks sought to distinguish themselves from other men were called their Exercises. These exercises consisted in so many contrivances they had for tormenting themselves. By this they thought to ingratiate themselves with the Deity. For the Deity. said they, is a Being of infinite benevolence: now a Being of the most ordinary benevolence is pleased to see others make themselves as happy as they can: therefore to make ourselves as unhappy as we can is the way to please the Deity. If any body asked them, what motive they could find for doing all this? Oh! said they, you are not to imagine that we are punishing ourselves for nothing: we know very well what we are about. You are to know, that for every grain of pain it costs us now, we are to have a hundred grains of pleasure by and by. The case is, that God loves to see us torment ourselves at present: indeed he has as good as told us so. But this is done only to try us, in order just to see how we should behave: which it is plain he could not know, without making the experiment. Now then, from the satisfaction it gives him to see us make ourselves as unhappy as we can make ourselves in this present life, we have a sure proof of the satisfaction it will give him to see us as happy as he can make us in a life to come. [Back to:] Ipml, Chapter 2 Of Principles Adverse to that of Utility

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