Our Theism

Our theism is the purification of the human mind. Man can paint, or make, or think, nothing but man. He believes that the great material elements had their origin from his thought. And our philosophy finds one essence collected or distributed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men


What is Philosophy?

What philosophy is as such cannot be answered immediately. If it were so easy to agree about a definite concept of philosophy, one would only need to analyze this concept to see oneself at once in possession of a philosophy of universal validity. The point is this: philosophy is not something with which our mind, without its own agency, is originally and by nature imbued. It is throughout a work of freedom. It is for each only what he has himself made it; and therefore the idea of a philosophy [is] only the result of philosophy itself; a universally valid philosophy, however, [is] a vainglorious figment of the imagination.



The Holy Rejected Spinoza!

Respectfully offer up with me a lock of hair to the means of the holy rejected Spinoza! The high world spirit permeated him, the infinite was his beginning and end, the universe his only and eternal love; in holy innocence and deep humility he was reflected in the eternal world and saw how he too was its most lovable mirror; he was full of religion and full of holy spirit; for this reason, he also stands there alone and unequaled, master in his art but elevated above the profane guild, without disciples and without rights of citizenship.

Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers


At the Gate of Death

Choose a poem that finds you, as Coleridge says, and read it deeply and often, out loud to yourself and to others. Internalizing the poems of Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman will teach you to think more comprehensively than Plato can. We cannot all become philosophers, but we can follow the poets in their ancient quarrel with philosophy, which may be a way of life but whose study is death. I do not think that poetry offers a way of life (except for a handful like Shelley or Hart Crane); it is too large, too Homeric for that. At the gate of death, I have recited poems to myself, but not searched for an interlocutor to engage in dialectic.

Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?


The Madman


The madman. – Haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly, `I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’ Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter. Has he been lost, then? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to sea? Emigrated? – Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Where is God” he cried; ‘I’ll tell you! We have killed him – you and I! We are all his murderers. But how did we do this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving to now? Where are we moving to? Away from all suns? Are we not continually falling? And backwards, sidewards, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an up and a down? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing? Isn’t empty space breathing at us? Hasn’t it got colder? Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? Don’t lanterns have to be lit in the morning? Do we still hear nothing of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we still smell nothing of the divine decomposition? – Gods, too, decompose! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How can we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers! The holiest and the mightiest thing the world has ever possessed has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood from us? With what water could we clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what holy games will we have to invent for ourselves! Is the magnitude of this deed not too great for us? Do we not ourselves have to become gods merely to appear worthy of it? There was never a greater deed and whoever is born after us will on account of this deed belong to a higher history than all history up to now!’ Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; they too were silent and looked at him disconcertedly. Finally he threw his lantern on the ground so that it broke into pieces and went out. ‘I come too early’, he then said; ‘my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder need time; the light of the stars needs time; deeds need time, even after they are done, in order to be seen and heard. This deed is still more remote to them than the remotest stars – and yet they have done it themselves!’ It is still recounted how on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there started singing his requiem aeternam deo.† Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but, ‘What then are these churches now if not the tombs and sepulchers of God?’

† ‘Grant God eternal rest.’ A transformation of that part of the service for the dead which reads ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis [scilicet, mortuis], Domine’ (‘Lord, grant them [the dead] eternal rest’)

Nietzsche, The Gay Science


The Childhood of the Intellect

A lot of philosophers are sick of the subject and glad to be rid of its problems. Most of us find it hopeless some of the time, but some react to its intractability by welcoming the suggestion that the enterprise is misconceived and the problems unreal.

This is more than the usual wish to transcend one’s predecessors, for it includes a rebellion against the philosophical impulse itself, which is felt as humiliating and unrealistic. It is natural to feel victimized by philosophy, but this particular defensive reaction goes too far. It is like the hatred of childhood and results in a vain effort to grow up too early, before one has gone through the essential formative confusions and exaggerated hopes that have to be experienced on the way to understanding anything. Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture that tries to skip it will never grow up.

There is a persistent temptation to turn philosophy into something less difficult and more shallow than it is. It is an extremely difficult subject, and no exception to the general rule that creative efforts are rarely successful. I do not feel equal to the problems treated in this book. They seem to me to require an order of intelligence wholly different from mine. Others who have tried to address the central questions of philosophy will recognize the feeling.

Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere


The Walls of Our Cage

My whole tendency and I believe the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to turn against the boundaries of language. This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.

Wittgenstein, Lecture on Ethics