Was zu wünschen ist, ihr unten fühlt’es:
Was zu geben sei, die wissen’s droben.
Gross beginnet, ihr Titanen! Aber leiten
Zu dem ewig Guten, ewig Schönen
Ist der Götter Werk: die lasst gewähren.*
According to the so-called law of three stages (loi des trois états) established by Auguste Comte,1 humanity progresses in its development from the theological to the metaphysical understanding of the world, and from the metaphysical to the positive or scientific. Nowadays Comte’s philosophy has already lost credit, but even so his imaginary law is apparently a basic philosophical conviction in broad circles of Russian society. Yet this law represents a crude misunderstanding, because neither the spirit’s religious need and the sphere of ideas and feelings corresponding to it, nor the metaphysical requirements of our reason and the speculation answering them, are in any way annihilated or even diminished by positive science, magnificently developing alongside them. Religion, metaphysical thought, and positive knowledge answer basic spiritual needs of man, and their development can lead only to mutual clarification, not at all to annihilation. These needs are universal, for all people, in all times, and comprise the spiritual principle in human nature, in contrast to animal nature. Only the methods of satisfying these needs change; the methods evolve in history, but not the needs themselves.
Most understandable and indisputable is the universality of the need for positive scientific knowledge of the laws of the external world. Having its original source in the material requirements of man, in the struggle for existence, positive science in its further development sets for itself the purely theoretical goals of determining lawfulness or necessity [zakonomernost’] in the world of phenomena. Today we observe the unparalleled development of the exact sciences, to which no end is in sight. However, no matter how well-developed, positive science will always remain limited by its object—it studies only fragments of a reality that widens constantly before the eyes of the scientist. The problem of full and complete knowledge in the world of experience is in general insoluble and incorrectly posed. It is likewise deceptive and mendacious, like trying to reach the horizon that constantly recedes into infinite space. The development of positive science is itself infinite, but this infinity is at once its strength and a weakness: a strength in that there is not and cannot be a specified limit to science in its forward movement, a weakness in that this infinity of movement hinges precisely on the inability of reason to solve once and for all its task—to give integral knowledge. We have here an example of what Hegel called bad, imperfect infinity (schlechte Unendlichkeit or, strictly speaking, Endlosigkeit),2 in contrast to the infinity synonymous with perfection. The first can be illustrated geometrically by a line continuing indefinitely into space, the second—by a circle. Since, arguing purely mathematically, all finite quantities lose significance in comparison with infinity, no matter how much their absolute values differ, it is possible to say that positive science is no closer now to the task of giving integral knowledge than it was centuries ago or will be centuries from now.
But man must have an integral idea of the world. We cannot agree to wait patiently for the fulfillment of this need until science, sometime in the future, provides enough material; and we must also obtain answers to questions which fall completely outside the field of vision of positive science and of which it cannot even be aware. Man is not capable of suppressing in himself these questions, of creating the appearance that they do not exist, of practically ignoring them, as is in essence proposed by positivism and various shades of agnosticism, including neo-Kantianism, especially its positivist strand. Infinitely more important for man, as a rational being, than any specialized scientific theory is the solution to questions about our world as a whole, about its substance, about whether it has some meaning or rational end, about whether our life and deeds have any value, about the nature of good and evil, and so on and so forth. In a word, we ask and cannot but ask not only how, but also what, why, and for what. Positive science has no answer to these questions; more precisely, it does not pose and cannot solve them. Their solution lies in the sphere of metaphysical thought, defending its rights alongside positive science. The sphere of competence of metaphysics is greater than that of positive science, both because metaphysics settles more important questions than those of empirical knowledge, and because it, employing speculation, answers questions that are beyond empirical science. Metaphysics and science are, of course, united by an indissoluble tie; the results of positive science provide the material on which metaphysical thought works, and so metaphysics is also subject to the law of development. But this is not the place to analyze these complex correlations.
A number of philosophical schools (positivism, materialism, neo-Kantianism, and some others) do, however, deny the rights of metaphysics to exist. Does this not contradict the above assertion about the universality and necessity of metaphysical thought? Not at all, for in essence all these schools reject not metaphysics, but only certain results and methods of metaphysical thought. But they cannot thus abolish metaphysical questions, as the development of science abolished questions about goblins and poltergeists, about the elixir of life or alchemical manufacture of gold, and so forth.
On the contrary, all these schools, even while denying metaphysics, have their own answers to its questions. If I ask about the existence of God, the essence of things (Ding an sich) [thing-in-itself], or about freedom of will, and then negatively answer these questions, in no sense am I annihilating metaphysics; rather I am recognizing it in acknowledging the legitimacy and necessity of posing these questions that do not fall within the limits of positive knowledge. Differing answers to metaphysical questions divide representatives of various philosophical schools, but this does not nullify the general fact that all philosophers are metaphysicians by the very nature of human thought.
In our atheistic era the claim that religion answers as basic a need of the human spirit as do science and metaphysics can arouse the greatest misunderstandings. Destroying or temporarily abolishing one or another form of religious faith, people often think they have destroyed or abolished religion itself. To humanity’s credit, this opinion is completely unjustified. Religious feeling remains, despite change of religions. Indeed, it would be myopically naive to think that a person, losing faith in God at the age of twenty, and consequently changing his philosophic views, also loses his religious feeling—and on returning to faith, recovers this feeling anew. There are no nonreligious people, only people pious or profane, righteous or sinful. Atheists also have their religion, although, of course, their creed is different than that of theists. Auguste Comte can serve as an example: following the destruction of Christianity and metaphysics, he considered it necessary to found a religion of humanity, which would have as its object “la grande conception de l’Humanité, qui vient éliminer irrévocablement celle de Dieu.”3 Are people today not speaking of the religion of humanity, of the religion of socialism? Is Eduard von Hartmann not advancing, before our very eyes, his own religion of the unconscious, in sharpest contradiction to all deistic religions and to Christianity in particular? And is Nietzsche’s cult of the superman not its own type of religious cult? This usage is not at all a simple play on words, but rather contains a profound meaning, indicating that a religious feeling or attitude, as a formal principle, can be combined with diverse content, and that in a certain sense the ancient wisdom of Aqiva ben Yosef is true: “It is not in what, but how, we believe that adorns man.”4
What we apprehend [poznat’] in metaphysics as the higher meaning and higher principle of the world becomes, as an object of religious adoration, a sacred thing of the heart. We shall not, of course, endeavor to give here a definition of religion that would grasp every side of religious life in all its concrete complexity. It is important at this point only to delimit religion from related spheres of the spirit’s activity. Religion is an active passing beyond the limits of the self, a living feeling of the connection the finite and limited self has with what is infinite and higher, an expansion of our feeling for infinity in the aspiration toward an inaccessible perfection. Only religion establishes the link between the human mind and heart, between our thoughts and deeds. The person who would live without any religion, at the personal responsibility and reckoning of his own tiny self, would be a repulsive monstrosity. And contrariwise, religion defines the whole life of the truly religious person, from the momentous to the trivial, so that nothing would appear indifferent in the religious respect.
The basic claims of religion are at the same time the ultimate conclusions of metaphysics, conclusions that are as a result justified before reason. But religion, as such, is not satisfied by these products of the reflection of discursive thought. It has its own method of immediately and intuitively receiving the truths it needs. And this method of intuitive knowledge (if only the word “knowledge” is applicable here, inextricably connected as it is with discursive thought and, consequently, with proof and demonstrability) is called faith. Faith is a mode of knowledge without proof, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” in the splendid characterization of the apostle Paul.5 The indisputability or incontestability of claims that are, as objects of proof, replete with all the doubt and precariousness intrinsic to our knowledge, constitutes the distinctive feature of all religious truths (regardless of whether we are concerned with theistic or atheistic religions), and it is precisely the immediate obviousness of these truths that makes possible the living connection here between human thought and will.6
As a result of these peculiarities, the sphere accessible to faith is wider than the sphere accessible to discursive thought. It is possible to believe even in that which not only is indemonstrable, but cannot be made fully comprehensible to reason, and this sphere is the special domain of faith. Examining the matter exclusively from the formal side, we must therefore say that the knowledge (no matter how little appropriate, to repeat, this word is here) faith gives is richer and broader than that which empirical science and metaphysics give: if metaphysics breaks the limits of empirical knowledge, then faith nullifies the limits of the intelligible. (The question of the mutual relation of faith and speculation belongs to the most important and interesting questions of metaphysics. We recall here the theories of Jacobi, Fichte in his second period, and others, in particular Vladimir Soloviev’s profound theory of knowledge.7)
Thus, man cannot be satisfied by exact science alone, to which positivism hoped to limit him; metaphysical and religious needs are ineradicable and have never been removed from the life of man. Precise knowledge, metaphysics, and religion must exist in a certain harmonious relation, the establishment of which always comprises the task of philosophy. It will be interesting to see now how this matter is handled by positivists (understanding this term in the broad sense, that is, all currents of thought that reject metaphysics and the autonomous rights of religious faith).
The mechanistic understanding of the world is thought to best correspond to the state of modern thought and knowledge. According to this view, mechanical causation governs the world. The world, having begun who knows when and how, or perhaps having always existed, develops according to the law of causation, which encompasses dead as well as living matter, physical as well as psychic life. In this lifeless movement, deprived of any creative idea or rational meaning, there is no living principle, only a certain state of matter. There is no truth or error—both are equally necessary effects of equally necessary causes—no good or evil, only states of matter corresponding to them. One of the most bold and consistent representatives of this outlook, Baron d’Holbach, speaks thus of the fatal necessity (fatalité) that rules the world: “Fatal necessity is the eternal, immutable, necessary order established in nature, or the indispensable connection of causes and their effects. According to this order, heavy bodies fall, light bodies rise; like substances mutually attract each other; unlike ones repel each other; people live together in society, affect each other, become good or evil, naturally make each other happy or unhappy, and necessarily love or hate each other, according to the manner in which they act upon each other. From this it can be seen that the same necessity that governs the movements of the physical world also governs those of the moral world, where consequently everything is subject to fatal necessity.”8
This view, seeing the whole solution to the mystery of being in mechanical causation and thus raising such causation to the level of an absolute cosmic principle (in opposition to Kant’s view, which sees in it a simple condition of empirical knowledge), is entirely metaphysical, although it belongs to those philosophical schools that reject metaphysics on principle (agnostics, positivists, materialists). Indeed, the universal significance this view ascribes to the law of causation not only has not been, but cannot be, demonstrated from experience, which always pertains to fragments of being and which is, by its very conception, incomplete and cannot be complete. The mechanistic understanding of the world is, moreover, one of the most contradictory and unsatisfactory metaphysical systems, for it leaves without explanation a number of facts of consciousness, and without answer a number of persistent questions. There is no more dreary and deadening outlook than that for which the world and our life are the effect of pure chance, absolutely deprived of inner meaning. Before the chilling terror of this outlook even the most pessimistic systems pale, because they nonetheless free the world from pure chance, although they abandon it to the hands of an evil force rather than a good one.
Not surprisingly, the basic efforts of self-conscious philosophic thought, beginning with Socrates, have been directed toward finding a higher principle and meaning behind being, beyond the law of causation and its transitory dominance. All the great philosophic systems of the nineteenth century, proceeding from Kant, converge in recognition of teleology alongside causation. Fichte views the world as a kingdom of moral ends, forming in their totality a moral world-order; Schelling regards it, above that, as a work of art (Kunstwerk); and Hegel sees in it the development of absolute reason. Recognition of the supreme principle of teleology characterizes the metaphysical views of Lotze. Finally, Wundt and Eduard von Hartmann also meet here. That’s not to mention our Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, who proposed God’s love and goodness [blagost’] as the absolute principle of the world.
But it is curious that the mechanistic philosophy turns out to be incapable of supporting the consistent development of its principles to their end, but finishes by also trying to bring teleology into its borders, acknowledging the ultimate triumph of reason over irrational causation, as is done in philosophical systems proceeding from just the opposite principle. This flight from its own philosophical principles is expressed in tacit or open recognition of the fact that at a certain stage in world development this very same causation creates human reason, which then begins to arrange the world in accordance with its own rational ends. The victory of reason over the irrational principle does not take place at once, but gradually, with the collective reason of people united in society increasingly conquering lifeless nature and learning to use it for their own ends. Thus, dead mechanism gradually gives way to rational purposiveness, its complete antithesis. You have recognized already that I am speaking of the theory of progress, which comprises an indispensable part of all the doctrines of the contemporary mechanistic understanding of the world.
If, following Leibniz, we call the unveiling of a higher reason or higher purposiveness in the world a theodicy, then it can be said that for the mechanistic understanding of the world, the theory of progress is a theodicy, without which man obviously cannot manage. Together with the concept of evolution—aimless and meaningless development—the concept of progress arises, teleological evolution in which causation and the gradual revelation of the goal of this evolution converge until their complete identification, quite like in the above metaphysical systems. Thus, both doctrines—mechanistic evolution and progress—however much they differ in their conclusions, are united by a necessary inner connection, if not logical, then psychological.
Therefore, the theory of progress is for present-day humanity something much more than any ordinary scientific theory, no matter how important a role the latter plays in science. For humanity today, the significance of the theory of progress is that it is called upon to replace lost metaphysics and religion, or, more precisely, it takes the form of both. In it we have, perhaps, the only example in history where a scientific theory (or a theory imagining itself to be scientific) has played such a role. We discuss and ponder the future fates of humanity with such fervor not from Platonic interest, but from our own personal interest as real people; for upon these future fates depends the fatal question, unique in its significance, of the meaning of our own life, of the purpose of existence. In Athens at the time of the apostle Paul, amidst the temples of many gods, in whom people had long ceased to believe, towered an altar devoted to the “unknown god.”9 In this is expressed the inextinguishable search for God on the part of a humanity that has lost its former faith. And our theory of progress, our religion of humanity, is an altar to the “unknown God.” ...
What gives the theory of progress its unique philosophic interest and distinguishes it from other religious-philosophic doctrines is that—according to the basic idea of the metaphysical teaching which created the theory of progress in the first place—this philosophy, which is also a religion, is constructed exclusively by means of positive knowledge. It is thus a philosophy that not only does not cross into the sphere of the supra-empirical or transcendent, but on principle censures and rejects such a passage, a philosophy that not only does not have recourse to the usual method of religious knowledge (recourse, that is, to faith), but consciously rejects all the rights and significance of faith. In the theory of progress, positive science wants to absorb metaphysics and religious faith, or, more precisely, it wants to be a trinity of science, metaphysics, and religious teaching. A bold idea, deserving, in any event, close philosophical examination! And for contemporary philosophizing reason there cannot be an object more worthy of consideration, in view of the importance this theory has for humanity today.
And so we shall try to determine in what measure positive science is capable of making metaphysics and faith unnecessary and of providing a truly scientific (i.e., empirical) metaphysics and religion (such a combination of concepts is a contradictio in adjecto, but it does not belong to us, but to the philosophical doctrine under scrutiny).
Every religion has its own Jenseits [beyond]—a belief in that time and place where its hopes will be fulfilled, where religious longing will be assuaged, where the religious ideal will be realized. The theory of progress also has such a Jenseits in its notions of the future fortunes of humanity—free, proud, and happy. But, rejecting faith and supra-empirical knowledge, it wants to inspire confidence in the certain advent of this future kingdom through science; it wants to scientifically foresee and predict it, as an astronomer predicts a lunar eclipse or other astronomical phenomena that he can precisely calculate several centuries ahead. Such insight into the future is also ascribed to the science of social development, sociology, which thus takes on a completely exceptional significance among other sciences, becoming the theology, as it were, of a new religion. This explains the extraordinary development of social science in the nineteenth century, and the extraordinary, completely exceptional interest in this science, which today has as sovereign a role in public opinion as theology had in the Middle Ages or as classical literature had in the epoch of humanism. One sociological doctrine has shown the greatest faith in its own strengths and has aroused the most enthusiasm. It constitutes to this day the creed of many millions of people: the doctrine of Marx and Engels, the theory of scientific socialism. This doctrine has sought to scientifically demonstrate the inevitability of the advent of the socialist mode of production, the ideal of present-day humanity. To the extent this doctrine pertains to the future, it represents a very typical and most vivid example of scientific theodicy (in the sense described above).
Faith in the reliability of social predictions has been so strongly undermined in recent times that to attack such predictions with excessive zeal would mean, to a certain extent, knocking at an open door. At the same time, a proper demonstration of the claim that social science, by its own cognitive nature, is incapable of prediction would require a full epistemological analysis. Here it is enough to limit ourselves to a few basic points.10
First of all, what does it mean to predict the future? It means to precisely determine the advent of future events, at a definite point in space and time (as astronomy makes predictions). Any other predictions are simply commonplaces, which in social science are sometimes called, for the sake of propriety, a “tendency” of development, after the Latin word.11 Thus, if someone informs me that the tendency of my development consists in the fact that I will someday die, I would hardly consider this a prediction in which I would expect to find a designation of the time and place of my death. Prediction in this latter sense fully concurs with prophecy, as understood in Old Testament history, or with soothsaying and fortune-telling. Is social science capable of prophecy or, what is the same, prediction?
There are two methods of studying reality: in one case, attention is directed toward the general; in the other, toward the particular. According to Rickert (developing here the ideas of Windelband), in one case we have natural scientific knowledge, science relying on general concepts, while in the other case we have history, which has as its task the most precise possible determination of reality in its individual particularities. In application to social science, we distinguish history in the strict sense from sociology, the science of the laws of the coexistence and development of social phenomena. Regarding the ability of history as such to make predictions, there cannot be, and indeed has not been, any talk. All hopes in this respect have been placed on sociology. In sociology we have a system of concepts that are abstracted from a definite historical reality and that seek to make this reality comprehensible, that is, expressible in a coherent system of logical concepts, the various correlations of which are sociological laws. In this way all individual events, i.e., events in space and time, are cancelled in abstract concepts; sociology in this sense has nothing to do with events that can be predicted. It is necessary, moreover, to note the following peculiarity of the formation of concepts in sociology, in contrast to certain branches of natural science. The general concepts of natural science are obtained by identifying, through abstraction, a certain sum of the properties of an object. But these properties themselves stand for an independent reality. Science can therefore use its conclusions for practical goals, as long as it gives these conclusions some practical accounting. Within these bounds, natural science does become capable of prediction. Sociological concepts, by contrast, do not represent such an identification of what is general and recurrent in all individual cases. Rather, they are obtained by merging a number of different but internally related events into a concept that takes on, to a certain degree, the significance of a symbol, or conventional sign, of this class of phenomena (for example, the feudal order, capitalist production, freedom of trade, and so forth). The first method of formation of concepts can be likened to mechanical separation, the second to chemical combination, for in this [latter] case the elements-events lose their independent existence and are combined into a new synthesis, distinct from each of these elements.
From the character of sociological concepts it follows, in my view, that they depend entirely on the concrete historical material from which they are abstracted. As this material changes, so do the concepts. They can exist in countless numbers, as a result of the diversity of material arising from the inexhaustible creativity of history, and also as a result of the different special aims pursued by the investigator in each individual case. Sociological concepts are therefore distinguished, so to speak, by their passive, derivative character; they represent only a more or less accurate, logical mirror of reality. Their value as an instrument of knowledge can thus in no way be compared with natural-scientific concepts. Historical concepts do not in any way increase our knowledge, but only our understanding of relations among events. From this it is evident that sociology is not at all capable of expanding our historical horizon or revealing the future, since history, on which sociology is directly dependent, is incapable of this.
Be that as it may, the capability of social science (at one time enjoying all the rights of juridical presumption) for prediction has never been adequately demonstrated, neither theoretically nor practically, so that in any case the onus probandi [burden of proof] falls on the proponents of this view. In general I believe that knowledge of the future would bring not happiness, but grief for man, for it would make life and especially the future uninteresting and unappealing, whereas now the imagination is free to fill in the future as it sees fit. Hardly any of us would feel happy if our future, up to and including the day of our death, were revealed in every detail. On the contrary, I think it would be hard to imagine greater unhappiness. Omniscience is not our lot.
However, to avoid misunderstanding, I should add here that humanity will never cease to think of tomorrow or to bring, to its ideas of tomorrow, a social-scientific understanding of today’s and yesterday’s reality. In just the same way, no one can manage without forming, on the basis of common sense and scientific experience, a certain judgment not only of the present, but of the immediate future toward which each of us is working. If this is called prediction, then making predictions about the future is a right and obligation of every conscious person. But it must not be forgotten that prediction in this sense has nothing in common with precise scientific prognosis, but amounts to its own type of impressionism, not so much a scientific as an artistic synthesis, having subjective persuasiveness but objectively indemonstrable with full clarity.12 Reality provides here, of course, a number of progressions from more or less solid scientific conclusions to wild fantasy.
In this a large role is usually played by judgments according to analogy, the logical value of which should be perfectly clear in advance by means of logic itself (an example of a judgment by analogy can be found in one of the most popular claims of Marxism, namely, that an economically more advanced country reveals to another, less developed country a picture of its future development).
But let us fully acknowledge the legitimacy of the scientific theory of progress. Let us acknowledge that scientific prediction is in general possible and that the scientific predictions made up to now—in particular, predictions of the inevitably necessary advent of the future socialist order—are scientifically incontrovertible. Let us thus grant the theory of progress all the likeness to science to which it pretends. But is this theory capable of satisfying those who seek in it a firm sanctuary, the basis of faith, hope, and love?
The boldest theories of progress do not go further in their predictions than the visible historical future, and the historical gaze does not extend far. Suppose that we know the fortunes of humanity in, say, the twentieth century, but even with that we still know nothing at all about what awaits humanity in the twenty-first, twenty-second, or twenty-third century, and so on. The scientific theory of progress is like a dim candle that someone has lit at the very beginning of a dark, unending corridor. The candle faintly lights the nooks a few feet around it, but all remaining space is shrouded in deep darkness. It is beyond the power of positive science to reveal the future fortunes of humanity; it leaves us in absolute uncertainty about them. The gratifying assurance that in the end everything good and rational triumphs and stands invincible has no grounds in the mechanistic understanding of the world: after all, everything here is pure contingency, so why does the same contingency which extolls reason today, not ruin it tomorrow, and which makes knowledge and truth expedient today, not make ignorance and error as expedient tomorrow? Does history not know the collapse and ruin of whole civilizations? Or does it testify to regular and uninterrupted progress? Let us forget about world cataclysm or hardening of the earth and universal death as the ultimate finale to the history of humanity—the perspective of pure contingency, full of impenetrable gloom and obscurity, is itself enough to freeze the blood. And it is impossible to object to this with the usual indications that future humanity will cope better than us with its needs, for the issue here is not about future humanity, but about us, about our ideas of its fortunes. Such an answer will hardly satisfy anyone. No, all that honest positive science has to say here is: ignoramus and ignorabimus.13 It is not within its power to solve the innermost meaning of history and its final goal.
But, of course, the human spirit can never be content with this answer. To stop at it means to turn one’s back on the most basic questions of conscious life, after which there is no longer anything to ask about.14 And humanity in the best of its representatives has never turned its back on the question of the final calling and destinies of the human race, but has always answered it one way or another. The positivists answer it as well. They not only answer it, but have founded a religion on their idea of the future fortunes of humanity, a religion that ignites in people the most sacred feelings, that calls for exploit and struggle, and that sets hearts today on fire.
Where did this conviction in and, as it were, firm knowledge of humanity’s future fortunes come from, since positive science is not in the position to impart it? It arises from the same source generally as all religious truths, or what is religiously taken for truth. Its source is religious faith, but a faith that has crept in clandestinely, as contraband, without regal grandeur, but that has nonetheless secured regal dominion where it was assumed only science was called to rule.
Thus, the attempt to construct a scientific religion did not succeed: faith powerfully proclaimed its rights where science had sought to dominate, and science failed to live up to the expectations that had been placed on it. But was it not mistaken and utopian to even dream of basing religion, concerned with the infinite and eternal, on the concrete and always limited foundation which is all that positive science provides! One of two things is possible: either science will preserve only its name, but will in fact cease to be science, or it will not be able to become a religion. What has happened is the first.
Now let us turn to further examination of the religion of progress.
The subject of unlimited progress turns out to be Humanity. It fully plays the role of the divine in the religion of progress—this is so not only in the idea of the founders of this religion, Comte and, I would say, Feuerbach (who is especially significant for us in his immediate influence on Marx and Engels), but by the very essence of the matter. Why is it precisely humanity that is deified, why is this impersonal subject endowed with divine attributes, first of all eternity or, at least, immortality, as well as perfection and absoluteness (for only with these qualities is a religious attitude possible)?
In this, man is led by a normal and irrepressible religious need. It is intolerable to see the highest and ultimate end of being in this fleeting and chance existence. But, according to the philosophy of positivism, the supreme and absolute meaning of life, a meaning refuting the limitedness and contingency of life, cannot be sought in the sphere of the transcendent or in the sphere of religious faith. It must be found in the world of empirical, sensible being. Human thought once more faces an insoluble task, the illusory resolution of which can be obtained only at the cost of internal contradictions and self-delusion.
A human being is mortal, humanity is immortal. A human being is limited, humanity has the potential for unlimited development. Living for others, a human being defeats the sting of death and merges with eternity. A vivid expression of this idea is given by Guyau (L’Irréligion de l’avenir) in his marvelously elevated reflection on immortality:
It [Stoicism] was right when it recommended insensibility to one’s own death. A man needs no other consolation than to feel that he has lived a complete life, that he has done his work, and that mankind is not the worse, nay, is perhaps the better for his having existed; and that whatever he has loved will survive, that the best of his dreams will somewhere be realized, that the impersonal element in his consciousness, the portion of the immortal patrimony of the human race, which has been entrusted to him and constitutes what is best in him, will endure and increase, and be passed on, without loss, to succeeding generations; that his own death is of no more importance, no more breaks the eternal continuity of things, than the shivering of a bit of a hand-glass does. To gain a complete consciousness of the continuity of life is to estimate death at its proper value, which is perhaps that of the disappearance of a kind of living illusion. Once more, in the name of reason, which is capable of understanding death, and of accepting it as it accepts whatsoever else is intelligible—be not a coward (pas être lâche)!15
I would be hard pressed to find a more successful and lofty expression of the view under consideration than that given by the French philosopher. And all the same a sad refrain resounds in him with captivating sincerity: pas être lâche, not to be a coward before this terror of extinction.
To characterize still more clearly the theory in question, I will cite here Fichte’s contrasting view—the fruit of exalted thought and a no less elevated mood, but nourished by other, much more gratifying ideas (see Bestimmung des Gelehrten). Of the infinite tasks of moral life, Fichte says:
Yes! and this is the loftiest thought of all: Once I assume this lofty task I will never complete it. Therefore, just as surely as it is my vocation to assume this task, I can never cease to act and thus I can never cease to be. That which is called “death” cannot interrupt my work; for my work must be completed, and it can never be completed in any amount of time. Consequently, my existence has no temporal limits: I am eternal. When I assumed this great task I laid hold of eternity at the same time. I lift my head boldly to the threatening stony heights, to the roaring cataract, and to the crashing clouds in their fire-red sea. “I am eternal!” I shout to them, “I defy your power! Rain everything down upon me! You earth, and you, heaven, mingle all of your elements in wild tumult. Foam and roar, and in savage combat pulverize the last dust mote of that body which I call my own. Along with its own unyielding project, my will shall hover boldly and indifferently above the wreckage of the universe. For I have seized my vocation, and it is more permanent than you. It is eternal, and so too am I.”16
Thus we have two faiths, one of which can be called faith in what is dead, the other in living immortality. But who is immortal and absolute in the first of these faiths, if a human being is mortal and relative? We already know the answer: humanity with its capacity for infinite development. But just what is this humanity and do its properties distinguish it from a human being? No, it is in no way distinguished from a human being; it is simply a large, undefined quantity of people, with all the properties of people and as little endowed with new qualities in its nature as a heap of stones or grain in comparison with each individual stone or seed. What positivism calls humanity is an indeterminate repetition, in indeterminate space and time, of each of us with all our weakness and limitation. If our life has absolute meaning, value and purpose, then so does humanity; but if the life of every human being, taken individually, represents meaninglessness and absolute contingency, then humanity’s fortunes are likewise meaningless. Not believing in the absolute meaning of the life of a person [lichnost’] but hoping to find it in the life of a whole collection of likenesses to us, we, like frightened children, hide behind each other. We seek to pass off a logical abstraction as a supreme being, thus lapsing into a logical fetishism, which is no better than simple idolatry, for it ascribes qualities of the living God to a dead object created by us.
Its supposed capacity for infinite development lends to the concept of humanity the semblance of the absolute. But this infinity is only illusory or apparent—bad infinity, according to Hegel’s terminology, already familiar to us. It is based simply on the fact that the development of humanity in time, at least in accordance with a given state of knowledge, cannot be assigned an end, but not at all on the fact that there cannot in principle be an end. In order to grasp the difference, it is enough to compare this bad infinity, or, it would be better to say, this indeterminateness, this indeterminate duration, with Fichte’s idea of infinity, which flows from the absolute character of the goal which the infinite movement serves.17 But humanity, according to the positivist view, has no absolute goal of development which could sanction this infinity and turn it, so to speak, from passive to active, from contingency and indeterminateness to rational necessity.
Nor is progress unlimited from the qualitative side. There are, of course, no limits to the achievements of the human mind and conscience [sovest’], to the extent they are expressed in objective results, or in cultural goods of generally any type. But these objective accomplishments of all humanity constitute, at any given moment and for any given generation, only a starting point, from which it is necessary to go forward, for a given level of culture is inherited not as an achievement, the fruit of struggle and striving, but as a finished result. Progress itself consists not in these objective results—it need only be suggested that humanity has already accomplished enough and has stopped in its development, to understand that this could mean only death and complete decay—but in unflagging movement forward. And the only real carriers of this movement are people (and not “humanity”) who are incapable of being satisfied and of taking their relative existence for the absolute, people like us. From this side as well, the idea of humanity as the absolute turns out to be an illusion.
Thus, the attempt to present humanity as the absolute leads to a vicious circle: we try to give meaning to our existence through others, and others through us; the whole argument hangs in the air.
Religious faith in humanity is therefore an irrational, blind faith. This faith, in comparison with faith that has at its basis metaphysical truths justified before reason, has no such rational foundation and is its own kind of superstition. Positivism, having aspired only to positive knowledge and so having rejected both metaphysics and religious faith on principle, ends in superstition. Faith in humanity—this sacred and cherished faith—is reduced by positivist philosophy to the level of simple fancy and superstition.
In what precisely is the infinite progress of humanity expressed? To this question various answers have been and are given. The simplest and most widespread is that the goal of progress is the greatest possible growth of happiness for the greatest possible number of people. The point of view of eudaemonism, social as well as individual, is ethically the most crude and is incapable of answering the needs of any consciousness that is even slightly developed. It is based, incidentally, on the supposition that a eudaemonistic scale can be found and that the general quantity of pleasure and displeasure in the world can be precisely determined; in the final tally, the plus signs should exceed the minus signs, all the time increasing at the expense of the minus signs until the complete disappearance of the latter. Social eudaemonism approximates in this case the teaching of Eduard von Hartmann, who also considers it possible to calculate the final balance of the world’s joy and sorrow, but who comes to completely opposing conclusions. His eudaemonistic pessimism, which is combined in an original way with evolutionary optimism, finds its ultimate affirmation in his metaphysics, in his theory of the unconscious as the absolute substance of the world, and of the purely contingent origin of the world, as if by a mistake of the absolute.18 (But it is necessary to give Hartmann his due, for in ethics he is a fierce enemy of all eudaemonistic tendencies.) The mere fact that in different cases this world balance sheet comes up differently, now with a plus, now with a minus, testifies to the dubiousness of such arithmetic. The difficulty of striking a precise balance is explained by the impossibility of finding a unit for measuring joy and sorrow, for in each of these states we have something individual, defined not quantitatively but qualitatively, so that a scale of measurement by time or number is inapplicable here. Are we even able to say of ourselves which sensations, pleasant or unpleasant, we had more of in the course not only of a life, but even of a day or a year? Besides that, according to Soloviev’s apt remark (in Justification of the Good), this balance is not an object of immediate perception; every pleasure or displeasure is perceived separately, and their algebraic sum is only a theoretical total.19 Thus, it is impossible to clearly determine whether some kind of eudaemonistic progress exists in history, all the more so in that together with new sources of enjoyment humanity receives new sources of suffering, new diseases and anxieties. The pursuit of universal happiness as the goal of history is an impossible undertaking, for this goal is completely elusive and indeterminable.
The developed moral consciousness condemns social eudaemonism (in essence Epicureanism) as a result of the baseness of its underlying principle. Happiness is a natural aspiration of man, but the only happiness that is moral is that which is incidental to, not an intended concomitant of, moral activity and service to the good. Obviously, happiness cannot be posed as a goal in itself, by the mere fact that it does not represent anything independent. But if an equal sign were put between the good and pleasure, then there is no fall, no monstrous vice, no animalistic egoism, no drowning of all spiritual needs in sensuality, that could not be sanctified by this principle. The ideal from this point of view would be the conversion of humanity into an animal state. Such a doctrine is completely incapable of valuing the whole necessity and elevating significance of suffering, the interpreter of which in Russian literature is Dostoevsky. The predicate of absolute blessedness [vseblazhennost’] is conceivable only in relation to God, the most perfect possible being [vsesovershenneishee sushchestvo]; for man, however, moral life without struggle and suffering is impossible. Therefore, if moral life comprises man’s true calling on earth, suffering will always remain unavoidable. Suffering is morally necessary for man. “The cross”—this is the symbol of suffering and sanctification.
Striving to ease or eliminate the suffering of other people is one of the basic forms of moral life and of active love, and compassion one of the basic virtues (Schopenhauer wanted to see in it even the only virtue).20 Thus it can appear that eliminating suffering, as such, is the true, main goal of moral activity. But the incorrectness of this judgment becomes clear as soon as we turn attention to the fact that not every suffering deserves our sympathy, not that which is rooted in the immoral strivings of a given person, and not that which does not injure but morally elevates man. We would not want to allay the suffering of a usurer who is deprived of the possibility of taking an exorbitant percent, and we would consider it madness to wish to relieve Faust’s sufferings in the same way as Mephistopheles, who delivered him from them on Walpurgis Night. From this it is clear that compassion itself stands under the control of a higher moral principle, and that what is morally good must be valued higher than suffering, our own as well as that of others. The struggle with human suffering thus loses its character as the basic moral goal, and takes on a subordinate significance.
A distinctive type of eudaemonism penetrates the main view of contemporary political economy, according to which the growth of needs and, consequently, pleasures from their satisfaction, amounts to the basic principle of economic development. In the eyes of economic science, the growth of sensuous needs and their satisfaction equals culture and cultural development [kul’turnost’]. Sombart, one of the most resolute economists in this sense, once directly called this growth of needs “Menschenwerden” [becoming human].21 This is a wholly pagan and also immoral point of view which, not distinguishing the needs of the spirit from those of the body, deifies the growth of needs as such. Both economic life and the economic science reflecting this life are subject to moral evaluation, and only this can guard against lapsing into crude paganism. Growth of material needs and their satisfaction is not immoral only to the extent it liberates the spirit and spiritualizes man, not to the extent it, strengthening the sphere of sensuousness, abets the spirit’s downfall and the victory of the flesh. In a certain measure this growth of needs, or economic progress, constitutes a necessary precedent to spiritual development and sometimes to the awakening of personhood [lichnost’] (this characterizes, in my view, the current moment in the economic development of Russia). But the growth of moral and sensuous needs can lag behind and become detached from each other. In such a case the refinement of sensuousness, not rousing but depressing the activity of the spirit, constitutes a peculiar moral disease, a moral squalor arising not from poverty, but from wealth. This two-sided nature of economic progress is forgotten by economists when they, carried away by their own special point of view, identify it with one that has universal significance for man and culture. The cultural barbarism produced by contemporary economic life is no better, indeed worse, than primitive barbarism, precisely because of the refinement of the needs of modern man. Ethical materialism or spiritual bourgeoisness [burzhuaznost’] comprises an undeniable and apparently worsening disease of contemporary European society; this same bourgeoisness once ruined Roman civilization. This bourgeoisness is ethically sanctioned by pagan science, declaring bodily pleasure an independent and undeniable good. Without denying the completely irrefutable fact that the growth and moral development of personhood are to a certain degree inextricably connected with material progress, we cannot but acknowledge the healthy ascetic kernel in L. N. Tolstoy’s teaching, despite its excesses and obvious exaggerations. In any case it is much more moral and higher than those current doctrines that see culture in frock coats and top hats.
A wholly bourgeois and thus hedonistic character distinguishes one current theory, coming from the camp of those who consider themselves the greatest enemies, and the greatest enemies on principle, of the bourgeoisie. We have in mind the celebrated theory of class interests and the class struggle, class egoism and class solidarity, if the class struggle is examined not as a contingent historical means for the achievement of a higher ethical goal, but as a fully independent ethical principle. Class struggle appears as a form of defending one’s rights to participation in life’s goods. In the distribution of these goods there are the deprived and the deprivers (the bourgeois haves and have-nots, as Herzen put it), but from the ethical point of view both warring parties are equal, in so far as they are guided not by ethical or religious enthusiasm, but by purely egoistic aims. It is obvious that a new bourgeoisie can be raised on naked class interest, but a great historical movement cannot be founded on it. Of course, the greatest movement of recent times was never entirely founded, and could not have been founded, on this principle of class struggle, but was always higher than it. In any event, it can be said that the degree of triumph of this principle is inversely proportional to the ethical height of the movement, and that the complete triumph of the principle would be capable of lowering the movement to complete bourgeoisness.
The eudaemonistic ideal of progress, as a scale for evaluation of historical development, leads to conclusions directly contrary to morality. For, from this point of view, the sufferings of some generations form a bridge to the happiness of others; for some reason, some generations must suffer for others to be happy, some must by their sufferings “be the manure for future harmony,” in Ivan Karamazov’s expression.22 But why must Ivan sacrifice himself for the future happiness of Peter and why does Ivan, as a human individual, not possess, from this point of view, the same rights to happiness as the future Peter? Would not Ivan’s wish to exchange roles with the future Peter, to make his own lot happiness and Peter’s suffering, be completely logical and consistent with the eudaemonistic theory? Like the theory of progress, is not the theory après nous le déluge, that is, complete egoism, also demonstrable from eudaemonistic principles?!23
On the other hand, what ethical value is there in this future happiness, bought by the sweat and blood of others? Can anything justify such a price for progress and this happiness? Our descendants turn out to be vampires, living off our blood. Building one’s happiness on the unhappiness of others is in any case immoral, and the view justifying such a manner of action, even if it relates to a future generation, is also immoral. Any suffering is an absolute evil from the eudaemonistic point of view, and future happiness cannot and must not be bought by this absolute evil. A world constructed in such a manner and on such principles would not be worth living in by any self-respecting person. It would be left for him to “most respectfully return his ticket.” It is against just such a world that Ivan Karamazov “rebels.”
In truth, it must be recognized that although all versions of the theory of progress have some tint of eudaemonism, in none of them is eudaemonism followed through consistently and exhaustively. Thus, together with happiness, the perfectibility [usovershenstvovanie] of humanity is also posed as a goal of progress. “Positivism,” Comte says, “holds universal perfectibility (perfectionnement) to be the constant goal of our whole existence, personal as well as social, first in our external condition, but also and more especially in our internal nature.”24 Limitless perfectibility forms the content of progress for Condorcet as well, in his youthfully enthusiastic, Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain.
Without doubt, this ideal is much more elevated than the preceding one [eudaemonism], but the attempt at its substantiation from the point of view of positivism leads to still greater difficulties. To speak of perfectibility, as the approximation or aspiration toward some ideal of perfection, it is necessary to have this ideal in advance. And this is doubly true because perfectibility is conceived as infinite, which means no given stage of development can enjoy this perfection, which in turn means the concept of perfection cannot be arrived at inductively from experience. Thus on the one hand this ideal does not fit into the limits of relative experience, in other words, it is absolute; yet on the other hand this absolute ideal, since its development and realization do not fit into experience, can obviously only be of an extra-experiential or supra-experiential origin. Here as well the worn path of experience necessarily takes us to the difficult and rocky road of speculation. Positivism once more borrows, beyond all expectations, from metaphysics, again demonstrating the impossibility of solving the most basic questions of life and the spirit within the parameters of empirical knowledge.
What has been said must be emphasized still more when we turn to the last and most elevated formula of progress, according to which it consists in the creation of conditions for the free development of personhood [lichnost’]. This formula, together with the doctrine of the class struggle and in general with a more or less eudaemonistic understanding of progress, constitutes the esoteric wisdom of Marx, which he owes to his acquaintance with Hegel’s philosophy. This formula thus represents a direct borrowing from metaphysics, but it is done in the same superficial, mechanical way in which Hegel’s philosophy is generally “turned right side up” in Marx.25 From a living formula—the doctrine of the development of the spirit toward freedom, or self-consciousness—a formula which stood in connection with a whole Weltanschauung and which grew organically from it, a dead scheme was obtained which destroyed its philosophical meaning. It is difficult to have a high opinion of this whole philosophical operation (proper elucidation of which would require a broad excursus into Hegel’s philosophy), but only through such an operation did there result the doctrine of the leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom,26 the doctrine of “Vorgeschichte” [prehistory], only after which will Geschichte [history] begin.27
The free development of the person as the ideal of social evolution is the basic and common theme of all classical German philosophy; it is expressed with the greatest force and clarity in Fichte. We propose that this ideal should now have the significance of a moral axiom. It is only an expression in different words of the basic idea behind Kant’s ethics—the autonomy of moral life and the self-legislation of the will in the choice of good or evil.28 At the present time the will is not self-legislating, in the sense that any coercion—political, economic, or social—that is brought to bear on a person aims to add its transient and deadening influence and impose its alien and despotic will where only a self-legislating will ought to reign and freely choose between good and evil. The liberation of the person therefore creates the conditions of autonomous moral life. This ethical axiom adds an axiomatic indisputability to—and puts beyond any doubt the legitimacy of and obliging force behind—the current aspirations toward political and economic democracy. It gives them an ethical sanction, thus raising them from a simple struggle for existence to the level of fulfilling the moral law.
The reader will understand that this is an idea of a supra-empirical, metaphysical character (which is why metaphysics gives a higher sanction to the present social movement). It is necessary to have an unshakable conviction in what Fichte called the “vocation of man,”29 a definite idea of his moral nature, in order to advance an itself purely negative demand such as the free development of the person. The metaphysical content of this negative demand is what gives it a positive character. Deprived of this content, it, like all negatively defined concepts, is empty and unconscious.
Marxism takes the formula of the free development of the person without, of course, any metaphysical content. Here the person is not a bearer of absolute tasks, endowed with a definite moral nature and capabilities, but entirely a product of historical development, changing with this development. The concept of the person, strictly speaking, is completely missing here, reduced only to the purely formal unity of the self. But in such a case what can the formula, “free development of the person,” mean? Once more positive science knocks at the door of metaphysics. ...
There remains, finally, an area that speaks strongest of all to the impotence and inadequacy of the positivist theory of progress, to its inability to solve the most basic problems of a Weltanschauung. According to the basic idea of the theory of progress (regardless of its content), the future, arriving with natural necessity and subject to the law of causation, is at the same time the ideal of action, that is, an “ought,” a moral demand directed toward the will. Here we come up against the basic antithesis of consciousness, the opposition between “is” [bytie] and “ought” [dolzhenstvovanie], and it does not take many words to show that empirical science is not equipped to cope with this antithesis.
First of all, it is obvious that “ought” can in no way be substantiated from “is.” How can it follow from the fact that a given event will in fact ensue, that I ought to strive toward it as “what ought to be” [dolzhnoe]? From the course of my past deeds, all of which have completely equal significance from the point of view of the reign of the law of causation that is common to them, why do I classify some as moral—as consistent with the law of “ought”—and others as immoral, as inconsistent with it, whereupon my conscience torments me, although I cannot alter or annihilate them [the offending deeds]? All the refinements of positivists to present morality as a fact of natural development (and thereby to undermine its sanctity, equating it with all other natural needs, such as hunger, sexual reproduction, and so forth) relate only to particular forms and expressions of morality, but they presuppose the fact itself of the existence of morality, without which such investigations would themselves be impossible. (So it is with atheists, who, proving God’s nonexistence with even greater fanfare, thus reveal all the more obviously what role this problem plays in their consciousness and the extent to which God is present there, even as an object of negation.) “Ought” is of supra-empirical origin, and because it penetrates our life, it can be said that human life consists of a constant combination of the empirical and supra-empirical, of the material and spiritual principle.
The problem of “ought” is only a general designation for a whole set of problems, and before all of them the positivist theory of progress remains silent.
“Ought” is directed toward the will. It necessarily supposes the possibility of moral wanting [khotenie], the possibility of choice, and consequently it is inconceivable without free will. At the same time, all acts are motivated, that is, subject to the law of causation. Philosophy is faced with reconciling this possibility of the combination of free will and determinism. Determinism must respectfully step aside in order to make way for the moral deed, but it must also constantly sustain a closed order of causation, for any break in causation annihilates experience. Directed toward the future, free will sees only “ought,” but experience sees only causes and effects.30 Is there some connection between causation and “ought” and between the principles of necessity and freedom corresponding to them, and which of them is primary? These are the questions which are necessarily raised by the antithesis we are examining, and which can be answered only through a metaphysical synthesis. And in fact all these questions have always been the central questions of metaphysics; in particular, the question of freedom and necessity is the basic problem in the philosophy of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.
This problem is posed with full clarity only by those who have shown, once and for all, the relativity of empirical knowledge and the conditional rights of science, but also the possibility of transcendent, intelligible freedom alongside the necessity governing in the world of experience. Schopenhauer rightly considered this distinction to be one of the greatest achievements of the human mind and Kant’s immortal service to philosophy. But Kant dualistically juxtaposed empirical necessity and intelligible freedom, and therefore all the efforts of post-Kantian philosophy were directed toward overcoming this dualism and showing the final triumph of freedom. Such is the theme and basic content of the philosophy of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.
We have thus reviewed all the basic problems of the theory of progress and have come to the general conclusion that they exceed the power of positive science. Either they are plainly not resolved by it, or they lead to unavoidable internal contradictions, or they are resolved with the help of contraband, that is, by introducing under the flag of positive science elements that are foreign to it. Such conflation puts positive science in an ambiguous position and, together with that, crudely violates the rights of metaphysics and religious faith. Therefore, what is necessary first of all is careful differentiation of the various elements and problems that are conflated in the theory of progress. It is necessary to return to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.31 The correct formulation of the theory of progress must show by which means it resolves the problems it raises; it must show to which more general problems these solutions necessarily lead; and, consequently, it must delimit and, within the proper sphere, restore in their own rights science, metaphysics, and religion.
The exposition below will be devoted to an attempt at making this delimitation and giving an appropriate formulation of the problems of the theory of progress.
The first and basic task the theory of progress sets for itself consists in showing that history has meaning, that the historical process is not only evolution, but also progress. The theory of progress argues, consequently, for a final identity between causal necessity [zakonomernost’] and rational purposiveness, in which sense it is, as we have already said, a theodicy. Its goal is thus the discovery of a higher reason which is simultaneously transcendent to and immanent in history, the discovery of the plan of history, its goal, movement toward this goal, and the forms of this movement.32
We have already seen that this task is beyond positive science and is in general insoluble by the means of experience. But the task itself is posed entirely correctly and is inevitable for the philosophizing mind, which searches for constant, immutable being in the stream of fleeting events and which refuses to see in history only dead causation. This task is supra-empirical, metaphysical, and can be answered by the speculative discipline which until now has carried the name of the philosophy of history, but which might more correctly and precisely be called the metaphysics of history.
The metaphysics of history does not, of course, have an autonomous, independent character, but is only a part or division of a general metaphysical system, an application of general metaphysical principles to the historical life of humanity. Therefore, the general metaphysical views of one or another philosopher determine the content of the metaphysics of history, which will be one thing for Hegel, another for Schopenhauer, another for St. Augustine, and still another for Vladimir Soloviev. The classic and dazzling example of the metaphysics of history is Hegel’s historical philosophy (of course, this is not at all to say that it can satisfy the requirements of modern scientific consciousness).
The metaphysics of history is the discovery of the absolute in the relative; it strives to see how the eternal radiance of the absolute is reflected within the limited framework of space and time. In terms of content, what is essential for the metaphysics of history is not only how the absolute is understood, but also how broadly the limits of space and time are understood, that is, how extensively and profoundly historical research in space and time is understood. This affirms the indissoluble link between the metaphysics of history and the positive content of history. Metaphysics must not only not ignore the positive progress of historical science, it must constantly take it into account, expanding in this way its tasks of interpreting the meaning of this historical material. Naturally, a metaphysics of history that ignores or contradicts the data of historical science is a bad metaphysics of history. Anyone who wishes to create a metaphysics of history must be in the same measure both a philosopher and a historian.
We have already said that the problems of the metaphysics of history are ineradicable from our consciousness, and there is no need to think that they could ever have been completely removed. Only the content of the answers given to the basic questions of the metaphysics of history has changed, so that some schools (such as positivism and materialism) have rejected the meaning of history, regarding mechanical causation as the absolute principle, while others have sought absolute reason in history.
What does it mean to find the meaning of history? It means, first of all, to show that history is the unveiling and fulfillment of one creative and rational plan, that the historical process expresses a universal, providential idea. Therefore, everything that ever was and will be in history is necessary for the disclosure of this plan, for the ends of reason. In this sense Hegel’s prophetic words take on their full significance: “all that is real is rational, and all that is rational is real.”33 But this position, which in Hegel is the final result of a system born of genius and the ultimate product of the enormous labor contained in this system, also constitutes the basic theme of the metaphysics of history and the basic problem which this metaphysics must solve. It is a problem of theodicy in the true sense of the word, and the metaphysics of history is necessarily a theodicy, as Hegel himself understood.
This is the greatest and most important problem not only of the metaphysics of history, but also of all moral philosophy. Here must be given a “justification of the good” (as the late Soloviev formulated this very problem), which must also be a justification of evil, of evil in nature, in man, and in history. Philosophy must show the internal impotence of evil, its illusoriness, and its—terrible to say—ultimate rationality.
Philosophy must honestly confront this question in all its scope, not faint-heartedly evading or diminishing its difficulty, but dauntlessly looking hope and despair in the eye. And the philosophy that will bear this struggle bravely and travel this thorny and agonizing path of doubts, losing nothing of its previous conviction in the rationality of existence and in the triumph of truth, is worthy of its name and can be the teacher of people. But how many are there who, pusillanimously giving in before this mystery, cowardly rush to fill in the cracks of their Weltanschauung with cheap optimism and to somehow shun the mystery! Heinrich Heine’s well-known epigram about the professor, patching the holes in the universe with the rags of his nightgown and with his cap, applies to them. But happy, oh, thrice happy, is the person who has managed, honestly and piously, to suffer through to this gratifying conviction, for there can be nothing more joyous in the world.
If we acknowledge that history is the revelation of the absolute, we thereby also recognize that chance and the dead necessity [zakonomernost’] of causation do not reign in history, that here there is only the necessity of the development of the absolute. The causal necessity of history has significance only as an auxiliary means for the ends of the absolute. And if the absolute is the synonym of freedom, then the metaphysics of history is the revelation of the principle of freedom in history, its victory over mechanical causation.
At the same time we also recognize that there is in history a living and rational force, going beyond our intentions and guiding them. And our intentions and deeds turn out to be a means for the ends of the absolute. Hegel in his distinctive language called this the cunning of reason (List der Vernunft). “Reason is as cunning as it is mighty. Its cunning generally consists in the mediating activity which, while it lets objects act upon one another according to their own nature, and wear each other out, executes only its purpose without itself mingling in the process. In this sense we can say that, with regard to the world and its process, divine Providence behaves with absolute cunning. God lets men, who have their particular passions and interests, do as they please, and what results is the accomplishment of his intentions, which are something other than those whom he employs were directly concerned about.”34
Positive science also knows the cunning of history. An individual cannot be judged by what he thinks about himself, says Marx (in the well-known preface to Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie); for this, it is necessary to ask the economic base.35 This idea of the cunning of the economic base, or in general of dead historical necessity, is capable of killing any energy or moral enthusiasm, for it leaves in complete obscurity and gives over to the will of pure contingency the final outcome of our personal intentions. True, we are expected to struggle against this necessity, mastering and controlling it, but it still has not been (and never will be) mastered in a way that would give fully reliable direction to individual action. With this, our acts turns into a moral lottery: inspired with good intentions, I risk serving evil in the end, while the servants of evil prove to be the benefactors of humanity.
We already know that the theory of progress tries to mend this tear by introducing a positivist theodicy. But, first, where is the guarantee that, in consequence of the cunning of history, incomprehensible to us, the epoch of progress we are now experiencing is not leading us directly to its very opposite? Second, progress is limited in time and space; we acknowledge only some events and epochs as progressive. From all historical reality, we cull only a little, rejecting all the rest. The formula of the theory of progress, contrary to Hegel, is therefore: not everything actual is rational, that is, many historical epochs and events are irrational. Such a view, carrying the traces of contingency and arbitrariness, constitutes the complete opposite of the one we are examining. Before the face of the absolute there is no past, present, or future, no selected epochs; all history serves to reveal the absolute. As Hegel says, “it is the whole unfolding that constitutes its content and its interest. ... Everything which, taken by itself, appears to be restricted gets its value by belonging to the whole, and being a moment of the Idea” (Moment der Idee).36
In this way, all history is the manifestation of the absolute, all of it is the living vestment of God, about which the spirit of the earth speaks in Faust: “So schaff ich am sausenden Webstuhl der Zeit / Und wirke der Gottheit lebendiges Kleid.”37
However, no matter how convinced we are that history represents the revelation of absolute reason, and no matter how conscientiously we strive to understand this reason, our inquiries will always remain incomplete, and this reason will remain more or less concealed from our weak eyes. To know the reason behind all that exists, to understand equally “every blade of grass in the field and every star in the sky,”38 is accessible only to God’s omniscience. For us, the individual events of our own life as well as of history will forever remain irrational, and it falls on us to contend in our actions with this irrational reality, presenting as it does a struggle of good and evil. Thus, if we cannot make the ends of the absolute directly our own, what can guide us in our actions? But the absolute constantly guides us in life, constantly gives us direction, and chastises us for disobedience and mistakes. Every day, every hour, we hear its authoritative voice, categorical, stern, and implacable. It is conscience, the moral law, the categorical imperative, the absolute character of which Kant established beyond any doubt. The moral law commands us to want the good, always and everywhere, for the sake of the good itself. The absolute law of the good must also be the law of our life.
This law, in application to historical development, commands us to want the good in history and to further its realization by our own efforts; it commands us, in other words, to want progress. From this point of view, progress is not a law of historical development, but a moral task (as Prof. Siebeck rightly indicates in his superb speech, Über die Lehre vom genetischen Fortschritte der Menscheit),39 not “is,” but absolute “ought.” The finite and relative cannot contain the absolute, therefore progress is infinite.
Does recognition that progress is a binding moral task require certainty that this progress is being realized with mechanical necessity? Does it require, in other words, raising the curtain of the future, rushing to scientific prophecies? No, no crutches are needed for the moral law. The absolute character of its dictates, wanting the good for the sake of the good, does not depend on any contingent conditions of the realization of the good in history. From the eudaemonistic perspective, it makes a big difference, of course, whether this struggle is heavy or light, whether it ends in victory or defeat, whether it requires heroic effort and courage or makes do with modest everyday work, but this changes nothing about the absolute character of the moral imperative, once it is recognized as such before one’s own conscience—it can be violated, but not changed. Suppose for a minute that we have the most precise prediction of the next decade, and on the basis of this prediction all our finest aspirations are doomed to failure. Does it follow from this that they cease to be binding? In no way. You can, for you ought to—such is the moral law. This is a terrible formula, and few are the heroes who will retreat before nothing and go to their death for what they consider their duty. But for those who do not have the strength to follow the moral imperative, the pain of conscience attests to the fact that here this imperative is violated, and a sin is committed.
The positivist theory of progress flatters our weakness; it is a eudaemonistic concoction, which promises the external support of the natural course of things to that which does not find adequate support internally. In this, the positivist theory of progress represents its own type of eschatology, invoked to inspire warriors and sustain religious faith in the final triumph of the good. But another type of eschatology is needed before man can find in it real support for his moral activity. This requires a conviction that our ethical deeds and intentions have more than ephemeral significance, that they matter to the absolute and are necessary for its cunning. What is needed is a conviction in the existence of an objective moral world-order, a kingdom of moral ends, in which our modest life will find its own place. This lofty idea (ethical pantheism, in Windelband’s apt expession) found its most complete development in J. G. Fichte’s theory. For Fichte, “that there is a moral world order, that in this order a definite position has been assigned to every rational individual and that his work counts, that the destiny of every person (unless it is the consequence of his own conduct) is derived from this plan, that without this plan no hair drops from a head, nor a sparrow from a roof, that every good deed succeeds while every evil one fails and that everything must go well for those who love only the good—all this is not doubtful at all but the most certain thing in the world and the basis of all certainty,”40 and so on. In a certain sense, in Fichte’s system the existence of other people, of the external world, even of God, all derives from the necessity of this idea of the moral world-order; the world exists only insofar as it is—or in order for it to be—an arena for moral activity. (It is not difficult to see in this the further development of Kant’s theory of the primacy of practical reason and his moral proof of the existence of God.)
This is the true theory of progress—is any other needed! Yet it is obvious that the proof of this type of theory cannot be done empirically, but lies wholly in metaphysics.
The moral law, notwithstanding the absolute character of its dictates, is realized only through concrete goals, in concrete life. This sets a new task for moral life—to fill the empty form of absolute “ought” with concrete relative content, to find a bridge from the absolute to the relative. Here positive science enters into its own rights. It is the arsenal from which the moral will selects its arms. Science must serve the ends of the moral will (this does not, of course, exclude the possibility that knowledge itself, as such, can be a moral end). In particular, the social sciences, investigating different forms of social being in the past and present, are in our time specially called, as it were, to realistically orient good and evil and to illuminate them in social life. As with everything relative, reason travels a precarious path here: ideas of good and evil in concrete life are disputable and mistakes are possible, only the very concept of good and evil that unites everyone is beyond dispute. A person, within the limits of the understanding of reality that he has succeeded in achieving (an understanding in which science plays not the last role), selects from the boundless sea of evil precisely what can and ought to be eradicated just then by his own particular efforts; he selects that upon which he should concentrate his struggle at that given moment. In this man cannot, of course, manage without determining the likelihood of one or another course of things, without glancing into the future, without making predictions. From the totality of all these data and ideas arises consciousness of what is called the historical task. Every age, every epoch has some historical task of its own, determined by the objective course of things. Thus, although the moral law is absolute, and its imperatives have significance sub specie aeternitatis [from the perspective of eternity], still its content is always given by history. To be a son of your time, to answer its calls in everything, to understand all its tasks and take the lead in struggling for their resolution—such are the obligations that the moral law imposes. Without such content this law is a clanging cymbal,41 which will rouse not a great deed [podvig], only hypocrisy and deceit.
Pitiful is the person who in our time is incapable of seeing the radiance of the absolute moral ideal in the hearts of people devoting themselves to helping the proletariat in its struggle for human dignity, in the hearts of people capable of living and dying for the cause of freedom, and pitiful is the person who will not see this radiance in the dull and prosaic paragraphs of factory legislation or in the charter of a labor union, and so forth. Fichte’s rigorous ethics wants to subject all life, down to the most trifling details, to the control of the moral law. Perhaps such an elevated understanding of ethics is too much for the average person to carry out in life, but it is beyond doubt that there is nothing morally indifferent wherever the human will acts, and this pertains not only to acts, but to human institutions (law, first of all), which after all represent only a certain series of acts, repeated until established as a rule. Therefore, the emancipation of the peasants, the introduction of land captains,42 the limitation of zemstvo revenues,43 the municipal reform,44 and the censorship and university statutes45 are all subject to moral evaluation. Everything is either good or evil.
Positive historical science, and sociology as well (understanding the first as concrete history, and the second as a system of abstract concepts), are relevant, of course, to the determination and causal explanation of reality. But if the individual events of life are subject to our evaluation, then we can also evaluate historical events and select as an object of research an event of special interest and value to us. Of course, with this the selection of scientific material will be entirely relative and determined by the particular goals of the research, and for the same reason the number of scientific disciplines might be unlimited. But, in any event, we have here, in historical science, a combination of the category of “ought,” or evaluation, with the category of historical being (“is”). Generalizing such historical values into the concept of culture, Rickert (in his Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft) proposes to distinguish the sciences that have as their goal the study of the development of culture—sciences of culture—from those that do not set themselves such goals, or the natural sciences.46 The group of the sciences of culture have enormous practical significance, since they most further the discernment of good and evil in a complex reality and indicate the most fruitful methods of struggling with evil; these sciences develop together with the increasing complexity of social life. Positive science thus has a very definite and, moreover, enormous significance; at the present time science is, one might say, the sine qua [non] of a moral act. But at the same time it certainly does not have the defining and leading role the positivist theory of progress ascribes to it; on the contrary, it is only a means, an instrument of a higher moral end, standing apart from and independent of it.
We already know that, together with knowledge, faith has autonomous rights. Only it can put beyond doubt what is doubtful as an object of human knowledge, as all such objects are; only it can warm cold theoretical knowledge with the heart’s ardor and can provide a basis for conduct, external as well as internal, a basis not only for deeds, but for feelings. Faith establishes a religious context for truths that are the product of empirical as well as of supra-empirical knowledge, and extends the sphere of the indisputable beyond science. In this sense it is possible to believe, for example, in one’s calling, one’s mission, in one’s task; it is possible to believe in the imminent realization of certain goals, although science says nothing about this. Without faith it is impossible to take a religious approach to any teaching, no matter how inspired it is.
Religion—no matter what kind—penetrates by its very idea the whole active life of every conscious human being. All the moral aims that a human being sets for himself must also be the prescriptions of his religion. This idea is expressed by Kant, in Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft, which defines religion as follows: “religion is (subjectively regarded) the recognition of all duties as divine commands.”47 In life every human being must therefore solve an arduous task: to combine the absolute with the relative, to direct one’s activity in a way that meets the demands of one’s religion, to be imbued with the consciousness that precisely these deeds and duties are the ones that our God wants from us. Solving this question of practical religion, the celebrated question of “what is to be done,” is extraordinarily difficult and gives free range to limitless and interminable doubts. Only faith can put an end to them and morally stand a human being on his feet and affirm him. Without it, a human being cannot take a step forward in the most basic questions of life.
Faith is a completely independent aptitude of the spirit, which is far from evenly disbursed among people. There is a talent or genius for faith, as there is philosophic or scientific genius. If Hegel is correct in saying that nothing in history is accomplished without great passion, then his words are correct precisely in the sense that nothing great is accomplished without passionate faith in oneself and in one’s feat. It is this that has led martyrs to the stake, rack, and dungeon, to exile and to death, all for an idea. But as knowledge always supposes ignorance and is in essence a passage from ignorance to knowledge, so faith supposes doubt and struggle with unbelief, and in this consists the life of faith. The classic formula of this sense of the psychology of faith is expressed in the words of the gospel story: I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!48 It is impossible to believe in something obvious, for example, that two times two is four—here there is no place for faith, which always pertains to that which admits doubt. Therefore, we are denied firm support from the outside, the power of faith must be found in oneself; faith itself is a moral task. No matter what form it has taken, faith in the good has never been depleted in humanity, but there are epochs of history marked by either a decline or rise in faith. No development of knowledge or flowering of material culture can make up for a decline in faith; it is possible to allow that humanity will be deprived of its science, of its civilization, as it lived without them over the course of centuries. But a complete loss of faith in the good would mean moral death, from which no forces of science or contrivances of civilization would save us.
I will permit myself in conclusion to express a few remarks about the tasks of philosophy today. Hegel rightly indicated that “every individual is a child of his time; so philosophy too is its own time apprehended in thoughts (ist ihre Zeit in Gedanken erfasst),” and that “the task of philosophy is to comprehend what is.”49 Which peculiarities of our time does philosophy need to take into consideration?
Everyone is familiar with the basic features of the history of philosophical thought in the nineteenth century. In the first part of the century philosophy experienced an almost unprecedented flowering, when in the course of less than half a century Germany produced four philosophical geniuses: Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. The pinnacle of philosophical speculation was achieved in Hegel, whose philosophy ruled, albeit briefly, in all the most important branches of thought. Then followed the collapse of metaphysics. Hegel’s prophetic words, in the preface to his Logic, were justified: “If science were to join with common sense”—which Hegel always viewed with contemptuous irony—“in order to bring ruin to metaphysics, a strange spectacle apparently could result: a cultured people might be seen without metaphysics, like a temple once richly adorned but without the most sacred thing (ohne Allerheiligstes).”50 What Hegel considered an improbable possibility became a reality soon after his death, and for more than half a century this “strange spectacle” could be seen. The thrust of scholarly thought at this time went to positive science, as humanity was intoxicated with the successes of natural science and technology. The higher needs of the spirit were satisfied, as we already know, by the positivist theory of progress and the religion of humanity.
But, of course, such a situation could not last forever. The limited competence of natural science and in general of positive science, which had already abandoned the audacity of renouncing metaphysics, became more and more clear. Philosophical thought then began to raise its head. It is interesting that philosophy was so stunned by the blossoming of the positive sciences and had so lost its living philosophical tradition that it developed in a roundabout way, taking as its starting point not Hegel, but Kant, and then not the authentic, historical Kant, but only the Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason, which does not have a primary role in the general system of Kant’s philosophical views, but rather only a propaedeutic significance, so to speak. Therefore, the epistemological problem became the central one of modern philosophy; the special service of recent philosophical thought consists in working out the theory of knowledge. But thought could not, of course, stand still on the theory of knowledge, and had to turn sooner or later to knowledge itself; in other words, having recognized the authentic Kant, it had to pass to his successors. In this way the philosophical tradition will be revived. Contemporary philosophy, despite the opinion of the neo-Kantians, must not be only the development of “critical” philosophy, but must rather give a creative synthesis of all the latest philosophical systems, or at least take them into account. Moreover, any contemporary philosophical system must not only know its whole spiritual inheritance, it must also consider the achievements of that time when this inheritance was in a position hereditas jacens,51 without a successor. It must bring in and rework all the finite conclusions of contemporary positive science. Philosophy has never been posed with so difficult a task as now, but our time is full of philosophical presentiments and our young century will, I believe, show an unprecedented efflorescence of metaphysics. Among recent philosophical systems, these formally specified demands are best satisfied by the systems of Eduard von Hartmann and V. S. Soloviev; in my view, Soloviev’s philosophy is so far the last word in world philosophical thought, its highest synthesis.
But philosophy must stand at the heights of its time in another sense as well: it must embrace not only the science, but also the life of its time; it must understand the needs of the times and answer them one way or another. Not one great philosopher has turned his back on reality and its tasks. Classical German philosophy provided the ideal of the philosopher-citizen in the person of Fichte. The pulse of Hegel’s mighty thought still beats in Marxism. And contemporary philosophy must face the great social struggle of our days, and be its exponent and interpreter. It must not withdraw from life to the study, the sin of present-day German philosophy—the representatives of which unfortunately show, in their social views, the influence of their bourgeois sympathies. As a result, between philosophy and life a strange misunderstanding has formed, in which consciousness has been lost of the extent to which life is necessary for philosophy, and philosophy for life. Yet philosophy is necessary for life now more than ever, because of certain peculiarities of the historical moment we are experiencing.
Everyone knows what crisis the workers’ movement is presently enduring, a movement which takes Marx’s doctrine as its faith. This crisis is not economic or political in character—on the contrary, its very possibility rests on the movement’s growing power—but rather moral or, I would even say, religious in character. We already know that Marxism represents the most vivid version of the theory or religion of progress; it inspired its followers with faith in the immediate and inevitable [zakonomernyi] arrival of a different, perfect social order, the end of Vorgeschichte and the beginning of Geschichte. In this way, Marxism was strong not in its scientific, but in its utopian elements, not in its science, but in its faith. But this faith, improperly directed, had to dissipate or at least weaken with the growth of the movement. Its place has been taken by more and more practical tasks, which have overshadowed the ultimate goals. The former social-political utopianism has been replaced by social-political realism, connected only by chance with the name of Bernstein. The present development is thus distinguished by a two-sided nature: on the one hand, the practical achievements of the working class [soslovie] are increasing, but on the other hand this very success kills the previous, religiously-inspired beliefs. Into the sanctuary’s shade this success brings the prosaic light of day. The decline of idealism (in this case, as expressed in social utopianism) threatens to lower the movement to utter spiritual bourgeoisness, to deprive it of its soul, despite all the practical victories. I thus fully understand those who are filled with indignation at this Philistine-sacrilegious work. But at the same time I consider this work inevitable and historically necessary, and in vain do the fanatical adherents of the old view want to resist this work, like sectarians. It is impossible to resurrect a faith that has been undermined. But it is possible and necessary to create a new faith and to find a new source of moral enthusiasm. And this source should be seen in the elevating philosophy of idealism, in the eternal radiance of the absolute, in being religiously imbued by its dictates. Only this philosophy will return to humanity the living God it has lost and for which the soul today longs and is restless, and only this philosophy will help humanity recover from the utter godlessness, from the devotion to the flesh rather than to God’s truth, that like a cancer more and more afflict and putrefy present-day European society. The issue is not to give up or lower one or another of the practical demands of the current social movement, but to restore moral force and religious enthusiasm to it, to raise it—aufheben in the Hegelian sense52—to the height of a moral task.53
The current social struggle is for us not merely a confrontation of hostile interests, but the realization and development of a moral idea. And our participation in it will be motivated not by egoistic class interest, but by religious duty, by an absolute order of the moral law, by a dictate of God.
Humanity will then restore the lost harmony of the various spheres of the spirit’s activity, and religion will occupy the central place proper to it, becoming the basis of the thought and action of people. When the Teacher of love was asked, what is the main content of the law, He expressed it in two commandments. The first commandment was about love for God, and the second, derivative commandment was about love for one’s neighbor.54 He thereby indicated the correct, normal correlation between the religious and social interest; while not diminishing the latter in its significance, He nonetheless gave it second place. Present-day humanity has lost this correct relationship, and the contemporary doctrine recognizes only the second commandment, having subordinated or replaced the first. We have seen what logical contradictions this doctrine suffers and how little it can satisfy the serious adept. It has been the lot of this doctrine to thus negatively affirm the truth, having shown the whole impossibility of its negation. And in this consists the positive significance of the theory of progress, for the full revelation of truth requires not only its affirmation and positive development, but also its successive negation.