15 August 2017

A Firm Reputation

A firm reputation – used to be extremely useful; and wherever society is still dominated by the herd instinct it is still most expedient for everyone to pretend his character and occupation are unchangeable, even if at bottom they are not.  “One can depend on him, he remains the same”; In all extremities of society this is the sort of praise that means the most.  Society is pleased to feel that the virtue of this person, the ambition of that one, and the thoughtfulness and passion of the third provide it with a dependable instrument that is always at hand; society honours this instrumental nature, this way of remaining faithful to oneself, this unchangeability of views, aspirations, and even faults and lavishes its highest honours upon it. Such esteem, which, flourishes and has flourished everywhere alongside the morality of mores, breeds “character” and brings all change, all re-learning, all self-transformation into ill repute.  However great the advantages of this way of thinking may be elsewhere, for the search after knowledge no general judgement could be more harmful, for precisely the good will of those who seek knowledge to declare themselves at any time dauntlessly against their previous opinions and to mistrust everything that wants to become firm in us is thus condemned and brought into ill repute. Being at odds with “a firm reputation,” the attitude of those that seek knowledge is considered dishonourable while the petrification of opinions is accorded a monopoly on honour! Under the spell of such notions we have to live to this day.  How hard it is to live when one feels the opposition of many millennia all around.  It is probable that the search after knowledge was afflicted for many millennia with a bad conscience, and that the history of the greatest spirits must have contained a good deal of self-contempt and secret misery.