TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE

Philosophy answers to our need of forming a complete and unitary conception of the world and of life. Our mode of understanding or not understanding the world and life—springs from our feeling towards life itself. And life, like everything affective, has roots in sub consciousness, perhaps in unconsciousness. It is not usually our ideas that make us optimists or pessimists, but it is our optimism or our pessimism, of physiological or perhaps pathological origin, as much the one as the other, that makes our ideas.
To propose to a man that he should be someone else that he should become someone else, is to propose to him that he should cease to be himself. Everyone defends his own personality, and only consents to a change in his mode of thinking or of feeling in so far as this change is able to enter into the unity of his spirit. Neither of a man nor of a people—which is, in a certain sense, also a man—can a change be demanded which breaks the unity and continuity of the person.
A man can change greatly, almost completely even, but the change must take place within his continuity. The values we are discussing are values of the heart, and against values of the heart reasons do not avail. Reasons are only reasons—that is to say, they are not even truths. There is a class of pedantic label-mongers, pedants by nature and by grace.
There was a man who, purposing to console a father whose son has suddenly died in the flower of his years, says to him, “Patience, my friend, we all must die!” Would you think it strange if this father were offended at such impertinence? For it is impertinence. There are times when even an axiom can become impertinence.
Man, then, in his quality of an isolated individual, only sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells in so far as is necessary for living and self-preservation. If he does not perceive colors below red or above violet, the reason perhaps is that the colors which he does perceive suffice for the purposes of self-preservation. And the senses themselves are simplifying apparati which eliminate from objective reality everything that it is not necessary to know in order to utilize objects for preserving life.
In complete darkness an animal, if it does not perish, ends by becoming blind. Parasites which live in the intestines of other animals upon the nutritive juices which they find ready prepared for them by these animals, as they do not need either to see or hear, do in fact neither see nor hear; they simply adhere, a kind of receptive bag, to the being upon whom they live. For these parasites the visible and audible world does not exist. It is enough for them that the animals, in whose intestines they live, see and hear.
Man habitually sacrifices his life to his purse, but he sacrifices his purse to his vanity. He boasts even of his weaknesses and his misfortunes, for want of anything better to, what is it but eagerness for survival? Boast of, and is like a child who, in order to attract attention, struts about with a bandaged finger.
Man, the prisoner of logic, without which he cannot think, has always sought to make logic subservient to his desires, and principally to his fundamental desire. He has always sought to hold fast to logic, and especially in the Middle Ages, in the interests of theology and jurisprudence, both of which based them on what was established by authority.
Man, in effect, is unwilling to remain in ignorance of the motives of his own conduct. And just as a man who has been led to perform a certain action by hypnotic suggestion will afterwards invent reasons which would justify it and make it appear logical to himself and others, being unaware all the time of the real cause of his action, so every man—for since “life is a dream” every man is in a condition of hypnotism—seeks to find reasons for his conduct. And if the pieces on a chessboard were endowed with consciousness, they would probably have little difficulty in ascribing their moves to freewill—that is to say, they would claim for them finalist rationality. And thus it comes about that every philosophic theory serves to explain and justify an ethic, a doctrine of conduct which has its real origin in the inward moral feeling of the author of the theory. But he who harbors this feeling may possibly himself have no clear consciousness of its true reason or cause. Man yearns to be loved, or, what is the same thing, to be pitied.
Man wishes others to feel and share his hardships and his sorrows. The roadside beggar’s exhibition of his sores and gangrened mutilations is something more than a device to extort alms from the passer-by. True alms are pity rather than the pittance that alleviates the material hardships of life. The beggar shows little gratitude for alms thrown to him by one who hurries past with averted face; he is more grateful to him who pities him but does not help than to him who helps but does not pity, although from another point of view he may prefer the latter. Observe with what satisfaction he relates his woes to one who is moved by the story of them. He desires to be pitied, to be loved.
Our desire of living, our need of life, asks that that may be true which urges us to self-preservation and self-perpetuation, which sustains man and society; it asks that the true water may be that which assuages our thirst, and because it assuages it, that the true bread may be that which satisfies our hunger, because it satisfies it.
He who bases or thinks that he bases his conduct—his inward or his outward conduct, his feeling or his action—upon a dogma or theoretical principle which he deems incontrovertible, runs the risk of becoming a fanatic, and moreover, the moment that this dogma is weakened or shattered, the morality based upon it gives way. If, the earth that he thought firm begins to rock, he himself trembles at the earthquake, for we do not all come up to the standard of the ideal Stoic who remains undaunted among the ruins of a world shattered into atoms. Happily the stuff that is underneath a man’s ideas will save him. For if a man should tell you that he does not defraud or cuckold his best friend only because he is afraid of hell, you may depend upon it that neither would he do so even if he were to cease to believe in hell, but that he would invent some other excuse instead. And this is all to the honor of the human race.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Tragic Sense Of Life, by Miguel de Unamuno)

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