It is now time that there be voiced misunderstandings and doubts that are certainly very importunate and which, it seems to me, derive their suggestive force from the language of popular prejudice.
Is not what is here being advocated something rather out of place in our times – saving the honor of rationalism, of enlightenment, of an intellectualism that, lost in theory, is isolated from the world, with the necessarily bad result that the quest for learning becomes empty, becomes intellectual snobbishness? Does it not mean falling back into the fatal error of thinking that science makes men wise, that science is called upon the create a genuine humanity, superior to destiny and finding satisfaction in itself? Who is going to take such thoughts seriously today?
This objection certainly is relatively justified in regard to the state of development in Europe from the seventeenth up to the end of the nineteenth century. But it does not touch the precise sense of what I am saying. I should like to think that I, seemingly a reactionary, am far more revolutionary than those who today in word strike so radical a pose.
I, too, am quite sure that the European crisis has its roots in a mistaken rationalism.43 That, however, must not be interpreted as meaning that rationality as such is an evil or that in the totality of human existence it is of minor importance. The rationality of which alone we are speaking is rationality in that noble and genuine sense, the original Greek sense, that became an ideal in the classical period of Greek philosophy – though of course it still needed considerable clarification through self-examination. It is its vocation, however, to serve as a guide to mature development. On the other hand, we readily grant (and in this regard German idealism has spoken long before us) that the form of development given to ratio in the rationalism of the Enlightenment was an aberration, but nevertheless an understandable aberration.
Reason is a broad title. According to the good old definition, man is the rational living being, a sense in which even the Papuan is man and not beast. He has his aims, and he acts with reflection, considering practical possibilities. As products and methods grow, they enter into a tradition that is ever intelligible in its rationality. Still, just as man (and even the Papuan) represents a new level of animality – in comparison with the beast – so with regard to humanity and its reason does philosophical reason represent a new level. The level of human existence with its ideal norms for infinite tasks, the level of existence sub specie aeternitatis, is, however, possible only in the form of absolute universality, precisely that which is a priori included in the idea of philosophy. It is true that universal philosophy, along with all the particular sciences, constitutes only a partial manifestation of European culture. Contained, however, in the sense of my entire presentation is the claim that this part is, so to speak, the functioning brain upon whose normal functioning the genuine, healthy spirit of Europe depends. The humanity of higher man, of reason, demands, therefore, a genuine philosophy.
But at this very point there lurks a danger. “Philosophy” – in that we must certainly distinguish philosophy as a historical fact belonging to this or that time from philosophy as idea, idea of an infinite task.44 The philosophy that at any particular time is his historically actual is the more or less successful attempt to realize the guiding idea of the infinity, and thereby the totality, of truths. Practical ideals, viewed as external poles from the line of which one cannot stray during the whole of life without regret, without being untrue to oneself and thus unhappy, are in this view by no means yet clear and determined; they are anticipated in an equivocal generality. Determination comes only with concrete pursuit and with at least relatively successful action. Here the constant danger is that of falling into one-sidedness and premature satisfaction, which are punished in subsequent contradictions. Thence the contrast between the grand claims of philosophical systems, that are all the while incompatible with each other. Added to this are the necessity and yet the danger of specialization.