Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, illustrated by those of Metaphysics,
Published in the year 1766 by Immanuel Kant.
Translated by Emanuel F. Goerwitz and Edited, with an introduction and notes, by Frank Sewall republished in English 1900 Swan Sonnenschein and Co London, New York, The MacMillan Company
Emanuel Swedenborg 1688-1772 Arcana Coelestia 1749-1756
Immanuel Kant 1724-1804
Part First, Which Is Dogmatic
A complicated metaphysical knot which can be untied or cut according to choice.
If we put all together, that the school-boy rehearses, that the crowd relates, and that the philosopher demonstrates about spirits, this would seem to constitute no small part of our knowledge. Nevertheless, I dare assert that all these smatterers could be placed in a most awkward embarrassment, if it should occur to somebody to insist upon the question, just what kind of a thing that is about which these people think they understand so much. The methodical talk of learned institutions is often simply an agreement to beg a question which is difficult to solve, by the variable meaning of words. For we seldom hear at academies the comfortable and oft times reasonable “I do not know.” Certain newer philosophers, as they like to be called, overcome this question easily. A spirit, they say, is a being possessed of reason. Then it is no miracle to see spirits; for he who sees men, sees beings possessing reason. But, they continue, this being in man, possessing reason, is only a part of man, and this part, the animating part, is a spirit. Very well then. Before you prove that only a spiritual being can have reason, take care that first of all I understand what kind of conception I must have of a spiritual being. Self-deception in this matter, while large enough to be seen with eyes half-open, is moreover of very evident origin. For, later on and in old age, we are sure to know nothing of that which was very well known to us at an early date, as children, and the man of thoroughness finally becomes at best a sophist in regard to his youthful delusions.
Thus I do not know if there are spirits, yea, what is more, I do not even know what the word “spirit” signifies. But, as I have often used it myself, and have heard others using it, something must be understood by it, be this something mere fancy or reality. To evolve this hidden meaning, I will compare my badly understood conception of it with sundry cases of application, and, by observing with which it conforms, and to which it is opposed, I hope to unfold its hidden sense.
Take, for example, the space of a cubic foot, and suppose something filling this space, i.e., resisting the intrusion of any other thing. Then nobody would call the substance occupying that space “spiritual.” It evidently would be called material, because it is expanded, impenetrable, and, like everything corporeal, subject to divisibility and to the laws of impact. Thus far we are still on the smooth track of other philosophers. But imagine a simple being, and impart to it at the same time reason. Would that, then, comprise the meaning of “spirit?” To discover this, I will leave to the aforesaid simple being reason as an inner quality, and will consider that being only in its external relations. And now I ask, if I want to place this simple substance in that space of one cubic foot, which is full of matter, would a single element have to make room for it, so that the spirit might enter? You think yes? Very well, then this supposed space would have to lose a second elementary particle were it to take in a second spirit, and thus, if you keep on, a cubic foot of space would be filled with spirits whose mass exists just as well by impenetrability, as if it was full of matter, and, just like the latter, must be subject to the laws of impact. But substances of this kind, although they might contain the power of reason, would not differ at all from the elements of matter of which also we know only the powers which they exert externally by their very existence, and do not at all know what might belong to their interior qualities. Thus it is beyond doubt that simple substances of that kind, of which masses could be accumulated, would not be called spiritual beings. You will, therefore, be able to retain the conception of a spirit only if you imagine beings who can be present even in a space filled with matter, thus beings who do not possess the quality of impenetrability, and who never form a solid whole, no matter how many you unite. Simple beings of this kind would be called immaterial beings, and, if they have reason, spirits. But simple substances which, if combined, result in an expanded and impenetrable whole, would be called material units, and their whole, matter.
Either the name of a spirit is a mere word without any meaning, or, its significance is of the nature described. From the explanation of what a spirit consists in; it is a long step indeed to the proposition that such natures are real, yea, even possible. We find in the works of philosophers many good and reliable proofs that everything which thinks must be simple; and that every substance which thinks according to reason, must be a unit of nature; and that the indivisible Ego could not be divided among many connected things which make up a whole. My soul, therefore, must be a simple substance. But this proof leaves still undecided, whether the soul be of the nature of such things as, united in space, form an expanded and impenetrable whole; whether, therefore, it be material, or whether it be immaterial, and, consequently, a spirit; and, what is more, whether such beings as are called spirits, are possible.
At this point I cannot but recommend caution against rash conclusions which enter most easily into the deepest and obscurest questions. For that which belongs to the common conceptions of experience is commonly regarded as if the reason why it existed was also comprehended. But of that which differs from experience, and cannot be made comprehensible by any experience, not even by analogy, we of course can form no conception, and, therefore, are apt to reject it immediately as impossible. All matter offers resistance in the space in which it is present, and on that account is called impenetrable. That this is so, experience teaches us, and the abstraction of this experience produces in us the general conception of matter.But this resistance which something makes in the space in which it is present, is in that manner indeed recognized, but not yet conceived.
For this resistance, as everything that counteracts an action, is true force, and, as its direction is opposed to the prolonged lines of approach, it is a force of repulsion which must be attributed to matter and, therefore, to its elements. Every reasonable man will readily concede that here human intelligence has reached its limit. For while, by experience alone, we can perceive that things of this world which we call “material” possess such a force, we can never conceive of the reason why they exist. Now, if I suppose other substances being present in space with other forces than that propelling force which has for its consequence impenetrability, then, of course, I cannot think in the concrete of their activity, because it has no analogy with my conceptions from experience. And if, in addition, I take away from those substances the quality to fill the space in which they are present, I miss a conception which makes thinkable the things which come within the range of my senses; thence, necessarily, they must become in a way unthinkable. But this cannot be said to be a recognized impossibility, for the very reason that the possibility of the existence of its opposite remains also unintelligible, although its reality comes within the range of my senses.
The possibility of the existence of immaterial beings can, therefore, be supposed without fear of its being disproved, but also without hope of proving it by reason. Such spiritual natures would be present in space in such a manner that it would still be penetrable for corporeal beings. For by their presence they operate in space, but do not fill it, i.e., they cause no resistance, which is the basis of solidity. If such a simple spiritual substance be supposed, notwithstanding its indivisibility, it can be said that the space where it is immediately present is not a point, but itself a space. For, calling in the aid of analogy, even the simple elements of the body must occupy there a space which is a proportionate part of its whole extension, inasmuch as points are not parts but limits of space. Thus space is filled by means of an active force repulsion. But the fact that it is being filled is apparent only by a greater activity of its components. The way, therefore, in which it is being filled by accumulating individual elements does not at all conflict with its simple nature, although the possibility of this cannot be pointed out more clearly, for this can never be done with first causes and effects. In the same way I shall meet with at least no demonstrable impossibility, although the thing itself remains incomprehensible, if I state that a spiritual substance, although it is simple, still can occupy a space, i.e., can immediately be active in it without filling it, which means without offering resistance to material substances in it. Such an immaterial substance also could not be said to possess expansion, any more than the units of matter. For only that which, existing separate and for itself alone, occupies a space, possesses extent; but the substances which are elements of matter occupy space only by the exterior effect which they have upon others. But for themselves alone, where no other things can be thought of as being in connection with them, and as they contain in themselves nothing which could exist separately, they contain no space. This applies to corporeal elements. The same would apply also to spiritual natures. The limits of extent are determined by the figure of a thing.
Consequently, we cannot think of the figures of spiritual natures. These are reasons for the supposed possibility of the existence of immaterial beings in the universe, but they can be comprehended with difficulty. He who is in possession of means which can lead more easily to this intelligence, should not deny instruction to one eager to learn, before whose eyes, in the progress of research, Alps often rise where others see before them a level and comfortable footpath on which they walk forward, or think they do so.
Suppose now that it had been proved that the soul of man is a spirit (although it may be seen from the preceding that this, as yet, has not been proved), then the next question which might be raised is Where is the place of this human soul in the corporeal world? I would answer, that body the changes of which are my changes, is my body, and its place is, at the same time, my place. If the question be continued, where then is your (your soul’s) place in that body? Then I might suspect that there is a catch in the question. For it is easily observed that it presupposes something which is not known by experience, but rests, perhaps, in imaginary conclusions, namely, that my thinking Ego is in a place which differs from the places of other parts of that body which belongs to me. Nobody, however, is conscious of occupying a separate place in his body, but only of that place which he occupies as man in regard to the world around him. I would, therefore, keep to common experience, and would say, provisionally, where I sense, there I am. I am just as immediately in the tips of my fingers, as in my head. It is myself who suffers in the heel and whose heart beats in affection.
I feel the most painful impression when my corn torments me, not in a cerebral nerve, but at the end of my toes. No experience teaches me to believe some parts of my sensation to be removed from myself, to shut up my Ego into a microscopically small place in my brain from whence it may move the levers of my body-machine, and cause me to be thereby affected. Thus I should demand a strong proof to make inconsistent what the schoolmasters say: my soul is as a whole in my whole body, and wholly in each part. Common sense often perceives a truth before comprehending the reasons with which to prove or explain it. I should not be entirely disconcerted by the objection, that thus I am believing that the soul possesses extension and is diffused through the whole body, just as it is pictured for children in the “orbis pictus.” For I would remove this obstacle by saying: the fact that the soul is present in the whole body goes only to prove the extent of its sphere of exterior activity, but not a multiplicity of its inner parts and thus no extension or figure, for these exist only in a being which occupies a space set apart for itself, i.e., if the being contains parts which exist outside of each other. Finally, I should either claim to know this little of the spiritual quality of my soul, or, if that should not be conceded, I should be satisfied that I know nothing about it.
If one would insist upon showing how incomprehensible, or, what amounts to the same for the most people, how impossible these thoughts are, I would admit even that; and then I would sit down at the feet of the wise to hear them talk as follows: The soul of man has its seat in the brain, and its abode there is indescribably small; there it exercises its sensitive faculty, as the spider in the center of its web. The nerves of the brain push or shake it, and cause thereby that not this immediate impression, but the one which is made upon quite remote parts of the body, is represented as an object which is present outside of the brain. From this seat it moves the ropes and levers of the whole machinery, causing arbitrary movements at will. Such propositions can be proved only very superficially or not at all, and as the nature of the soul is, indeed, not well enough known, they can be just as weakly combatted. And so I do not care to join in that kind of learned dispute, in which both parties usually have most to say about that of which they know nothing. But I will follow only the conclusions to which a doctrine of this nature must lead me. In the first instance, according to the propositions so much recommended to me, my soul does not differ from any element of matter in the way in which it is present in space. Further, the power of reasoning is an internal quality which I could not perceive anyhow, although it might be found in all these elements. From these considerations no valid reason can be brought forward, why my soul should not be one of the substances of which matter consists, nor why its peculiar manifestations should not originate in the place which it occupies in such an ingenious machine as the human body, where the combination of nerves favors the inner faculty of thinking and of will-power. In that case, however, there would remain no peculiar characteristic of the soul by which it could be surely recognized and distinguished from crude elementary matter, and the jocose suggestion of Leibniz would not be laughable anymore, that in our coffee we swallow, perhaps, atoms which are to become human souls. But in such a case would not this thinking Ego be subjected to the common fate of material natures, and, as it was drawn out of the chaos of all elements to vivify an animal machine, why should it not, after this casual combination has ceased, return in future to its origin ? It is at times necessary to frighten the thinker who is on the wrong path, by the consequences, so that he may pay more attention to the principles by which he has been led off as in a dream.
I confess that I am very much inclined to assert the existence of immaterial natures in the world, and to put my soul itself into that class of beings. But then, how mysterious does the communion of soul and body become? But, at the same time, how natural that it is incomprehensible, inasmuch as our conceptions of external actions are derived from those of matter, and are always connected with the conditions of impact and pressure, which do not exist in this case. For how could an immaterial being be such an obstruction so that matter in its motion could collide with it, a spirit; and how could corporeal things act upon an unknown being which does not oppose them with impenetrability, and which does not hinder them in any way from being at the same time present in the space in which it is itself?
It seems that a spiritual essence is mostly present in matter, and that it does not act upon those forces which determine the mutual relations of elements, but upon the inner principle of their state. For every substance, even a simple element of matter, must have an inner activity as the reason for its external efficiency, although I cannot specify in what it consists.
But what is the necessity which causes a spirit and a body to form a unit; and, again, what is the cause which breaks up this unit in case of certain disturbances? These are questions which, among various others, are above my intelligence. And although I have as a rule hardly the daring to measure my power of reasoning with the secrets of nature, I should, nevertheless, have sufficient confidence not to be afraid, in such a case, of putting any opponent to the test, if it were my nature to be inclined to fight, nor of attempting to refute him by contrary reasons, which with scholars means nothing else but the art of convincing another that he does not know.
A fragment of secret philosophy aiming to establish communion with the spirit-world.
Gross reason which cleaves to the bodily senses has, I trust, by this time become so accustomed to higher and abstract conceptions that now it can see spiritual figures, devoid of corporeal clothing, in that dusk in which the faint light of metaphysics renders visible the kingdom of shadows. We will venture therefore upon the dangerous road, since we have endured such laborious preparation for it.
Ibant sub nocte per umbras Perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna. VIRGIL. (The Hero and his Guide now enter on their journey)
The characteristics of the dead matter which fills the universe are stability and inertia; it further possesses solidity, expansion, and form, and its manifestations, resulting from all these three causes, admit of physical explanations, which, at the same time, are mathematical, and, collectively, are called mechanical. But let us direct our attention to the kind of beings which contain the cause of life in the universe those which therefore neither add to the mass and extent of lifeless matter, nor are influenced by it according to the laws of contact and collision, but which rather, by inner activity, move themselves and dead matter as well and we shall find ourselves convinced, if not with the distinctness of demonstration, still with the presentiment of well applied reason, that immaterial beings exist. Their peculiar laws of operation we may call “spiritual,” or, in so far as bodies are the medium of their operation in the material world, “organic.” As these immaterial beings are self-active principles, consequently, substances and natures existing by themselves, the conclusion which suggests itself first is, that, immediately united with each other, they might form, perhaps, a great whole which might be called the immaterial world (mundus intelligibilis). For what reason could render the assertion probable that such beings of similar nature could communicate only by means of other beings (corporeal) of dissimilar nature? This latter supposition would really be much more mysterious than the first.
This immaterial world, therefore, can be regarded as a whole existing by itself, and its parts, as being in mutual conjunction and intercourse without the instrumentality of anything corporeal. The relation by means of things corporeal is consequently to be regarded as accidental; it can belong only to a few; yea, where we meet with it, it does not hinder even those very immaterial beings, while acting upon one another through matter, from standing also in their special universal relationship, so that at any time they may exercise upon one another mutual influences by virtue of the laws of their immaterial existence. Their relation by means of matter is thus accidental, and is due to a special divine institution, while their direct relation is natural and insoluble. By combining in this way all principles of life in the whole of nature, as so many ‘incorporeal substances, communicating with each other, partly also united with matter, we conceive of the immaterial world as a great whole, an immeasurable but unknown gradation of beings and active natures by which alone the dead matter of the corporeal world is endued with life. But to which members of nature life is extended, and which those degrees of it are which are next to utter lifelessness, can, perhaps, never be made out with certainty. Hylozoism imputes life to everything; materialism, carefully considered, kills everything.
Maupertuis attributed to the organic particles of the nutriment of all animals the lowest degree of life, other philosophers see in them nothing else but dead masses which serve only to augment the lever-apparatus of animal machines. The undoubted characteristic of life in that which appeals to our external senses is, I may say, the free movement which shows that it is arbitrary, but the conclusion is not certain that, wherever this characteristic is not found, there is no degree of life. Boerhave says somewhere: The animal is a plant which has its roots in the stomach (inside). Another might, perhaps, play without censure with these conceptions by saying: The plant is an animal which has its stomach in the root (outside). The plants, therefore, may lack the organs of arbitrary movement, and thus the external characteristics of life. These are necessary to the animals, because a being which has the instruments of nourishment inside must be able to move about according to its needs; but a being where these are outside and planted in the nourishing element, is already sufficiently maintained by external forces. Such a being contains indeed a principle of inner life in the fact of vegetation, yet it does not need an organic apparatus for external free activity. I do not propose to use any of these considerations as evidence, -for, aside from the fact that I could say very little in favor of such conjectures, they have the ridicule of fashion against them, as being dusty antiquated fancies. The ancients, namely, thought that they could assume three kinds of life, the vegetable, the animal, and the reasonable. In uniting in man the three immaterial principles of those kinds of life, they very likely erred; but so far as they distributed the three principles among the three kinds ‘of growing beings which propagate their kind, they indeed said something undemonstrable, but not, on that account, unreasonable, especially not in the judgment of one who considers the close relation of the polyps and other zoophytes with the plants, or who takes into account the special life belonging to the separated parts of some animals, irritability that quality of the fibres of an animal body and of some plants, so well demonstrated, and, at the same time, so inexplicable. But, after all, the appeal to immaterial principles is a subterfuge of bad philosophy.
Explanations of that kind should be avoided as much as possible, so that those causes of the world’s phenomena which rest on the laws of motion of matter alone, and which solely and alone are capable of being conceived, may be recognized in their full extent. Nevertheless, I am convinced that Stahl, who likes to explain animal processes organically, is often nearer to the truth than Hofmann, Boerhave, and others, who leave immaterial forces out of their plan and keep to mechanical reasons. Yet these follow thereby a more philosophical method, which sometimes perhaps fails, but oftener proves right, and which alone can be applied to advantage in science. For the influence of beings of incorporeal nature can only be said to exist, but it can never be shown how it proceeds, nor how far its efficiency extends.
The immaterial then would primarily comprise all created intelligences. Some of these are combined with matter, thus forming a person, and some not. It further comprises the sensating subjects in all kinds of animals, and finally all the principles of life wherever in nature they may be found, although such life may not make itself evident by the external characteristics of arbitrary movement. All these immaterial natures, I say, whether they exercise their influences in the corporeal world or not, and all the rational beings who are, accidentally, in an animal state, here on earth or on other terrestrial bodies, while they may be vivifying gross matter now or in future, or may have done so in the past, nevertheless form, according to these conceptions, a communion in conformity with their nature. And this communion would not rest upon the conditions by which the relations of bodies are limited, but distance in space and time, which forms in the visible world the great cleft severing all communion would disappear. We should, therefore, have to regard the human soul as being conjoined in its present life with two worlds at the same time, of which it clearly perceives only the material world, in so far as it is conjoined with a body, and thus forms a personal unit. But as a member of the spiritual world it receives and gives out the pure influences of immaterial natures, so that, as soon as the accidental conjunction has ceased, only that communion remains which at all times it has with spiritual natures.
It begins to be a real trouble for me, always to use the cautious language of reason. Why should I, too, not be allowed to talk in academical style? This exempts the writer as well as the reader from thinking, which, after all, sooner or later must lead only to annoying indecision. Thus “it is as good as demonstrated,” or, to be explicit, “it could easily be proved,” or still better, “it will be proved” I don’t know where or when, that the human soul also in this life forms an indissoluble communion with all immaterial natures of the spirit-world, that, alternately, it acts upon and receives impressions from that world of which nevertheless it is not conscious while it is still man and as long as everything is in proper condition. On the other hand it is probable that the spiritual natures on their side can have no immediate conscious sensation of the corporeal world, because they are not conjoined with any part of matter which could make them aware of their place in the material world-whole, nor have they elaborate organs for entering into the mutual relations of beings of special extent. But they can, probably, flow into the souls of men as into beings of their own nature, and it is likely that they are actually at all times in mutual intercourse with them, yet, in such a way that those conceptions which the soul entertains as a being dependent on the corporeal world cannot be communicated to the other purely spiritual beings; nor can .the conceptions of these latter, being conceptions of immaterial things, be transferred into the consciousness of men, at least not as long as these conceptions preserve their peculiar quality, for the components of the two sets of ideas are of different kind.
It would be beautiful if such a systematic constitution of the spirit-world, as we conceive it, could be determined, or only with some probability supposed, not merely from the conception of spiritual being in general, which is altogether too hypothetical, but from an actual and universally conceded observation. Therefore I venture upon the indulgence of the reader and insert here an attempt at something of this kind which, although somewhat out of my way, and far enough removed from evidence, still seems to give occasion for not unpleasant surmises. Among the forces which move the human heart, some of the most powerful seem to lie outside of it. They consequently are not mere means to selfishness and private interest, which would be an aim lying inside of man himself, but they incline our emotions to place the focus in which they combine, outside of us, in other rational beings. Thence arises a struggle between two forces, the proprium which refers everything to itself, and the public spirit by which the mind is driven or drawn towards others outside of itself, I do not dwell upon that instinct which causes us to depend so much and so universally upon the judgment of others, to consider outside approbation or applause requisite to a good opinion of ourselves. Sometimes a mistaken conception of honor comes up in this matter, but nevertheless there is even in the most unselfish and open natures a secret leaning to compare with the judgment of others what we have by ourselves recognized to be good and true, so as to make both concordant; on the other hand there is an inclination to stop, so to speak, each human soul on its way to knowledge, when it seems to go another path than that upon which we have entered. All this comes, perhaps, from our perception of the dependence of our own judgment upon the common sense of man, and it becomes a reason for ascribing to the whole of thinking beings a sort of unity of reason.
But I pass over this otherwise not unimportant consideration, and, for the present, take up another which, as far as our purpose is concerned, is more obvious and pertinent. When we consider our needs in relation to our environment, we cannot do it without experiencing a certain sensation of restraint and limitation which lets us know that a foreign will, as it were, is active in us, and that our own liking is subject to the condition of external consent. A secret power compels us to adapt our intentions to the welfare of others, or to this foreign will, although this is often done unwillingly, and conflicts strongly with our selfish inclination. The point to which the lines of direction of our impulses converge, is thus not only in ourselves, but there are besides powers moving us in the will of others outside of ourselves. Hence arise the moral impulses which often carry us away to the discomfiture of selfishness, the strong law of duty, and the weaker one of benevolence. Both of these wring from us many a sacrifice, and although selfish inclinations now and then preponderate over both, these still never fail to assert their reality in human nature. Thus we recognize that, in our most secret motives, we are dependent upon the rule of the will of all, and thence arises in the community of all thinking beings a moral unity, and a systematic constitution according to purely spiritual laws. If we want to call the fact that we feel forced to adapt our will to the will of all, the sense of morality, we thereby describe only a manifestation of that which actually takes place in us, without settling upon its causes. Thus Newton called the established law that all particles of matter have the tendency to approach each other, gravitation, because he did not want to have his mathematical demonstrations mixed up with possible philosophical disputes over the causes of gravitation. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to treat gravitation as the true effect of a general interaction of matter, and therefore gave to it also the name of attraction. Should it not be possible to conceive the phenomenon of moral impulses in the mutual relations of thinking creatures as the consequence of an actual force, consisting in the fact that spiritual natures flow into each other? The sense of morality then would be the sensation of this dependence of the individual will upon the will of all, and would be a consequence of the natural and universal interaction whereby the immaterial world attains its unity, namely, by conforming itself to a system of spiritual perfection, according to the laws of this sense of morality, which would constitute its mode of cohesion. If we grant to these thoughts so much probability as to make it worthwhile to measure them by their consequences, we shall be drawn by their charm, perhaps unconsciously, into being partial to them. For in this case there seem to disappear most of the irregularities which otherwise, owing to the contradiction between the moral and physical relations of men here on earth, strike us as being so strange. The moral quality of our actions can, according to the order of nature, never be fully worked out in the bodily life of men, but it can be so worked out in the spirit-world, according to spiritual laws. The true purposes, the secret motives of many endeavors, fruitless by impotency, the victory over self, or the occasional hidden treachery in apparently good actions, are mostly lost as to their physical effect in the bodily state, but in the immaterial world they would have to be regarded as fruitful causes, and, consequently, according to spiritual laws and on account of the connection between the individual will and the will of all, they would mutually produce and receive effects appropriate to the moral quality of free will. For just because the morality of an action concerns the inner state of the spirit, it naturally can only in the immediate communion of spirits have, an effect adequate to its full morality.
Thus it would happen that man’s soul would already in this life have to take its place among the spiritual substances of the universe according to its moral state, just as, according to the laws of motion, the matter of the universe arranges itself into an order conformable to its material forces. When finally through death the communion of the soul with the body-world is abolished, life in the other world would be only a natural continuation of such connections as were formed with it already in this life, and all the consequences of the morality exercised here we would find there in the effects which a being standing in indissoluble communion with the whole spirit-world would have already achieved, according to spiritual laws. Present and future would be, as it were, out of one piece and constitute a continuous whole, even according to the order of nature. This latter circumstance is of especial importance. For in a speculation based merely upon reasoning there is a great difficulty if, in removing the inconvenience which follows from the incomplete harmony of morality and its consequences in this world, we have to resort to an extraordinary idea of the divine will. For, though our judgment of it might, according to our conceptions, be probable, a strong suspicion would remain that the weak conceptions of our understanding were applied to the Highest perhaps very erroneously. For it is incumbent upon man to judge of the divine will only from the harmony which he actually perceives in the world, or which, by the rule of analogy, according to the order of nature, he may suppose to be in it; he is not entitled to imagine new and arbitrary arrangements in the present or future world, according to some scheme of his own wisdom which he prescribes to the divine will.
We now turn our consideration again into the former path, and approach the aim which we have set before ourselves. If the facts of the spirit-world be such as we have stated, and the share of our soul in it be truly pictured in the sketch just made, then scarcely anything appears more strange than that communion with spirits is not quite a common and ordinary thing; and what is extraordinary about it is rather the scarcity of apparitions than their possibility. This difficulty is tolerably easy to remove and already has been partly removed. For the conception which the soul of man has of itself as of a spirit, which, moreover, it has obtained through contemplation of the immaterial, i.e. by observing itself in its relation to beings of similar nature, this conception is entirely different from that where its consciousness conceives itself as a man, by means of an image originated in the impression of corporeal organs and conceived of in relation to none but corporeal things.
It is, therefore, indeed one subject, which is thus at the same time a member of the visible and of the invisible world, but not one and the same person; for, on account of their different quality, the conceptions of the one world are not ideas associated with those of the other world, thus, what I think as spirit, is not remembered by me as man, and, conversely, my state as man does not at all enter into the conception of myself as a spirit. Moreover, my ideas of the spirit-world may be ever so clear and perspicuous, still that would not suffice to make me, as a man, conscious of that world; and so, however clear an idea one may, by reasoning, derive of himself, i.e. of his soul, as a spirit, still, this idea is with no man an object of actual sight and experience. This difference, however, in the nature of spiritual ideas and those belonging to the body-life of man must not be considered so great an obstacle as to remove all possibility of becoming, sometimes, conscious of the influences of the spirit-world even in this life. For spiritual ideas can pass over into the personal consciousness of man, indeed, not immediately, but still in such a way that, according to the law of the association of ideas, they stir up those pictures which are related to them and awake analogous ideas of our senses. These, it is true, would not be spiritual conceptions themselves, but yet their symbols. For, after all, it is one and the same substance which is a member both of this world and the other, and both kinds of ideas belong to the same subject and are connected with each other. How this is possible can be made intelligible by considering how our higher conceptions of reason, which approach the spiritual pretty closely, ordinarily assume, as it were, a bodily garment to make themselves clear. Thence it is that the moral qualities of deity are represented by the ideas of anger, jealousy, mercifulness, revenge, &c.; for the same reason poets personify the virtues, vices, and other qualities of human nature, though this is done in such a way that the true idea of the meaning shines through; in the same way the geometrician represents time by a line, although time and space have conformity only by relation and therefore agree, indeed, according to analogy, but never according to quality. This is the reason why the idea of divine eternity assumes even with philosophers the appearance of infinite time, be they never so careful not to mix them up; and one great cause why mathematicians are generally loath to admit the monads of Leibnitz may be that they cannot help but imagine these monads as little masses. Thus it is not improbable that spiritual sensations can pass over into consciousness if they act upon correlated ideas of the senses. In such a way ideas which are communicated by spiritual influx, would clothe themselves with the signs of that language which man uses for his other purposes. Thus the sensation of the presence of a spirit becomes converted into the picture of the human figure; the order and beauty of the immaterial world into fantasies which, under other circumstances, give pleasure to our senses in this life, &c. Nevertheless this kind of apparition cannot be a common and ordinary thing but can occur only with persons whose organs have an unusual sensitiveness for intensifying, by harmonious motion, according to the inner state of the soul, the pictures of the imagination, to a higher degree than is usually the case, and should be the case, with healthy persons. Such abnormal persons would be confronted, in certain moments, with the appearance of many objects as if they were outside of themselves. They would think that spiritual natures present with them were affecting their bodily senses, while yet this is only a delusion of the imagination, occurring, however, in such a way that its cause is a true spiritual influence, not, indeed, perceivable immediately, but revealing itself to consciousness by correlated pictures of the imagination which assume the appearance of sensations.
Conceptions derived from education and all sorts of fancies that have crept into the mind would exercise their influence here, where delusion is mingled with truth, a real spiritual sensation being, indeed, the foundation, but converted into phantoms of sensuous things. It will further be admitted that the power to thus develop the impressions of the spirit-world into the clear perception of this world can hardly be of any use, because in such a process the spiritual sensation becomes necessarily so closely interwoven with the fancies of the imagination that it cannot be possible to distinguish the truth from the gross surrounding delusions. Such a state would likewise indicate a disease, because it presupposes an altered balance of the nerves, which are put into unnatural motion merely by the activity of purely spiritual sensations of the soul. Finally, it would not be at all strange to find the spirit-seer to be at the same time a dreamer, at least in regard to the mental pictures which he makes of his visions; because ideas, unknown to him by their very nature and incompatible with those of his bodily state, crowd in and drag into external sensation badly adjusted pictures, creating thereby wild chimeras and curiously distorted figures, which float in trailing garments before the senses, deceiving them in spite of the fact that such chimeras may be based upon a true spiritual influence.
Now we need no longer be at a loss to give apparently rational causes for the stories about apparitions which so often cross the path of philosophers, as well as to account for all sorts of influences from spirits of which the rumor goes here and there. Departed souls and pure spirits can indeed never be present to our external senses, nor communicate with matter in any other way than by acting upon the spirit of man, who belongs with them to one great republic. The spirits must act in such a way that the ideas which they call up in man’s mind clothe themselves in corresponding pictures according to the law of imagination, thus causing any objects which fit into the picture to appear as if they were outside of him. This deception can affect any one of the senses, and, however mixed it may be with incongruous fancies, it should not keep one from supposing spiritual influences in it. I should encroach upon the penetration of the reader if I should stop to apply this mode of explanation. For metaphysical hypotheses are possessed of such an immense flexibility that one must be very awkward not to be able to adapt this one to any story he hears even before investigating its truthfulness, which is in many cases impossible, and in still more is impolite to the narrator.
But if we balance against each other the advantages and disadvantages which might accrue to a person organized not only for the visible world, but also, to a certain degree, for the invisible (if ever there was such a person), such a gift would seem to be like that with which Juno honored Teiresias, making him blind so that she might impart to him the gift of prophesying. For, judging from the propositions above made, the knowledge of the other world can be obtained here only by losing some of that intelligence which is necessary for this present world. I am not sure if even certain philosophers can be freed entirely from such a hard condition, when they turn their metaphysical telescopes upon such far-off regions and tell us of miraculous things. At least I do not grudge them their discoveries. But I am afraid that some man of sound sense but little polish might intimate to them what the coachman answered to Tycho Brahe, when, one night, the latter suggested to the man he might drive the shortest way by directing his course according to the stars: “My dear master, you may be an expert as to the sky, but here on earth you are a fool.”
Third Chapter. Antikabala.
A fragment of common philosophy aiming to abolish communion with the spirit-world.
Aristotle says, somewhere, ” When we are awake, we (“have a common world, but when we dream, everybody is his own.” It seems to me that it ought to be possible to reverse this latter proposition and say, if, among different human beings, everyone has his own world, it may be supposed that they dream. With this understanding we will view the various imaginary worlds of these air-architects which each one inhabits quietly to the exclusion of others. Behold, for example, him who inhabits the Order of Things as it was framed by Wolf out of but little building material obtained from experience, but many conceptions gotten on the sly. Or we will view those who inhabit the world produced by Crusius out of nothing, by means of a few magical sayings about the thinkable and the unthinkable. And, as we find that their visions are contradictory, we will patiently wait until the gentlemen have finished dreaming. For if, at some time, by the will of God, they wake up, i.e., open their eyes to such a view as does not exclude conformity with other people’s common sense, then none of them will see anything that does not appear evident and certain in the light of their proofs to others also, and the philosophers will then inhabit a common world, of the kind which mathematicians have already occupied for a long time. And this event cannot be delayed much longer, if certain signs and predictions, which for some time have appeared over the horizon of science, can be trusted.
Reason-dreamers have a certain relation with sensation-dreamers, among whom are usually counted those who occasionally deal with spirits. The reason is that they too, like the former, see something which no other healthy man sees, and have a communication of their own with beings which reveal themselves to nobody else, however keen the others’ senses may be. If one supposes that the above-named apparitions rest upon mere fancies, the term “dreams ” then becomes appropriate to them in so far as both are self-created pictures which nevertheless deceive the sense as if they were true objects. But if one imagines both kinds of deception to be so similar in their origin that the source of the one will be found sufficient for the other, he is greatly deceived. The man who, while awake, becomes so absorbed in the fancies and chimeras created by his ever active imagination as to pay little attention to the sensations of the senses with which he is mostly concerned at that moment, is justly called a waking dreamer. For the sensations of the senses need decrease only a little more in their intensity, and he will be asleep, and his chimeras will then be true dreams. The reason why they are no dreams while the dreamer pursues them awake, is, because he then perceives the dreams as in himself, but other objects as outside of himself; consequently he considers the dreams as effects of his own activity, but the perception of objects as part of his received impressions from the outside. For in this situation everything depends upon the relation which man assumes the objects to have to himself as a man, and, consequently, also to his body. Thus, the same pictures can indeed occupy him very much in his waking state, but they cannot deceive him, however clear they may be. For although he has then, too, in his brain a fictitious impression of himself and his body, which he puts in relation to his fantastic pictures, nevertheless the real sensation of his body, by means of the external senses, establishes a contrast with those chimeras, or distinction from them, which goes to show the ones as self-created, the other as perceived. If he falls asleep, the idea of his body derived from impressions disappears, and only the fictitious idea remains. In relation to this latter idea, the other chimeras are now assumed to be outside of himself, and they are found to deceive the dreamer as long as he sleeps, because there is no sensation present which would furnish a basis for a comparison of the two whereby the original could be distinguished from the phantasm, i.e., the outside from the inside.
The spirit-seers, therefore, are entirely different from waking dreamers not only in degree, but in kind. For while they are waking, and often while they are experiencing other sensations with great vividness, the spirit-seers place some imagined things among the external objects which they really perceive. The only question is, how it is possible that they place the phantoms of their imagination outside of themselves, and even put them in relation to their body, which they sense through their external senses. The great clearness of the fantasy cannot be the cause, for the point at issue is, the place where an object is put; and, therefore, I demand that it be shown how the soul places such an image as it should perceive to be contained in itself, into an entirely different relation, namely, into a place outside of itself and among those objects which are offered to its real perception. I shall not be satisfied with the quotation of other cases which bear some resemblance with this deception, such as perhaps occur in the state of fever ; for be the deceived well or sick, we do not want to know if such a thing happens also elsewhere, but how this deception is possible.
We find, however, in using our external senses, that besides the clearness with which the objects are seen, we perceive at the same time their location, perhaps not always with the same accuracy, still as a necessary condition of sensation, without which it would be impossible to perceive things as being outside of our- selves. Here it becomes quite probable that our soul locates the perceived object at that point where the different lines, indicating the direction of the impression, meet. That is why we see a radiating point at the meeting place of those lines which we draw from the eye back in the direction of the rays. This point, which we call the point of vision, is, in its effect, the scattering point, but, in the way it is perceived, it is the point which collects the lines of direction determining the sensation (focus imaginarius). Thus we locate a visible object even with one eye alone; in the same way as, by means of a concave mirror, the image of an object is seen in the air just in that spot where the rays radiating from one point of the object meet before entering the eye.
The same theory, perhaps, can be applied to the impressions of sound, because its shocks, too, are transmitted in straight lines. Then we should say that the sensation of sound is accompanied by the perception of a focus imaginarius, and that this is placed in that point where the straight lines meet which are drawn to the outside from the vibrating nerve-structure inside of the brain. For the place and distance of a sounding object is perceived to some extent, even if the sound is low and comes from the back, and although the lines drawn from such a position do not strike the opening of the ear, but other places of the head. This makes one believe that the soul continues the lines of vibration externally in imagination, and places the sounding object in their meeting -point. The same can, in my opinion, be predicated of the other three senses, differing from sight and hearing in this respect that the object of sensation is in immediate contact with the organs of these other senses, and the lines indicating the place of the organic stimulus find in the organs themselves their meeting-point. In applying this to the pictures of imagination, permit me to take as basis the hypothesis of Cartesius, approved of by most of the philosophers after him, that all representations of the imagination are accompanied by certain movements in the nerve-tissue or nerve-spirit of the brain, which movements are called “ideae materiales“; i.e., these representations are, perhaps, accompanied by the concussion or vibration of the fine element secreted by these nerve-tissues. This vibration is similar to the movements which the sense-impression might produce, and of which the nerve-vibration is a copy. But now I must ask that if it be granted that the principal difference between the nerve-movements in fantasies, and in sensations, consists in the fact that, with fantasies, the lines indicating the direction, of the movement meet inside of the brain, while in sensation they meet outside; then, since the focus imaginarius in which the objects are perceived in the clear sensations of the waking state is placed outside of myself, but the focus imaginarius of the fantasies entertained during the same state is placed inside of myself, I cannot fail, as long as I am awake, to distinguish from the sense-impressions these imaginations as fantasies.
If so much is admitted, it seems to me that I can adduce some reasonable cause for that kind of mind-disturbance called insanity, and, in its higher degree, trance. The peculiarity of this disease is that the confused individual places mere objects of his imagination outside of himself, and considers them to be real and present objects. Now I have stated that, according to the common order of things, the lines indicating the direction of the movement, and accompanying the fantasies in the brain as their material auxiliaries, must meet inside the brain, and that, consequently, the location of the picture in the subject’s consciousness in the waking state must be placed inside of himself. If, therefore, I suppose that, by any accident or disease, certain organs of the brain are distorted or thrown out of their equilibrium in such a manner that the nerve movements, vibrating harmoniously with certain fantasies, occur according to such lines of direction as, continued, would meet outside of the brain, then the focus imaginarius would be placed outside of the thinking subject, and the image produced by mere imagination would be perceived as an object present to the external senses. Though such a phantom be only weak at the beginning, the consternation at the appearance of a thing which ought not to be there according to the natural order of things, will soon arouse attention, and will give to the phantom sensation such a vividness that the deluded person cannot doubt its reality. This delusion can affect any one of the external senses, for of each we have copied images in imagination, and the contortion of nerve-tissue can cause the focus imaginarius to be placed in that spot, whence the organic impression of a really existing bodily object would come. It is not astonishing, then, if the visionary believes to see or hear many a thing which nobody perceives besides him, or if these fancies appear to him and disappear suddenly, or if they beguile the sense of vision, for example, and can be apprehended by no other sense (if they cannot be felt, for instance), and thus seem to him intangible. The common ghost-stories depend so much on such indications as these that they easily justify the suspicion of hailing from such a source, In the same way the current conception of spiritual beings which we evolved out of common phraseology, is very much of the nature of this delusion, and does not belie its origin, since the quality of an intangible presence in space is said to constitute the essential characteristic of this conception.
It is further very probable that the idea of spectres, imbibed from education, furnishes the head of a diseased person with materials for deluding apparitions, and that a brain free from all such prejudices would not so soon hatch out phantasms of this kind, even though some aberration might befall it. Furthermore, as the disease of the visionary concerns not so much the reason, as a deception of the senses, it will be easily recognized that the unfortunate subject cannot remove the delusion by any reasoning; for a true or apparent impression of the senses precedes all the judgments of the reason, and carries with it immediate evidence, far excelling all other persuasion.
The consequence resulting from all these considerations is in so far inconvenient, as it renders entirely superfluous the deep conjectures of the preceding chapter; and the reader, though he was ready to receive with some approval its idealistic notions, will nevertheless prefer that conception which allows of more comfort and brevity in judging, and which promises to find the more general approval. For, aside from the fact that it seems to conform more with a reasonable frame of mind to find the means of explanation in the material furnished by experience, than to lose one’s self in the dizzy conceptions of a reason, partly inventing, partly jumping at conclusions, there is always found, in such speculations, occasion for scoffing, than which, whether justifiable or not, there is no stronger means of keeping back idle investigation. For it creates at once grave suspicion for one to attempt seriously to expound the fancies of a visionary, and the kind of philosophy which is found in such bad company is open to question. It is true, I have, in the preceding, not contested the insanity of such apparitions. Rather, while I have not made insanity to be the cause of an imagined communion with spirits, I have yet connected the two by considering insanity as the natural consequence of such communion. But what foolishness is there which could not be harmonized with a bottomless philosophy? Therefore, I do not at all blame the reader, if, instead of regarding the spirit-seers as half-dwellers in another world, he, without further ceremony, dispatches them as candidates for the hospital, and thereby spares himself any further investigation.
But, if everything then is to be treated on such a basis, the manner of handling such adepts of the spirit-world must be very different from that based upon the ideas given above; and if, formerly, it was found necessary at times to burn some of them, it now will suffice to give them a purgative. Indeed, from this point of view, there was no need of going so far back as to metaphysics,-for hunting up secrets in the deluded brain of dreamers. The keen Hudibras could alone have solved for us the riddle, for he thinks that visions and holy inspirations are simply caused by a disordered stomach.
Theoretical conclusion from the whole of the considerations of the first part.
The inaccuracy of scales used for commercial measurements, according to civil law, is discovered, if we let the merchandise and the weights exchange pans. So the partiality of the scales of reason is revealed by the same trick, without which, in philosophical judgments, no harmonious result can be obtained from the compared weighings. I have purified my soul from prejudices, I have destroyed any blind affection which ever crept in to procure in me an entrance for much fancied knowledge. I now have nothing at heart ; nothing is venerable to me but what enters by the path of sincerity into a quiet mind open to all reasons be thereby my former judgment confirmed or abolished, be I convinced or left in doubt. Wherever I meet with something instructive, I appropriate it. The judgment of him who refutes my reasons, is my judgment, after I first have weighed it against the scale of self-love, and, afterwards, in that scale against my presumed reasons, and have found it to have a higher intrinsic value. Formerly, I viewed human common sense only from the standpoint of my own; now I put myself into the position of a foreign reason outside of myself, and observe my judgments, together with their most secret causes, from the point of view of others. It is true, the comparison of both observations results in pronounced parallaxes, but it is the only means of preventing the optical delusion, and of putting conceptions in regard to the power of knowledge in human nature into their true places. You may say that this is very serious talk in connection with so trifling a problem as that under consideration, which deserves to be called a plaything rather than a serious occupation, and you are not exactly wrong in thus judging. But although one ought not to make a great ado about a small matter, yet one may perhaps be allowed to make use of such occasions; and unnecessary circumspection in small matters may furnish useful example in important matters. I find no attachment nor any other inclination to have crept in before examination, so as to deprive my mind of a readiness to be guided by any kind of reason pro or con, except one. The scale of reason after all is not quite impartial, and one of its arms, bearing the inscription, “Hope of the Future,” has a constructive advantage, causing even those light reasons which fall into its scale to outweigh the speculations of greater weight on the other side. This is the only inaccuracy which I cannot easily remove, and which, in fact, I never want to remove. I confess that all stories about apparitions of departed souls or about influences from spirits, and all theories about the presumptive nature of spirits and their connection with us, seem to have appreciable weight only in the scale of hope while in the scale of speculation they seem to consist of nothing but air. If the answer to the problem in question were not in sympathy with a prior inclination, what reasonable man would be doubtful as to whether it were more plausible to assume the existence of a kind of beings which have no similarity whatever with anything taught him by his senses, or to attribute certain alleged experiences to a kind of self-deception and invention which, under certain circumstances, is by no means uncommon.
In fact this seems to be in general the main reason for crediting the ghost-stories so widely accepted. Even the first delusions about presumed apparitions of deceased people have probably arisen from the fond hope that we still exist in some way after death. And then, at the time of the shadows of night, this illusion has probably deluded the senses, and created out of doubtful forms phantoms corresponding to preconceived ideas. From these, finally, the philosophers have taken occasion to devise the rational idea of spirits, and to bring it into a system. You probably will recognize also in my own assumed doctrine of the communion of spirits this trend to which people commonly incline. For its propositions evidently unite only to give an idea how man’s spirit leaves this world, i.e., of the state after death. But how it enters, i.e., of procreation and propagation, I make no mention. Nay, I do not even mention how it is present in this world, i.e., how an immaterial nature can be in an immaterial body and act by means of it. The very good reason for all this is that I do not understand a single thing about the whole matter, and, consequently, might as well have been content to remain just as ignorant as before in regard to the future state, had not the partiality of a pet notion recommended the reasons which offered themselves, however weak they were.
The same ignorance makes me so bold as to absolutely deny the truth of the various ghost stories, and yet with the common, although queer, reservation that while I doubt any one of them, still I have a certain faith in the whole of them taken together. The reader is free to judge as far as I am concerned. The scales are tipped far enough on the side containing the reasons of the second chapter to make me serious and undecided ‘when listening to the many strange tales of this kind. But, as reasons to justify one’s self are never lacking when the mind is prejudiced, I do not want to bother the reader with any further defense of such a way of thinking.
As I am now at the conclusion of the theory of spirits, the confidence that the conceptions thence evolved are right. Our inner perception, and the conclusions drawn from it, being like reason, bring us, if they remain uncorrupted, to that point to which reason itself would lead us if it were more enlightened, and of a greater scope.
I am bold enough to say that this study, if properly used by the reader, exhausts all philosophical knowledge about such beings, and that in future, perhaps, many things may be thought about it, but never more known. This assumption sounds rather vainglorious. For of such multifariousness are the problems offered by nature, in its smallest parts, to a reason so limited as the human, that there is certainly no object of nature known to the senses, be it only a drop of water or a grain of sand, which ever could be said to be exhausted by observation or reason. But the case is entirely different with the philosophical conception of spiritual beings. It may be complete, but in the negative sense, by fixing with assurance the limits of our knowledge, and convincing us that all that is granted us is to know the diverse manifestations of life in nature and its laws; but that the principle of this life, i.e., the unknown and only assumed spiritual nature, can never be thought of in a positive way, because for this purpose no data can be found in the whole of our sensations; that therefore we have to resort to negations for the sake of thinking something so entirely different from everything sensuous ; but that the possibility of such negations rests likewise neither upon experience nor upon conclusions, but upon invention, to which a reason deprived of all other expedients finally resorts. With this understanding pneumatology may be called a doctrinal conception of man’s necessary ignorance in regard to a supposed kind of beings, and as such it can easily be adequate to its task.
And now I lay aside this whole matter of spirits, a remote part of metaphysics, since I have finished and am done with it. In future it does not concern me anymore. By thus making the plan of my investigation more concentrated, and sparing myself some entirely useless inquiries, I hope to be able to apply to better advantage my small reasoning power upon other subjects. It is generally vain to try to extend the little strength one has over a wide range of undertakings. It is therefore a matter of policy, in this as other cases, to fit the pattern of one’s plans to one’s powers, and if one cannot obtain the great, to restrict one’s self to the mediocre.
Part Second, Which Is Historical
A story, the truth of which the reader is recommended to investigate as he likes.
Sit mihi fas audita loqui. VIRGIL. (let me have permission to state what I have heard)
Philosophy, which on account of its self-conceit exposes itself to all sorts of empty questions, finds itself often in awkward embarrassment in view of certain stories, parts of which it cannot doubt without suffering for it, nor believe without being laughed at. Both difficulties we find to a certain degree united in the current accounts of spirit visions, the first in listening to him who avouches their truth, the second in communicating them to others. In fact, there is no reproach more bitter to the philosopher than that of credulity, and of yielding to common fancies. And as those who know how to appear wise with little effort sneer at all those things which equalize, so to speak, the wise and the ignorant, in being incomprehensible to both of them, it is not astonishing that the apparitions, so frequently asserted, are finding wide acceptance, and yet, before the public, are either denied or hushed up. You may depend upon this much: an Academy of Sciences will never make this matter its prize question. Not that its members are entirely free from any belief in the opinion referred to, but because policy rightly shuts out questions raised either by presumption or vain curiosity. Thus stories of this kind will have at any time only secret believers, while publicly they are rejected by the prevalent fashion of disbelief. Meanwhile, as this whole question seems to me to be neither important enough nor well enough studied out to be finally pronounced upon, I do not hesitate to relate here some information of the kind mentioned, and to submit it with absolute indifference to the kind or unkind judgment of the reader.
There lives at Stockholm a certain Mr. Swedenborg, a gentleman of comfortable means and independent position. His whole occupation for more than twenty years is, as he himself says, to be in closest intercourse with spirits and deceased souls; to receive news from the other world, and, in exchange, give those who are there tidings from the present; to write big volumes about his discoveries; and to travel at times to London to look after their publication. He is not especially reticent about his secrets, talks freely about them with everybody, seems to be entirely convinced of his pretensions, and all this without any apparent deceit or charlatanry. Just as he, if we may believe him, is the Arch-Spirit-seer among all the spirit-seers, he certainly is also the Arch-Dreamer among all the dreamers, whether we judge him by the description of those who know him, or by his works. But this will not hinder those who, otherwise, are favorable to influences from spirits, from supposing that there is some truth back of such phantasms. Still, as the credentials of all plenipotentiaries from the other world consist in the proofs which, by certain tests, they give of their calling in the present world, I must quote from what is spread abroad to authenticate the extraordinary capacities of the above-mentioned gentleman at least that which, with most people, still finds some credit.
Towards the end of the year 1761, Mr. Swedenborg was called to a princess, whose great intelligence and insight ought to render deception of such a nature impossible. The call was occasioned by the common report about the pretended visions of this man. After some questions which were intended to amuse her with his illusions, the princess dismissed him, after having charged him with a secret mission concerning his communication with spirits. Several days afterwards, Mr. Swedenborg appeared with an answer which was of such a nature as to create in the princess, according to her own confession, the liveliest astonishment, for the answer was true, and at the same time, could not have been given to him by any living human being. This story is drawn from the report sent by an ambassador at the court there, who was present at that time, to another foreign ambassador in Copenhagen; it exactly agreed also with all that special inquiry has been able to learn.
The following stories have no other proof than common report, which is rather doubtful evidence. Madame Marteville, the widow of a Dutch envoy at the Swedish court, was reminded by a goldsmith to pay some arrears due on a silver-service furnished her. The lady, knowing the economy of her deceased husband, was convinced that this debt must have been settled already in his life-time, but she found no proof whatever among the papers he left. Woman is especially prone to credit the stories of soothsaying, interpretation of dreams, and similar wonderful things. The widow discovered therefore her trouble to Mr. Swedenborg, requesting him to procure from her husband in the other world information about the real facts of the claim if it were true, as people said of him, that he had intercourse with deceased people. Mr. Swedenborg promised to do it, and, a few days afterwards, reported to the lady in her house, that he had obtained the desired information, and that the requisite receipts were in a hidden partition of a closet which he showed to her, and which, in her opinion, had been entirely emptied. A search was made at once, according to his description, and, together with the secret Dutch correspondence, the receipts were found, making void all claims.
The third story is of a kind of which it must be very easy to completely prove either the truth or the untruth. It was, if I am rightly informed, towards the end of the year 1759, when one afternoon Mr. Swedenborg, coming from England, landed in Gothenburg. The same evening he was invited to meet some company at the house of a resident merchant. After being present a short while he proclaimed, with evident consternation, the news that, just at that moment, a terrible fire was raging in Stockholm, in the Sudermalm. After the lapse of several hours, during which he had from time to time left the company, he reported to them that the fire was checked, and how far it had spread. This wonderful news was noised abroad the same evening, and the next morning was all over the town. Not until two days after did the first report from Stockholm arrive in Gothenburg. It agreed entirely, it is said, with Swedenborg’s visions.
It will probably be asked what on earth could have moved me to engage in such a contemptible business as that of circulating stories to which a rational man hesitates patiently to listen; nay, that I should even make them the subject of a philosophical investigation. But as the philosophy which we prefixed was equally a tale from the Utopia of metaphysics, I do not see anything unseemly in letting both appear together. Anyhow, why should it be more creditable to be deceived by blind confidence in the pretenses of reason than by incautious belief in misleading stories?
The borders of folly and wisdom are marked so indistinctly that one can hardly walk long in the one region without making at times a little digression into the other. But so far as that sense of honor is concerned, which may sometimes be persuaded even against resisting reason, it seems to be a remnant of the old ancestral loyalty which, to be sure, does not exactly fit in with the present state of things, and therefore often becomes folly, yet, on that account, is not to be considered the natural heirloom of stupidity. I leave it, therefore, to the discretion of the reader to reduce the queer story with which I am meddling, a doubtful mixture of reason and credulity, into its components, and to make out what are the proportions of both ingredients in my mind. For, seeing that the main point in such a criticism is to preserve proper decorum, I am sufficiently guarded against ridicule by the fact that with this folly, if you want to call it by that name, I am in quite good and numerous company, and this, as Fontenelle believes, is alone sufficient at least to prevent one’s being regarded as unwise. For it always has been, and, probably, always will be the case, that certain nonsensical things are accepted even by rational men, just because they are generally talked about. To that class belong sympathetic healings, the wand, forebodings, the effect of the imagination of pregnant women, the influences of the changing moon upon animals and plants, &c. Yea, a short time ago, the common peasantry made scholars pay them handsomely for so habitually ridiculing their credulity. For, by a good deal of hearsay from children and women, a great many intelligent men were finally persuaded to take a common wolf to be a hyena, although any rational man can easily see that an African beast would not disport itself in the woods of France. The weakness of man’s reason, together with his curiosity, brings it about that, in the beginning, truth and deceit are snatched up promiscuously. But, gradually, the ideas are purified; a small part remains, the rest is thrown away as offal.
He to whom these ghost stories seem to be of importance, if he has money enough and nothing better to do, may, at any rate, make a journey for the sake of more accurate information, just as Artemidor travelled in Asia Minor to satisfy himself about the interpretation of dreams. Posterity of the same turn of mind will be very grateful to him for making it impossible for a second Philostratus to rise after many years, and make out of our Swedenborg a new Apollonius of Tyana, when the hearsay shall have matured to positive proof, and the inconvenient, though highly necessary, examination of eye-witnesses will have become impossible.
A dreamer’s ecstatic journey through the world of spirits.
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas, Nocturnes lemures, portentaque Thessala. HORACE. Dreams, fears magic, miracles, sagas, Nocturnes ghosts wonders Thessaly
I cannot take it as in any way amiss in the cautious reader, if, during the development of this work, he should have grown doubtful about the manner of proceeding adopted by the author. For, as I treated the dogmatic part before the historic, and thus set reasons before experience, I gave cause for the suspicion of underhand- dealing, by having the whole thing before my mind from the start, and then feigning to know nothing but abstract considerations, so that I might finally surprise the reader who is expecting no such thing, by a pleasing confirmation from experience. In fact, this is a trick which philosophers have used at several times with very good success. To wit, all knowledge has two ends of which you can take hold, the one a priori, the other a posteriori.
It is true, several modern scientists have pretended that one must, of necessity, begin at the latter. They think they can catch the eel of science at the tail, by first procuring enough knowledges from experience, and then ascending gradually to general and higher conceptions. But although this may not be unwise, it is not nearly learned enough, nor philosophical. For in this manner one soon arrives at a why which cannot be answered, and that is just as creditable for a philosopher as it is for a merchant to pleasantly ask one to come some other time when a bill of exchange is presented to him for payment. To avoid this inconvenience acute men have begun at the opposite farthest border, the outmost point of metaphysics. But a new difficulty is here incurred, of beginning I don’t know where, and of coming I don’t know whither; also that the reasoning, when continued, does not seem to fall in with experience; yea, it seems as if the atoms of Epicurus, after having fallen and fallen from eternity, might sooner meet by chance some time and form a world, than that common ideas will meet and exemplify these abstract principles. When the philosopher thus clearly saw that his reasons on the one hand and actual experience or report on the other might, like two parallel lines, run alongside each other into infinity without ever meeting, he agreed with others, as by mutual consent, that each should take the starting-point in his own way; each then should guide the reason not by the straight line of logic, but by giving to the lines of evidence an imperceptible twist, and so, by stealthily squinting in the direction of certain experiences or testimonies, each one should bring the reason to the point of proving just what, unsuspected by the trustful pupil, he all the time had in mind as the experience to be rationally proved. Add to this that they call this road the road a priori, although they have imperceptibly directed it to the point a posteriori, by following a road already staked out. They do not tell you that, of course, because it is only fair for the initiated not to betray the tricks of the profession. With this ingenious method several men of merit have caught even secrets of religion by pure reasoning; just as a novelist makes the heroine flee into remote countries that there, by a lucky adventure, she haply may meet her lover; “et fugit ad salices, et se cupit ante videri.” (Virgil). and every man fled to the willows, hoping to be seen
With such celebrated predecessors, I need not have been ashamed even if I really had made use of the same trick to help my work to a good ending. But I earnestly beg of the reader not to believe such a thing of me. Anyhow, of what use would it be to me now when I can deceive nobody any more, having given away the secret? More- over, I undergo this misfortune, that the testimony which I have stumbled upon, and which resembles so uncommonly the philosophical creation of my own brain, looks desperately misshapen and foolish, so that I must rather expect the reader to consider my reasons as absurd on account of their relation to such confirmations, than that he will consider these latter reasonable on account of my reasons. I therefore declare without more ado that in regard to the alleged examples I mean no joke, and I declare once for all, that either one has to suppose more intelligence and truth to be in Swedenborg’s works than a first glance will reveal, or that it is only chance when he coincides with my system; as poets sometimes, when they are raving, are believed to prophesy, or at least profess that they do, when, now and then, events bear them out.
I come to the point, the works of my hero. If many authors, who are now forgotten, or, at least, in future will be without fame, deserve no small credit because, in the composition of big works, they took no heed of the expenditure of their reason, Mr. Swedenborg doubtless should carry highest honors among them all. For, surely, his bottle in the lunar world is quite full, and is inferior to none among all those which Ariosto has seen there, filled with the reason that was lost here, and which the owners one day will have to seek again ; so utterly empty of the last drop of reason is his big work. Nevertheless, such a wonderful agreement we find there with what reason can obtain on the same subject by the most subtle investigations, that the reader will pardon me if I discover here that rare play of imagination which so many other collectors have found in the plays of nature, when, for example, in spotted marble they make out the Holy Family, or in stalactite formations they make out monks, baptismal fonts, and church organs, or even as the banterer Liscow discovered on the frosted window-pane the number of the beast and the triple crown, all of which nobody else sees but he whose head is filled with it beforehand.
The big work of this author comprises eight volumes quarto full of nonsense. He puts them before the world as a new revelation under the title of “Arcana Celestia,” and applies therein his visions mostly to the discovery of the hidden sense in the first books of Moses, and to a similar mode of explanation of the whole of Scripture. All these fantastic interpretations do not concern me here, but, whoever desires it, may look up Dr. Ernesti’s Theological Library, Volume first, for some information about them. Only the “audita and visa,” i.e., what he professes to have seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears, we will extract, principally from the appendices to his chapters, because they are the foundation of all the other fancies, and are also pretty well in the same line with the adventure which, in the foregoing, we have undertaken in the balloon of metaphysics. The author’s style is plain. His stories and their arrangement seem really to be based upon fanatic observation, and afford little reason to suspect that fancies of a wrongly speculating reason have moved him to invent them, and use them for deception. In so far they are of some importance, and are really more deserving of being presented in a condensed form than many a plaything of brainless reasoners which swells our quarterlies. For a systematic delusion of the senses is a much more remarkable phenomenon than the deception of reason, the causes of which are well enough known, and which mostly could be prevented by an effort to guide the powers of mind, and to restrain somewhat an empty inquisitiveness. The delusion of the senses, on the other hand, concerns the first foundation of all judgments, against the perversion of which the rules of logic have little power. I distinguish, therefore, with our author, between delusions and the deductions thence, and pass over his incorrect reasonings, the consequences of his not stopping at his visions, just as we often have to separate in a philosopher that which he observes from what he reasons, and just as even seeming experiences are, for the most part, more instructive than seeming reasons. While thus robbing the reader of some of the moments which otherwise he might have put to the study of the exhaustive discussion of the matter, without, however, being much more benefited, I have taken care, nevertheless, of his sensitive taste by leaving out many of the wild chimeras of the book, and reducing its quintessence to a few drops. I expect for that just as much gratefulness from the reader, as a certain patient believed he owed to his doctors because they made him eat only the bark of cinchona, while they might easily have compelled him to eat the whole tree.
Mr. Swedenborg divides his visions into three kinds. In the first kind he is liberated from the body, in a state mediate between sleeping and waking, in which he has seen, heard, even felt spirits. This he has experienced only three or four times. The second is being led away by the spirit, when he may be out walking on the street without losing himself, while at the same time his spirit is in entirely different regions and sees clearly elsewhere houses, men, forests, &c., and this perhaps for several hours, until he suddenly becomes aware again of his real place. That happened to him two or three times. The third kind of visions is what is usual with him, those which he has daily while wide awake ; and from these visions his stories are taken.
All men, according to his testimony, are in equally close conjunction with the spirit-world; most men, however, do not perceive it, the difference between himself and others consisting only in the fact that his interiors are opened, a gift of which he always speaks with reverence (datum mihi est ex divina Domini misericordia – it has been given to me from the Lord’s Divine mercy,). It may be seen from the context that this gift is supposed to consist in the faculty of becoming conscious of the obscure ideas which one’s soul receives by its continual connection with the spirit-world. He distinguishes therefore in man the outer and the inner memory. The former he has as a person belonging to the visible world. On this fact also the distinction between the outer and inner man is founded; his own privilege consists in seeing himself already in this life as a person in the company of spirits, and in being recognized by them as man. In this inner memory everything is preserved which has disappeared out of the outer, nothing of all the perceptions of a man is ever lost. After death the remembrance of everything that ever entered his soul, also of what was formerly hidden to himself, forms the complete book of his life.
The presence of spirits, it is true, affects only his inner sense. But this makes them appear to him as being outside of himself, and in the form of the human figure. The language of spirits is an immediate communication of ideas, but it is always connected with the appearance of that language which the observer ordinarily speaks, and is represented as being outside of himself. Spirit reads in the memory of another spirit the ideas which are contained in the inner memory with clearness. Thus the spirits see in Swedenborg the perceptions which he has from this world, with such clearness, that they deceive themselves, and often imagine they perceive immediately those things which it is impossible for them to see; for no spirit has the least sensation from the corporeal world. Also, through communication with the souls of other living men, they can receive no idea of this world, because the interior of such men is not opened, and contains only ideas entirely obscure. For this reason Swedenborg is the very oracle of the spirits, who are just as curious to view in him the present state of the world, as he is curious to observe in their memory, as in a mirror, the wonders of the spirit- world. Although these spirits are also in the closest conjunction with the souls of all other men, operating upon them and being operated upon by them, they yet know this as little as men know it; so entirely obscure is that interior sense which belongs to the spiritual personality of men. The spirits therefore believe that those things which have been effected in them through the influence of the souls of men, have been thought by themselves alone; just as men in this life think no otherwise, than that all their thoughts and inclinations come from themselves, although, as a matter of fact, they often flow into them out of the other world. Each human soul has already in this life its place in the spirit-world, and belongs to a society, always in accordance with the inner state of good and truth, i.e., of will and understanding. But the places of spirits among themselves have nothing in common with space in the corporeal world. Thus the soul of a man in India can be next to the soul of another man in Europe, as far as their spiritual places are concerned, while those which, according to the body, live in one house, may be spiritually very far from one another. When man dies, the soul does not change its place, but only perceives itself to be in that place which, in relation to other spirits, it occupied already in this life. But although the relation of spirits among themselves is no real space, it has still with them the appearance of it, and their conjunctions are perceived under the accessory condition of nearness, their differences, on the other hand, as distances. In the same way spirits possess no extent, but yet present to each other the appearance of human figures. In this imaginary space there exists a universal community of spiritual natures. Swedenborg talks with departed souls at will, and reads in their memory (power of perception) that state which they observe in themselves, and sees it just as clearly as with bodily eyes. Moreover, the enormous distances which divide the rational inhabitants of the world are nothing in regard to the spiritual universe, and it is just as easy for one to talk with an inhabitant of Saturn, as with a deceased human soul. Everything depends on the condition of the interior state, and upon the conjunction in which spirits are according to the harmony of their states of good and truth. And the more remote spirits can easily enter into mutual communication through the intermediation of others. Thus man does not need to have actually dwelt in the other worlds for the sake of knowing them some day with all their wonders. His soul reads in the memory of the deceased citizens of other worlds the perceptions which they possess about their life and dwelling-place, and thereby sees objects as easily as by immediate observation.
A principal conception in Swedenborg’s phantasm is the following: Corporeal beings have no substance of their own, but exist only through the spirit-world, not, however, that each body exists through one spirit, but through all taken together. For that reason the knowledge of material things has a double significance, an external meaning in regard to the inter-relations of matter, an internal meaning in so far as material effects indicate the powers of the spirit-world which cause them. Thus the parts in the body of man stand in relation to each other according to material laws. But in so far as the body is preserved by the spirit living in it, its various members and their functions are of value in indicating those powers of the soul by the operation of which they have their form, activity, and stability. This inner meaning is unknown to man, and it is that which Swedenborg, whose interiors are opened, wants to make known to the world. With all other things of the visible world the case is the same; they have, as I say, a signification as things, which amounts to little, and another as signs, which amounts to much. This also is the origin of all the new interpretations which he would make of the Scripture. For this inner meaning, the internal sense, i.e., the symbolic relation of all things told there to the spirit-world, is, as he fancies, the kernel of its value, the rest only the shell. Again, the important point in this symbolic conjunction of corporeal things, as images, with the interior spiritual state, is the following. All spirits present themselves to each other under the appearance of figures possessing extent; and the influences of all these spiritual beings among each other at the same time call forth the appearance of still other spiritual creatures possessing extent, thus, as it were, the appearance of a material world. The scenes of this world, however, are only symbols of its inner state; nevertheless they cause such a clear and enduring deception of the senses as to equal the real sensation of such objects. (A future interpreter will conclude from this that Swedenborg was an idealist, because he denies to this world its independent subsistence, and therefore held it to be only a systematic appearance, arising from the constitution of the spirit world.) Thus he talks about the gardens, vast countries, the dwelling-places, galleries, and arcades of the spirits, which he claims to see with his own eyes in the clearest light. And he assures us that, having spoken after their death with all his friends, he had nearly always found that those having died recently could persuade themselves with difficulty that they had died, because they beheld a similar world; also, that societies of spirits of the same inner state live in the same appearance in regard to the country and other things there, and that a change of state is accompanied by the appearance of a change of locality. The mass of wild and unspeakably absurd forms and figures which our dreamer believes to see quite clearly in his daily intercourse with spirits must be derived from the fact that, whenever spirits communicate their thoughts to the souls of men, these thoughts take the appearance of material things, which, however, present themselves to the subject only on the strength of their relation to an inner meaning, but, still, with all appearance of reality.
I have already stated that, according to our author, the many powers and qualities of the soul are in sympathy with those organs of the body which they govern. The whole outer man therefore corresponds to the whole inner man. If, then, a perceptible spiritual influx from the invisible world flows mainly into some one of the powers of the soul, he harmoniously feels its apparent presence also in the corresponding member of his outer man. Under this head he classifies a great variety of sensations in his body which he claims are always connected with spiritual contemplation. But their foolishness is too great for me to dare to quote even one of them.
From these data, if it be considered worthwhile, one may now form a conception of that most extravagant and queerest of fancies in which all his dreams culminate. Just as various powers and capacities form that unity which constitutes the soul or the inner man; in the same way also various spirits (whose principal traits have the same relation to each other as the many faculties of a single spirit have among themselves) form a society which has the appearance of a great man. In this image each spirit finds himself in that place and in that apparent member which is in accordance with his peculiar office in such a spiritual body. Again, all societies of spirits together, and the world of all these invisible beings, finally presents itself in the appearance of the Grand Man, Maximus Homo. A colossal and gigantic fancy, which, perhaps, has grown out of an old childish conception, just as in schools sometimes, as an aid to memory, a whole continent is pictured to the pupils under the image of a sitting virgin, &c. In this enormous man there is a universal, most intimate communion of one spirit with all others, and of all with one; and, whatever may be the positions or changes of living beings in regard to each other in this world, still each has his place in the Grand Man entirely distinct from his place here, a place which he never changes, which is in immeasurable space only according to appearance, but in reality signifies only a particular character of his relations and influences.
I am tired of copying the wild chimeras of this worst of all dreamers, and forbear continuing them to his descriptions of the state after death. I have still other scruples. For, although a collector of objects of natural history puts up in his press among the prepared objects of animal procreation not only such as are formed naturally but also abortions, he nevertheless has to be careful not to show them too plainly and not to everybody. For among the curious there might easily be some pregnant persons who might receive an injurious impression. And as among my readers some might be just as likely in an interesting condition in regard to spiritual conceptions, I should be sorry if they had received a detrimental shock by anything I have told. However, as I have warned them right at the start, I am responsible for nothing, and hope not to be burdened with the moon-calves which their fruitful imagination might bring forth on this occasion.
As it is, I have not substituted my own fancies for those of our author, but have offered his views in a faithful extract to the comfortable and economic reader who does not care to sacrifice seven pounds for a little curiosity. It is true, I have mostly avoided quoting the visions themselves, as such wild chimeras only disturb the sleep of the reader, and the confused meaning of his revelations has been brought now and then into somewhat intelligible language; but the main traits of the sketch have thereby not suffered in accuracy. Nevertheless, it is only in vain that one would hide the fact which, after all, is conspicuous to everybody, that all this labor finally comes to nothing. For, as the pretended private visions narrated in the book cannot prove themselves, the motive for bothering oneself with them could lie only in the supposition that the author might offer in substantiation happenings of the above-mentioned kind which could be confirmed by living witnesses. But nothing of the kind is found. And thus we retire with some confusion from a foolish attempt, making the rational though somewhat belated observation that it is often easy to think wisely, but unfortunately only after one has been for some time deceived.
I have treated an unfruitful subject which the inquiries and importunity of idle and inquisitive friends has forced upon me. By submitting my labors to their curiosity, I have still left their expectation unrewarded, and have satisfied neither the curious by novelties, nor the studious by reasons. If I had been animated in this work by no other intentions than those just stated, I should have wasted my time; for I have lost the confidence of the reader, whom, in his inquisitiveness and eagerness to know, I have led by a tiresome roundabout way to the same point of ignorance from which he started.
But I really had an aim in view that seemed to me more important than the pretended one, and that, I believe, I have attained. Metaphysics, with which it is my fate to be in love, although only rarely can I boast of any favors from her, offers two advantages. The first is that it serves to solve the tasks which the questioning mind sets itself when by means of reason it inquires into the hidden qualities of things. But here the result only too often falls below expectation, and also this time the answer has evaded our too eager grasp.
Ter frustra comprensa manus, effugit imago, Par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno. VIRGIL. Three times my hands grasped in vain, escaped, even as light winds, and the like sleep,
The other advantage is more adapted to human reason, and consists in recognizing whether the task be within the limits of our knowledge and in stating its relation to the conceptions derived from experience, for these must always be the foundation of all our judgments. In so far metaphysics is the science of the boundaries of human reason. And as a small country always has many boundaries, and is generally more careful to intimately know and defend its possessions than blindly to set out upon conquests, it is this use of metaphysics, as setting boundaries, which is at the same time the least known and the most important, and which further is obtained only late and by long experience. In this case I indeed have not accurately defined the boundaries; but I have indicated them for the reader” so far that, after further consideration, he will find himself able to do without such vain investigations about a question the data of which he has to seek in a world different from that of which he is sensible. Thus I have wasted my time that I might gain it. I have deceived the reader so that I might be of use to him, and although I have offered him no new knowledge, I have nevertheless destroyed that vain belief and empty knowledge which inflates reason, and, in its narrow space, takes the place which might be occupied by the teachings of wisdom and of useful instruction.
The impatience of the reader, whom our considerations thus far have only wearied without giving instruction, may be appeased by the words with which Diogenes is said to have cheered his yawning listeners when he saw the last page of a tiresome book : “Courage, gentlemen, I see land ! ” Before, we walked, like Democritus, in empty space, whither we had flown on the butterfly-wings of metaphysics, and there we conversed with spiritual beings. Now, since the sobering power of self-recognition has caused the silky wings to be folded, we find ourselves again on the ground of experience and common sense. Happy, if we look at it as the place allotted to us, which we never can leave with impunity, and which contains everything to satisfy us as long as we hold fast to the useful.
Practical conclusion from the whole treatise.
It is the zeal of a sophist to inquire into any idle proposition and to set to the craving after knowledge no other limits than impossibility. But to select from among the innumerable tasks before us the one which humanity must solve, is the merit of the wise. After science has completed its course, it naturally arrives at a modest mistrust and, indignant with itself, it says: How many things there are which I do not understand! But reason, matured by experience so as to become wisdom, speaks through the mouth of Socrates when, among all the merchandise of a fair, he says serenely: “How many things there are which I do not need! ”In this manner two endeavors of a dissimilar nature flow together into one, though in the beginning they set out in very different directions, the one being vain and discontented, the other staid and content. To be able to choose rationally, one must know first even the unnecessary, yea the impossible; then, at last, science arrives at the definition of the limits set to human reason by nature. All hollow schemes, perhaps not unworthy in themselves but lying outside of the sphere of men, will then flee to the limbus of vanity. Then even metaphysics will become that from which at present it is rather far off, and which would seem the last thing to be expected of her the companion of wisdom. As long as people think it still possible to attain knowledge about things so far off, wise simplicity may call out in vain that such great endeavors are unnecessary. The pleasure accompanying the extension of knowledge will easily make it appear a duty, and will consider deliberate and intentional contentedness to be foolish simplicity, opposed to the improvement of our nature. The questions about the spiritual nature, about freedom and predestination, the future state, &c., at first animate all the powers of reason, and through their excellency draw man into the rivalry of a speculation which reasons and decides, teaches and refutes without discrimination, just according to the nature of the apparent knowledge in each case. But if this investigation develop into philosophy which judges its own proceedings, and which knows not only objects, but their relation to man’s reason, then the lines of demarcation are drawn closer, and the boundary stones are laid which in future never allow investigation to wander beyond its proper district.
We had to make use of a good deal of philosophy to know the difficulties surrounding a conception generally treated as being very convenient and common. Still more philosophy moves this phantom of knowledge yet further away, and convinces us that it is entirely beyond the horizon of man. For in the relations of cause and effect, of substance and action, philosophy at first serves to dissolve the complicated phenomena, and to reduce them to simpler conceptions. But when one has, finally, arrived at fundamental relations, philosophy has no business any more. Questions like “How something can be a cause, or possess power,” can never be decided by reason; but these relations must be taken from experience alone. For the rules of our reason are applicable only to comparison in respect to identity or contrast. But in the case of a cause something is assumed to have come from something else; one can find therefore no connection in regard to identity.
In the same way, if this effect is not already implied in what preceded, a contrast can never be made out; because it is not contradictory to merely assume one thing and abolish another. Thence the fundamental conceptions of causes, of forces, and of actions, if they are not taken from experience, are entirely arbitrary, and can be neither proved nor disproved. I know that will and understanding move my body, but I can never reduce by analysis this phenomenon, as a simple experience, to another experience, and can, therefore, indeed recognize it, but not understand it. That my will moves my arm is not more intelligible to me than if somebody said to me that he could stop the moon in his orbit. The difference is only that the one I experience, but that the latter has never occurred to me. I recognize in myself changes as of a living subject, namely, thoughts, power to choose, &c., &c., and, as these terms indicate things different in kind from any of those which, taken together, make up my body, I have good reason to conceive of an incorporeal and constant being. Whether such a being be able to think also without connection with a body, can never be concluded from this empirical conception of its nature. I am conjoined with beings kindred to myself by means of corporeal laws, but whether I am, or ever shall be, conjoined according to other laws which I will call spiritual, without the instrumentality of matter, I can in no way conclude from what is given to me. All such; opinions, as those concerning the manner in which the soul moves my body, or is related to other beings, now, : or in future, can never be anything more than fictions. And they are far from having even that value which fictions of science, called hypotheses, have. For with these no fundamental powers are invented; only those known already by experience are connected according to the phenomena; their possibility, therefore, must be provable at any moment. It is different in the former case, when even new fundamental relations of cause and effect are assumed, the possibility of which can never, nor in any way, be ascertained, and which thus are only invented by creative genius or by chimera, whichever you like to call it. That several true or pretended phenomena can be comprehended by means of such assumed fundamental ideas cannot at all be quoted in their favor. For a reason may be given for everything, if one is entitled to invent at will actions and laws of operation. We must wait, therefore, until perhaps in the future world, by new experiences, we are informed about new conceptions concerning powers in our thinking selves which, as yet, are hidden to us. Thus the observations of later days, analyzed by mathematics, have revealed to us the power of attraction in matter, concerning the possibility of which we shall never be able to learn anything further, because it seems to be a fundamental power. Those who would have invented such a quality without first having obtained the proof from experience would rightly have deserved to be laughed at as fools. Because, in such cases, reasons are of no account whatever, neither for the sake of inventing, nor of confirming the possibility or impossibility of certain results: the right of decision must be left to experience alone. Just as I leave to time, which brings experience, the ascertainment of something about the famous healing- powers of the magnet in cases of toothache, when experience shall have produced as many observations to the effect that magnetic rods act upon flesh and bones, as we have already proving their effect on steel and iron. But, if certain pretended experiences cannot be classified under any law of sensation that is unanimously accepted by men: if, therefore, they would only go to prove irregularity in the testimony of the senses which, indeed, is the case with rumored ghost-stories then it is advisable to simply ignore them. For the lack of unanimity and uniformity makes the historic knowledge about them valueless for the proof of anything, and renders them unfit to serve as basis for any law of experience within the domain of reason.
Just as, on the one hand, by somewhat deeper investigation, one will learn that convincing and philosophic knowledge is impossible in the case under consideration, one will have to confess, on the other hand, in a quiet and unprejudiced state of mind, that such knowledge is dispensable and unnecessary. The vanity of science likes to excuse its occupations by the pretext of importance; thus it is pretended in this case that a rational understanding of the spiritual nature of the soul is very necessary for the conviction of an existence after death; again, that this conviction is very necessary as a motive for a virtuous life. Idle curiosity adds that the fact of apparitions of departed souls even furnishes us with a proof from experience of the existence of such things. But true wisdom is the companion of simplicity, and as, with the latter, the heart rules the understanding, it generally renders unnecessary the great preparations of scholars, and its aims do not need such means as can never be at the command of all men. What? is it good to be virtuous only because there is another world, or will not actions be rewarded rather because they were good and virtuous in themselves? Does man’s heart not contain immediate moral precepts, and is it absolutely necessary to fix our machinery to the other world for the sake of moving man here according to his destiny? Can he be called honest, can he be called virtuous, who would like to yield to his favorite vices if only he were not frightened by future punishment? Must we not rather say that indeed he shuns the doing of wicked things, but nurtures the vicious disposition in his soul; that he loves the advantages of actions similar to virtue, but hates virtue itself? In fact, experience teaches that very many who are instructed concerning the future world, and are convinced of it, nevertheless yield to vice and corruption, and only think upon means cunningly to escape the threatening consequences of the future. But there probably never was a righteous soul who could endure the thought that with death everything would end, and whose noble mind had not elevated itself to the hope of the future.
Therefore it seems to be more in accordance with human nature and the purity of morals to base the expectation of a future world upon the sentiment of a good soul, than, conversely, to base the soul’s good conduct upon the hope of another world. Of that nature is also that moral faith, the simplicity of which can do without many a subtlety of reasoning, and which alone is appropriate to man in any state, because, without deviations, it guides him to his true aims. Let us therefore leave to speculation and to the care of idle men all the noisy systems of doctrine concerning such remote subjects. They are really immaterial to us, and the reasons pro and con which, for the moment, prevail, may, perhaps, decide the applause of schools, but hardly anything about the future destiny of the righteous. Human reason was not given strong enough wings to part Clouds so high above us, clouds which withhold from our eyes the secrets of the other world. The curious who inquire about it so anxiously may receive the simple but very natural reply, it would be best for them to please have patience until they get there. But as our fate in the other world probably depends very much on the manner in which we have conducted our office in the present world, I conclude with the words with which Voltaire, after so many sophistries, lets his honest Candide conclude: “Let us look after our happiness go into the garden, and work”
Candide by Voltaire 1759
Immanuel Kant Dreams of a Spirit-Seer 1766