Monday, July 6, 2009


Man, then, in his quality of an isolated individual, only sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells in so far as is necessary for living and self-preservation. If he does not perceive colours below red or above violet, the reason perhaps is that the colours which he does perceive suffice for the purposes of self-preservation. And the senses themselves are simplifying apparati which eliminate from objective reality everything that it is not necessary to know in order to utilize objects for the purpose of preserving life. In complete darkness an animal, if it does not perish, ends by becoming blind. Parasites which live in the intestines of other animals upon the nutritive juices which they find ready prepared for them by these animals, as they do not need either to see or hear, do in fact neither see nor hear; they simply adhere, a kind of receptive bag, to the being upon whom they live. For these parasites the visible and audible world does not exist. It is enough for them that the animals, in whose intestines they live, see and hear.
Similarly there are social parasites, who, receiving from the society in which they live the motives of their moral conduct, deny the other life is a necessary foundation for good conduct and for a tolerable life, society having prepared for them the spiritual nutriment by which they live. An isolated individual can endure life and live it well and even heroically without in any sort believing either in the immortality of the soul, but he lives the life of a spiritual parasite. Once the needs of hunger are satisfied—and they are soon satisfied—the vanity, the necessity—for it is a necessity—arises of imposing ourselves upon and surviving in others.
Man habitually sacrifices his life to his purse, but he sacrifices his purse to his vanity. He boasts even of his weaknesses and his misfortunes, for want of anything better to boast of, and is like a child who, in order to attract attention, struts about with a bandaged finger. And vanity, what is it but eagerness for survival? Man, in effect, is unwilling to remain in ignorance of the motives of his own conduct. And just as a man who has been led to perform a certain action by hypnotic suggestion will afterwards invent reasons which would justify it and make it appear logical to himself and others, being unaware all the time of the real cause of his action, so every man—for since "life is a dream" every man is in a condition of hypnotism—seeks to find reasons for his conduct. And if the pieces on a chessboard were endowed with consciousness, they would probably have little difficulty in ascribing their moves to freewill—that is to say, they would claim for them a finalist rationality. And thus it comes about that every philosophic theory serves to explain and justify an ethic, a doctrine of conduct, which has its real origin in the inward moral feeling of the author of the theory. But he who harbours this feeling may possibly himself have no clear consciousness of its true reason or cause.
Man yearns to be loved, or, what is the same thing, to be pitied. Man wishes others to feel and share his hardships and his sorrows. The roadside beggar's exhibition of his sores and gangrened mutilations is something more than a device to extort alms from the passer-by. True alms is pity rather than the pittance that alleviates the material hardships of life. The beggar shows little gratitude for alms thrown to him by one who hurries past with averted face; he is more grateful to him who pities him but does not help than to him who helps but does not pity, although from another point of view he may prefer the latter. Observe with what satisfaction he relates his woes to one who is moved by the story of them. He desires to be pitied, to be loved. We think in order that we may live, but perhaps it were more correct to say that we think because we live, and the form of our thought corresponds with that of our life. Our ethical and philosophical doctrines in general are usually merely the justification a posteriori of our conduct, of our actions. Our doctrines are usually the means we seek in order to explain and justify to others and to ourselves our own mode of action. And this, be it observed, not merely for others, but for ourselves. The man who does not really know why he acts as he does and not otherwise, feels the necessity of explaining to himself the motive of his action and so he forges a motive. What we believe to be the motives of our conduct are usually but the pretexts for it. The wretched captive of the instinct of preservation and of the senses, cares only about preserving himself, and all his concern is that others should not force their way into his sphere, should not disturb him, should not interrupt his idleness; and in return for their abstention or for the sake of example he refrains from forcing himself upon them, from interrupting their idleness, from disturbing them, from taking possession of them. "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you," he translates thus: I do not interfere with others—let them not interfere with me. And he shrinks and pines and perishes in this spiritual avarice and this repellent ethic of anarchic individualism: each one for himself. And as each one is not himself, he can hardly live for himself.
(Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Tragic Sense Of Life, by Miguel de Unamuno)

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