Peace and Safety For Your Twentieth of February: “What Destroys A Man More Quickly Than To Work, Think, and Feel … Without Any Deep Personal Desire…?”
Peace and Safety to the Epicureans of today, no matter where you might be – Happy Twentieth!
In the days since our last Twentieth we’ve had, in the Epicurean Philosophy Facebook group, more opportunities to compare Epicurean and Stoic philosophies. For today’s Twentieth I bring you an excerpt from Nietzsche’s “AntiChrist” to illustrate why the issues at stake are so important.
For what “… destroys a man more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure—as a mere automaton of duty? That is the recipe for décadence, and no less for idiocy.”
Here’s the full context, a passage aimed at Kant, but in the process demolishing the call to “virtue” in a way few besides Nietzsche can match:
“A word now against Kant as a moralist. A virtue must be our invention; it must spring out of our personal need and defense. In every other case it is a source of danger. That which does not belong to our life menaces it; a virtue which has its roots in mere respect for the concept of “virtue,” as Kant would have it, is pernicious. “Virtue,” “duty,” “good for its own sake,” goodness grounded upon impersonality or a notion of universal validity—these are all chimeras, and in them one finds only an expression of the decay, the last collapse of life, the Chinese spirit of Königsberg. Quite the contrary is demanded by the most profound laws of self-preservation and of growth: to wit, that every man find his own virtue, his own categorical imperative. A nation goes to pieces when it confounds its duty with the general concept of duty. Nothing works a more complete and penetrating disaster than every “impersonal” duty, every sacrifice before the Moloch of abstraction.—To think that no one has thought of Kant’s categorical imperative as dangerous to life!… The theological instinct alone took it under protection!—An action prompted by the life-instinct proves that it is a right action by the amount of pleasure that goes with it: and yet that Nihilist, with his bowels of Christian dogmatism, regarded pleasure as an objection…. What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure—as a mere automaton of duty? That is the recipe for décadence, and no less for idiocy.… Kant became an idiot.—And such a man was the contemporary of Goethe! This calamitous spinner of cobwebs passed for the German philosopher—still passes today!… I forbid myself to say what I think of the Germans…. Didn’t Kant see in the French Revolution the transformation of the state from the inorganic form to the organic? Didn’t he ask himself if there was a single event that could be explained save on the assumption of a moral faculty in man, so that on the basis of it, “the tendency of mankind toward the good” could be explained, once and for all time? Kant’s answer: “That is revolution.” Instinct at fault in everything and anything, instinct as a revolt against nature, German décadence as a philosophy—that is Kant!—”
– F. W. Nietzsche From The Antichrist – 11. (translated by H.L. Mencken)
As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!
And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”
Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at the Epicurean Philosophy Facebook Group and EpicureanFriends.com