'Wissenschaft als Beruf,' Gesammlte Aufsaetze zurWissenschaftslehre (Tubingen, 1922), pp. 524-55. Originallya speech at Munich University, 1918, published in 19l9 by Duncker& Humblodt, Munich.
You wish me to speak about 'Science as a Vocation.' Now, wepolitical economists have a pedantic custom, which I should liketo follow, of always beginning with the external conditions. Inthis case, we begin with the question: What are the conditions ofscience as a vocation in the material sense of the term? Todaythis question means, practically and essentially: What are theprospects of a graduate student who is resolved to dedicatehimself professionally to science in university life? In order tounderstand the peculiarity of German conditions it is expedientto proceed by comparison and to realize the conditions abroad. Inthis respect, the United States stands in the sharpest contrastwith Germany, so we shall focus upon that country.
Everybody knows that in Germany the career of the young manwho is dedicated to science normally begins with the position of Privatdozent.After having conversed with and received the consent of therespective specialists, he takes up residence on the basis of abook and, usually, a rather formal examination before the facultyof the university. Then he gives a course of lectures withoutreceiving any salary other than the lecture fees of his students.It is up to him to determine, within his venia legendi,the topics upon which he lectures.
In the United States the academic career usually begins inquite a different manner, namely, by employment as an'assistant.' This is similar to the great institutes of thenatural science and medical faculties in Germany, where usuallyonly a fraction of the assistants try to habilitate themselves asPrivatdozenten and often only later in their career.
Practically, this contrast means that the career of theacademic man in Germany is generally based upon plutocraticprerequisites. For it is extremely hazardous for a young scholarwithout funds to expose himself to the conditions of the academiccareer. He must be able to endure this condition for at least anumber of years without knowing whether he will have theopportunity to move into a position which pays well enough formaintenance.
In the United States, where the bureaucratic system exists,the young academic man is paid from the very beginning. To besure, his salary is modest; usually it is hardly as much as thewages of a semi-skilled laborer. Yet he begins with a seeminglysecure position, for he draws a fixed salary. As a rule, however,notice may be given to him just as with German assistants, andfrequently he definitely has to face this should he not come upto expectations.
These expectations are such that the young academic in Americamust draw large crowds of students. This cannot happen to aGerman docent; once one has him, one cannot get rid of him. To besure, he cannot raise any 'claims.' But he has the understandablenotion that after years of work he has a sort of moral right toexpect some consideration. He also expects--and this is oftenquite important--that one have some regard for him when thequestion of the possible habilitation of other Privatdozentencomes up.
Whether, in principle, one should habilitate every scholar whois qualified or whether one should consider enrollments, andhence give the existing staff a monopoly to teach--that is anawkward dilemma. It is associated with the dual aspect of theacademic profession, which we shall discuss presently. Ingeneral, one decides in favor of the second alternative. But thisincreases the danger that the respective full professor, howeverconscientious he is, will prefer his own disciples. If I mayspeak of my personal attitude, I must say I have followed theprinciple that a scholar promoted by me must legitimize andhabilitate himself with somebody else at anotheruniversity. But the result has been that one of my best discipleshas been turned down at another university because nobody there believedthis to be the reason.
A further difference between Germany and the United States isthat in Germany the Privatdozent generally teaches fewercourses than he wishes. According to his formal right, he cangive any course in his field. But to do so would be considered animproper lack of consideration for the older docents. As a rule,the full professor gives the 'big' courses and the docentconfines himself to secondary ones. The advantage of thesearrangements is that during his youth the academic man is free todo scientific work, although this restriction of the opportunityto teach is somewhat involuntary.
In America, the arrangement is different in principle.Precisely during the early years of his career the assistant isabsolutely overburdened just because he is paid. In a departmentof German, for instance, the full professor will give athree-hour course on Goethe and that is enough, whereas the youngassistant is happy if, besides the drill in the German language,his twelve weekly teaching hours include assignments of, say,Uhland. The officials prescribe the curriculum, and in this theassistant is just as dependent as the institute assistant inGermany.
Of late we can observe distinctly that the German universitiesin the broad fields of science develop in the direction of theAmerican system. The large institutes of medicine or naturalscience are 'state capitalist' enterprises, which cannot bemanaged without very considerable funds. Here we encounter thesame condition that is found wherever capitalist enterprise comesinto operation: the 'separation of the worker from his means ofproduction.' The worker, that is, the assistant, is dependentupon the implements that the state puts at his disposal; hence heis just as dependent upon the head of the institute as is theemployee in a factory upon the management. For, subjectively andin good faith, the director believes that this institute is'his,' and he manages its affairs. Thus the assistant's positionis often as precarious as is that of any 'quasi-proletarian'existence and just as precarious as the position of the assistantin the American university.
In very important respects German university life is beingAmericanized, as is German life in general. This development, Iam convinced, will engulf those disciplines in which thecraftsman personally owns the tools, essentially the library, asis still the case to a large extent in my own field. Thisdevelopment corresponds entirely to what happened to the artisanof the past and it is now fully under way.
As with all capitalist and at the same time bureaucratizedenterprises, there are indubitable advantages in all this. Butthe 'spirit' that rules in these affairs is different from thehistorical atmosphere of the German university. Anextraordinarily wide gulf, externally and internally, existsbetween the chief of these large, capitalist, universityenterprises and the usual full professor of the old style. Thiscontrast also holds for the inner attitude, a matter that I shallnot go into here. Inwardly as well as externally, the olduniversity constitution has become fictitious. What has remainedand what has been essentially increased is a factor peculiar tothe university career: the question whether or not such a Privatdozent,and still more an assistant, will ever succeed in moving into theposition of a full professor or even become the head of aninstitute. That is simply a hazard. Certainly, chance does notrule alone, but it rules to an unusually high degree. I know ofhardly any career on earth where chance plays such a role. I maysay so all the more since I personally owe it to some mereaccidents that during my very early years I was appointed to afull professorship in a discipline in which men of my generationundoubtedly had achieved more that I had. And, indeed, I fancy,on the basis of this experience, that I have a sharp eye for theundeserved fate of the many whom accident has cast in theopposite direction and who within this selective apparatus inspite of all their ability do not attain the positions that aredue them.
The fact that hazard rather than ability plays so large a roleis not alone or even predominantly owing to the 'human, all toohuman' factors, which naturally occur in the process of academicselection as in any other selection. It would be unfair to holdthe personal inferiority of faculty members or educationalministries responsible for the fact that so many mediocritiesundoubtedly play an eminent role at the universities. Thepredominance of mediocrity is rather due to the laws of humanco-operation, especially of the co-operation of several bodies,and, in this case, co-operation of the faculties who recommendand of the ministries of education.
A counterpart are the events at the papal elections, which canbe traced over many centuries and which are the most importantcontrollable examples of a selection of the same nature as theacademic selection. The cardinal who is said to be the 'favorite'only rarely has a chance to win out. The rule is rather that theNumber Two cardinal or the Number Three wins out. The same holdsfor the President of the United States. Only exceptionally doesthe first-rate and most prominent man get the nomination of theconvention. Mostly the Number Two and often the Number Three menare nominated and later run for election. The Americans havealready formed technical sociological terms for these categories,and it would be quite interesting to enquire into the laws ofselection by a collective will by studying these examples, but weshall not do so here. Yet these laws also hold for the collegiatebodies of German universities, and one must not be surprised atthe frequent mistakes that are made, but rather at the number of correctappointments, the proportion of which, in spite of all, is veryconsiderable. Only where parliaments, as in some countries, ormonarchs, as in Germany thus far (both work out in the same way),or revolutionary power-holders, as in Germany now, intervene forpolitical reasons in academic selections, can one be certain thatconvenient mediocrities or strainers will have the opportunitiesall to themselves.
No university teacher likes to be reminded of discussions ofappointments, for they are seldom agreeable. And yet I may saythat in the numerous cases known to me there was, withoutexception, the good will to allow purely objective reasons to bedecisive.
One must be clear about another thing: that the decision overacademic fates is so largely a 'hazard' is not merely because ofthe insufficiency of the selection by the collective formation ofwill. Every young man who feels called to scholarship has torealize clearly that the task before him has a double aspect. Hemust qualify not only as a scholar but also as a teacher. And thetwo do not at all coincide. One can be a preeminent scholar andat the same time an abominably poor teacher. May I remind you ofthe teaching of men like Helmholtz or Ranke; and they are not byany chance rare exceptions.
Now, matters are such that German universities, especially thesmall universities, are engaged in a most ridiculous competitionfor enrollments. The landlords of rooming houses in universitycities celebrate the advent of the thousandth student by afestival, and they would love to celebrate Number Two Thousand bya torchlight procession. The interest in fees--and one shouldopenly admit it--is affected by appointments in the neighboringfields that 'draw crowds.' And quite apart from this, the numberof students enrolled is a test of qualification, which may begrasped in terms of numbers, whereas the qualification forscholarship is imponderable and, precisely with audaciousinnovators, often debatable--that is only natural. Almosteverybody thus is affected by the suggestion of the immeasurableblessing and value of large enrollments. To say of a docent thathe is a poor teacher is usually to pronounce an academic sentenceof death, even if he is the foremost scholar in the world. Andthe question whether he is a good or a poor teacher is answeredby the enrollments with which the students condescendingly honorhim.
It is a fact that whether or not the students flock to ateacher is determined in large measure, larger than one wouldbelieve possible, by purely external things: temperament and eventhe inflection of his voice. After rather extensive experienceand sober reflection, I have a deep distrust of courses that drawcrowds, however unavoidable they may be. Democracy should be usedonly where it is in place. Scientific training, as we are held topractice it in accordance with the tradition of Germanuniversities, is the affair of an intellectual aristocracy, andwe should not hide this from ourselves. To be sure, it is truethat to present scientific problems in such a manner that anuntutored but receptive mind can understand them and--what for usis alone decisive--can come to think about them independently isperhaps the most difficult pedagogical task of all. But whetherthis task is or is not realized is not decided by enrollmentfigures. And--to return to our theme--this very art is a personalgift and by no means coincides with the scientific qualificationsof the scholar.
In contrast to France, Germany has no corporate body of'immortals' in science. According to German tradition, theuniversities shall do justice to the demands both of research andof instruction. Whether the abilities for both are found togetherin a man is a matter of absolute chance. Hence academic life is amad hazard. If the young scholar asks for my advice with regardto habilitation, the responsibility of encouraging him can hardlybe borne. If he is a Jew, of course one says lasciate ognisperanza. But one must ask every other man: Do you in allconscience believe that you can stand seeing mediocrity aftermediocrity, year after year, climb beyond you, without becomingembittered and without coming to grief? Naturally, one alwaysreceives the answer: 'Of course, I live only for my"calling." ' Yet, I have found that only a few mencould endure this situation without coming to grief.
This much I deem necessary to say about the externalconditions of the academic man's vocation. But I believe thatactually you wish to hear of something else, namely, of the inwardcalling for science. In our time, the internal situation, incontrast to the organization of science as a vocation, is firstof all conditioned by the facts that science has entered a phaseof specialization previously unknown and that this will foreverremain the case. Not only externally, but inwardly, matters standat a point where the individual can acquire the sureconsciousness of achieving something truly perfect in the fieldof science only in case he is a strict specialist.
All work that overlaps neighboring fields, such as weoccasionally undertake and which the sociologists mustnecessarily undertake again and again, is burdened with theresigned realization that at best one provides the specialistwith useful questions upon which he would not so easily hit fromhis own specialized point of view. One's own work must inevitablyremain highly imperfect. Only by strict specialization can thescientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhapsnever again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something thatwill endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is todayalways a specialized accomplishment. And whoever lacks thecapacity to put on blinders, so to speak, and to come up to theidea that the fate of his soul depends upon whether or not hemakes the correct conjecture at this passage of this manuscriptmay as well stay away from science. He will never have what onemay call the 'personal experience' of science. Without thisstrange intoxication, ridiculed by every outsider; without thispassion, this 'thousands of years must pass before you enter intolife and thousands more wait in silence'--according to whether ornot you succeed in making this conjecture; without this, you haveno calling for science and you should do something else. Fornothing is worthy of man as man unless he can pursue it withpassionate devotion.
Yet it is a fact that no amount of such enthusiasm, howeversincere and profound it may be, can compel a problem to yieldscientific results. Certainly enthusiasm is a prerequisite of the'inspiration' which is decisive. Nowadays in circles of youththere is a widespread notion that science has become a problem incalculation, fabricated in laboratories or statistical filingsystems just as 'in a factory,' a calculation involving only thecool intellect and not one's 'heart and soul.' First of all onemust say that such comments lack all clarity about what goes onin a factory or in a laboratory. In both some idea has to occurto someone's mind, and it has to be a correct idea, if one is toaccomplish anything worthwhile. And such intuition cannot beforced. It has nothing to do with any cold calculation. Certainlycalculation is also an indispensable prerequisite. Nosociologist, for instance, should think himself too good, even inhis old age, to make tens of thousands of quite trivialcomputations in his head and perhaps for months at a time. Onecannot with impunity try to transfer this task entirely tomechanical assistants if one wishes to figure something, eventhough the final result is often small indeed. But if no 'idea'occurs to his mind about the direction of his computations and,during his computations, about the bearing of the emergent singleresults, then even this small result will not be yielded.
Normally such an 'idea' is prepared only on the soil of veryhard work, but certainly this is not always the case.Scientifically, a dilettante's idea may have the very same oreven a greater bearing for science than that of a specialist.Many of our very best hypotheses and insights are due preciselyto dilettantes. The dilettante differs from the expert, asHelmholtz has said of Robert Mayer, only in that he lacks a firmand reliable work procedure. Consequently he is usually not inthe position to control, to estimate, or to exploit the idea inits bearings. The idea is not a substitute for work; and work, inturn, cannot substitute for or compel an idea, just as little asenthusiasm can. Both, enthusiasm and work, and above all both ofthem jointly, can entice the idea.
Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us.The best ideas do indeed occur to one's mind in the way in whichIhering describes it: when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or asHelmholtz states of himself with scientific exactitude: whentaking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way.In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not whenwe are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas wouldcertainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks andsearched for answers with passionate devotion.
However this may be, the scientific worker has to take intohis bargain the risk that enters into all scientific work: Doesan 'idea' occur or does it not? He may be an excellent worker andyet never have had any valuable idea of his own. It is a graveerror to believe that this is so only in science, and that thingsfor instance in a business office are different from alaboratory. A merchant or a big industrialist without 'businessimagination,' that is, without ideas or ideal intuitions, willfor all his life remain a man who would better have remained aclerk or a technical official. He will never be truly creative inorganization. Inspiration in the field of science by no meansplays any greater role, as academic conceit fancies, than it doesin the field of mastering problems of practical life by a modernentrepreneur. On the other hand, and this also is oftenmisconstrued, inspiration plays no less a role in science than itdoes in the realm of art. It is a childish notion to think that amathematician attains any scientifically valuable results bysitting at his desk with a ruler, calculating machines or othermechanical means. The mathematical imagination of a Weierstrassis naturally quite differently oriented in meaning and resultthan is the imagination of an artist, and differs basically inquality. But the psychological processes do not differ. Both arefrenzy (in the sense of Plato's 'mania') and 'inspiration.'
Now, whether we have scientific inspiration depends upondestinies that are hidden from us, and besides upon 'gifts.' Lastbut not least, because of this indubitable truth, a veryunderstandable attitude has become popular, especially amongyouth, and has put them in the service of idols whose cult todayoccupies a broad place on all street corners and in allperiodicals. These idols are 'personality' and 'personalexperience.' Both are intimately connected, the notion prevailsthat the latter constitutes the former and belongs to it. Peoplebelabor themselves in trying to 'experience' life--for thatbefits a personality, conscious of its rank and station. And ifwe do not succeed in 'experiencing' life, we must at leastpretend to have this gift of grace. Formerly we called this'experience,' in plain German, 'sensation'; and I believe that wethen had a more adequate idea of what personality is and what itsignifies.
Ladies and gentlemen. In the field of science only he who isdevoted solely to the work at hand has 'personality.'And this holds not only for the field of science; we know of nogreat artist who has ever done anything but serve his work andonly his work. As far as his art is concerned, even with apersonality of Goethe's rank, it has been detrimental to take theliberty of trying to make his 'life' into a work of art. And evenif one doubts this, one has to be a Goethe in order to darepermit oneself such liberty. Everybody will admit at least thismuch: that even with a man like Goethe, who appears once in athousand years, this liberty did not go unpaid for. In politicsmatters are not different, but we shall not discuss that today.In the field of science, however, the man who makes himself theimpresario of the subject to which he should be devoted, andsteps upon the stage and seeks to legitimate himself through'experience,' asking: How can I prove that I am something otherthan a mere 'specialist' and how can I manage to say something inform or in content that nobody else has ever said ?--such a manis no 'personality.' Today such conduct is a crowd phenomenon,and it always makes a petty impression and debases the one who isthus concerned. Instead of this, an inner devotion to the task,and that alone, should lift the scientist to the height anddignity of the subject he pretends to serve. And in this it isnot different with the artist.
In contrast with these preconditions which scientific workshares with art, science has a fate that profoundly distinguishesit from artistic work. Scientific work is chained to the courseof progress; whereas in the realm of art there is no progress inthe same sense. It is not true that the work of art of a periodthat has worked out new technical means, or, for instance, thelaws of perspective, stands therefore artistically higher than awork of art devoid of all knowledge of those means and laws--ifits form does justice to the material, that is, if its object hasbeen chosen and formed so that it could be artistically masteredwithout applying those conditions and means. A work of art whichis genuine 'fulfilment' is never surpassed; it will never beantiquated. Individuals may differ in appreciating the personalsignificance of works of art, but no one will ever be able to sayof such a work that it is 'outstripped by another work which isalso 'fulfilment.'
In science, each of us knows that what he has accomplishedwill be antiquated in ten, twenty, fifty years. That is the fateto which science is subjected; it is the very meaning ofscientific work, to which it is devoted in a quite specificsense, as compared with other spheres of culture for which ingeneral the same holds. Every scientific 'fulfilment' raises new'questions'; it asks to be 'surpassed' and outdated.Whoever wishes to serve science has to resign himself to thisfact. Scientific works certainly can last as 'gratifications'because of their artistic quality, or they may remain importantas a means of training. Yet they will be surpassedscientifically--let that be repeated--for it is our common fateand, more, our common goal. We cannot work without hoping thatothers will advance further than we have. In principle, thisprogress goes on ad infinitum. And with this we come toinquire into the meaning of science. For, after all, itis not self-evident that something subordinate to such a law issensible and meaningful in itself. Why does one engage in doingsomething that in reality never comes, and never can come, to anend?
One does it, first, for purely practical, in the broader senseof the word, for technical, purposes: in order to be able toorient our practical activities to the expectations thatscientific experience places at our disposal. Good. Yet this hasmeaning only to practitioners. What is the attitude of theacademic man towards his vocation--that is, if he is at all inquest of such a personal attitude? He maintains that he engagesin 'science for science's sake' and not merely because others, byexploiting science, bring about commercial or technical successand can better feed, dress, illuminate, and govern. But what doeshe who allows himself to be integrated into this specializedorganization, running on ad infinitum, hope toaccomplish that is significant in these productions that arealways destined to be outdated? This question requires a fewgeneral considerations.
Scientific progress is a fraction, the most importantfraction, of the process of intellectualization which we havebeen undergoing for thousands of years and which nowadays isusually judged in such an extremely negative way. Let us firstclarify what this intellectualist rationalization, created byscience and by scientifically oriented technology, meanspractically.
Does it mean that we, today, for instance, everyone sitting inthis hall, have a greater knowledge of the conditions of lifeunder which we exist than has an American Indian or a Hottentot?Hardly. Unless he is a physicist, one who rides on the streetcarhas no idea how the car happened to get into motion. And he doesnot need to know. He is satisfied that he may 'count' on thebehavior of the streetcar, and he orients his conduct accordingto this expectation; but he knows nothing about what it takes toproduce such a car so that it can move. The savage knowsincomparably more about his tools. When we spend money today Ibet that even if there are colleagues of political economy herein the hall, almost every one of them will hold a differentanswer in readiness to the question: How does it happen that onecan buy something for money--sometimes more and sometimes less ?The savage knows what he does in order to get his daily food andwhich institutions serve him in this pursuit. The increasingintellectualization and rationalization do not, therefore,indicate an increased and general knowledge of the conditionsunder which one lives.
It means something else, namely, the knowledge or belief thatif one but wished one could learn it at any time. Hence,it means that principally there are no mysterious incalculableforces that come into play, but rather that one can, inprinciple, master all things by calculation. This means that theworld is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse tomagical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as didthe savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technicalmeans and calculations perform the service. This above all iswhat intellectualization means.
Now, this process of disenchantment, which has continued toexist in Occidental culture for millennia, and, in general, this'progress,' to which science belongs as a link and motive force,do they have any meanings that go beyond the purely practical andtechnical? You will find this question raised in the mostprincipled form in the works of Leo Tolstoi. He came to raise thequestion in a peculiar way. All his broodings increasinglyrevolved around the problem of whether or not death is ameaningful phenomenon. And his answer was: for civilized mandeath has no meaning. It has none because the individual life ofcivilized man, placed into an infinite 'progress,' according toits own imminent meaning should never come to an end; for thereis always a further step ahead of one who stands in the march ofprogress. And no man who comes to die stands upon the peak whichlies in infinity. Abraham, or some peasant of the past, died 'oldand satiated with life' because he stood in the organic cycle oflife; because his life, in terms of its meaning and on the eve ofhis days, had given to him what life had to offer; because forhim there remained no puzzles he might wish to solve; andtherefore he could have had 'enough' of life. Whereas civilizedman, placed in the midst of the continuous enrichment of cultureby ideas, knowledge, and problems, may become 'tired of life' butnot 'satiated with life.' He catches only the most minute part ofwhat the life of the spirit brings forth ever anew, and what heseizes is always something provisional and not definitive, andtherefore death for him is a meaningless occurrence. And becausedeath is meaningless, civilized life as such is meaningless; byits very 'progressiveness' it gives death the imprint ofmeaninglessness. Throughout his late novels one meets with thisthought as the keynote of the Tolstoyan art.
What stand should one take? Has 'progress' as such arecognizable meaning that goes beyond the technical, so that toserve it is a meaningful vocation? The question must be raised.But this is no longer merely the question of man's calling forscience, hence, the problem of what science as a vocation meansto its devoted disciples. To raise this question is to ask forthe vocation of science within the total life of humanity. Whatis the value of science?
Here the contrast between the past and the present istremendous. You will recall the wonderful image at the beginningof the seventh book of Plato's Republic: those enchainedcavemen whose faces are turned toward the stone wall before them.Behind them lies the source of the light which they cannot see.They are concerned only with the shadowy images that this lightthrows upon the wall, and they seek to fathom theirinterrelations. Finally one of them succeeds in shattering hisfetters, turns around, and sees the sun. Blinded, he gropes aboutand stammers of what he saw. The others say he is raving. Butgradually he learns to behold the light, and then his task is todescend to the cavemen and to lead them to the light. He is thephilosopher; the sun, however, is the truth of science, whichalone seizes not upon illusions and shadows but upon the truebeing.
Well, who today views science in such a manner ? Today youthfeels rather the reverse: the intellectual constructions ofscience constitute an unreal realm of artificial abstractions,which with their bony hands seek to grasp the blood-and-the-sapof true life without ever catching up with it. But here in life,in what for Plato was the play of shadows on the walls of thecave, genuine reality is pulsating; and the rest are derivativesof life, lifeless ghosts, and nothing else. How did this changecome about?
Plato's passionate enthusiasm in The Republic must,in the last analysis, be explained by the fact that for the firsttime the concept, one of the great tools of allscientific knowledge, had been consciously discovered. Socrateshad discovered it in its bearing. He was not the only man in theworld to discover it. In India one finds the beginnings of alogic that is quite similar to that of Aristotle's. But nowhereelse do we find this realization of the significance of theconcept. In Greece, for the first time, appeared a handy means bywhich one could put the logical screws upon somebody so that hecould not come out without admitting either that he knew nothingor that this and nothing else was truth, the eternaltruth that never would vanish as the doings of the blind menvanish. That was the tremendous experience which dawned upon thedisciples of Socrates. And from this it seemed to follow that ifone only found the right concept of the beautiful, the good, or,for instance, of bravery, of the soul--or whatever--that then onecould also grasp its true being. And this, in turn, seemed toopen the way for knowing and for teaching how to act rightly inlife and, above all, how to act as a citizen of the state; forthis question was everything to the Hellenic man, whose thinkingwas political throughout. And for these reasons one engaged inscience.
The second great tool of scientific work, the rationalexperiment, made its appearance at the side of this discovery ofthe Hellenic spirit during the Renaissance period. The experimentis a means of reliably controlling experience. Without it,present-day empirical science would be impossible. There wereexperiments earlier; for instance, in India physiologicalexperiments were made in the service of ascetic yoga technique;in Hellenic antiquity, mathematical experiments were made forpurposes of war technology; and in the Middle Ages, for purposesof mining. But to raise the experiment to a principle of researchwas the achievement of the Renaissance. They were the greatinnovators in art, who were the pioneers of experiment.Leonardo and his like and, above all, the sixteenth-centuryexperimenters in music with their experimental pianos werecharacteristic. From these circles the experiment enteredscience, especially through Galileo, and it entered theorythrough Bacon; and then it was taken over by the various exactdisciplines of the continental universities, first of all thoseof Italy and then those of the Netherlands.
What did science mean to these men who stood at the thresholdof modern times? To artistic experimenters of the type ofLeonardo and the musical innovators, science meant the path to trueart, and that meant for them the path to true nature.Art was to be raised to the rank of a science, and this meant atthe same time and above all to raise the artist to the rank ofthe doctor, socially and with reference to the meaning of hislife. This is the ambition on which, for instance, Leonardo'ssketch book was based. And today ? 'Science as the way to nature'would sound like blasphemy to youth. Today, youth proclaims theopposite: redemption from the intellectualism of science in orderto return to one's own nature and therewith to nature in general.Science as a way to art? Here no criticism is even needed.
But during the period of the rise of the exact sciences oneexpected a great deal more. If you recall Swammerdam's statement,'Here I bring you the proof of God's providence in the anatomy ofa louse,' you will see what the scientific worker, influenced(indirectly) by Protestantism and Puritanism, conceived to be histask: to show the path to God. People no longer found this pathamong the philosophers, with their concepts and deductions. Allpietist theology of the time, above all Spener, knew that God wasnot to be found along the road by which the Middle Ages hadsought him. God is hidden, His ways are not our ways, Histhoughts are not our thoughts. In the exact sciences, however,where one could physically grasp His works, one hoped to comeupon the traces of what He planned for the world. And today?Who--aside from certain big children who are indeed found in thenatural sciences--still believes that the findings of astronomy,biology, physics, or chemistry could teach us anything about the meaningof the world? If there is any such 'meaning,' along what roadcould one come upon its tracks? If these natural sciences lead toanything in this way, they are apt to make the belief that thereis such a thing as the 'meaning' of the universe die out at itsvery roots.
And finally, science as a way 'to God'? Science, thisspecifically irreligious power? That science today is irreligiousno one will doubt in his innermost being, even if he will notadmit it to himself. Redemption from the rationalism andintellectualism of science is the fundamental presupposition ofliving in union with the divine. This, or something similar inmeaning, is one of the fundamental watchwords one hears amongGerman youth, whose feelings are attuned to religion or who cravereligious experiences. They crave not only religious experiencebut experience as such. The only thing that is strange is themethod that is now followed: the spheres of the irrational, theonly spheres that intellectualism has not yet touched, are nowraised into consciousness and put under its lens. For in practicethis is where the modern intellectualist form of romanticirrationalism leads. This method of emancipation fromintellectualism may well bring about the very opposite of whatthose who take to it conceive as its goal.
After Nietzsche's devastating criticism of those 'last men'who 'invented happiness,' I may leave aside altogether the naiveoptimism in which science--that is, the technique of masteringlife which rests upon science--has been celebrated as the way tohappiness. Who believes in this?--aside from a few big childrenin university chairs or editorial offices. Let us resume ourargument.
Under these internal presuppositions, what is the meaning ofscience as a vocation, now after all these former illusions, the'way to true being,' the 'way to true art,' the 'way to truenature,' the 'way to true God,' the 'way to true happiness,' havebeen dispelled? Tolstoi has given the simplest answer, with thewords: 'Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to ourquestion, the only question important for us: "What shall wedo and how shall we live?" ' That science does not give ananswer to this is indisputable. The only question that remains isthe sense in which science gives 'no' answer, and whether or notscience might yet be of some use to the one who puts the questioncorrectly.
Today one usually speaks of science as 'free frompresuppositions.' Is there such a thing? It depends upon what oneunderstands thereby. All scientific work presupposes that therules of logic and method are valid; these are the generalfoundations of our orientation in the world; and, at least forour special question, these presuppositions are the leastproblematic aspect of science. Science further presupposes thatwhat is yielded by scientific work is important in the sense thatit is 'worth being known.' In this, obviously, are contained allour problems. For this presupposition cannot be proved byscientific means. It can only be interpreted withreference to its ultimate meaning, which we must reject or acceptaccording to our ultimate position towards life.
Furthermore, the nature of the relationship of scientific workand its presuppositions varies widely according to theirstructure. The natural sciences, for instance, physics,chemistry, and astronomy, presuppose as self-evident that it isworth while to know the ultimate laws of cosmic events as far asscience can construe them. This is the case not only because withsuch knowledge one can attain technical results but for its ownsake, if the quest for such knowledge is to be a 'vocation.' Yetthis presupposition can by no means be proved. And still less canit be proved that the existence of the world which these sciencesdescribe is worth while, that it has any 'meaning,' or that itmakes sense to live in such a world. Science does not ask for theanswers to such questions.
Consider modern medicine, a practical technology which ishighly developed scientifically. The general 'presupposition' ofthe medical enterprise is stated trivially in the assertion thatmedical science has the task of maintaining life as such and ofdiminishing suffering as such to the greatest possible degree.Yet this is problematical. By his means the medical man preservesthe life of the mortally ill man, even if the patient implores usto relieve him of life, even if his relatives, to whom his lifeis worthless and to whom the costs of maintaining his worthlesslife grow unbearable, grant his redemption from suffering.Perhaps a poor lunatic is involved, whose relatives, whether theyadmit it or not, wish and must wish for his death. Yet thepresuppositions of medicine, and the penal code, prevent thephysician from relinquishing his therapeutic efforts. Whetherlife is worth while living and when--this question is not askedby medicine. Natural science gives us an answer to the questionof what we must do if we wish to master life technically. Itleaves quite aside, or assumes for its purposes, whether weshould and do wish to master life technically and whether itultimately makes sense to do so.
Consider a discipline such as aesthetics. The fact that thereare works of art is given for aesthetics. It seeks to find outunder what conditions this fact exists, but it does not raise thequestion whether or not the realm of art is perhaps a realm ofdiabolical grandeur, a realm of this world, and therefore, in itscore, hostile to God and, in its innermost and aristocraticspirit, hostile to the brotherhood of man. Hence, aesthetics doesnot ask whether there should be works of art.
Consider jurisprudence. It establishes what is valid accordingto the rules of juristic thought, which is partly bound bylogically compelling and partly by conventionally given schemata.Juridical thought holds when certain legal rules and certainmethods of interpretations are recognized as binding. Whetherthere should be law and whether one should establish just theserules--such questions jurisprudence does not answer. It can onlystate: If one wishes this result, according to the norms of ourlegal thought, this legal rule is the appropriate means ofattaining it.
Consider the historical and cultural sciences. They teach ushow to understand and interpret political, artistic, literary,and social phenomena in terms of their origins. But they give usno answer to the question, whether the existence of thesecultural phenomena have been and are worth while. Andthey do not answer the further question, whether it is worth theeffort required to know them. They presuppose that there is aninterest in partaking, through this procedure, of the communityof 'civilized men.' But they cannot prove 'scientifically' thatthis is the case; and that they presuppose this interest by nomeans proves that it goes without saying. In fact it is not atall self-evident.
Finally, let us consider the disciplines close to me:sociology, history, economics, political science, and those typesof cultural philosophy that make it their task' to interpretthese sciences. It is said, and I agree, that politics is out ofplace in the lecture-room. It does not belong there on the partof the students. If, for instance, in the lecture-room of myformer colleague Dietrich Schafer in Berlin, pacifist studentswere to surround his desk and make an uproar, I should deplore itjust as much as I should deplore the uproar which anti-pacifiststudents are said to have made against Professor Forster, whoseviews in many ways are as remote as could be from mine. Neitherdoes politics, however, belong in the lecture-room on the part ofthe docents, and when the docent is scientifically concerned withpolitics, it belongs there least of all.
To take a practical political stand is one thing, and toanalyze political structures and party positions is another. Whenspeaking in a political meeting about democracy, one does nothide one's personal standpoint; indeed, to come out clearly andtake a stand is one's damned duty. The words one uses in such ameeting are not means of scientific analysis but means ofcanvassing votes and winning over others. They are not plowsharesto loosen the soil of contemplative thought; they are swordsagainst the enemies: such words are weapons. It would be anoutrage, however, to use words in this fashion in a lecture or inthe lecture-room. If, for instance, 'democracy' is underdiscussion, one considers its various forms, analyzes them in theway they function, determines what results for the conditions oflife the one form has as compared with the other. Then oneconfronts the forms of democracy with non-democratic forms ofpolitical order and endeavors to come to a position where thestudent may find the point from which, in terms of his ultimateideals, he can take a stand. But the true teacher will beware ofimposing from the platform any political position upon thestudent, whether it is expressed or suggested. 'To let the factsspeak for themselves' is the most unfair way of putting over apolitical position to the student.
Why should we abstain from doing this? I state in advance thatsome highly esteemed colleagues are of the opinion that it is notpossible to carry through this self-restraint and that, even ifit were possible, it would be a whim to avoid declaring oneself.Now one cannot demonstrate scientifically what the duty of anacademic teacher is. One can only demand of the teacher that hehave the intellectual integrity to see that it is one thing tostate facts, to determine mathematical or logical relations orthe internal structure of cultural values, while it is anotherthing to answer questions of the value of culture andits individual contents and the question of how one should act inthe cultural community and in political associations. These arequite heterogeneous problems. If he asks further why he shouldnot deal with both types of problems in the lecture-room, theanswer is: because the prophet and the demagogue do not belong onthe academic platform.
To the prophet and the demagogue, it is said: 'Go your waysout into the streets and speak openly to the world,' that is,speak where criticism is possible. In the lecture-room we standopposite our audience, and it has to remain silent. I deem itirresponsible to exploit the circumstance that for the sake oftheir career the students have to attend a teacher's course whilethere is nobody present to oppose him with criticism. The task ofthe teacher is to serve the students with his knowledge andscientific experience and not to imprint upon them his personalpolitical views. It is certainly possible that the individualteacher will not entirely succeed in eliminating his personalsympathies. He is then exposed to the sharpest criticism in theforum of his own conscience. And this deficiency does not proveanything; other errors are also possible, for instance, erroneousstatements of fact, and yet they prove nothing against the dutyof searching for the truth. I also reject this in the veryinterest of science. I am ready to prove from the works of ourhistorians that whenever the man of science introduces hispersonal value judgment, a full understanding of the facts ceases.But this goes beyond tonight's topic and would require lengthyelucidation.
I ask only: How should a devout Catholic, on the one hand, anda Freemason, on the other, in a course on the forms of church andstate or on religious history ever be brought to evaluate thesesubjects alike? This is out of the question. And yet the academicteacher must desire and must demand of himself to serve the oneas well as the other by his knowledge and methods. Now you willrightly say that the devout Catholic will never accept the viewof the factors operative in bringing about Christianity which ateacher who is free of his dogmatic presuppositions presents tohim. Certainly! The difference, however, lies in the following:Science 'free from presuppositions,' in the sense of a rejectionof religious bonds, does not know of the 'miracle' and the'revelation.' If it did, science would be unfaithful to its own'presuppositions.' The believer knows both, miracle andrevelation. And science 'free from presuppositions' expects fromhim no less--and no more--than acknowledgment that ifthe process can be explained without those supernaturalinterventions, which an empirical explanation has to eliminate ascausal factors, the process has to be explained the way scienceattempts to do. And the believer can do this without beingdisloyal to his faith.
But has the contribution of science no meaning at all for aman who does not care to know facts as such and to whom only thepractical standpoint matters? Perhaps science neverthelesscontributes something.
The primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his studentsto recognize 'inconvenient' facts--I mean facts that areinconvenient for their party opinions. And for every partyopinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient, for myown opinion no less than for others. I believe the teacheraccomplishes more than a mere intellectual task if he compels hisaudience to accustom itself to the existence of such facts. Iwould be so immodest as even to apply the expression 'moralachievement,' though perhaps this may sound too grandiose forsomething that should go without saying.
Thus far I have spoken only of practical reasons for avoidingthe imposition of a personal point of view. But these are not theonly reasons. The impossibility of 'scientifically' pleading forpractical and interested stands--except in discussing the meansfor a firmly given and presupposed end--rests upon reasons thatlie far deeper.
'Scientific' pleading is meaningless in principle because thevarious value spheres of the world stand in irreconcilableconflict with each other. The elder Mill, whose philosophy I willnot praise otherwise, was on this point right when he said: Ifone proceeds from pure experience, one arrives at polytheism.This is shallow in formulation and sounds paradoxical, and yetthere is truth in it. If anything, we realize again today thatsomething can be sacred not only in spite of its not beingbeautiful, but rather because and in so far as it is notbeautiful. You will find this documented in the fifty-thirdchapter of the book of Isaiah and in the twenty-first Psalm. And,since Nietzsche, we realize that something can be beautiful, notonly in spite of the aspect in which it is not good, but ratherin that very aspect. You will find this expressed earlier in the Fleursdu mal, as Baudelaire named his volume of poems. It iscommonplace to observe that something may be true although it isnot beautiful and not holy and not good. Indeed it may be true inprecisely those aspects. But all these are only the mostelementary cases of the struggle that the gods of the variousorders and values are engaged in. I do not know how one mightwish to decide 'scientifically' the value of French and Germanculture; for here, too, different gods struggle with one another,now and for all times to come.
We live as did the ancients when their world was not yetdisenchanted of its gods and demons, only we live in a differentsense. As Hellenic man at times sacrificed to Aphrodite and atother times to Apollo, and, above all, as everybody sacrificed tothe gods of his city, so do we still nowadays, only the bearingof man has been disenchanted and denuded of its mystical butinwardly genuine plasticity. Fate, and certainly not 'science,'holds sway over these gods and their struggles. One can onlyunderstand what the godhead is for the one order or for theother, or better, what godhead is in the one or in the otherorder. With this understanding, however, the matter has reachedits limit so far as it can be discussed in a lecture-room and bya professor. Yet the great and vital problem that is containedtherein is, of course, very far from being concluded. But forcesother than university chairs have their say in this matter.
What man will take upon himself the attempt to 'refutescientifically' the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount? Forinstance, the sentence, 'resist no evil,' or the image of turningthe other cheek? And yet it is clear, in mundane perspective,that this is an ethic of undignified conduct; one has to choosebetween the religious dignity which this ethic confers and thedignity of manly conduct which preaches something quitedifferent; 'resist evil--lest you be co-responsible for anoverpowering evil.' According to our ultimate standpoint, the oneis the devil and the other the God, and the individual has todecide which is God for him and which is the devil. And so itgoes throughout all the orders of life.
The grandiose rationalism of an ethical and methodical conductof life which flows from every religious prophecy has dethronedthis polytheism in favor of the 'one thing that is needful.'Faced with the realities of outer and inner life, Christianityhas deemed it necessary to make those compromises and relativejudgments, which we all know from its history. Today the routinesof everyday life challenge religion. Many old gods ascend fromtheir graves; they are disenchanted and hence take the form ofimpersonal forces. They strive to gain power over our lives andagain they resume their eternal struggle with one another. Whatis hard for modern man, and especially for the youngergeneration, is to measure up to workaday existence. Theubiquitous chase for 'experience' stems from this weakness; forit is weakness not to be able to countenance the sternseriousness of our fateful times.
Our civilization destines us to realize more clearly thesestruggles again, after our eyes have been blinded for a thousandyears--blinded by the allegedly or presumably exclusiveorientation towards the grandiose moral fervor of Christianethics.
But enough of these questions which lead far away. Those ofour youth are in error who react to all this by saying, 'Yes, butwe happen to come to lectures in order to experience somethingmore than mere analyses and statements of fact.' The error isthat they seek in the professor something different from whatstands before them. They crave a leader and not a teacher. But weare placed upon the platform solely as teachers. And these aretwo different things, as one can readily see. Permit me to takeyou once more to America, because there one can often observesuch matters in their most massive and original shape.
The American boy learns unspeakably less than the German boy.In spite of an incredible number of examinations, his school lifehas not had the significance of turning him into an absolutecreature of examinations, such as the German. For in America,bureaucracy, which presupposes the examination diploma as aticket of admission to the realm of office prebends, is only inits beginnings. The young American has no respect for anything oranybody, for tradition or for public office--unless it is for thepersonal achievement of individual men. This is what the Americancalls 'democracy.' This is the meaning of democracy, howeverdistorted its intent may in reality be, and this intent is whatmatters here. The American's conception of the teacher who faceshim is: he sells me his knowledge and his methods for my father'smoney, just as the greengrocer sells my mother cabbage. And thatis all. To be sure, if the teacher happens to be a footballcoach, then, in this field, he is a leader. But if he is not this(or something similar in a different field of sports), he issimply a teacher and nothing more. And no young American wouldthink of having the teacher sell him a Weltanschauung ora code of conduct. Now, when formulated in this manner, we shouldreject this. But the question is whether there is not a grain ofsalt contained in this feeling, which I have deliberately statedin extreme with some exaggeration.
Fellow students! You come to our lectures and demand from usthe qualities of leadership, and you fail to realize in advancethat of a hundred professors at least ninety-nine do not and mustnot claim to be football masters in the vital problems of life,or even to be 'leaders' in matters of conduct. Please, considerthat a man's value does not depend on whether or not he hasleadership qualities. And in any case, the qualities that make aman an excellent scholar and academic teacher are not thequalities that make him a leader to give directions in practicallife or, more specifically, in politics. It is pure accident if ateacher also possesses this quality, and it is a criticalsituation if every teacher on the platform feels himselfconfronted with the students' expectation that the teacher shouldclaim this quality. It is still more critical if it is left toevery academic teacher to set himself up as a leader in thelecture-room. For those who most frequently think of themselvesas leaders often qualify least as leaders. But irrespective ofwhether they are or are not, the platform situation simply offersno possibility of proving themselves to be leaders. The professorwho feels called upon to act as a counselor of youth and enjoystheir trust may prove himself a man in personal human relationswith them. And if he feels called upon to intervene in thestruggles of world views and party opinions, he may do sooutside, in the market place, in the press, in meetings, inassociations, wherever he wishes. But after all, it is somewhattoo convenient to demonstrate one's courage in taking a standwhere the audience and possible opponents are condemned tosilence.
Finally, you will put the question: 'If this is so, what thendoes science actually and positively contribute to practical andpersonal "life" ?' Therewith we are back again at theproblem of science as a 'vocation.'
First, of course, science contributes to the technology ofcontrolling life by calculating external objects as well as man'sactivities. Well, you will say, that, after all, amounts to nomore than the greengrocer of the American boy. I fully agree.
Second, science can contribute something that the greengrocercannot: methods of thinking, the tools and the training forthought. Perhaps you will say: well, that is no vegetable, but itamounts to no more than the means for procuring vegetables. Welland good, let us leave it at that for today.
Fortunately, however, the contribution of science does notreach its limit with this. We are in a position to help you to athird objective: to gain clarity. Of course, it ispresupposed that we ourselves possess clarity. As far as this isthe case, we can make clear to you the following:
In practice, you can take this or that position when concernedwith a problem of value--for simplicity's sake, please think ofsocial phenomena as examples. If you take such and sucha stand, then, according to scientific experience, you have touse such and such a means in order to carry out yourconviction practically. Now, these means are perhaps such thatyou believe you must reject them. Then you simply must choosebetween the end and the inevitable means. Does the end 'justify'the means? Or does it not? The teacher can confront you with thenecessity of this choice. He cannot do more, so long as he wishesto remain a teacher and not to become a demagogue. He can, ofcourse, also tell you that if you want such and such an end, thenyou must take into the bargain the subsidiary consequences whichaccording to all experience will occur. Again we find ourselvesin the same situation as before. These are still problems thatcan also emerge for the technician, who in numerous instances hasto make decisions according to the principle of the lesser evilor of the relatively best. Only to him one thing, the main thing,is usually given, namely, the end. But as soon as truly'ultimate' problems are at stake for us this is not the case.With this, at long last, we come to the final service thatscience as such can render to the aim of clarity, and at the sametime we come to the limits of science.
Besides we can and we should state: In terms of its meaning,such and such a practical stand can be derived with innerconsistency, and hence integrity, from this or that ultimate weltanschaulicheposition. Perhaps it can only be derived from one suchfundamental position, or maybe from several, but it cannot bederived from these or those other positions. Figurativelyspeaking, you serve this god and you offend the other god whenyou decide to adhere to this position. And if you remain faithfulto yourself, you will necessarily come to certain finalconclusions that subjectively make sense. This much, in principleat least, can be accomplished. Philosophy, as a specialdiscipline, and the essentially philosophical discussions ofprinciples in the other sciences attempt to achieve this. Thus,if we are competent in our pursuit (which must be presupposedhere) we can force the individual, or at least we can help him,to give himself an account of the ultimate meaning of his ownconduct. This appears to me as not so trifling a thing todo, even for one's own personal life. Again, I am tempted to sayof a teacher who succeeds in this: he stands in the service of'moral' forces; he fulfils the duty of bringing aboutself-clarification and a sense of responsibility. And I believehe will be the more able to accomplish this, the moreconscientiously he avoids the desire personally to impose upon orsuggest to his audience his own stand.
This proposition, which I present here, always takes its pointof departure from the one fundamental fact, that so long as liferemains immanent and is interpreted in its own terms, it knowsonly of an unceasing struggle of these gods with one another. Orspeaking directly, the ultimately possible attitudes toward lifeare irreconcilable, and hence their struggle can never be broughtto a final conclusion. Thus it is necessary to make a decisivechoice. Whether, under such conditions, science is a worth while'vocation' for somebody, and whether science itself has anobjectively valuable 'vocation' are again value judgments aboutwhich nothing can be said in the lecture-room. To affirm thevalue of science is a presupposition for teaching there. Ipersonally by my very work answer in the affirmative, and I alsodo so from precisely the standpoint that hates intellectualism asthe worst devil, as youth does today, or usually only fancies itdoes. In that case the word holds for these youths: 'Mind you,the devil is old; grow old to understand him.' This does not meanage in the sense of the birth certificate. It means that if onewishes to settle with this devil, one must not take to flightbefore him as so many like to do nowadays. First of all, one hasto see the devil's ways to the end in order to realize his powerand his limitations.
Science today is a 'vocation' organized in special disciplinesin the service of self-clarification and knowledge ofinterrelated facts. It is not the gift of grace of seers andprophets dispensing sacred values and revelations, nor does itpartake of the contemplation of sages and philosophers about themeaning of the universe. This, to be sure, is the inescapablecondition of our historical situation. We cannot evade it so longas we remain true to ourselves. And if Tolstoi's question recursto you: as science does not, who is to answer the question: 'Whatshall we do, and, how shall we arrange our lives?' or, in thewords used here tonight: 'Which of the warring gods should weserve? Or should we serve perhaps an entirely different god, andwho is he?' then one can say that only a prophet or a savior cangive the answers. If there is no such man, or if his message isno longer believed in, then you will certainly not compel him toappear on this earth by having thousands of professors, asprivileged hirelings of the state, attempt as petty prophets intheir lecture-rooms to take over his role. All they willaccomplish is to show that they are unaware of the decisive stateof affairs: the prophet for whom so many of our youngergeneration yearn simply does not exist. But this knowledge in itsforceful significance has never become vital for them. The inwardinterest of a truly religiously 'musical' man can never be servedby veiling to him and to others the fundamental fact that he isdestined to live in a godless and prophetless time by giving himthe ersatz of armchair prophecy. The integrity of hisreligious organ, it seems to me, must rebel against this.
Now you will be inclined to say: Which stand does one taketowards the factual existence of 'theology' and its claims to bea 'science'? Let us not flinch and evade the answer. To be sure,'theology' and 'dogmas' do not exist universally, but neither dothey exist for Christianity alone. Rather (going backward intime), they exist in highly developed form also in Islam, inManicheanism, in Gnosticism, in Orphism, in Parsism, in Buddhism,in the Hindu sects, in Taoism, and in the Upanishads, and, ofcourse, in Judaism. To be sure their systematic developmentvaries greatly. It is no accident that Occidental Christianity--in contrast to the theological possessions of Jewry--hasexpanded and elaborated theology more systematically, or strivesto do so. In the Occident the development of theology has had byfar the greatest historical significance. This is the product ofthe Hellenic spirit, and all theology of the West goes back toit, as (obviously) all theology of the East goes back to Indianthought. All theology represents an intellectual rationalizationof the possession of sacred values. No science is absolutely freefrom presuppositions, and no science can prove its fundamentalvalue to the man who rejects these presuppositions. Everytheology, however, adds a few specific presuppositions for itswork and thus for the justification of its existence. Theirmeaning and scope vary. Every theology, including for instanceHinduist theology, presupposes that the world must have a meaning,and the question is how to interpret this meaning so that it isintellectually conceivable.
It is the same as with Kant's epistemology. He took for hispoint of departure the presupposition: 'Scientific truth existsand it is valid,' and then asked: 'Under which presuppositions ofthought is truth possible and meaningful?' The modernaestheticians (actually or expressly, as for instance, G. v.Lukacs) proceed from the presupposition that 'works of artexist,' and then ask: 'How is their existence meaningful andpossible?'
As a rule, theologies, however, do not content themselves withthis (essentially religious and philosophical) presupposition.They regularly proceed from the further presupposition thatcertain 'revelations' are facts relevant for salvation and assuch make possible a meaningful conduct of life. Hence, theserevelations must be believed in. Moreover, theologies presupposethat certain subjective states and acts possess the quality ofholiness, that is, they constitute a way of life, or at leastelements of one, that is religiously meaningful. Then thequestion of theology is: How can these presuppositions, whichmust simply be accepted be meaningfully interpreted in a view ofthe universe? For theology, these presuppositions as such liebeyond the limits of 'science.' They do not represent'knowledge,' in the usual sense, but rather a 'possession.'Whoever does not 'possess' faith, or the other holy states,cannot have theology as a substitute for them, least of all anyother science. On the contrary, in every 'positive' theology, thedevout reaches the point where the Augustinian sentence holds: credonon quod, sed quia absurdum est.
The capacity for the accomplishment of religiousvirtuosos--the 'intellectual sacrifice'--is the decisivecharacteristic of the positively religious man. That this is sois shown by the fact that in spite (or rather in consequence) oftheology (which unveils it) the tension between the value-spheresof 'science' and the sphere of 'the holy' is unbridgeable.Legitimately, only the disciple offers the 'intellectualsacrifice' to the prophet, the believer to the church. Never asyet has a new prophecy emerged (and I repeat here deliberatelythis image which has offended some) by way of the need of somemodern intellectuals to furnish their souls with, so to speak,guaranteed genuine antiques. In doing so, they happen to rememberthat religion has belonged among such antiques, and of all thingsreligion is what they do not possess. By way of substitute,however, they play at decorating a sort of domestic chapel withsmall sacred images from all over the world, or they producesurrogates through all sorts of psychic experiences to which theyascribe the dignity of mystic holiness, which they peddle in thebook market. This is plain humbug or self-deception. It is,however, no humbug but rather something very sincere and genuineif some of the youth groups who during recent years have quietlygrown together give their human community the interpretation of areligious, cosmic, or mystical relation, although occasionallyperhaps such interpretation rests on misunderstanding of self.True as it is that every act of genuine brotherliness may belinked with the awareness that it contributes somethingimperishable to a super-personal realm, it seems to me dubiouswhether the dignity of purely human and communal relations isenhanced by these religious interpretations. But that is nolonger our theme.
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization andintellectualization and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of theworld.' Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values haveretreated from public life either into the transcendental realmof mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personalhuman relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art isintimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today onlywithin the smallest and intimate circles, in personal humansituations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsatingthat corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which informer times swept through the great communities like afirebrand, welding them together. If we attempt to force and to'invent' a monumental style in art, such miserable monstrositiesare produced as the many monuments of the last twenty years. Ifone tries intellectually to construe new religions without a newand genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similarwill result, but with still worse effects. And academic prophecy,finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuinecommunity.
To the person who cannot bear the fate of the times like aman, one must say: may he rather return silently, without theusual publicity build-up of renegades, but simply and plainly.The arms of the old churches are opened widely andcompassionately for him. After all, they do not make it hard forhim. One way or another he has to bring his 'intellectualsacrifice'--that is inevitable. If he can really do it, we shallnot rebuke him. For such an intellectual sacrifice in favor of anunconditional religious devotion is ethically quite a differentmatter than the evasion of the plain duty of intellectualintegrity, which sets in if one lacks the courage to clarifyone's own ultimate standpoint and rather facilitates this duty byfeeble relative judgments. In my eyes, such religious returnstands higher than the academic prophecy, which does not clearlyrealize that in the lecture-rooms of the university no othervirtue holds but plain intellectual integrity. Integrity,however, compels us to state that for the many who today tarryfor new prophets and saviors, the situation is the same asresounds in the beautiful Edomite watchman's song of the periodof exile that has been included among Isaiah's oracles:
He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.
The people to whom this was said has enquired and tarried formore than two millennia, and we are shaken when we realize itsfate. From this we want to draw the lesson that nothing is gainedby yearning and tarrying alone, and we shall act differently. Weshall set to work and meet the 'demands of the day,' in humanrelations as well as in our vocation. This, however, is plain andsimple, if each finds and obeys the demon who holds the fibers ofhis very life.
From H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (Translated and edited), FromMax Weber: Essays in Sociology, pp. 129-156, New York:Oxford University Press, 1946.
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