Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Moses Mendelssohn

Breslau: Löwe, 1789

Source: The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, tr. George di Giovanni.

Concerning Man’s Freedom


Man does not have Freedom

i. The possibility of the existence of all things known to us is supported by, and refers to, the coexistence of other individual things. We are not in a position to form the representation of a being that subsists completely on its own.

ii. The results of the manifold relations of existence to coexistence are expressed in living creatures through sensations.

iii. We call “desire” or “repulsion” the inner mechanistic behaviour of a living nature as conditioned by its sensations; or, the sensed relation of the inner conditions of a living nature’s existence and persistence to the outer conditions of this very being, or also, only the sensed relation of the inner conditions among themselves, is mechanistically connected with a movement which we call “desire” or “repulsion.”

iv. What lies at the foundation of all the various desires of a living nature, we call its original natural “impulse”; this constitutes the very being of the thing. Its business is to preserve and augment the faculty of existing of the particular nature of which it is the impulse,

v. We could call this original natural impulse “desire a priori.” The mass of individual desires are only so many occasional applications and modifications of this unalterable universal one.

vi. A desire can be said to be absolutely a priori if it pertains to each individual being without distinction of genus, species, and gender, inasmuch as they all equally strive simply to preserve themselves in existence.

vii. A completely indeterminate faculty is a non-thing. Every determination, however, presupposes something already determined; it is the result of a law, and its fulfilment. Hence a priori desire, whether of the primary or the secondary species, also presupposes a priori laws,

viii. The original impulse of rational being, like the impulse of any other being, consists in an unceasing striving to preserve and augment the faculty of existing of the particular nature which it determines,

ix. The existence of rational natures is said to be “personal,” as distinct from all other natures. This personal existence consists in the consciousness that a particular being has of its identity, and results from a higher degree of consciousness in general.

x. The natural impulse of a rational being, or rational desire, is therefore necessarily directed to the enhancement of the degree of personality, i.e. the degree of living existence itself.

xi. Rational desire in general, or the impulse of the rational being as such, we call “will.”

xii. The existence of each and every finite being is a successive one. Its personality rests on memory and reflection; its limited but distinct cognition, on concepts, hence on abstraction and on verbal, written, or other signs.

xiii. The law of the will is to act according to concepts of conformity and contextuality, i.e. according to principles; the will is the faculty of practical principles.

xiv. Whenever a rational being does not act in conformity with its principles, it does not act according to its will – it acts, not in accordance with a rational desire, but an irrational one.

xv. Through the satisfaction of each and every irrational desire, the identity of a rational being is disrupted; hence its personality, which is grounded in rational existence, is injured, and the quantity of living existence is thereby diminished in the same measure.

xvi. The degree of living existence that produces the person is only a type and mode of living existence in general, not a special existence or essence. Therefore the person attributes to itself not only those actions that result in it in accordance to principles but also those that are the effects of irrational desires and blind inclinations too.

xvii. Whenever a man has transgressed his principles, being blinded by an irrational desire, he is later wont to say, when he feels the evil consequences of his actions: “It serves me right.” For he is conscious of the identity of his being, and hence he must look upon himself as the author of the unpleasant situation in which he finds himself, and he must experience a most embarrassing discord within himself,

xviii. So far as it is built upon one fundamental impulse alone, the whole system of practical reason is grounded upon this experience,

xix. If man had only one desire, he would not have any concept of right and wrong at all. But he has several desires, and he cannot satisfy all of them in equal measure; on the contrary, there are thousands of cases where the possibility of satisfying one of them, removes the possibility of satisfying the others. However, if all these different desires are only modifications of a single original desire, then this last provides the principle according to which the different desires can be weighed against one another, and the relation determined according to which they can be satisfied without the person running into contradiction and enmity with itself.

xx. An inner [measure or] right of this kind is built up in each man mechanistically, by virtue of the identity of his personality. External right, which men freely concede to one another, and establish without coercion whenever they enter into a civil union, is always just a copy of the inner right, publicly established among the individual members. I appeal here to the history of all peoples of whom we have any detailed information at all.

xxi. The greater perfection to which inner right attains according to circumstances follows only as the continuation and elaboration of the very same mechanism that brought about the lesser perfection. All principles rest on desires and experience, and to the extent that they are actually complied with, they presuppose an activity already determined from elsewhere. They can never be the beginning or the first cause of an action. The aptitude and readiness to cultivate effective principles, or to accept them practically, is proportionate to the capacity to receive representations; to the faculty to change these representations into concepts; to the vivacity and energy of thought; and to the degree of rational existence.

xxii. The beginning (or the a priori) of principles in general is the original desire of a rational being to preserve its own particular existence, i.e. the person, and to subjugate anything that would injure its identity.

xxiii. From this very impulse there flows a natural love and obligation to justice towards others. A rational being cannot distinguish itself qua rational being (abstractly) from another rational being. The I and Man are one; the He and Man are one; therefore the He and I are one. The Love of the person therefore limits the love of the individuum, and necessitates my not holding myself in high regard. But in order to avoid extending this last condition theoretically to the point where the individual might be totally destroyed, leaving us with a mere personified nothingness, more precise determinations are required. These have already been alluded to in the preceding, but is not our purpose to discuss them further here. It suffices for us that, along this way, we have attained to a clear insight into the origin of the moral laws that we call apodeictic laws of practical reason; and that we are now able to conclude that, even when developed to its highest form, simple impulse conjoined with reason exhibits unqualified mechanism alone and no freedom, although an appearance of freedom arises because of the often conflicting interests of the individuum and the person, and the varying fortunes of a mastery to which the person can lay claim only when conjoined with clear consciousness.


Man has Freedom

xxiv. It is undeniable that the existence of all finite things rests on coexistence, and that we are not in a position to form the representation of a being that subsists completely on its own. It is equally undeniable however, that we are even less in a position to form the representation of an absolutely dependent being. Such a being would have to be entirely passive. Yet it could not be passive, since anything that is not already something cannot simply be determined to be something; in what has no property, none can be generated simply through relations; indeed, not even a relation is possible with respect to it.

xxv. But if a completely mediated existence or being is not conceivable but is a non-thing, then a completely mediated, i.e. wholly mechanistic, action, is equally a non-thing: hence mechanism is in itself only something accidental, and it must everywhere have a purely autonomous activity at its foundation.

xxvi. Since we recognize that in its existence, and consequently also in its action and passion, every finite thing is necessarily supported by other finite things to which it relates, we must equally recognize the subjugation of each and every individual being to mechanistic laws. For, to the extent that its being and action is mediated, to that extent it must absolutely rest on the laws of mechanics.

xxvii. The cognition of what mediates the existence of things means “distinct cognition”; whatever does not allow mediation, cannot be distinctly known by us.

xxviii. Absolutely autonomous activity excludes mediation; it is impossible that we should somehow cognize its inner being distinctly,

xxix. Hence the possibility of absolutely autonomous activity cannot be known; its actuality can be known, however, for it is immediately displayed in consciousness, and is demonstrated by the deed.

xxx. This autonomous activity is called “freedom” inasmuch as it can be opposed to, and can prevail over, the mechanism which constitutes the sensible existence of an individual being.

xxxi. Among living beings we only know man to be endowed with the degree of self-conscious autonomous activity that brings the impetus and the calling to free actions with it.

xxxii. So freedom does not consist in some absurd faculty to make decisions without grounds; even less does it consist in the choice of the most useful, or the choice of rational desires. For any such choice, even if it comes about according to the most abstract concepts, always still is a mere mechanistic event. On the contrary, this freedom consists essentially in the independence of the will from desires.

xxxiii. Will is purely autonomous activity elevated to the degree of consciousness that we call “reason.”

xxxiv. The independence and inner omnipotence of the will, or the possibility that intellectual being can have dominion over sensible reality, is de facto granted by all men.

xxxv. We know that the philosophers of antiquity, especially the Stoics, did not allow any comparison between things of desire and those of honour. The objects of desire, they said, can be measured against the sensation of the pleasing, and the concepts of what is beneficial can be measured against one another, and one desire can be sacrificed to another. The principle of desire, however, falls outside any relation to the principle of honour which has one object alone, viz. the perfection of human nature per se, autonomous activity, freedom. Therefore all transgressions were alike to them, and the question was always just this: from which of the two incommensurable principles (which could never possibly come into real collision with one another) did the action proceed? They would quite rightly only allow a man to be called free who lived just the life of his soul and determined himself according to the laws of his nature, hence only obeyed himself and always acted on his own. On the other hand, they saw mere slaves in those who, determined by the things of desire, lived in accordance with the law of these things, and subjugated themselves to such things so that they were unceasingly altered by them, and moved to act as suited their desires.

xxxvi. However much our enlightened age may have arisen above religious fantasies, or the mysticism of an Epictetus1 or an Antoninus,2 we have not yet advanced so far in the distinctness and profundity of our ideas as to have cut ourselves loose from all feeling of honour. But as long as a spark of this feeling still dwells in man, there is an irrefutable witness to freedom, an invincible faith in the inner allmight of the will, alive in him. He can deny this faith with his lips, but the faith abides in his conscience, and bursts forth unexpectedly sometimes, as in the Mahomet of the poet, where the prophet, withdrawn into himself with his mind in turmoil, utters the dreadful words:

There is remorse after all!

xxxvii. But this faith cannot be totally denied, not even with the lips. For who would want to be known as one who is not always capable of resisting temptation to a shameful deed but must hesitate instead, weigh advantages and disadvantages and think of degree or magnitude"? And that is how we judge other men too. For if we see someone give the pleasant precedence over the useful; or choose crooked means to his ends; or contradict himself in his wishes and aspirations, we only find that he is acting irrationally, and foolishly. If he is remiss in the fulfilment of his duties; if he defiles himself with vice; if he is unjust and given to violent acts, we can hate him, loathe him, but reject him altogether we cannot. But if he deliberately denies the feeling of honour; if he shows that he can bear inner shame, or that he no longer feels self-contempt-then we mercilessly reject him. He is filth under our feet.

xxxviii. Where do these unconditional judgments arise from? whence come these limitless presumptions and demands, which are not restricted just to actions but lay claim to feeling itself, and demand its existence apodeictically?

xxxix. Are we to suppose that the validity of these presumptions, these demands, is based on some formula, perhaps on the insight into the right connection, the indisputable truth of the consequence, in the following proposition: “If A equals B, and C equals A, then B equals C"? This is how Spinoza proved that man, so far as he is a rational being, would rather give up his life, even if he has no faith in the immortality of the soul, than save himself from death through a lie. And in abstracto Spinoza is right. It is just as impossible for a man of pure reason to lie or to cheat, as for the three angles of a triangle not to equal two right angles. But will a real being endowed with reason be so driven into a corner by the abstractum of his reason? Will he let himself be made such a total prisoner through a mere play of words? Not for a moment! If honour is to be trusted, and if a man can keep his word, then quite another spirit must dwell in him than the spirit of syllogism.

xl. I hold this other spirit to be the breath of God in the work of clay.

xli. This spirit gives proof of its existence first in the understanding, for without it the understanding would be a miraculous mechanism that not only enables the seeing man to be led by the blind, but also makes the necessity of this arrangement demonstrable through inferences of reason. Who controls the syllogism while it stipulates its premises? Only this spirit, through its presence in the deeds of freedom, and in an indestructible consciousness.

xlii. Just as this consciousness is the very conviction that the intelligence is effective by its own strength; that it is the highest power, and indeed the only one truly known to us, so too it teaches us to have immediate faith in a first and supreme Intelligence, in an intelligent author and law giver of nature, in a God who is a Spirit.

xliii. But this faith first reaches its full force and becomes religion, when the faculty of pure love develops in man’s heart.

xliv. Pure Love? Is there such a love? How can it be proven, and where is its object to be found?

xlv. If I answer, “The principle of pure love is the same as that of whose existence, qua principle of honour, we already made certain,” then the reader may well believe that he has all the more right to insist that I must expound the object of it.

xlvi. So my answer is this: the object of pure love is the same one that Socrates beheld. It is the theion in man; veneration of this divine element in him is what lies at the ground of every virtue, of all feeling of honour.

xlvii. I cannot construct either this impulse, nor its object. To be able to do that, I would have to know how substances are created, and how a necessary being is possible. But the following will perhaps yet clarify my conviction about its existence somewhat more.

xlviii If the universe is not God, but a creation; if it is the effect of a free intelligence; then the original tendency of each and every being must be the expression of a divine will. This expression of God’s will in the creature is its original law, and the power to fulfil this law must also be given in it necessarily. This law, which is the condition of the existence of the being itself, its original impulse, its own will, cannot be compared to natural laws that are only the results of relations and rest everywhere upon mediation, Every individual being, however, belongs to nature; hence it is also subject to natural laws, and has a double tendency.

xlix. The tendency towards the earthly is the sensible impulse or the principle of desire; the tendency towards the eternal is the intellectual impulse, the principle of pure love.

l. If anyone wants me to discuss this double tendency further; if he queries the possibility of such a relation, and the theory of its terms, then I shall quite properly decline any such investigation, since the object of a theory of creation is to state the conditions of the unconditioned. It is sufficient that the existence of this double tendency, and its relation, should be demonstrated through action, and recognized by reason. Just as all men attribute freedom to themselves, and set their honour only in the possession of it, so they all attribute a faculty of pure love to themselves too, and a feeling of its overwhelming energy upon which the possibility of freedom rests. They all want to be lovers of virtue, not of the advantages connected with it; and they all want to know of a beauty that is not just a source of pleasure; a joy that is not mere titillation.

li. We call the actions that actually proceed from this faculty “divine”; and their source, the dispositions to these actions, we call “godly dispositions.” These actions are also accompanied by a joy which cannot be compared to any other joy: this is the joy that God himself has in his existence.

lii. Joy is pleasure in existence; just as everything that challenges existence brings pain and sadness with it. Joy’s source is the source of life and all activity. But if its affect only refers to a transitory existence, then it is itself transitory: the soul of the animal. If its object is the unchanging and eternal, then it is the very power of the Deity, and its booty, immortality.

Supplement v

The proposition from which Spinoza drew the conclusion that God, or the natura naturans, can have neither intellect nor will, whether finite or infinite (which is a point well worthy of notice), is as follows.

Actual thought, explicit consciousness, intellect, is a definite type, a modification (modificatione modificatum) of absolute thought. Absolute modified by a modification thought itself, unmodified, (infinita cogitationis essentia) is produced by substance immediately; all its various species, however, are produced by substance only through an intermediary, that is, these species can only immediately derive from something finite; hence they must be included on the side of created nature, not at all on the side of the uncreated one.

Now, Herder himself says in the cited passage (p. 139), where he accuses Lessing and Spinoza of having got stuck half-way: “Existence is more eminent than any of its effects; it is the source of an enjoyment that not only surpasses individual concepts, but cannot even be measured against them: for the power of representation is only ONE of the powers of existence, and many other powers obey it.”

Suppose now that Lessing were to reply: “Friend, you have not quite unravelled the tangle of Spinozistic ideas, for otherwise you would have seen that what for you is God’s power of representation (and is only one of his powers, and like them originates from a primal ground of actuality) cannot possibly be a power that directs. For according to the logic of your own concepts (as you present them) the power of representation is nothing but consciousness – consciousness of “what every concept presupposes, of being or existence”; consciousness of what determines the law for all, thought included, and will not be determined by it, hence cannot be surpassed by thought. What’s all this talk about a blind power? Does thought implant eyes into your God? Where does the light of these eyes come from, the light without which not even the inner eye can see?

You make fun of Leibniz’s anthropopathies and you won’t allow the ascription of prearranged plans or intentions to God; you teach a necessity which is not implanted through wisdom, but is nature yet you go on talking about a might that attains its precepts of order, regularity, and harmony, only through thoughts; and about thoughts through which Nature is first excogitated, and which ‘are the most perfectly and absolutely infinite powers, since thought is, and has, all that pertains to infinite, self-grounded, might’. Truly I understand you not. For what else is the fundamental idea of Spinozism, except that God is extended being as such; that He is thinking being as such, the living and active being as such; and that therefore thought can no more be attributed to Him immediately than corporeal movements, explicit consciousness, no more than figure and colour? So if I want to speak of the pleasure of this supreme being, I must not only elevate it above every concept, but must boldly expel it from every concept. My acute friend Mendelssohn was right when he called this a ‘surpassing oneself. It was a salto mortale, to which I immediately responded with a salto mortale of my own, and thereby I stood again next to the man with whom I was conversing.”

I can’t think what Herder could say to Lessing about this, I mean, how he could give him a determinate, truly philosophical answer. The almost universal verdict on the Dialogues Concerning God of this talented author has been that it redeems, not Spinoza’s doctrine but another one which Spinoza ought to have taught, from the charge of atheism. But even then, the composition of Herder’s God and the purification of Spinoza’s, ought at least to be a possible composition and a possible purification, and this does not seem to me to be the case. For I deny that there can be an in-between system (such as could be conceived by us men) between the system of final causes and the system of purely efficient ones. If intellect and will are not the first and highest powers, not the one and all, then they are only subordinated powers that belong to created, not to creating, nature.

They are not original springs of movement but a clockwork that can be taken apart, and its mechanism tracked down.

Under “mechanism” I include every concatenation of purely efficient causes. Such concatenation is eo ipso a necessary one, just as a necessary concatenation, qua necessary, is by that very fact a mechanistic one.

If we grant that representation and desire accompany a merely mechanistic concatenation, and that they can be in and with it as part of it, then every confluence of powers, every harmonious result, must bring about a phenomenon, of which the representation will carry the concept of an activity according to goals with it, the representation of an art, a wisdom, a goodness, etc.

A non-mechanistic concatenation is one according to aims or pre-established goals. It does not exclude efficient causes, so it does not rule out mechanism and necessity either; but there is this sole essential distinction, namely that in this case the result of a mechanism precedes the mechanism itself as a concept, and the mechanistic conjunction is given through the concept rather than the concept being given in the mechanism, as in the other case. This system is called the system of final causes, or of rational freedom. The other system is that of merely efficient causes, or of natural necessity. No third system is possible, unless one wants to assume two primordial beings [...].

Supplement vi

Before Leibniz, and even more perfectly than he, Spinoza had already done away with the need of a hypothesis to explain the de facto concordances between the alterations of extended and thinking substance, for he simply assumed that there is only one substance. Here, therefore, is a true similarity between the two philosophers. They both considered soul and body as a unum per se which can indeed be divided in representation, but never in actuality’. The matter deserves a closer look.

Spinoza quite early rejected the Cartesian concept that makes extension something not distinguishable from space, totally inactive, or merely geometric. He instead laid at its basis a perpetually active power and actual being, so that extension stood as a property of the divine nature. According to Spinoza, power in general is the living essence of God Himself. In what is corporeal, it appears as movement; in what thinks, as desire. The life of an individual thing is the power through which that thing persists in its being and actual existence.7 Thus every individual thing has its own different life-power. But since each and every individual thing presupposes all other individual things, and its nature and composition is thoroughly determined through its connection with all the rest, this very connection must be sought in the decree of God in which it was predetermined.

These are only a few main points. In order to see how great, general, and deep, the similarity between the two doctrines actually is on this point, one must pursue the two philosophers in the detailed implementation of their ways of thinking. But then, too, the similarity would become so conspicuous, that it would hardly occur to anyone to want to demonstrate it through laborious comparisons [...].

Supplement vii

The principle of all cognition is living being; living being proceeds from itself, it is progressive and productive. The stirring of a worm, its sluggish pleasure or displeasure, could not arise without an imagination holding [such stirrings] together according to the laws of the worm’s principle of life, and producing a representation of its state. The more manifold the felt existence that a being generates in this way, the more alive is such a being [ ... ]

The faculty of abstraction and language arouses the need for a more complete perception, a more manifold connection. A world of reason thus arises, in which signs and words take the place of substances and forces. We appropriate the universe by tearing it apart, and creating a world of pictures, ideas, and words, which is proportionate to our powers, but quite unlike the real one. We understand perfectly what we thus create, to the extent that it is our creation. And whatever does not allow being created in this way, we do not understand. Our philosophical understanding does not reach beyond its own creation. All understanding comes about, however, by the fact that we posit distinctions, and then supersede them. Even the most developed human reason is not capable (explicite) of any other operation than this, and all the rest refer back to it. Perception, recognition, and conception, make up in ascending order the complete range of our intellectual faculty [ ... ]

Let me explain myself more clearly.

From the proposition, “Becoming cannot have become or have originated any more than Being or substance,” Spinoza drew the correct consequence that matter must have an eternal and infinite actuosity* of its own, and that this actuosity must be an immediate mode of substance. This immediate, eternal mode, that he believed to be expressed by the relation of motion and rest in natura naturata, was for him the universal, eternal, unalterable form of individual things and of their unceasing change. If this movement did not have a beginning, individual things could not have begun either. Not only were these things eternal in origin, therefore; they also, according to reason, existed simultaneously, regardless of their succession: for in the concept of reason itself, there is no prior or posterior, but everything is necessary and simultaneous, and the one and only consequence permitted in thought is that of dependence. So the moment that Spinoza elevated the experiential concepts of movement, of individual things, of generation and succession, into concepts of reason, they were at once purified of everything empirical for him; and, with the firm conviction that everything had to be considered only secundum modum quo a rebus ceternis fuit,* he could regard the concepts of time, measure, and number, as one-sided representational views abstracted from this modus, and hence as beings of the imagination to which reason did not need to give any attention before it had first reformed them, and brought them back to the truth (vere consideratum).

The scholastics had prepared the way for him in these claims too.

Several of their masters had taken refuge in a creation from all eternity, in order to avoid the unthinkable concept of creation in time which arises whenever one wants to assume a beginning for the series of natural events. As Spinoza concluded, from the fact that things move and alter one another, that they must have moved and altered one another from eternity; so those earlier masters concluded, from the fact that nature was created, that the unalterable creator of it must have created it from eternity. They had one more difficulty to overcome than did Spinoza, however, for their God was no mere natura naturans, but a being really distinct from nature who had produced it in its very substance. These difficulties did not prevent Leibniz from adhering to the scholastics, and from declaring that a creation (even according to substance) without any beginning was intelligible. And he did not lack followers on this question; and there still are many worthy philosophers amongst us who hold that the concept of an actual creation of actually individual and successive things from all eternity is possible.

This somewhat more serious mistake comes about in the same way as the less serious one into which Spinoza fell, by confusing the concept of cause with the concept of ground, and so depriving the former of what is peculiar to it, and reducing “cause” for speculative purposes to a merely logical entity. I have already elucidated this process elsewhere, and have, as I believe, sufficiently established that, so far as the concept of cause is distinguished from that of ground, it is a concept of experience which we owe to the consciousness of our own causality and passivity, and cannot be derived from the merely idealistic concept of ground any more than it can be resolved into it.

A union of the two, such as we find in the principle of sufficient reason, is not therefore inadmissible, as long as we never for a moment forget what specifically lies at the ground of each and which made of each a possible concept. The principle of sufficient reason says: “Every thing dependent depends, on something”; that of causality: “Everything that is done, must be done through something.” In the first principle, the “from something” is already implied in the word “dependent”; just as in the second, the “through something” is already implied by the word “done.” Both of them are identical principles, so that they have universal and apodictic validity. But they are unified through the proposition: “Everything conditional must have a condition,” which is equally identical, and hence equally universal and necessary.

If one forgets the essential difference between the two concepts, and what it rests on, then one may take the liberty of replacing one with the other, and using them in this way. The result is that things come to be without coming to be; that they change without changing; that they can precede or follow one another without being before or after one another.

If one does not forget the essential difference between the two concepts, one is ineluctably bound to time by the concept of cause, through which the concept of an action is necessarily posited; for an action which is not in time is a non-thing. Even with all its clever tricks, idealism cannot help us out of the difficulty here; it only affords a brief respite.

After these explanations, it should no longer seem strange to hear me claim that the actual existence of a temporal world made up of individual finite things producing and destroying one another in succession, can in no way be conceptualized, which is to say, it is not naturally explicable. For if I want to think of the series of these things as actually infinite, I run up against the absurd concept of an eternal time, and no mathematical construction can get rid of this difficulty. If I want the series to have a beginning instead, I lack anything from which any such beginning could be derived. Should I say that this beginning is the will of an intelligence, I speak words devoid of sense. For just as the origin of the concept of a thing prior to the existence of any of its parts (for instance, the concept of an organic being prior to all organic beings) is no easier to comprehend than the origin of an object independent of any concept, so too in an eternal Intelligence subsisting in itself and for itself alone, the alteration with which a time originates is just as perfectly inconceivable as a self-originating movement in matter.

The incomprehensibility is equal on either route. But reason need not despair because of this incomprehensibility, for knowledge forces itself upon it, so to speak; namely, the knowledge that the condition of the possibility of the existence of a temporal world lies outside the region of its concepts, that is to say, outside that complex of conditioned beings which is nature. So when reason searches for that condition, it is searching for something extra-natural or supernatural within what is natural; or again, it is trying to transform the natural into something supernatural And since, by doing this, it acts outside its own purview, it cannot get a single step closer to its goal, but is only able to uncover ever new conditions for what is conditioned, conditions for natural laws and mechanism. In spite of this, reason does not desist, and is not checked in its expectations, because it does know things that are unconditioned in their kind, and it is always advancing in this knowledge at various levels. Its general occupation is the progressive making of combinations; its speculative occupation is the making of combinations according to recognized laws of necessity, that is to say laws of identity, for reason has no concept of any necessity except the one that it establishes itself by means of its progressive and unrelenting process of separating and reuniting, by alternately retaining and letting go and finally displaying this necessity in identical propositions. But the essential indeterminacy of human language and designation, and the mutability of sensible shapes, almost universally allows these propositions to acquire an external appearance of saying more than the mere quidquid est, illud est; of expressing more than a mere factum which was at some point perceived, observed, compared, recognized, and joined to other concepts. Everything that reason can produce through division, combination, judgment, inference, and reflection, is simply a natural thing. Reason too, as restricted being, belongs among these things. The whole of nature, however, the sum-concept of all conditional beings, cannot reveal more to the searching understanding than what is contained in it, namely, manifold existence, alterations, play of forms-never an actual beginning; never a real principle of some objective existence.

But how does reason ever come upon a task which is impossible, that is to say, irrational? Is it the fault of reason, or is it the fault of man? Does reason misunderstand itself, or are we the victims of a misunderstanding with respect to it?

To resolve this somewhat strange-sounding question, we must raise another one that sounds just as strange; namely, Is man in possession of reason, or is reason in possession of man?

If we understand by “reason” the soul of man only in so far as it has distinct concepts, passes judgments, and draws inferences with them, and goes on building new concepts or ideas, then reason is a characteristic of man which he acquires progressively, an instrument of which he makes use. In this sense, reason belongs to him.

But if by “reason” we mean the principle of cognition in general, then reason is the spirit of which the whole living nature of man is made up; man consists of it. In this sense man is a form which reason has assumed. I take the whole man, without dividing him, and discover that his consciousness is composed of two original representations, that of the conditional, and that of the unconditional. These two representations are inseparably connected, yet in such a way that the representation of the conditional presupposes the representation of the unconditional and can only be given with the latter. Hence we do not first need to look for the unconditional; on the contrary, we have the same certainty about its existence as we have about our own conditioned one, or indeed, an even greater certainty.

Since our conditioned existence rests upon an infinity of mediations, an immense field is thereby opened to our research, and we are already forced to labour in it for the sake of our physical maintenance. All of our investigations have as their object the discovery of what mediates the existence of things. Whenever we gain insight into the intermediary of a thing, that is to say, when we have discovered its mechanism, we can, if we are in control of the means, also produce the thing itself. Whatever we can construct in this fashion, at least in representation, we can also comprehend; and what we cannot so construct, we also cannot comprehend.

To want to discover the conditions of the unconditional; to want to invents, possibility for what is absolutely necessary, and to construct it in order to be able to comprehend it, seems on the face of it an absurd undertaking. Yet this is precisely what we undertake to do whenever we strive to make nature into something that we can comprehend, that is, reduce it to a purely natural existence, and uncover the mechanics of the principle of mechanism. For if everything that is to come to be and exist in a way that is comprehensible to us must do so under conditions, then, as long as we can comprehend, we remain within a chain of conditional conditions. Where this chain ceases, there we also cease to comprehend, and the complex that we call nature ceases to exist too. The concept of the possibility of the existence of nature would also have to be the concept of an absolute beginning or origin of nature; it would have to be the concept of the unconditional itself, so far as this unconditional is the unconditional condition of nature, i.e. so far as it is what is not naturally connected, or what is, for us, unconnected. Should the concept of what is thus unconditional and unconnected, hence extra-natural, ever become possible, then the unconditional would cease to be unconditional; it must itself receive conditions; and the absolutely necessary must begin turning into a possibility, so as to allow construction.

Now, in consequence of all that we have said so far, the unconditional must lie outside nature and outside every natural connection with it. However, nature, or the sum-concept of the conditional, is grounded in the unconditional and hence connected with it, therefore this unconditional must be called “the supernatural” and cannot be called anything else. From this supernatural source the natural, or the universe, cannot proceed, or have proceeded, in any other way except supernaturally. Moreover: since everything that lies outside the complex of the conditional, or the naturally mediated, also lies outside the sphere of our distinct cognition, and cannot be understood through concepts, the supernatural cannot be apprehended by us in any way except as it is given to us, namely, as fact-IT is!

This Supernatural, this Being of all beings, all tongues proclaim GOD.

The God of the universe cannot just be the architect of the universe; he is the Creator whose unconditional power has made things also according to their substance. Had He not made them also according to their substance, there would have to have been two authors who must have somehow (and nobody knows how) struck up an association. And this is an absurdity which in our days needs no refutation (not because it is too great, but because it is not in our way of thinking). Our resistance to a coming to be of things even according to substance derives from the fact that we cannot comprehend any becoming that does not happen naturally, that is, in a conditional and mechanistic way.

How I wish I were able to make these propositions and their consequences just as comprehensible as they are evident to me. Not only would we then see the irrationality of the demand for a demonstration of God’s existence, but through this insight we should also comprehend why a first cause invested with our understanding and will (both of which are grafted onto coexistence, i.e. on dependence and finitude) must appear to be an impossible, totally absurd, being. The more perfectly we cognize the second point (starting from the first), the more distinctly we can see the invalidity of the argument by which, since God cannot be a man, or a corporeal being, individuality and intelligence also cannot belong to Him either.

But regardless of our finitude and our slavery to nature we do possess, or at least we appear to possess through the consciousness of our spontaneous activity in the exercise of our will, an analogue within us of the supernatural, that is to say, of a being who does not act mechanistically. And since we are not in a position ever to arrive at an actual representation of the possibility of the beginning of any alteration whatever, unless it is the effect of an inner resolution or of a self-determination, so the naked instinct of reason has led all uncivilized peoples to regard as action every alteration whose origin they witnessed, and to connect this action with a living self-active being. They erred, in that they drew the connection immediately. But they erred far more forgivably and much less seriously than we do when we seek to dissolve everything into mechanism and, because our distinct representation of a thing does not reach beyond the representation of its mechanics, make to the principle of mechanism the absurd request that it too, if it is to be granted objectivity, exhibit a mechanism. Yet there already is something non-mechanistic in the possibility of a representation in general, and nobody is in a position to represent the principle of life, the inner source of understanding and will, as the result of mechanistic connections, that is, as the simple result of mediation. Even less can causality in general be conceived simply as the result of mediation, or as resting upon mechanism. And since we do not have the slightest intimation of causality, except immediately, through the consciousness of our own causality, i.e. our life-principle, I don’t see how anyone can avoid assuming intelligence in general as the first and single principle, as the true primordial Being-I mean, an intelligence that is supremely real, and cannot be conceived in its turn under the image of mechanism (see Supplements IV and V), but must be conceived rather as a thoroughly independent, other-worldly and personal Being [ ... ] .