The Wisdom of Life


Arthur Schopenhauer

This web edition is based on the edition published by

Table of Contents

  1. Division of the Subject.

  2. Personality, or What a Man Is.

  3. Property, or What a Man Has.

  4. Position, or a Man’s Place in the Estimation of Others.


In these pages I shall speak of The Wisdom of Life in
the common meaning of the term, as the art, namely, of ordering our
lives so as to obtain the greatest possible amount of pleasure and
success; an art the theory of which may be called
Eudaemonology, for it teaches us how to lead a happy
existence. Such an existence might perhaps be defined as one which,
looked at from a purely objective point of view, or, rather, after
cool and mature reflection—for the question necessarily
involves subjective considerations,—would be decidedly
preferable to non-existence; implying that we should cling to it
for its own sake, and not merely from the fear of death; and
further, that we should never like it to come to an end.

Now whether human life corresponds, or could possibly
correspond, to this conception of existence, is a question to
which, as is well-known, my philosophical system returns a negative
answer. On the eudaemonistic hypothesis, however, the question must
be answered in the affirmative; and I have shown, in the second
volume of my chief work (ch. 49), that this hypothesis is based
upon a fundamental mistake. Accordingly, in elaborating the scheme
of a happy existence, I have had to make a complete surrender of
the higher metaphysical and ethical standpoint to which my own
theories lead; and everything I shall say here will to some extent
rest upon a compromise; in so far, that is, as I take the common
standpoint of every day, and embrace the error which is at the
bottom of it. My remarks, therefore, will possess only a qualified
value, for the very word eudaemonology is a euphemism.
Further, I make no claims to completeness; partly because the
subject is inexhaustible, and partly because I should otherwise
have to say over again what has been already said by others.

The only book composed, as far as I remember, with a like
purpose to that which animates this collection of aphorisms, is
Cardan’s De utilitate ex adversis capienda, which is
well worth reading, and may be used to supplement the present work.
Aristotle, it is true, has a few words on eudaemonology in the
fifth chapter of the first book of his Rhetoric; but what
he says does not come to very much. As compilation is not my
business, I have made no use of these predecessors; more especially
because in the process of compiling, individuality of view is lost,
and individuality of view is the kernel of works of this kind. In
general, indeed, the wise in all ages have always said the same
thing, and the fools, who at all times form the immense majority,
have in their way too acted alike, and done just the opposite; and
so it will continue. For, as Voltaire says, we shall leave this
world as foolish and as wicked as we found it on our


Division of the Subject.

Aristotle1 divides the blessings
of life into three classes—those which come to us from
without, those of the soul, and those of the body. Keeping nothing
of this division but the number, I observe that the fundamental
differences in human lot may be reduced to three distinct

1 Eth. Nichom., I.

(1) What a man is: that is to say, personality, in the widest
sense of the word; under which are included health, strength,
beauty, temperament, moral character, intelligence, and

(2) What a man has: that is, property and possessions of every

(3) How a man stands in the estimation of others: by which is to
be understood, as everybody knows, what a man is in the eyes of his
fellowmen, or, more strictly, the light in which they regard him.
This is shown by their opinion of him; and their opinion is in its
turn manifested by the honor in which he is held, and by his rank
and reputation.

The differences which come under the first head are those which
Nature herself has set between man and man; and from this fact
alone we may at once infer that they influence the happiness or
unhappiness of mankind in a much more vital and radical way than
those contained under the two following heads, which are merely the
effect of human arrangements. Compared with genuine personal
, such as a great mind or a great heart, all the
privileges of rank or birth, even of royal birth, are but as kings
on the stage, to kings in real life. The same thing was said long
ago by Metrodorus, the earliest disciple of Epicurus, who wrote as
the title of one of his chapters, The happiness we receive from
ourselves is greater than that which we obtain from our
2 And it is an
obvious fact, which cannot be called in question, that the
principal element in a man’s well-being,—indeed, in the
whole tenor of his existence,—is what he is made of, his
inner constitution. For this is the immediate source of that inward
satisfaction or dissatisfaction resulting from the sum total of his
sensations, desires and thoughts; whilst his surroundings, on the
other hand, exert only a mediate or indirect influence upon him.
This is why the same external events or circumstances affect no two
people alike; even with perfectly similar surroundings every one
lives in a world of his own. For a man has immediate apprehension
only of his own ideas, feelings and volitions; the outer world can
influence him only in so far as it brings these to life. The world
in which a man lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which he
looks at it, and so it proves different to different men; to one it
is barren, dull, and superficial; to another rich, interesting, and
full of meaning. On hearing of the interesting events which have
happened in the course of a man’s experience, many people
will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too,
completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the
mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they
possess when he describes them; to a man of genius they were
interesting adventures; but to the dull perceptions of an ordinary
individual they would have been stale, everyday occurrences. This
is in the highest degree the case with many of Goethe’s and
Byron’s poems, which are obviously founded upon actual facts;
where it is open to a foolish reader to envy the poet because so
many delightful things happened to him, instead of envying that
mighty power of phantasy which was capable of turning a fairly
common experience into something so great and beautiful.

2 Cf. Clemens Alex. Strom.
II., 21.]

In the same way, a person of melancholy temperament will make a
scene in a tragedy out of what appears to the sanguine man only in
the light of an interesting conflict, and to a phlegmatic soul as
something without any meaning;—all of which rests upon the
fact that every event, in order to be realized and appreciated,
requires the co-operation of two factors, namely, a subject and an
object, although these are as closely and necessarily connected as
oxygen and hydrogen in water. When therefore the objective or
external factor in an experience is actually the same, but the
subjective or personal appreciation of it varies, the event is just
as much a different one in the eyes of different persons as if the
objective factors had not been alike; for to a blunt intelligence
the fairest and best object in the world presents only a poor
reality, and is therefore only poorly appreciated,—like a
fine landscape in dull weather, or in the reflection of a bad
camera obscura. In plain language, every man is pent up
within the limits of his own consciousness, and cannot directly get
beyond those limits any more than he can get beyond his own skin;
so external aid is not of much use to him. On the stage, one man is
a prince, another a minister, a third a servant or a soldier or a
general, and so on,—mere external differences: the inner
reality, the kernel of all these appearances is the same—a
poor player, with all the anxieties of his lot. In life it is just
the same. Differences of rank and wealth give every man his part to
play, but this by no means implies a difference of inward happiness
and pleasure; here, too, there is the same being in all—a
poor mortal, with his hardships and troubles. Though these may,
indeed, in every case proceed from dissimilar causes, they are in
their essential nature much the same in all their forms, with
degrees of intensity which vary, no doubt, but in no wise
correspond to the part a man has to play, to the presence or
absence of position and wealth. Since everything which exists or
happens for a man exists only in his consciousness and happens for
it alone, the most essential thing for a man is the constitution of
this consciousness, which is in most cases far more important than
the circumstances which go to form its contents. All the pride and
pleasure of the world, mirrored in the dull consciousness of a
fool, are poor indeed compared with the imagination of Cervantes
writing his Don Quixote in a miserable prison. The
objective half of life and reality is in the hand of fate, and
accordingly takes various forms in different cases: the subjective
half is ourself, and in essentials is always remains the same.

Hence the life of every man is stamped with the same character
throughout, however much his external circumstances may alter; it
is like a series of variations on a single theme. No one can get
beyond his own individuality. An animal, under whatever
circumstances it is placed, remains within the narrow limits to
which nature has irrevocably consigned it; so that our endeavors to
make a pet happy must always keep within the compass of its nature,
and be restricted to what it can feel. So it is with man; the
measure of the happiness he can attain is determined beforehand by
his individuality. More especially is this the case with the mental
powers, which fix once for all his capacity for the higher kinds of
pleasure. If these powers are small, no efforts from without,
nothing that his fellowmen or that fortune can do for him, will
suffice to raise him above the ordinary degree of human happiness
and pleasure, half animal though it be; his only resources are his
sensual appetite,—a cozy and cheerful family life at the
most,—low company and vulgar pastime; even education, on the
whole, can avail little, if anything, for the enlargement of his
horizon. For the highest, most varied and lasting pleasures are
those of the mind, however much our youth may deceive us on this
point; and the pleasures of the mind turn chiefly on the powers of
the mind. It is clear, then, that our happiness depends in a great
degree upon what we are, upon our individuality, whilst
lot or destiny is generally taken to mean only what we

have, or our reputation. Our lot, in this sense,
may improve; but we do not ask much of it if we are inwardly rich:
on the other hand, a fool remains a fool, a dull blockhead, to his
last hour, even though he were surrounded by houris in paradise.
This is why Goethe, in the West-östliclien Divan, says
that every man, whether he occupies a low position in life, or
emerges as its victor, testifies to personality as the greatest
factor in happiness:—

Volk und Knecht und Uberwinder

Sie gestehen, zu jeder Zeit,

Höchtes Glück der Erdenkinder

Sei nur die Persönlichkeit

Everything confirms the fact that the subjective element in life
is incomparably more important for our happiness and pleasure than
the objective, from such sayings as Hunger is the best
, and Youth and Age cannot live together, up to
the life of the Genius and the Saint. Health outweighs all other
blessings so much that one may really say that a healthy beggar is
happier than an ailing king. A quiet and cheerful temperament,
happy in the enjoyment of a perfectly sound physique, an intellect
clear, lively, penetrating and seeing things as they are, a
moderate and gentle will, and therefore a good
conscience—these are privileges which no rank or wealth can
make up for or replace. For what a man is in himself, what
accompanies him when he is alone, what no one can give or take
away, is obviously more essential to him than everything he has in
the way of possessions, or even what he may be in the eyes of the
world. An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent
entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, while no amount of
diversity or social pleasure, theatres, excursions and amusements,
can ward off boredom from a dullard. A good, temperate, gentle
character can be happy in needy circumstances, whilst a covetous,
envious and malicious man, even if he be the richest in the world,
goes miserable. Nay more; to one who has the constant delight of a
special individuality, with a high degree of intellect, most of the
pleasures which are run after by mankind are simply superfluous;
they are even a trouble and a burden. And so Horace says of
himself, that, however many are deprived of the fancy-goods of
life, there is one at least who can live without them:—

Gemmas, marmor, ebur, Tyrrhena sigilla, tabellas,

Argentum, vestes, Gaetulo murice tinctas

Sunt qui non habeant, est qui non curat habere

and when Socrates saw various articles of luxury spread out for
sale, he exclaimed: How much there is in the world I do not

So the first and most essential element in our life’s
happiness is what we are,—our personality, if for no other
reason than that it is a constant factor coming into play under all
circumstances: besides, unlike the blessings which are described
under the other two heads, it is not the sport of destiny and
cannot be wrested from us;—and, so far, it is endowed with an
absolute value in contrast to the merely relative worth of the
other two. The consequence of this is that it is much more
difficult than people commonly suppose to get a hold on a man from
without. But here the all-powerful agent, Time, comes in and claims
its rights, and before its influence physical and mental advantages
gradually waste away. Moral character alone remains inaccessible to
it. In view of the destructive effect of time, it seems, indeed, as
if the blessings named under the other two heads, of which time
cannot directly rob us, were superior to those of the first.
Another advantage might be claimed for them, namely, that being in
their very nature objective and external, they are attainable, and
every one is presented with the possibility, at least, of coming
into possession of them; whilst what is subjective is not open to
us to acquire, but making its entry by a kind of divine
, it remains for life, immutable, inalienable, an
inexorable doom. Let me quote those lines in which Goethe describes
how an unalterable destiny is assigned to every man at the hour of
his birth, so that he can develop only in the lines laid down for
him, as it were, by the conjunctions of the stars: and how the
Sybil and the prophets declare that himself a man can
never escape, nor any power of time avail to change the path on
which his life is cast:—

Wie an dem Tag, der dich der Welt verliehen,

Dïe Sonne stand zum Grusse der Planeten,

Bist alsobald und fort und fort gediehen,

Nach dem Gesetz, wonach du angetreten.

So musst du sein, dir kannst du nicht entfliehen,

So tagten schon Sybillen und Propheten;

Und keine Zeit, und keine Macht zerstückelt

Geprägte Form, die lebend sich entwickelt

The only thing that stands in our power to achieve, is to make
the most advantageous use possible of the personal qualities we
possess, and accordingly to follow such pursuits only as will call
them into play, to strive after the kind of perfection of which
they admit and to avoid every other; consequently, to choose the
position, occupation and manner of life which are most suitable for
their development.

Imagine a man endowed with herculean strength who is compelled
by circumstances to follow a sedentary occupation, some minute
exquisite work of the hands, for example, or to engage in study and
mental labor demanding quite other powers, and just those which he
has not got,—compelled, that is, to leave unused the powers
in which he is pre-eminently strong; a man placed like this will
never feel happy all his life through. Even more miserable will be
the lot of the man with intellectual powers of a very high order,
who has to leave them undeveloped and unemployed, in the pursuit of
a calling which does not require them, some bodily labor, perhaps,
for which his strength is insufficient. Still, in a case of this
kind, it should be our care, especially in youth, to avoid the
precipice of presumption, and not ascribe to ourselves a
superfluity of power which is not there.

Since the blessings described under the first head decidedly
outweigh those contained under the other two, it is manifestly a
wiser course to aim at the maintenance of our health and the
cultivation of our faculties, than at the amassing of wealth; but
this must not be mistaken as meaning that we should neglect to
acquire an adequate supply of the necessaries of life. Wealth, in
the strict sense of the word, that is, great superfluity, can do
little for our happiness; and many rich people feel unhappy just
because they are without any true mental culture or knowledge, and
consequently have no objective interests which would qualify them
for intellectual occupations. For beyond the satisfaction of some
real and natural necessities, all that the possession of wealth can
achieve has a very small influence upon our happiness, in the
proper sense of the word; indeed, wealth rather disturbs it,
because the preservation of property entails a great many
unavoidable anxieties. And still men are a thousand times more
intent on becoming rich than on acquiring culture, though it is
quite certain that what a man is contributes much more to
his happiness than what he has. So you may see many a man,
as industrious as an ant, ceaselessly occupied from morning to
night in the endeavor to increase his heap of gold. Beyond the
narrow horizon of means to this end, he knows nothing; his mind is
a blank, and consequently unsusceptible to any other influence. The
highest pleasures, those of the intellect, are to him inaccessible,
and he tries in vain to replace them by the fleeting pleasures of
sense in which he indulges, lasting but a brief hour and at
tremendous cost. And if he is lucky, his struggles result in his
having a really great pile of gold, which he leaves to his heir,
either to make it still larger, or to squander it in extravagance.
A life like this, though pursued with a sense of earnestness and an
air of importance, is just as silly as many another which has a
fool’s cap for its symbol.

What a man has in himself is, then, the chief element
in his happiness. Because this is, as a rule, so very little, most
of those who are placed beyond the struggle with penury feel at
bottom quite as unhappy as those who are still engaged in it. Their
minds are vacant, their imagination dull, their spirits poor, and
so they are driven to the company of those like them—for
similis simili gaudet—where they make common pursuit
of pastime and entertainment, consisting for the most part in
sensual pleasure, amusement of every kind, and finally, in excess
and libertinism. A young man of rich family enters upon life with a
large patrimony, and often runs through it in an incredibly short
space of time, in vicious extravagance; and why? Simply because,
here too, the mind is empty and void, and so the man is bored with
existence. He was sent forth into the world outwardly rich but
inwardly poor, and his vain endeavor was to make his external
wealth compensate for his inner poverty, by trying to obtain
everything from without, like an old man who seeks to
strengthen himself as King David or Maréchal de Rex tried to do.
And so in the end one who is inwardly poor comes to be also poor

I need not insist upon the importance of the other two kinds of
blessings which make up the happiness of human life; now-a-days the
value of possessing them is too well known to require
advertisement. The third class, it is true, may seem, compared with
the second, of a very ethereal character, as it consists only of
other people’s opinions. Still every one has to strive for
reputation, that is to say, a good name. Rank, on the other hand,
should be aspired to only by those who serve the state, and fame by
very few indeed. In any case, reputation is looked upon as a
priceless treasure, and fame as the most precious of all the
blessings a man can attain,—the Golden Fleece, as it were, of
the elect: whilst only fools will prefer rank to property. The
second and third classes, moreover, are reciprocally cause and
effect; so far, that is, as Petronius’ maxim, habes
, is true; and conversely, the favor of others, in
all its forms, often puts us in the way of getting what we


Personality, or What a Man Is.

We have already seen, in general, that what a man is

contributes much more to his happiness than what he has,
or how he is regarded by others. What a man is, and so what he has
in his own person, is always the chief thing to consider; for his
individuality accompanies him always and everywhere, and gives its
color to all his experiences. In every kind of enjoyment, for
instance, the pleasure depends principally upon the man himself.
Every one admits this in regard to physical, and how much truer it
is of intellectual, pleasure. When we use that English expression,
“to enjoy one’s self,” we are employing a very
striking and appropriate phrase; for observe—one says, not
“he enjoys Paris,” but “he enjoys himself in
Paris.” To a man possessed of an ill-conditioned
individuality, all pleasure is like delicate wine in a mouth made
bitter with gall. Therefore, in the blessings as well as in the
ills of life, less depends upon what befalls us than upon the way
in which it is met, that is, upon the kind and degree of our
general susceptibility. What a man is and has in himself,—in
a word personality, with all it entails, is the only immediate and
direct factor in his happiness and welfare. All else is mediate and
indirect, and its influence can be neutralized and frustrated; but
the influence of personality never. This is why the envy which
personal qualities excite is the most implacable of all,—as
it is also the most carefully dissembled.

Further, the constitution of our consciousness is the ever
present and lasting element in all we do or suffer; our
individuality is persistently at work, more or less, at every
moment of our life: all other influences are temporal, incidental,
fleeting, and subject to every kind of chance and change. This is
why Aristotle says: It is not wealth but character that

[Greek: —hae gar phusis bebion ou ta chraemata]

3 Eth. Eud., vii. 2. 37:]

And just for the same reason we can more easily bear a
misfortune which comes to us entirely from without, than one which
we have drawn upon ourselves; for fortune may always change, but
not character. Therefore, subjective blessings,—a noble
nature, a capable head, a joyful temperament, bright spirits, a
well-constituted, perfectly sound physique, in a word, mens
sana in corpore sano
, are the first and most important
elements in happiness; so that we should be more intent on
promoting and preserving such qualities than on the possession of
external wealth and external honor.

And of all these, the one which makes us the most directly happy
is a genial flow of good spirits; for this excellent quality is its
own immediate reward. The man who is cheerful and merry has always
a good reason for being so,—the fact, namely, that he is so.
There is nothing which, like this quality, can so completely
replace the loss of every other blessing. If you know anyone who is
young, handsome, rich and esteemed, and you want to know, further,
if he is happy, ask, Is he cheerful and genial?—and if he is,
what does it matter whether he is young or old, straight or
humpbacked, poor or rich?—he is happy. In my early days I
once opened an old book and found these words: If you laugh a
great deal, you are happy; if you cry a great deal, you are
;—a very simple remark, no doubt; but just
because it is so simple I have never been able to forget it, even
though it is in the last degree a truism. So if cheerfulness knocks
at our door, we should throw it wide open, for it never comes
inopportunely; instead of that, we often make scruples about
letting it in. We want to be quite sure that we have every reason
to be contented; then we are afraid that cheerfulness of spirits
may interfere with serious reflections or weighty cares.
Cheerfulness is a direct and immediate gain,—the very coin,
as it were, of happiness, and not, like all else, merely a cheque
upon the bank; for it alone makes us immediately happy in the
present moment, and that is the highest blessing for beings like
us, whose existence is but an infinitesimal moment between two
eternities. To secure and promote this feeling of cheerfulness
should be the supreme aim of all our endeavors after happiness.

Now it is certain that nothing contributes so little to
cheerfulness as riches, or so much, as health. Is it not in the
lower classes, the so-called working classes, more especially those
of them who live in the country, that we see cheerful and contented
faces? and is it not amongst the rich, the upper classes, that we
find faces full of ill-humor and vexation? Consequently we should
try as much as possible to maintain a high degree of health; for
cheerfulness is the very flower of it. I need hardly say what one
must do to be healthy—avoid every kind of excess, all violent
and unpleasant emotion, all mental overstrain, take daily exercise
in the open air, cold baths and such like hygienic measures. For
without a proper amount of daily exercise no one can remain
healthy; all the processes of life demand exercise for the due
performance of their functions, exercise not only of the parts more
immediately concerned, but also of the whole body. For, as
Aristotle rightly says, Life is movement; it is its very
essence. Ceaseless and rapid motion goes on in every part of the
organism. The heart, with its complicated double systole and
diastole, beats strongly and untiringly; with twenty-eight beats it
has to drive the whole of the blood through arteries, veins and
capillaries; the lungs pump like a steam-engine, without
intermission; the intestines are always in peristaltic action; the
glands are all constantly absorbing and secreting; even the brain
has a double motion of its own, with every beat of the pulse and
every breath we draw. When people can get no exercise at all, as is
the case with the countless numbers who are condemned to a
sedentary life, there is a glaring and fatal disproportion between
outward inactivity and inner tumult. For this ceaseless internal
motion requires some external counterpart, and the want of it
produces effects like those of emotion which we are obliged to
suppress. Even trees must be shaken by the wind, if they are to
thrive. The rule which finds its application here may be most
briefly expressed in Latin: omnis motus, quo celerior, eo magis

How much our happiness depends upon our spirits, and these again
upon our state of health, may be seen by comparing the influence
which the same external circumstances or events have upon us when
we are well and strong with the effects which they have when we are
depressed and troubled with ill-health. It is not what things are
objectively and in themselves, but what they are for us, in our way
of looking at them, that makes us happy or the reverse. As
Epictetus says, Men are not influenced by things, but by their
thoughts about things
. And, in general, nine-tenths of our
happiness depends upon health alone. With health, everything is a
source of pleasure; without it, nothing else, whatever it may be,
is enjoyable; even the other personal blessings,—a great
mind, a happy temperament—are degraded and dwarfed for want
of it. So it is really with good reason that, when two people meet,
the first thing they do is to inquire after each other’s
health, and to express the hope that it is good; for good health is
by far the most important element in human happiness. It follows
from all this that the greatest of follies is to sacrifice health
for any other kind of happiness, whatever it may be, for gain,
advancement, learning or fame, let alone, then, for fleeting
sensual pleasures. Everything else should rather be postponed to

But however much health may contribute to that flow of good
spirits which is so essential to our happiness, good spirits do not
entirely depend upon health; for a man may be perfectly sound in
his physique and still possess a melancholy temperament and be
generally given up to sad thoughts. The ultimate cause of this is
undoubtedly to be found in innate, and therefore unalterable,
physical constitution, especially in the more or less normal
relation of a man’s sensitiveness to his muscular and vital
energy. Abnormal sensitiveness produces inequality of spirits, a
predominating melancholy, with periodical fits of unrestrained
liveliness. A genius is one whose nervous power or sensitiveness is
largely in excess; as Aristotle4
has very correctly observed, Men distinguished in philosophy,
politics, poetry or art appear to be all of a melancholy
. This is doubtless the passage which Cicero has in
his mind when he says, as he often does, Aristoteles ait omnes
ingeniosos melancholicos esse
."#note5">5 Shakespeare has very neatly expressed
this radical and innate diversity of temperament in those lines in
The Merchant of Venice:

4 Probl. xxx., ep. 1]

5 Tusc. i., 33.]

Nature has framed strange fellows in her time;

Some that will evermore peep through their eyes,

And laugh, like parrots at a bag-piper;

And others of such vinegar aspect,

That they’ll not show their teeth in way of smile,

Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable

This is the difference which Plato draws between [Greek:
eukolos] and [Greek: dyskolos]—the man of easy, and
the man of difficult disposition—in proof of which
he refers to the varying degrees of susceptibility which different
people show to pleasurable and painful impressions; so that one man
will laugh at what makes another despair. As a rule, the stronger
the susceptibility to unpleasant impressions, the weaker is the
susceptibility to pleasant ones, and vice versa. If it is
equally possible for an event to turn out well or ill, the [Greek:
dyskolos] will be annoyed or grieved if the issue is unfavorable,
and will not rejoice, should it be happy. On the other hand, the
[Greek: eukolos] will neither worry nor fret over an unfavorable
issue, but rejoice if it turns out well. If the one is successful
in nine out of ten undertakings, he will not be pleased, but rather
annoyed that one has miscarried; whilst the other, if only a single
one succeeds, will manage to find consolation in the fact and
remain cheerful. But here is another instance of the truth, that
hardly any evil is entirely without its compensation; for the
misfortunes and sufferings which the [Greek: auskoloi], that is,
people of gloomy and anxious character, have to overcome, are, on
the whole, more imaginary and therefore less real than those which
befall the gay and careless; for a man who paints everything black,
who constantly fears the worst and takes measures accordingly, will
not be disappointed so often in this world, as one who always looks
upon the bright side of things. And when a morbid affection of the
nerves, or a derangement of the digestive organs, plays into the
hands of an innate tendency to gloom, this tendency may reach such
a height that permanent discomfort produces a weariness of life. So
arises an inclination to suicide, which even the most trivial
unpleasantness may actually bring about; nay, when the tendency
attains its worst form, it may be occasioned by nothing in
particular, but a man may resolve to put an end to his existence,
simply because he is permanently unhappy, and then coolly and
firmly carry out his determination; as may be seen by the way in
which the sufferer, when placed under supervision, as he usually
is, eagerly waits to seize the first unguarded moment, when,
without a shudder, without a struggle or recoil, he may use the now
natural and welcome means of effecting his release."#note6">6 Even the healthiest, perhaps even the
most cheerful man, may resolve upon death under certain
circumstances; when, for instance, his sufferings, or his fears of
some inevitable misfortune, reach such a pitch as to outweigh the
terrors of death. The only difference lies in the degree of
suffering necessary to bring about the fatal act, a degree which
will be high in the case of a cheerful, and low in that of a gloomy
man. The greater the melancholy, the lower need the degree be; in
the end, it may even sink to zero. But if a man is cheerful, and
his spirits are supported by good health, it requires a high degree
of suffering to make him lay hands upon himself. There are
countless steps in the scale between the two extremes of suicide,
the suicide which springs merely from a morbid intensification of
innate gloom, and the suicide of the healthy and cheerful man, who
has entirely objective grounds for putting an end to his

6 For a detailed description
of this condition of mind Cf Esquirol, Des maladies

Beauty is partly an affair of health. It may be reckoned as a
personal advantage; though it does not, properly speaking,
contribute directly to our happiness. It does so indirectly, by
impressing other people; and it is no unimportant advantage, even
in man. Beauty is an open letter of recommendation, predisposing
the heart to favor the person who presents it. As is well said in
these lines of Homer, the gift of beauty is not lightly to be
thrown away, that glorious gift which none can bestow save the gods

[Greek: outoi hapoblaet erti theon erikuoea dora,

ossa ken autoi dosin, ekon douk an tis eloito]."#note7">7

7 Iliad 3, 65.]

The most general survey shows us that the two foes of human
happiness are pain and boredom. We may go further, and say that in
the degree in which we are fortunate enough to get away from the
one, we approach the other. Life presents, in fact, a more or less
violent oscillation between the two. The reason of this is that
each of these two poles stands in a double antagonism to the other,
external or objective, and inner or subjective. Needy surroundings
and poverty produce pain; while, if a man is more than well off, he
is bored. Accordingly, while the lower classes are engaged in a
ceaseless struggle with need, in other words, with pain, the upper
carry on a constant and often desperate battle with
boredom.8 The inner or subjective
antagonism arises from the fact that, in the individual,
susceptibility to pain varies inversely with susceptibility to
boredom, because susceptibility is directly proportionate to mental
power. Let me explain. A dull mind is, as a rule, associated with
dull sensibilities, nerves which no stimulus can affect, a
temperament, in short, which does not feel pain or anxiety very
much, however great or terrible it may be. Now, intellectual
dullness is at the bottom of that vacuity of soul which is
stamped on so many faces, a state of mind which betrays itself by a
constant and lively attention to all the trivial circumstances in
the external world. This is the true source of boredom—a
continual panting after excitement, in order to have a pretext for
giving the mind and spirits something to occupy them. The kind of
things people choose for this purpose shows that they are not very
particular, as witness the miserable pastimes they have recourse
to, and their ideas of social pleasure and conversation: or again,
the number of people who gossip on the doorstep or gape out of the
window. It is mainly because of this inner vacuity of soul that
people go in quest of society, diversion, amusement, luxury of
every sort, which lead many to extravagance and misery. Nothing is
so good a protection against such misery as inward wealth, the
wealth of the mind, because the greater it grows, the less room it
leaves for boredom. The inexhaustible activity of thought! Finding
ever new material to work upon in the multifarious phenomena of
self and nature, and able and ready to form new combinations of
them,—there you have something that invigorates the mind, and
apart from moments of relaxation, sets it far above the reach of

8 And the extremes meet; for
the lowest state of civilization, a nomad or wandering life, finds
its counterpart in the highest, where everyone is at times a
tourist. The earlier stage was a case of necessity; the latter is a
remedy for boredom.]

But, on the other hand, this high degree of intelligence is
rooted in a high degree of susceptibility, greater strength of
will, greater passionateness; and from the union of these qualities
comes an increased capacity for emotion, an enhanced sensibility to
all mental and even bodily pain, greater impatience of obstacles,
greater resentment of interruption;—all of which tendencies
are augmented by the power of the imagination, the vivid character
of the whole range of thought, including what is disagreeable. This
applies, in various degrees, to every step in the long scale of
mental power, from the veriest dunce to the greatest genius that
ever lived. Therefore the nearer anyone is, either from a
subjective or from an objective point of view, to one of those
sources of suffering in human life, the farther he is from the
other. And so a man’s natural bent will lead him to make his
objective world conform to his subjective as much as possible; that
is to say, he will take the greatest measures against that form of
suffering to which he is most liable. The wise man will, above all,
strive after freedom from pain and annoyance, quiet and leisure,
consequently a tranquil, modest life, with as few encounters as may
be; and so, after a little experience of his so-called fellowmen,
he will elect to live in retirement, or even, if he is a man of
great intellect, in solitude. For the more a man has in himself,
the less he will want from other people,—the less, indeed,
other people can be to him. This is why a high degree of intellect
tends to make a man unsocial. True, if quality of
intellect could be made up for by quantity, it might be worth while
to live even in the great world; but unfortunately, a hundred fools
together will not make one wise man.

But the individual who stands at the other end of the scale is
no sooner free from the pangs of need than he endeavors to get
pastime and society at any cost, taking up with the first person he
meets, and avoiding nothing so much as himself. For in solitude,
where every one is thrown upon his own resources, what a man has in
himself comes to light; the fool in fine raiment groans under the
burden of his miserable personality, a burden which he can never
throw off, whilst the man of talent peoples the waste places with
his animating thoughts. Seneca declares that folly is its own
burden,—omnis stultitia laborat fastidio
,—a very true saying, with which may be compared the
words of Jesus, the son of Sirach, The life of a fool is worse
than death
9. And, as a rule,
it will be found that a man is sociable just in the degree in which
he is intellectually poor and generally vulgar. For one’s
choice in this world does not go much beyond solitude on one side
and vulgarity on the other. It is said that the most sociable of
all people are the negroes; and they are at the bottom of the scale
in intellect. I remember reading once in a French paper"#note10">10 that the blacks in North America,
whether free or enslaved, are fond of shutting themselves up in
large numbers in the smallest space, because they cannot have too
much of one another’s snub-nosed company.

9 Ecclesiasticus, xxii.

10 Le Commerce,
Oct. 19th, 1837.]

The brain may be regarded as a kind of parasite of the organism,
a pensioner, as it were, who dwells with the body: and leisure,
that is, the time one has for the free enjoyment of one’s
consciousness or individuality, is the fruit or produce of the rest
of existence, which is in general only labor and effort. But what
does most people’s leisure yield?—boredom and dullness;
except, of course, when it is occupied with sensual pleasure or
folly. How little such leisure is worth may be seen in the way in
which it is spent: and, as Ariosto observes, how miserable are the
idle hours of ignorant men!—ozio lungo d’uomini
. Ordinary people think merely how they shall
spend their time; a man of any talent tries to

use it. The reason why people of limited intellect are apt
to be bored is that their intellect is absolutely nothing more than
the means by which the motive power of the will is put into force:
and whenever there is nothing particular to set the will in motion,
it rests, and their intellect takes a holiday, because, equally
with the will, it requires something external to bring it into
play. The result is an awful stagnation of whatever power a man
has—in a word, boredom. To counteract this miserable feeling,
men run to trivialities which please for the moment they are taken
up, hoping thus to engage the will in order to rouse it to action,
and so set the intellect in motion; for it is the latter which has
to give effect to these motives of the will. Compared with real and
natural motives, these are but as paper money to coin; for their
value is only arbitrary—card games and the like, which have
been invented for this very purpose. And if there is nothing else
to be done, a man will twirl his thumbs or beat the devil’s
tattoo; or a cigar may be a welcome substitute for exercising his
brains. Hence, in all countries the chief occupation of society is
card-playing,11 and it is the
gauge of its value, and an outward sign that it is bankrupt in
thought. Because people have no thoughts to deal in, they deal
cards, and try and win one another’s money. Idiots! But I do
not wish to be unjust; so let me remark that it may certainly be
said in defence of card-playing that it is a preparation for the
world and for business life, because one learns thereby how to make
a clever use of fortuitous but unalterable circumstances (cards, in
this case), and to get as much out of them as one can: and to do
this a man must learn a little dissimulation, and how to put a good
face upon a bad business. But, on the other hand, it is exactly for
this reason that card-playing is so demoralizing, since the whole
object of it is to employ every kind of trick and machination in
order to win what belongs to another. And a habit of this sort,
learnt at the card-table, strikes root and pushes its way into
practical life; and in the affairs of every day a man gradually
comes to regard meum and tuum in much the same
light as cards, and to consider that he may use to the utmost
whatever advantages he possesses, so long as he does not come
within the arm of the law. Examples of what I mean are of daily
occurrence in mercantile life. Since, then, leisure is the flower,
or rather the fruit, of existence, as it puts a man into possession
of himself, those are happy indeed who possess something real in
themselves. But what do you get from most people’s
leisure?—only a good-for-nothing fellow, who is terribly
bored and a burden to himself. Let us, therefore, rejoice, dear
brethren, for we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the

11 Translator’s
.—Card-playing to this extent is now, no doubt, a
thing of the past, at any rate amongst the nations of northern
Europe. The present fashion is rather in favor of a dilettante
interest in art or literature.]

Further, as no land is so well off as that which requires few
imports, or none at all, so the happiest man is one who has enough
in his own inner wealth, and requires little or nothing from
outside for his maintenance, for imports are expensive things,
reveal dependence, entail danger, occasion trouble, and when all is
said and done, are a poor substitute for home produce. No man ought
to expect much from others, or, in general, from the external
world. What one human being can be to another is not a very great
deal: in the end every one stands alone, and the important thing is
who it is that stands alone. Here, then, is another
application of the general truth which Goethe recognizes in
Dichtung und Wahrheit (Bk. III.), that in everything a man
has ultimately to appeal to himself; or, as Goldsmith puts it in
The Traveller:

Still to ourselves in every place consign’d

Our own felicity we make or find

Himself is the source of the best and most a man can be or
achieve. The more this is so—the more a man finds his sources
of pleasure in himself—the happier he will be. Therefore, it
is with great truth that Aristotle"#note12">12 says, To be happy means to be
. For all other sources of happiness are in
their nature most uncertain, precarious, fleeting, the sport of
chance; and so even under the most favorable circumstances they can
easily be exhausted; nay, this is unavoidable, because they are not
always within reach. And in old age these sources of happiness must
necessarily dry up:—love leaves us then, and wit, desire to
travel, delight in horses, aptitude for social intercourse; friends
and relations, too, are taken from us by death. Then more than
ever, it depends upon what a man has in himself; for this will
stick to him longest; and at any period of life it is the only
genuine and lasting source of happiness. There is not much to be
got anywhere in the world. It is filled with misery and pain; and
if a man escapes these, boredom lies in wait for him at every
corner. Nay more; it is evil which generally has the upper hand,
and folly makes the most noise. Fate is cruel, and mankind is
pitiable. In such a world as this, a man who is rich in himself is
like a bright, warm, happy room at Christmastide, while without are
the frost and snow of a December night. Therefore, without doubt,
the happiest destiny on earth is to have the rare gift of a rich
individuality, and, more especially to be possessed of a good
endowment of intellect; this is the happiest destiny, though it may
not be, after all, a very brilliant one.

12 Eth. Eud, vii 2]

There was a great wisdom in that remark which Queen Christina of
Sweden made, in her nineteenth year, about Descartes, who had then
lived for twenty years in the deepest solitude in Holland, and,
apart from report, was known to her only by a single essay: M.
, she said, is the happiest of men, and his
condition seems to me much to be envied."#note13">13
Of course, as was the case with
Descartes, external circumstances must be favorable enough to allow
a man to be master of his life and happiness; or, as we read in
Ecclesiastes"#note14">14Wisdom is good together with
an inheritance, and profitable unto them that see the sun
. The
man to whom nature and fate have granted the blessing of wisdom,
will be most anxious and careful to keep open the fountains of
happiness which he has in himself; and for this, independence and
leisure are necessary. To obtain them, he will be willing to
moderate his desires and harbor his resources, all the more because
he is not, like others, restricted to the external world for his
pleasures. So he will not be misled by expectations of office, or
money, or the favor and applause of his fellowmen, into
surrendering himself in order to conform to low desires and vulgar
tastes; nay, in such a case he will follow the advice that Horace
gives in his epistle to Maecenas."#note15">15

13 Vie de
, par Baillet. Liv. vii., ch. 10.]

14 vii. 12.]

15 Lib. 1., ep. 7.]

Nec somnum plebis laudo, satur altilium, nec

Otia divitiis Arabum liberrima muto

It is a great piece of folly to sacrifice the inner for the
outer man, to give the whole or the greater part of one’s
quiet, leisure and independence for splendor, rank, pomp, titles
and honor. This is what Goethe did. My good luck drew me quite in
the other direction.

The truth which I am insisting upon here, the truth, namely,
that the chief source of human happiness is internal, is confirmed
by that most accurate observation of Aristotle in the
Nichomachean Ethics16
that every pleasure presupposes some sort of activity, the
application of some sort of power, without which it cannot exist.
The doctrine of Aristotle’s, that a man’s happiness
consists in the free exercise of his highest faculties, is also
enunciated by Stobaeus in his exposition of the Peripatetic
philosophy17: happiness,
he says, means vigorous and successful activity in all your
; and he explains that by vigor [Greek:
he means mastery in any thing, whatever it
be. Now, the original purpose of those forces with which nature has
endowed man is to enable him to struggle against the difficulties
which beset him on all sides. But if this struggle comes to an end,
his unemployed forces become a burden to him; and he has to set to
work and play with them,—to use them, I mean, for no purpose
at all, beyond avoiding the other source of human suffering,
boredom, to which he is at once exposed. It is the upper classes,
people of wealth, who are the greatest victims of boredom.
Lucretius long ago described their miserable state, and the truth
of his description may be still recognized to-day, in the life of
every great capital—where the rich man is seldom in his own
halls, because it bores him to be there, and still he returns
thither, because he is no better off outside;—or else he is
away in post-haste to his house in the country, as if it were on
fire; and he is no sooner arrived there, than he is bored again,
and seeks to forget everything in sleep, or else hurries back to
town once more.

16 i. 7 and vii. 13,

17 Ecl. eth. ii., ch 7.]

Exit saepe foras magnis ex aedibus ille,

Esse domi quem pertaesum est, subitoque reventat,

Quippe foris nihilo melius qui sentiat esse.

Currit, agens mannos, ad villam precipitanter,

Auxilium tectis quasi ferre ardentibus instans:

Oscitat extemplo, tetigit quum limina villae;

Aut abit in somnum gravis, atque oblivia quaerit;

Aut etiam properans urbem petit atque revisit

18 III 1073.]

In their youth, such people must have had a superfluity of
muscular and vital energy,—powers which, unlike those of the
mind, cannot maintain their full degree of vigor very long; and in
later years they either have no mental powers at all, or cannot
develop any for want of employment which would bring them into
play; so that they are in a wretched plight. Will,
however, they still possess, for this is the only power that is
inexhaustible; and they try to stimulate their will by passionate
excitement, such as games of chance for high
stakes—undoubtedly a most degrading form of vice. And one may
say generally that if a man finds himself with nothing to do, he is
sure to choose some amusement suited to the kind of power in which
he excels,—bowls, it may be, or chess; hunting or painting;
horse-racing or music; cards, or poetry, heraldry, philosophy, or
some other dilettante interest. We might classify these interests
methodically, by reducing them to expressions of the three
fundamental powers, the factors, that is to say, which go to make
up the physiological constitution of man; and further, by
considering these powers by themselves, and apart from any of the
definite aims which they may subserve, and simply as affording
three sources of possible pleasure, out of which every man will
choose what suits him, according as he excels in one direction or

First of all come the pleasures of vital energy, of
food, drink, digestion, rest and sleep; and there are parts of the
world where it can be said that these are characteristic and
national pleasures. Secondly, there are the pleasures of
muscular energy, such as walking, running, wrestling,
dancing, fencing, riding and similar athletic pursuits, which
sometimes take the form of sport, and sometimes of a military life
and real warfare. Thirdly, there are the pleasures of sensibility,
such as observation, thought, feeling, or a taste for poetry or
culture, music, learning, reading, meditation, invention,
philosophy and the like. As regards the value, relative worth and
duration of each of these kinds of pleasure, a great deal might be
said, which, however, I leave the reader to supply. But every one
will see that the nobler the power which is brought into play, the
greater will be the pleasure which it gives; for pleasure always
involves the use of one’s own powers, and happiness consists
in a frequent repetition of pleasure. No one will deny that in this
respect the pleasures of sensibility occupy a higher place than
either of the other two fundamental kinds; which exist in an equal,
nay, in a greater degree in brutes; it is this preponderating
amount of sensibility which distinguishes man from other animals.
Now, our mental powers are forms of sensibility, and therefore a
preponderating amount of it makes us capable of that kind of
pleasure which has to do with mind, so-called intellectual
pleasure; and the more sensibility predominates, the greater the
pleasure will be.19

19 Nature exhibits a
continual progress, starting from the mechanical and chemical
activity of the inorganic world, proceeding to the vegetable, with
its dull enjoyment of self, from that to the animal world, where
intelligence and consciousness begin, at first very weak, and only
after many intermediate stages attaining its last great development
in man, whose intellect is Nature’s crowning point, the goal
of all her efforts, the most perfect and difficult of all her
works. And even within the range of the human intellect, there are
a great many observable differences of degree, and it is very
seldom that intellect reaches its highest point, intelligence
properly so-called, which in this narrow and strict sense of the
word, is Nature’s most consummate product, and so the rarest
and most precious thing of which the world can boast. The highest
product of Nature is the clearest degree of consciousness, in which
the world mirrors itself more plainly and completely than anywhere
else. A man endowed with this form of intelligence is in possession
of what is noblest and best on earth; and accordingly, he has a
source of pleasure in comparison with which all others are small.
From his surroundings he asks nothing but leisure for the free
enjoyment of what he has got, time, as it were, to polish his
diamond. All other pleasures that are not of the intellect are of a
lower kind; for they are, one and all, movements of
will—desires, hopes, fears and ambitions, no matter to what
directed: they are always satisfied at the cost of pain, and in the
case of ambition, generally with more or less of illusion. With
intellectual pleasure, on the other hand, truth becomes clearer and
clearer. In the realm of intelligence pain has no power. Knowledge
is all in all. Further, intellectual pleasures are accessible
entirely and only through the medium of the intelligence, and are
limited by its capacity. For all the wit there is in the world
is useless to him who has none
. Still this advantage is
accompanied by a substantial disadvantage; for the whole of Nature
shows that with the growth of intelligence comes increased capacity
for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelligence
that suffering reaches its supreme point.]

The normal, ordinary man takes a vivid interest in anything only
in so far as it excites his will, that is to say, is a matter of
personal interest to him. But constant excitement of the will is
never an unmixed good, to say the least; in other words, it
involves pain. Card-playing, that universal occupation of
“good society” everywhere, is a device for providing
this kind of excitement, and that, too, by means of interests so
small as to produce slight and momentary, instead of real and
permanent, pain. Card-playing is, in fact, a mere tickling of the

20 Vulgarity is, at
bottom, the kind of consciousness in which the will completely
predominates over the intellect, where the latter does nothing more
than perform the service of its master, the will. Therefore, when
the will makes no demands, supplies no motives, strong or weak, the
intellect entirely loses its power, and the result is complete
vacancy of mind. Now will without intellect is the most
vulgar and common thing in the world, possessed by every blockhead,
who, in the gratification of his passions, shows the stuff of which
he is made. This is the condition of mind called
vulgarity, in which the only active elements are the
organs of sense, and that small amount of intellect which is
necessary for apprehending the data of sense. Accordingly, the
vulgar man is constantly open to all sorts of impressions, and
immediately perceives all the little trifling things that go on in
his environment: the lightest whisper, the most trivial
circumstance, is sufficient to rouse his attention; he is just like
an animal. Such a man’s mental condition reveals itself in
his face, in his whole exterior; and hence that vulgar, repulsive
appearance, which is all the more offensive, if, as is usually the
case, his will—the only factor in his consciousness—is
a base, selfish and altogether bad one.]

On the other hand, a man of powerful intellect is capable of
taking a vivid interest in things in the way of mere
knowledge, with no admixture of will; nay, such
an interest is a necessity to him. It places him in a sphere where
pain is an alien,—a diviner air, where the gods live

[Greek: phusis bebion ou ta chraematatheoi reia xoontes]"#note21">21

21 Odyssey IV., 805.]

Look on these two pictures—the life of the masses, one
long, dull record of struggle and effort entirely devoted to the
petty interests of personal welfare, to misery in all its forms, a
life beset by intolerable boredom as soon as ever those aims are
satisfied and the man is thrown back upon himself, whence he can be
roused again to some sort of movement only by the wild fire of
passion. On the other side you have a man endowed with a high
degree of mental power, leading an existence rich in thought and
full of life and meaning, occupied by worthy and interesting
objects as soon as ever he is free to give himself to them, bearing
in himself a source of the noblest pleasure. What external
promptings he wants come from the works of nature, and from the
contemplation of human affairs and the achievements of the great of
all ages and countries, which are thoroughly appreciated by a man
of this type alone, as being the only one who can quite understand
and feel with them. And so it is for him alone that those great
ones have really lived; it is to him that they make their appeal;
the rest are but casual hearers who only half understand either
them or their followers. Of course, this characteristic of the
intellectual man implies that he has one more need than the others,
the need of reading, observing, studying, meditating, practising,
the need, in short, of undisturbed leisure. For, as Voltaire has
very rightly said, there are no real pleasures without real
; and the need of them is why to such a man pleasures are
accessible which are denied to others,—the varied beauties of
nature and art and literature. To heap these pleasures round people
who do not want them and cannot appreciate them, is like expecting
gray hairs to fall in love. A man who is privileged in this respect
leads two lives, a personal and an intellectual life; and the
latter gradually comes to be looked upon as the true one, and the
former as merely a means to it. Other people make this shallow,
empty and troubled existence an end in itself. To the life of the
intellect such a man will give the preference over all his other
occupations: by the constant growth of insight and knowledge, this
intellectual life, like a slowly-forming work of art, will acquire
a consistency, a permanent intensity, a unity which becomes ever
more and more complete; compared with which, a life devoted to the
attainment of personal comfort, a life that may broaden indeed, but
can never be deepened, makes but a poor show: and yet, as I have
said, people make this baser sort of existence an end in

The ordinary life of every day, so far as it is not moved by
passion, is tedious and insipid; and if it is so moved, it soon
becomes painful. Those alone are happy whom nature has favored with
some superfluity of intellect, something beyond what is just
necessary to carry out the behests of their will; for it enables
them to lead an intellectual life as well, a life unattended by
pain and full of vivid interests. Mere leisure, that is to say,
intellect unoccupied in the service of the will, is not of itself
sufficient: there must be a real superfluity of power, set free
from the service of the will and devoted to that of the intellect;
for, as Seneca says, otium sine litteris mors est et vivi
hominis sepultura
—illiterate leisure is a form of death,
a living tomb. Varying with the amount of the superfluity, there
will be countless developments in this second life, the life of the
mind; it may be the mere collection and labelling of insects,
birds, minerals, coins, or the highest achievements of poetry and
philosophy. The life of the mind is not only a protection against
boredom; it also wards off the pernicious effects of boredom; it
keeps us from bad company, from the many dangers, misfortunes,
losses and extravagances which the man who places his happiness
entirely in the objective world is sure to encounter, My
philosophy, for instance, has never brought me in a six-pence; but
it has spared me many an expense.

The ordinary man places his life’s happiness in things
external to him, in property, rank, wife and children, friends,
society, and the like, so that when he loses them or finds them
disappointing, the foundation of his happiness is destroyed. In
other words, his centre of gravity is not in himself; it is
constantly changing its place, with every wish and whim. If he is a
man of means, one day it will be his house in the country, another
buying horses, or entertaining friends, or traveling,—a life,
in short, of general luxury, the reason being that he seeks his
pleasure in things outside him. Like one whose health and strength
are gone, he tries to regain by the use of jellies and drugs,
instead of by developing his own vital power, the true source of
what he has lost. Before proceeding to the opposite, let us compare
with this common type the man who comes midway between the two,
endowed, it may be, not exactly with distinguished powers of mind,
but with somewhat more than the ordinary amount of intellect. He
will take a dilettante interest in art, or devote his attention to
some branch of science—botany, for example, or physics,
astronomy, history, and find a great deal of pleasure in such
studies, and amuse himself with them when external forces of
happiness are exhausted or fail to satisfy him any more. Of a man
like this it may be said that his centre of gravity is partly in
himself. But a dilettante interest in art is a very different thing
from creative activity; and an amateur pursuit of science is apt to
be superficial and not to penetrate to the heart of the matter. A
man cannot entirely identify himself with such pursuits, or have
his whole existence so completely filled and permeated with them
that he loses all interest in everything else. It is only the
highest intellectual power, what we call genius, that
attains to this degree of intensity, making all time and existence
its theme, and striving to express its peculiar conception of the
world, whether it contemplates life as the subject of poetry or of
philosophy. Hence, undisturbed occupation with himself, his own
thoughts and works, is a matter of urgent necessity to such a man;
solitude is welcome, leisure is the highest good, and everything
else is unnecessary, nay, even burdensome.

This is the only type of man of whom it can be said that his
centre of gravity is entirely in himself; which explains why it is
that people of this sort—and they are very rare—no
matter how excellent their character may be, do not show that warm
and unlimited interest in friends, family, and the community in
general, of which others are so often capable; for if they have
only themselves they are not inconsolable for the loss of
everything else. This gives an isolation to their character, which
is all the more effective since other people never really quite
satisfy them, as being, on the whole, of a different nature: nay
more, since this difference is constantly forcing itself upon their
notice they get accustomed to move about amongst mankind as alien
beings, and in thinking of humanity in general, to say
they instead of we.

So the conclusion we come to is that the man whom nature has
endowed with intellectual wealth is the happiest; so true it is
that the subjective concerns us more than the objective; for
whatever the latter may be, it can work only indirectly, secondly,
and through the medium of the former—a truth finely expressed
by Lucian:—

[Greek: Aeloutos ho taes psychaes ploutus monos estin

Talla dechei ataen pleiona ton kteanon

22 Epigrammata, 12.]

the wealth of the soul is the only true wealth, for with all
other riches comes a bane even greater than they. The man of inner
wealth wants nothing from outside but the negative gift of
undisturbed leisure, to develop and mature his intellectual
faculties, that is, to enjoy his wealth; in short, he wants
permission to be himself, his whole life long, every day and every
hour. If he is destined to impress the character of his mind upon a
whole race, he has only one measure of happiness or
unhappiness—to succeed or fail in perfecting his powers and
completing his work. All else is of small consequence. Accordingly,
the greatest minds of all ages have set the highest value upon
undisturbed leisure, as worth exactly as much as the man himself.

Happiness appears to consist in leisure, says
Aristotle;23 and Diogenes Laertius
reports that Socrates praised leisure as the fairest of all
. So, in the Nichomachean Ethics,
Aristotle concludes that a life devoted to philosophy is the
happiest; or, as he says in the Politics,"#note24">24 the free exercise of any power,
whatever it may be, is happiness
. This again, tallies with
what Goethe says in Wilhelm Meister: The man who is born with a
talent which he is meant to use, finds his greatest happiness in
using it

23 Eth. Nichom. x. 7.]

24 iv. 11.]

But to be in possession of undisturbed leisure, is far from
being the common lot; nay, it is something alien to human nature,
for the ordinary man’s destiny is to spend life in procuring
what is necessary for the subsistence of himself and his family; he
is a son of struggle and need, not a free intelligence. So people
as a rule soon get tired of undisturbed leisure, and it becomes
burdensome if there are no fictitious and forced aims to occupy it,
play, pastime and hobbies of every kind. For this very reason it is
full of possible danger, and difficilis in otio quies is a
true saying,—it is difficult to keep quiet if you have
nothing to do. On the other hand, a measure of intellect far
surpassing the ordinary, is as unnatural as it is abnormal. But if
it exists, and the man endowed with it is to be happy, he will want
precisely that undisturbed leisure which the others find burdensome
or pernicious; for without it he is a Pegasus in harness, and
consequently unhappy. If these two unnatural circumstances,
external, and internal, undisturbed leisure and great intellect,
happen to coincide in the same person, it is a great piece of
fortune; and if the fate is so far favorable, a man can lead the
higher life, the life protected from the two opposite sources of
human suffering, pain and boredom, from the painful struggle for
existence, and the incapacity for enduring leisure (which is free
existence itself)—evils which may be escaped only by being
mutually neutralized.

But there is something to be said in opposition to this view.
Great intellectual gifts mean an activity pre-eminently nervous in
its character, and consequently a very high degree of
susceptibility to pain in every form. Further, such gifts imply an
intense temperament, larger and more vivid ideas, which, as the
inseparable accompaniment of great intellectual power, entail on
its possessor a corresponding intensity of the emotions, making
them incomparably more violent than those to which the ordinary man
is a prey. Now, there are more things in the world productive of
pain than of pleasure. Again, a large endowment of intellect tends
to estrange the man who has it from other people and their doings;
for the more a man has in himself, the less he will be able to find
in them; and the hundred things in which they take delight, he will
think shallow and insipid. Here, then, perhaps, is another instance
of that law of compensation which makes itself felt everywhere. How
often one hears it said, and said, too, with some plausibility,
that the narrow-minded man is at bottom the happiest, even though
his fortune is unenviable. I shall make no attempt to forestall the
reader’s own judgment on this point; more especially as
Sophocles himself has given utterance to two diametrically opposite

[Greek: Pollo to phronein eudaimonias

proton uparchei.]25

he says in one place—wisdom is the greatest part of
happiness; and again, in another passage, he declares that the life
of the thoughtless is the most pleasant of all—

[Greek: En ta phronein gar maeden aedistos bios.]"#note26">26

The philosophers of the Old Testament find themselves
in a like contradiction.

The life of a fool is worse than death"#note27">27


In much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth
knowledge increaseth sorrow

25 Antigone,

26 Ajax, 554.]

27 Ecclesiasticus, xxii.

28 Ecclesiastes, i. 18.]

I may remark, however, that a man who has no mental needs,
because his intellect is of the narrow and normal amount, is, in
the strict sense of the word, what is called a
philistine—an expression at first peculiar to the
German language, a kind of slang term at the Universities,
afterwards used, by analogy, in a higher sense, though still in its
original meaning, as denoting one who is not a Son of the
. A philistine is and remains [Greek: amousos anaer]. I
should prefer to take a higher point of view, and apply the term
philistine to people who are always seriously occupied
with realities which are no realities; but as such a definition
would be a transcendental one, and therefore not generally
intelligible, it would hardly be in place in the present treatise,
which aims at being popular. The other definition can be more
easily elucidated, indicating, as it does, satisfactorily enough,
the essential nature of all those qualities which distinguish the
philistine. He is defined to be a man without mental
. From this is follows, firstly, in relation to
, that he has no intellectual pleasures; for,
as was remarked before, there are no real pleasures without real
needs. The philistine’s life is animated by no desire to gain
knowledge and insight for their own sake, or to experience that
true aeesthetic pleasure which is so nearly akin to them. If
pleasures of this kind are fashionable, and the philistine finds
himself compelled to pay attention to them, he will force himself
to do so, but he will take as little interest in them as possible.
His only real pleasures are of a sensual kind, and he thinks that
these indemnify him for the loss of the others. To him oysters and
champagne are the height of existence; the aim of his life is to
procure what will contribute to his bodily welfare, and he is
indeed in a happy way if this causes him some trouble. If the
luxuries of life are heaped upon him, he will inevitably be bored,
and against boredom he has a great many fancied remedies, balls,
theatres, parties, cards, gambling, horses, women, drinking,
traveling and so on; all of which can not protect a man from being
bored, for where there are no intellectual needs, no intellectual
pleasures are possible. The peculiar characteristic of the
philistine is a dull, dry kind of gravity, akin to that of animals.
Nothing really pleases, or excites, or interests him, for sensual
pleasure is quickly exhausted, and the society of philistines soon
becomes burdensome, and one may even get tired of playing cards.
True, the pleasures of vanity are left, pleasures which he enjoys
in his own way, either by feeling himself superior in point of
wealth, or rank, or influence and power to other people, who
thereupon pay him honor; or, at any rate, by going about with those
who have a superfluity of these blessings, sunning himself in the
reflection of their splendor—what the English call a


From the essential nature of the philistine it follows,
secondly, in regard to others, that, as he possesses no
intellectual, but only physical need, he will seek the society of
those who can satisfy the latter, but not the former. The last
thing he will expect from his friends is the possession of any sort
of intellectual capacity; nay, if he chances to meet with it, it
will rouse his antipathy and even hatred; simply because in
addition to an unpleasant sense of inferiority, he experiences, in
his heart, a dull kind of envy, which has to be carefully concealed
even from himself. Nevertheless, it sometimes grows into a secret
feeling of rancor. But for all that, it will never occur to him to
make his own ideas of worth or value conform to the standard of
such qualities; he will continue to give the preference to rank and
riches, power and influence, which in his eyes seem to be the only
genuine advantages in the world; and his wish will be to excel in
them himself. All this is the consequence of his being a man
without intellectual needs. The great affliction of all
philistines is that they have no interest in ideas, and
that, to escape being bored, they are in constant need of
realities. But realities are either unsatisfactory or
dangerous; when they lose their interest, they become fatiguing.
But the ideal world is illimitable and calm,

something afar

From the sphere of our sorrow

NOTE.—In these remarks on the personal qualities which go
to make happiness, I have been mainly concerned with the physical
and intellectual nature of man. For an account of the direct and
immediate influence of morality upon happiness, let me
refer to my prize essay on The Foundation of Morals (Sec.


Property, or What a Man Has.

Epicurus divides the needs of mankind into three classes, and
the division made by this great professor of happiness is a true
and a fine one. First come natural and necessary needs, such as,
when not satisfied, produce pain,—food and clothing,

victus et amictus, needs which can easily be satisfied.
Secondly, there are those needs which, though natural, are not
necessary, such as the gratification of certain of the senses. I
may add, however, that in the report given by Diogenes Laertius,
Epicurus does not mention which of the senses he means; so that on
this point my account of his doctrine is somewhat more definite and
exact than the original. These are needs rather more difficult to
satisfy. The third class consists of needs which are neither
natural nor necessary, the need of luxury and prodigality, show and
splendor, which never come to an end, and are very hard to

29 Cf. Diogenes Laertius,
Bk. x., ch. xxvii., pp. 127 and 149; also Cicero de
, i., 13.]

It is difficult, if not impossible, to define the limits which
reason should impose on the desire for wealth; for there is no
absolute or definite amount of wealth which will satisfy a man. The
amount is always relative, that is to say, just so much as will
maintain the proportion between what he wants and what he gets; for
to measure a man’s happiness only by what he gets, and not
also by what he expects to get, is as futile as to try and express
a fraction which shall have a numerator but no denominator. A man
never feels the loss of things which it never occurs to him to ask
for; he is just as happy without them; whilst another, who may have
a hundred times as much, feels miserable because he has not got the
one thing he wants. In fact, here too, every man has an horizon of
his own, and he will expect as much as he thinks it is possible for
him to get. If an object within his horizon looks as though he
could confidently reckon on getting it, he is happy; but if
difficulties come in the way, he is miserable. What lies beyond his
horizon has no effect at all upon him. So it is that the vast
possessions of the rich do not agitate the poor, and conversely,
that a wealthy man is not consoled by all his wealth for the
failure of his hopes. Riches, one may say, are like sea-water; the
more you drink the thirstier you become; and the same is true of
fame. The loss of wealth and prosperity leaves a man, as soon as
the first pangs of grief are over, in very much the same habitual
temper as before; and the reason of this is, that as soon as fate
diminishes the amount of his possessions, he himself immediately
reduces the amount of his claims. But when misfortune comes upon
us, to reduce the amount of our claims is just what is most
painful; once that we have done so, the pain becomes less and less,
and is felt no more; like an old wound which has healed.
Conversely, when a piece of good fortune befalls us, our claims
mount higher and higher, as there is nothing to regulate them; it
is in this feeling of expansion that the delight of it lies. But it
lasts no longer than the process itself, and when the expansion is
complete, the delight ceases; we have become accustomed to the
increase in our claims, and consequently indifferent to the amount
of wealth which satisfies them. There is a passage in the
Odyssey30 illustrating
this truth, of which I may quote the last two lines:

[Greek: Toios gar noos estin epichthonion anthropon

Oion eth aemar agei pataer andron te theou te]

—the thoughts of man that dwells on the earth are as the
day granted him by the father of gods and men. Discontent springs
from a constant endeavor to increase the amount of our claims, when
we are powerless to increase the amount which will satisfy

30 xviii., 130–7.]

When we consider how full of needs the human race is, how its
whole existence is based upon them, it is not a matter for surprise
that wealth is held in more sincere esteem, nay, in
greater honor, than anything else in the world; nor ought we to
wonder that gain is made the only good of life, and everything that
does not lead to it pushed aside or thrown
overboard—philosophy, for instance, by those who profess it.
People are often reproached for wishing for money above all things,
and for loving it more than anything else; but it is natural and
even inevitable for people to love that which, like an unwearied
Proteus, is always ready to turn itself into whatever object their
wandering wishes or manifold desires may for the moment fix upon.
Everything else can satisfy only one wish, one

need: food is good only if you are hungry; wine, if you are able to
enjoy it; drugs, if you are sick; fur for the winter; love for
youth, and so on. These are all only relatively good, [Greek:
agatha pros ti]. Money alone is absolutely good, because it is not
only a concrete satisfaction of one need in particular; it is an
abstract satisfaction of all.

If a man has an independent fortune, he should regard it as a
bulwark against the many evils and misfortunes which he may
encounter; he should not look upon it as giving him leave to get
what pleasure he can out of the world, or as rendering it incumbent
upon him to spend it in this way. People who are not born with a
fortune, but end by making a large one through the exercise of
whatever talents they possess, almost always come to think that
their talents are their capital, and that the money they have
gained is merely the interest upon it; they do not lay by a part of
their earnings to form a permanent capital, but spend their money
much as they have earned it. Accordingly, they often fall into
poverty; their earnings decreased, or come to an end altogether,
either because their talent is exhausted by becoming
antiquated,—as, for instance, very often happens in the case
of fine art; or else it was valid only under a special conjunction
of circumstances which has now passed away. There is nothing to
prevent those who live on the common labor of their hands from
treating their earnings in that way if they like; because their
kind of skill is not likely to disappear, or, if it does, it can be
replaced by that of their fellow-workmen; morever, the kind of work
they do is always in demand; so that what the proverb says is quite
true, a useful trade is a mine of gold. But with artists
and professionals of every kind the case is quite different, and
that is the reason why they are well paid. They ought to build up a
capital out of their earnings; but they recklessly look upon them
as merely interest, and end in ruin. On the other hand, people who
inherit money know, at least, how to distinguish between capital
and interest, and most of them try to make their capital secure and
not encroach upon it; nay, if they can, they put by at least an
eighth of their interests in order to meet future contingencies. So
most of them maintain their position. These few remarks about
capital and interest are not applicable to commercial life, for
merchants look upon money only as a means of further gain, just as
a workman regards his tools; so even if their capital has been
entirely the result of their own efforts, they try to preserve and
increase it by using it. Accordingly, wealth is nowhere so much at
home as in the merchant class.

It will generally be found that those who know what it is to
have been in need and destitution are very much less afraid of it,
and consequently more inclined to extravagance, than those who know
poverty only by hearsay. People who have been born and bred in good
circumstances are as a rule much more careful about the future,
more economical, in fact, than those who, by a piece of good luck,
have suddenly passed from poverty to wealth. This looks as if
poverty were not really such a very wretched thing as it appears
from a distance. The true reason, however, is rather the fact that
the man who has been born into a position of wealth comes to look
upon it as something without which he could no more live than he
could live without air; he guards it as he does his very life; and
so he is generally a lover of order, prudent and economical. But
the man who has been born into a poor position looks upon it as the
natural one, and if by any chance he comes in for a fortune, he
regards it as a superfluity, something to be enjoyed or wasted,
because, if it comes to an end, he can get on just as well as
before, with one anxiety the less; or, as Shakespeare says in Henry

.... the adage must be verified

That beggars mounted run their horse to death

31 Part III., Act 1., Sc.

But it should be said that people of this kind have a firm and
excessive trust, partly in fate, partly in the peculiar means which
have already raised them out of need and poverty,—a trust not
only of the head, but of the heart also; and so they do not, like
the man born rich, look upon the shallows of poverty as bottomless,
but console themselves with the thought that once they have touched
ground again, they can take another upward flight. It is this trait
in human character which explains the fact that women who were poor
before their marriage often make greater claims, and are more
extravagant, than those who have brought their husbands a rich
dowry; because, as a rule, rich girls bring with them, not only a
fortune, but also more eagerness, nay, more of the inherited
instinct, to preserve it, than poor girls do. If anyone doubts the
truth of this, and thinks that it is just the opposite, he will
find authority for his view in Ariosto’s first Satire; but,
on the other hand, Dr. Johnson agrees with my opinion. A woman
of fortune
, he says, being used to the handling of money,
spends it judiciously; but a woman who gets the command of money
for the first time upon her marriage, has such a gusto in spending
it, that she throws it away with great profusion
."#note32">32 And in any case let me advise anyone
who marries a poor girl not to leave her the capital but only the
interest, and to take especial care that she has not the management
of the children’s fortune.

32 Boswell’s Life of
Johnson: ann: 1776, aetat: 67.]

I do not by any means think that I am touching upon a subject
which is not worth my while to mention when I recommend people to
be careful to preserve what they have earned or inherited. For to
start life with just as much as will make one independent, that is,
allow one to live comfortably without having to work—even if
one has only just enough for oneself, not to speak of a
family—is an advantage which cannot be over-estimated; for it
means exemption and immunity from that chronic disease of penury,
which fastens on the life of man like a plague; it is emancipation
from that forced labor which is the natural lot of every mortal.
Only under a favorable fate like this can a man be said to be born
free, to be, in the proper sense of the word, sui juris,
master of his own time and powers, and able to say every morning,
This day is my own. And just for the same reason the
difference between the man who has a hundred a year and the man who
has a thousand, is infinitely smaller than the difference between
the former and a man who has nothing at all. But inherited wealth
reaches its utmost value when it falls to the individual endowed
with mental powers of a high order, who is resolved to pursue a
line of life not compatible with the making of money; for he is
then doubly endowed by fate and can live for his genius; and he
will pay his debt to mankind a hundred times, by achieving what no
other could achieve, by producing some work which contributes to
the general good, and redounds to the honor of humanity at large.
Another, again, may use his wealth to further philanthropic
schemes, and make himself well-deserving of his fellowmen. But a
man who does none of these things, who does not even try to do
them, who never attempts to learn the rudiments of any branch of
knowledge so that he may at least do what he can towards promoting
it—such a one, born as he is into riches, is a mere idler and
thief of time, a contemptible fellow. He will not even be happy,
because, in his case, exemption from need delivers him up to the
other extreme of human suffering, boredom, which is such martyrdom
to him, that he would have been better off if poverty had given him
something to do. And as he is bored he is apt to be extravagant,
and so lose the advantage of which he showed himself unworthy.
Countless numbers of people find themselves in want, simply
because, when they had money, they spent it only to get momentary
relief from the feeling of boredom which oppressed them.

It is quite another matter if one’s object is success in
political life, where favor, friends and connections are
all-important, in order to mount by their aid step by step on the
ladder of promotion, and perhaps gain the topmost rung. In this
kind of life, it is much better to be cast upon the world without a
penny; and if the aspirant is not of noble family, but is a man of
some talent, it will redound to his advantage to be an absolute
pauper. For what every one most aims at in ordinary contact with
his fellows is to prove them inferior to himself; and how much more
is this the case in politics. Now, it is only an absolute pauper
who has such a thorough conviction of his own complete, profound
and positive inferiority from every point of view, of his own utter
insignificance and worthlessness, that he can take his place
quietly in the political machine."#note33">33 He is the only one who can keep on
bowing low enough, and even go right down upon his face if
necessary; he alone can submit to everything and laugh at it; he
alone knows the entire worthlessness of merit; he alone uses his
loudest voice and his boldest type whenever he has to speak or
write of those who are placed over his head, or occupy any position
of influence; and if they do a little scribbling, he is ready to
applaud it as a masterwork. He alone understands how to beg, and so
betimes, when he is hardly out of his boyhood, he becomes a high
priest of that hidden mystery which Goethe brings to light.

Uber’s Niederträchtige

Niemand sich beklage:

Denn es ist das Machtige

Was man dir auch sage

—it is no use to complain of low aims; for, whatever
people may say, they rule the world.

33 Translator’s
.—Schopenhauer is probably here making one of his
most virulent attacks upon Hegel; in this case on account of what
he thought to be the philosopher’s abject servility to the
government of his day. Though the Hegelian system has been the
fruitful mother of many liberal ideas, there can be no doubt that
Hegel’s influence, in his own lifetime, was an effective
support of Prussian bureaucracy.]

On the other hand, the man who is born with enough to live upon
is generally of a somewhat independent turn of mind; he is
accustomed to keep his head up; he has not learned all the arts of
the beggar; perhaps he even presumes a little upon the possession
of talents which, as he ought to know, can never compete with
cringing mediocrity; in the long run he comes to recognize the
inferiority of those who are placed over his head, and when they
try to put insults upon him, he becomes refractory and shy. This is
not the way to get on in the world. Nay, such a man may at least
incline to the opinion freely expressed by Voltaire: We have
only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them

in cringing to contemptible rascals. But alas! let me observe by
the way, that contemptible rascal is an attribute which
may be predicated of an abominable number of people. What Juvenal
says—it is difficult to rise if your poverty is greater than
your talent—

Haud facile emergunt quorum virtutibus obstat

Res angusta domi

is more applicable to a career of art and literature than to a
political and social ambition.

Wife and children I have not reckoned amongst a man’s
possessions: he is rather in their possession. It would be easier
to include friends under that head; but a man’s friends
belong to him not a whit more than he belongs to them.


Position, or A Man’s Place in the Estimation of Others.

Section 1.—Reputation.

By a peculiar weakness of human nature, people generally think
too much about the opinion which others form of them; although the
slightest reflection will show that this opinion, whatever it may
be, is not in itself essential to happiness. Therefore it is hard
to understand why everybody feels so very pleased when he sees that
other people have a good opinion of him, or say anything flattering
to his vanity. If you stroke a cat, it will purr; and, as
inevitably, if you praise a man, a sweet expression of delight will
appear on his face; and even though the praise is a palpable lie,
it will be welcome, if the matter is one on which he prides
himself. If only other people will applaud him, a man may console
himself for downright misfortune or for the pittance he gets from
the two sources of human happiness already discussed: and
conversely, it is astonishing how infallibly a man will be annoyed,
and in some cases deeply pained, by any wrong done to his feeling
of self-importance, whatever be the nature, degree, or
circumstances of the injury, or by any depreciation, slight, or

If the feeling of honor rests upon this peculiarity of human
nature, it may have a very salutary effect upon the welfare of a
great many people, as a substitute for morality; but upon their
happiness, more especially upon that peace of mind and independence
which are so essential to happiness, its effect will be disturbing
and prejudicial rather than salutary. Therefore it is advisable,
from our point of view, to set limits to this weakness, and duly to
consider and rightly to estimate the relative value of advantages,
and thus temper, as far as possible, this great susceptibility to
other people’s opinion, whether the opinion be one flattering
to our vanity, or whether it causes us pain; for in either case it
is the same feeling which is touched. Otherwise, a man is the slave
of what other people are pleased to think,—and how little it
requires to disconcert or soothe the mind that is greedy of

Sic leve, sic parvum est, animum quod laudis avarum

Subruit ac reficit

34 Horace, Epist: II., 1,

Therefore it will very much conduce to our happiness if we duly
compare the value of what a man is in and for himself with what he
is in the eyes of others. Under the former conies everything that
fills up the span of our existence and makes it what it is, in
short, all the advantages already considered and summed up under
the heads of personality and property; and the sphere in which all
this takes place is the man’s own consciousness. On the other
hand, the sphere of what we are for other people is their
consciousness, not ours; it is the kind of figure we make in their
eyes, together with the thoughts which this arouses."#note35">35 But this is something which has no
direct and immediate existence for us, but can affect us only
mediately and indirectly, so far, that is, as other people’s
behavior towards us is directed by it; and even then it ought to
affect us only in so far as it can move us to modify what we
are in and for ourselves
. Apart from this, what goes on in
other people’s consciousness is, as such, a matter of
indifference to us; and in time we get really indifferent to it,
when we come to see how superficial and futile are most
people’s thoughts, how narrow their ideas, how mean their
sentiments, how perverse their opinions, and how much of error
there is in most of them; when we learn by experience with what
depreciation a man will speak of his fellow, when he is not obliged
to fear him, or thinks that what he says will not come to his ears.
And if ever we have had an opportunity of seeing how the greatest
of men will meet with nothing but slight from half-a-dozen
blockheads, we shall understand that to lay great value upon what
other people say is to pay them too much honor.

35 Let me remark that people
in the highest positions in life, with all their brilliance, pomp,
display, magnificence and general show, may well say:—Our
happiness lies entirely outside us; for it exists only in the heads
of others.]

At all events, a man is in a very bad way, who finds no source
of happiness in the first two classes of blessings already treated
of, but has to seek it in the third, in other words, not in what he
is in himself, but in what he is in the opinion of others. For,
after all, the foundation of our whole nature, and, therefore, of
our happiness, is our physique, and the most essential factor in
happiness is health, and, next in importance after health, the
ability to maintain ourselves in independence and freedom from
care. There can be no competition or compensation between these
essential factors on the one side, and honor, pomp, rank and
reputation on the other, however much value we may set upon the
latter. No one would hesitate to sacrifice the latter for the
former, if it were necessary. We should add very much to our
happiness by a timely recognition of the simple truth that every
man’s chief and real existence is in his own skin, and not in
other people’s opinions; and, consequently, that the actual
conditions of our personal life,—health, temperament,
capacity, income, wife, children, friends, home, are a hundred
times more important for our happiness than what other people are
pleased to think of us: otherwise we shall be miserable. And if
people insist that honor is dearer than life itself, what they
really mean is that existence and well-being are as nothing
compared with other people’s opinions. Of course, this may be
only an exaggerated way of stating the prosaic truth that
reputation, that is, the opinion others have of us, is
indispensable if we are to make any progress in the world; but I
shall come back to that presently. When we see that almost
everything men devote their lives to attain, sparing no effort and
encountering a thousand toils and dangers in the process, has, in
the end, no further object than to raise themselves in the
estimation of others; when we see that not only offices, titles,
decorations, but also wealth, nay, even knowledge"#note36">36 and art, are striven for only to
obtain, as the ultimate goal of all effort, greater respect from
one’s fellowmen,—is not this a lamentable proof of the
extent to which human folly can go? To set much too high a value on
other people’s opinion is a common error everywhere; an
error, it may be, rooted in human nature itself, or the result of
civilization, and social arrangements generally; but, whatever its
source, it exercises a very immoderate influence on all we do, and
is very prejudicial to our happiness. We can trace it from a
timorous and slavish regard for what other people will say, up to
the feeling which made Virginius plunge the dagger into his
daughter’s heart, or induces many a man to sacrifice quiet,
riches, health and even life itself, for posthumous glory.
Undoubtedly this feeling is a very convenient instrument in the
hands of those who have the control or direction of their
fellowmen; and accordingly we find that in every scheme for
training up humanity in the way it should go, the maintenance and
strengthening of the feeling of honor occupies an important place.
But it is quite a different matter in its effect on human
happiness, of which it is here our object to treat; and we should
rather be careful to dissuade people from setting too much store by
what others think of them. Daily experience shows us, however, that
this is just the mistake people persist in making; most men set the
utmost value precisely on what other people think, and are more
concerned about it than about what goes on in their own
consciousness, which is the thing most immediately and directly
present to them. They reverse the natural order,—regarding
the opinions of others as real existence and their own
consciousness as something shadowy; making the derivative and
secondary into the principal, and considering the picture they
present to the world of more importance than their own selves. By
thus trying to get a direct and immediate result out of what has no
really direct or immediate existence, they fall into the kind of
folly which is called vanity—the appropriate term
for that which has no solid or instrinsic value. Like a miser, such
people forget the end in their eagerness to obtain the means.

36 Scire tuum nihil est
nisi te scire hoc sciat alter
, (Persins i, 27)—knowledge
is no use unless others know that you have it.]

The truth is that the value we set upon the opinion of others,
and our constant endeavor in respect of it, are each quite out of
proportion to any result we may reasonably hope to attain; so that
this attention to other people’s attitude may be regarded as
a kind of universal mania which every one inherits. In all we do,
almost the first thing we think about is, what will people say; and
nearly half the troubles and bothers of life may be traced to our
anxiety on this score; it is the anxiety which is at the bottom of
all that feeling of self-importance, which is so often mortified
because it is so very morbidly sensitive. It is solicitude about
what others will say that underlies all our vanity and pretension,
yes, and all our show and swagger too. Without it, there would not
be a tenth part of the luxury which exists. Pride in every form,
point d’honneur and punctilio, however
varied their kind or sphere, are at bottom nothing but
this—anxiety about what others will say—and what
sacrifices it costs! One can see it even in a child; and though it
exists at every period of life, it is strongest in age; because,
when the capacity for sensual pleasure fails, vanity and pride have
only avarice to share their dominion. Frenchmen, perhaps, afford
the best example of this feeling, and amongst them it is a regular
epidemic, appearing sometimes in the most absurd ambition, or in a
ridiculous kind of national vanity and the most shameless boasting.
However, they frustrate their own gains, for other people make fun
of them and call them la grande nation.

By way of specially illustrating this perverse and exuberant
respect for other people’s opinion, let me take passage from
the Times of March 31st, 1846, giving a detailed account
of the execution of one Thomas Wix, an apprentice who, from motives
of vengeance, had murdered his master. Here we have very unusual
circumstances and an extraordinary character, though one very
suitable for our purpose; and these combine to give a striking
picture of this folly, which is so deeply rooted in human nature,
and allow us to form an accurate notion of the extent to which it
will go. On the morning of the execution, says the report, the
rev. ordinary was early in attendance upon him, but Wix, beyond a
quiet demeanor, betrayed no interest in his ministrations,
appearing to feel anxious only to acquit himself
“bravely” before the spectators of his ignomininous
end.... In the procession Wix fell into his proper place with
alacrity, and, as he entered the Chapel-yard, remarked,
sufficiently loud to be heard by several persons near him,
“Now, then, as Dr. Dodd said, I shall soon know the grand
secret.” On reaching the scaffold, the miserable wretch
mounted the drop without the slightest assistance, and when he got
to the centre, he bowed to the spectators twice, a proceeding which
called forth a tremendous cheer from the degraded crowd

This is an admirable example of the way in which a man, with
death in the most dreadful form before his very eyes, and eternity
beyond it, will care for nothing but the impression he makes upon a
crowd of gapers, and the opinion he leaves behind him in their
heads. There was much the same kind of thing in the case of
Lecompte, who was executed at Frankfurt, also in 1846, for an
attempt on the king’s life. At the trial he was very much
annoyed that he was not allowed to appear, in decent attire, before
the Upper House; and on the day of the execution it was a special
grief to him that he was not permitted to shave. It is not only in
recent times that this kind of thing has been known to happen.
Mateo Aleman tells us, in the Introduction to his celebrated
romance, Juzman de Alfarache, that many infatuated
criminals, instead of devoting their last hours to the welfare of
their souls, as they ought to have done, neglect this duty for the
purpose of preparing and committing to memory a speech to be made
from the scaffold.

I take these extreme cases as being the best illustrations to
what I mean; for they give us a magnified reflection of our own
nature. The anxieties of all of us, our worries, vexations,
bothers, troubles, uneasy apprehensions and strenuous efforts are
due, in perhaps the large majority of instances, to what other
people will say; and we are just as foolish in this respect as
those miserable criminals. Envy and hatred are very often traceable
to a similar source.

Now, it is obvious that happiness, which consists for the most
part in peace of mind and contentment, would be served by nothing
so much as by reducing this impulse of human nature within
reasonable limits,—which would perhaps make it one fiftieth
part of what it is now. By doing so, we should get rid of a thorn
in the flesh which is always causing us pain. But it is a very
difficult task, because the impulse in question is a natural and
innate perversity of human nature. Tacitus says, The lust of
fame is the last that a wise man shakes off
"#note37">37 The only way of putting an end to this
universal folly is to see clearly that it is a folly; and this may
be done by recognizing the fact that most of the opinions in
men’s heads are apt to be false, perverse, erroneous and
absurd, and so in themselves unworthy of attention; further, that
other people’s opinions can have very little real and
positive influence upon us in most of the circumstances and affairs
of life. Again, this opinion is generally of such an unfavorable
character that it would worry a man to death to hear everything
that was said of him, or the tone in which he was spoken of. And
finally, among other things, we should be clear about the fact that
honor itself has no really direct, but only an indirect, value. If
people were generally converted from this universal folly, the
result would be such an addition to our piece of mind and
cheerfulness as at present seems inconceivable; people would
present a firmer and more confident front to the world, and
generally behave with less embarrassment and restraint. It is
observable that a retired mode of life has an exceedingly
beneficial influence on our peace of mind, and this is mainly
because we thus escape having to live constantly in the sight of
others, and pay everlasting regard to their casual opinions; in a
word, we are able to return upon ourselves. At the same time a good
deal of positive misfortune might be avoided, which we are now
drawn into by striving after shadows, or, to speak more correctly,
by indulging a mischievous piece of folly; and we should
consequently have more attention to give to solid realities and
enjoy them with less interruption that at present. But [Greek:
chalepa ga kala]—what is worth doing is hard to do.

37 Hist., iv., 6.]

Section 2.—Pride.

The folly of our nature which we are discussing puts forth three
shoots, ambition, vanity and pride. The difference between the last
two is this: pride is an established conviction of
one’s own paramount worth in some particular respect; while
vanity is the desire of rousing such a conviction in
others, and it is generally accompanied by the secret hope of
ultimately coming to the same conviction oneself. Pride works
from within; it is the direct appreciation of oneself.
Vanity is the desire to arrive at this appreciation indirectly,
from without. So we find that vain people are talkative,
proud, and taciturn. But the vain person ought to be aware that the
good opinion of others, which he strives for, may be obtained much
more easily and certainly by persistent silence than by speech,
even though he has very good things to say. Anyone who wishes to
affect pride is not therefore a proud man; but he will soon have to
drop this, as every other, assumed character.

It is only a firm, unshakeable conviction of pre-eminent worth
and special value which makes a man proud in the true sense of the
word,—a conviction which may, no doubt, be a mistaken one or
rest on advantages which are of an adventitious and conventional
character: still pride is not the less pride for all that, so long
as it be present in real earnest. And since pride is thus rooted in
conviction, it resembles every other form of knowledge in not being
within our own arbitrament. Pride’s worst foe,—I mean
its greatest obstacle,—is vanity, which courts the applause
of the world in order to gain the necessary foundation for a high
opinion of one’s own worth, whilst pride is based upon a
pre-existing conviction of it.

It is quite true that pride is something which is generally
found fault with, and cried down; but usually, I imagine, by those
who have nothing upon which they can pride themselves. In view of
the impudence and foolhardiness of most people, anyone who
possesses any kind of superiority or merit will do well to keep his
eyes fixed on it, if he does not want it to be entirely forgotten;
for if a man is good-natured enough to ignore his own privileges,
and hob-nob with the generality of other people, as if he were
quite on their level, they will be sure to treat him, frankly and
candidly, as one of themselves. This is a piece of advice I would
specially offer to those whose superiority is of the highest
kind—real superiority, I mean, of a purely personal
nature—which cannot, like orders and titles, appeal to the
eye or ear at every moment; as, otherwise, they will find that
familiarity breeds contempt, or, as the Romans used to say, sus
Minervam. Joke with a slave, and he’ll soon show his
, is an excellent Arabian proverb; nor ought we to
despise what Horace says,

Sume superbiam

Quaesitam meritis

—usurp the fame you have deserved. No doubt, when modesty
was made a virtue, it was a very advantageous thing for the fools;
for everybody is expected to speak of himself as if he were one.
This is leveling down indeed; for it comes to look as if there were
nothing but fools in the world.

The cheapest sort of pride is national pride; for if a man is
proud of his own nation, it argues that he has no qualities of his
own of which he can be proud; otherwise he would not have recourse
to those which he shares with so many millions of his fellowmen.
The man who is endowed with important personal qualities will be
only too ready to see clearly in what respects his own nation falls
short, since their failings will be constantly before his eyes. But
every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be
proud adopts, as a last resource, pride in the nation to which he
belongs; he is ready and glad to defend all its faults and follies
tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.
For example, if you speak of the stupid and degrading bigotry of
the English nation with the contempt it deserves, you will hardly
find one Englishman in fifty to agree with you; but if there should
be one, he will generally happen to be an intelligent man.

The Germans have no national pride, which shows how honest they
are, as everybody knows! and how dishonest are those who, by a
piece of ridiculous affectation, pretend that they are proud of
their country—the Deutsche Bruder and the demagogues
who flatter the mob in order to mislead it. I have heard it said
that gunpowder was invented by a German. I doubt it. Lichtenberg
asks, Why is it that a man who is not a German does not care
about pretending that he is one; and that if he makes any pretence
at all, it is to be a Frenchman or an Englishman

38 Translator’s
.—It should be remembered that these remarks were
written in the earlier part of the present century, and that a
German philosopher now-a-days, even though he were as apt to say
bitter things as Schopenhauer, could hardly write in a similar

However that may be, individuality is a far more important thing
than nationality, and in any given man deserves a thousand-fold
more consideration. And since you cannot speak of national
character without referring to large masses of people, it is
impossible to be loud in your praises and at the same time honest.
National character is only another name for the particular form
which the littleness, perversity and baseness of mankind take in
every country. If we become disgusted with one, we praise another,
until we get disgusted with this too. Every nation mocks at other
nations, and all are right.

The contents of this chapter, which treats, as I have said, of
what we represent in the world, or what we are in the eyes of
others, may be further distributed under three heads: honor rank
and fame.

Section 3.—Rank.

Let us take rank first, as it may be dismissed in a few words,
although it plays an important part in the eyes of the masses and
of the philistines, and is a most useful wheel in the machinery of
the State.

It has a purely conventional value. Strictly speaking, it is a
sham; its method is to exact an artificial respect, and, as a
matter of fact, the whole thing is a mere farce.

Orders, it may be said, are bills of exchange drawn on public
opinion, and the measure of their value is the credit of the
drawer. Of course, as a substitute for pensions, they save the
State a good deal of money; and, besides, they serve a very useful
purpose, if they are distributed with discrimination and judgment.
For people in general have eyes and ears, it is true; but not much
else, very little judgment indeed, or even memory. There are many
services of the State quite beyond the range of their
understanding; others, again, are appreciated and made much of for
a time, and then soon forgotten. It seems to me, therefore, very
proper, that a cross or a star should proclaim to the mass of
people always and everywhere, This man is not like you; he has
done something
. But orders lose their value when they are
distributed unjustly, or without due selection, or in too great
numbers: a prince should be as careful in conferring them as a man
of business is in signing a bill. It is a pleonasm to inscribe on
any order for distinguished service; for every order ought
to be for distinguished service. That stands to reason.

Section 4.—Honor.

Honor is a much larger question than rank, and more difficult to
discuss. Let us begin by trying to define it.

If I were to say Honor is external conscience, and
conscience is inward honor
, no doubt a good many people would
assent; but there would be more show than reality about such a
definition, and it would hardly go to the root of the matter. I
prefer to say, Honor is, on its objective side, other
people’s opinion of what we are worth; on its subjective
side, it is the respect we pay to this opinion
. From the
latter point of view, to be a man of honor is to exercise
what is often a very wholesome, but by no means a purely moral,

The feelings of honor and shame exist in every man who is not
utterly depraved, and honor is everywhere recognized as something
particularly valuable. The reason of this is as follows. By and in
himself a man can accomplish very little; he is like Robinson
Crusoe on a desert island. It is only in society that a man’s
powers can be called into full activity. He very soon finds this
out when his consciousness begins to develop, and there arises in
him the desire to be looked upon as a useful member of society, as
one, that is, who is capable of playing his part as a
man—pro parte virili—thereby acquiring a right
to the benefits of social life. Now, to be a useful member of
society, one must do two things: firstly, what everyone is expected
to do everywhere; and, secondly, what one’s own particular
position in the world demands and requires.

But a man soon discovers that everything depends upon his being
useful, not in his own opinion, but in the opinion of others; and
so he tries his best to make that favorable impression upon the
world, to which he attaches such a high value. Hence, this
primitive and innate characteristic of human nature, which is
called the feeling of honor, or, under another aspect, the feeling
of shame—verecundia. It is this which brings a blush
to his cheeks at the thought of having suddenly to fall in the
estimation of others, even when he knows that he is innocent, nay,
even if his remissness extends to no absolute obligation, but only
to one which he has taken upon himself of his own free will.
Conversely, nothing in life gives a man so much courage as the
attainment or renewal of the conviction that other people regard
him with favor; because it means that everyone joins to give him
help and protection, which is an infinitely stronger bulwark
against the ills of life than anything he can do himself.

The variety of relations in which a man can stand to other
people so as to obtain their confidence, that is, their good
opinion, gives rise to a distinction between several kinds of
honor, resting chiefly on the different bearings that meum
may take to tuum; or, again, on the performance of various
pledges; or finally, on the relation of the sexes. Hence, there are
three main kinds of honor, each of which takes various
forms—civic honor, official honor, and sexual honor.

Civic honor has the widest sphere of all. It consists
in the assumption that we shall pay unconditional respect to the
rights of others, and, therefore, never use any unjust or unlawful
means of getting what we want. It is the condition of all peaceable
intercourse between man and man; and it is destroyed by anything
that openly and manifestly militates against this peaceable
intercourse, anything, accordingly, which entails punishment at the
hands of the law, always supposing that the punishment is a just

The ultimate foundation of honor is the conviction that moral
character is unalterable: a single bad action implies that future
actions of the same kind will, under similar circumstances, also be
bad. This is well expressed by the English use of the word

character as meaning credit, reputation, honor. Hence
honor, once lost, can never be recovered; unless the loss rested on
some mistake, such as may occur if a man is slandered or his
actions viewed in a false light. So the law provides remedies
against slander, libel, and even insult; for insult though it
amounts to no more than mere abuse, is a kind of summary slander
with a suppression of the reasons. What I mean may be well put in
the Greek phrase—not quoted from any author—[Greek:
estin hae loidoria diabolae]. It is true that if a man abuses
another, he is simply showing that he has no real or true causes of
complaint against him; as, otherwise, he would bring these forward
as the premises, and rely upon his hearers to draw the conclusion
themselves: instead of which, he gives the conclusion and leaves
out the premises, trusting that people will suppose that he has
done so only for the sake of being brief.

Civic honor draws its existence and name from the middle
classes; but it applies equally to all, not excepting the highest.
No man can disregard it, and it is a very serious thing, of which
every one should be careful not to make light. The man who breaks
confidence has for ever forfeited confidence, whatever he may do,
and whoever he may be; and the bitter consequences of the loss of
confidence can never be averted.

There is a sense in which honor may be said to have a
negative character in opposition to the positive
character of fame. For honor is not the opinion people have of
particular qualities which a man may happen to possess exclusively:
it is rather the opinion they have of the qualities which a man may
be expected to exhibit, and to which he should not prove false.
Honor, therefore, means that a man is not exceptional; fame, that
he is. Fame is something which must be won; honor, only something
which must not be lost. The absence of fame is obscurity, which is
only a negative; but loss of honor is shame, which is a positive
quality. This negative character of honor must not be confused with
anything passive; for honor is above all things active in
its working. It is the only quality which proceeds

directly from the man who exhibits it; it is concerned
entirely with what he does and leaves undone, and has nothing to do
with the actions of others or the obstacles they place in his way.
It is something entirely in our own power—[Greek: ton
ephaemon]. This distinction, as we shall see presently, marks off
true honor from the sham honor of chivalry.

Slander is the only weapon by which honor can be attacked from
without; and the only way to repel the attack is to confute the
slander with the proper amount of publicity, and a due unmasking of
him who utters it.

The reason why respect is paid to age is that old people have
necessarily shown in the course of their lives whether or not they
have been able to maintain their honor unblemished; while that of
young people has not been put to the proof, though they are
credited with the possession of it. For neither length of
years,—equalled, as it is, and even excelled, in the case of
the lower animals,—nor, again, experience, which is only a
closer knowledge of the world’s ways, can be any sufficient
reason for the respect which the young are everywhere required to
show towards the old: for if it were merely a matter of years, the
weakness which attends on age would call rather for consideration
than for respect. It is, however, a remarkable fact that white hair
always commands reverence—a reverence really innate and
instinctive. Wrinkles—a much surer sign of old
age—command no reverence at all; you never hear any one speak
of venerable wrinkles; but venerable white hair

is a common expression.

Honor has only an indirect value. For, as I explained at the
beginning of this chapter, what other people think of us, if it
affects us at all, can affect us only in so far as it governs their
behavior towards us, and only just so long as we live with, or have
to do with, them. But it is to society alone that we owe that
safety which we and our possessions enjoy in a state of
civilization; in all we do we need the help of others, and they, in
their turn, must have confidence in us before they can have
anything to do with us. Accordingly, their opinion of us is,
indirectly, a matter of great importance; though I cannot see how
it can have a direct or immediate value. This is an opinion also
held by Cicero. I quite agree, he writes, with what
Chrysippus and Diogenes used to say, that a good reputation is not
worth raising a finger to obtain, if it were not that it is so
.39 This truth has been
insisted upon at great length by Helvetius in his chief work De
,40 the
conclusion of which is that we love esteem not for its own
sake, but solely for the advantages which it brings
. And as
the means can never be more than the end, that saying, of which so
much is made, Honor is dearer than life itself, is, as I
have remarked, a very exaggerated statement. So much then, for
civic honor.

39 De finilus iii.,

40 Disc: iii.

Official honor is the general opinion of other people
that a man who fills any office really has the necessary qualities
for the proper discharge of all the duties which appertain to it.
The greater and more important the duties a man has to discharge in
the State, and the higher and more influential the office which he
fills, the stronger must be the opinion which people have of the
moral and intellectual qualities which render him fit for his post.
Therefore, the higher his position, the greater must be the degree
of honor paid to him, expressed, as it is, in titles, orders and
the generally subservient behavior of others towards him. As a
rule, a man’s official rank implies the particular degree of
honor which ought to be paid to him, however much this degree may
be modified by the capacity of the masses to form any notion of its
importance. Still, as a matter of fact, greater honor is paid to a
man who fulfills special duties than to the common citizen, whose
honor mainly consists in keeping clear of dishonor.

Official honor demands, further, that the man who occupies an
office must maintain respect for it, for the sake both of his
colleagues and of those who will come after him. This respect an
official can maintain by a proper observance of his duties, and by
repelling any attack that may be made upon the office itself or
upon its occupant: he must not, for instance, pass over unheeded
any statement to the effect that the duties of the office are not
properly discharged, or that the office itself does not conduce to
the public welfare. He must prove the unwarrantable nature of such
attacks by enforcing the legal penalty for them.

Subordinate to the honor of official personages comes that of
those who serve the State in any other capacity, as doctors,
lawyers, teachers, anyone, in short, who, by graduating in any
subject, or by any other public declaration that he is qualified to
exercise some special skill, claims to practice it; in a word, the
honor of all those who take any public pledges whatever. Under this
head comes military honor, in the true sense of the word, the
opinion that people who have bound themselves to defend their
country really possess the requisite qualities which will enable
them to do so, especially courage, personal bravery and strength,
and that they are perfectly ready to defend their country to the
death, and never and under any circumstances desert the flag to
which they have once sworn allegiance. I have here taken official
honor in a wider sense than that in which it is generally used,
namely, the respect due by citizens to an office itself.

In treating of sexual honor and the principles on which
it rests, a little more attention and analysis are necessary; and
what I shall say will support my contention that all honor really
rests upon a utilitarian basis. There are two natural divisions of
the subject—the honor of women and the honor of men, in
either side issuing in a well-understood esprit de corps.
The former is by far the more important of the two, because the
most essential feature in woman’s life is her relation to

Female honor is the general opinion in regard to a girl that she
is pure, and in regard to a wife that she is faithful. The
importance of this opinion rests upon the following considerations.
Women depend upon men in all the relations of life; men upon women,
it might be said, in one only. So an arrangement is made for mutual
interdependence—man undertaking responsibility for all
woman’s needs and also for the children that spring from
their union—an arrangement on which is based the welfare of
the whole female race. To carry out this plan, women have to band
together with a show of esprit de corps, and present one
undivided front to their common enemy, man,—who possesses all
the good things of the earth, in virtue of his superior physical
and intellectual power,—in order to lay siege to and conquer
him, and so get possession of him and a share of those good things.
To this end the honor of all women depends upon the enforcement of
the rule that no woman should give herself to a man except in
marriage, in order that every man may be forced, as it were, to
surrender and ally himself with a woman; by this arrangement
provision is made for the whole of the female race. This is a
result, however, which can be obtained only by a strict observance
of the rule; and, accordingly, women everywhere show true

esprit de corps in carefully insisting upon its
maintenance. Any girl who commits a breach of the rule betrays the
whole female race, because its welfare would be destroyed if every
woman were to do likewise; so she is cast out with shame as one who
has lost her honor. No woman will have anything more to do with
her; she is avoided like the plague. The same doom is awarded to a
woman who breaks the marriage tie; for in so doing she is false to
the terms upon which the man capitulated; and as her conduct is
such as to frighten other men from making a similar surrender, it
imperils the welfare of all her sisters. Nay, more; this deception
and coarse breach of troth is a crime punishable by the loss, not
only of personal, but also of civic honor. This is why we minimize
the shame of a girl, but not of a wife; because, in the former
case, marriage can restore honor, while in the latter, no atonement
can be made for the breach of contract.

Once this esprit de corps is acknowledged to be the
foundation of female honor, and is seen to be a wholesome, nay, a
necessary arrangement, as at bottom a matter of prudence and
interest, its extreme importance for the welfare of women will be
recognized. But it does not possess anything more than a relative
value. It is no absolute end, lying beyond all other aims of
existence and valued above life itself. In this view, there will be
nothing to applaud in the forced and extravagant conduct of a
Lucretia or a Virginius—conduct which can easily degenerate
into tragic farce, and produce a terrible feeling of revulsion. The
conclusion of Emilia Galotti, for instance, makes one
leave the theatre completely ill at ease; and, on the other hand,
all the rules of female honor cannot prevent a certain sympathy
with Clara in Egmont. To carry this principle of female
honor too far is to forget the end in thinking of the
means—and this is just what people often do; for such
exaggeration suggests that the value of sexual honor is absolute;
while the truth is that it is more relative than any other kind.
One might go so far as to say that its value is purely
conventional, when one sees from Thomasius how in all ages and
countries, up to the time of the Reformation, irregularities were
permitted and recognized by law, with no derogation to female
honor,—not to speak of the temple of Mylitta at

41 Heroditus, i. 199.]

There are also of course certain circumstances in civil life
which make external forms of marriage impossible, especially in
Catholic countries, where there is no such thing as divorce. Ruling
princes everywhere, would, in my opinion, do much better, from a
moral point of view, to dispense with forms altogether rather than
contract a morganatic marriage, the descendants of which might
raise claims to the throne if the legitimate stock happened to die
out; so that there is a possibility, though, perhaps, a remote one,
that a morganatic marriage might produce a civil war. And, besides,
such a marriage, concluded in defiance of all outward ceremony, is
a concession made to women and priests—two classes of persons
to whom one should be most careful to give as little tether as
possible. It is further to be remarked that every man in a country
can marry the woman of his choice, except one poor individual,
namely, the prince. His hand belongs to his country, and can be
given in marriage only for reasons of State, that is, for the good
of the country. Still, for all that, he is a man; and, as a man, he
likes to follow whither his heart leads. It is an unjust,
ungrateful and priggish thing to forbid, or to desire to forbid, a
prince from following his inclinations in this matter; of course,
as long as the lady has no influence upon the Government of the
country. From her point of view she occupies an exceptional
position, and does not come under the ordinary rules of sexual
honor; for she has merely given herself to a man who loves her, and
whom she loves but cannot marry. And in general, the fact that the
principle of female honor has no origin in nature, is shown by the
many bloody sacrifices which have been offered to it,—the
murder of children and the mother’s suicide. No doubt a girl
who contravenes the code commits a breach of faith against her
whole sex; but this faith is one which is only secretly taken for
granted, and not sworn to. And since, in most cases, her own
prospects suffer most immediately, her folly is infinitely greater
than her crime.

The corresponding virtue in men is a product of the one I have
been discussing. It is their esprit de corps, which
demands that, once a man has made that surrender of himself in
marriage which is so advantageous to his conqueror, he shall take
care that the terms of the treaty are maintained; both in order
that the agreement itself may lose none of its force by the
permission of any laxity in its observance, and that men, having
given up everything, may, at least, be assured of their bargain,
namely, exclusive possession. Accordingly, it is part of a
man’s honor to resent a breach of the marriage tie on the
part of his wife, and to punish it, at the very least by separating
from her. If he condones the offence, his fellowmen cry shame upon
him; but the shame in this case is not nearly so foul as that of
the woman who has lost her honor; the stain is by no means of so
deep a dye—levioris notae macula;—because a
man’s relation to woman is subordinate to many other and more
important affairs in his life. The two great dramatic poets of
modern times have each taken man’s honor as the theme of two
plays; Shakespeare in Othello and The Winter’s
, and Calderon in El medico de su honra, (The
Physician of his Honor), and A secreto agravio secreta
, (for Secret Insult Secret Vengeance). It should be
said, however, that honor demands the punishment of the wife only;
to punish her paramour too, is a work of supererogation. This
confirms the view I have taken, that a man’s honor originates
in esprit de corps.

The kind of honor which I have been discussing hitherto has
always existed in its various forms and principles amongst all
nations and at all times; although the history of female honor
shows that its principles have undergone certain local
modifications at different periods. But there is another species of
honor which differs from this entirely, a species of honor of which
the Greeks and Romans had no conception, and up to this day it is
perfectly unknown amongst Chinese, Hindoos or Mohammedans. It is a
kind of honor which arose only in the Middle Age, and is indigenous
only to Christian Europe, nay, only to an extremely small portion
of the population, that is to say, the higher classes of society
and those who ape them. It is knightly honor, or point
. Its principles are quite different from those
which underlie the kind of honor I have been treating until now,
and in some respects are even opposed to them. The sort I am
referring to produces the cavalier; while the other kind
creates the man of honor. As this is so, I shall proceed
to give an explanation of its principles, as a kind of code or
mirror of knightly courtesy.

(1.) To begin with, honor of this sort consists, not in other
people’s opinion of what we are worth, but wholly and
entirely in whether they express it or not, no matter whether they
really have any opinion at all, let alone whether they know of
reasons for having one. Other people may entertain the worst
opinion of us in consequence of what we do, and may despise us as
much as they like; so long as no one dares to give expression to
his opinion, our honor remains untarnished. So if our actions and
qualities compel the highest respect from other people, and they
have no option but to give this respect,—as soon as anyone,
no matter how wicked or foolish he may be, utters something
depreciatory of us, our honor is offended, nay, gone for ever,
unless we can manage to restore it. A superfluous proof of what I
say, namely, that knightly honor depends, not upon what people
think, but upon what they say, is furnished by the fact that
insults can be withdrawn, or, if necessary, form the subject of an
apology, which makes them as though they had never been uttered.
Whether the opinion which underlays the expression has also been
rectified, and why the expression should ever have been used, are
questions which are perfectly unimportant: so long as the statement
is withdrawn, all is well. The truth is that conduct of this kind
aims, not at earning respect, but at extorting it.

(2.) In the second place, this sort of honor rests, not on what
a man does, but on what he suffers, the obstacles he encounters;
differing from the honor which prevails in all else, in consisting,
not in what he says or does himself, but in what another man says
or does. His honor is thus at the mercy of every man who can talk
it away on the tip of his tongue; and if he attacks it, in a moment
it is gone for ever,—unless the man who is attacked manages
to wrest it back again by a process which I shall mention
presently, a process which involves danger to his life, health,
freedom, property and peace of mind. A man’s whole conduct
may be in accordance with the most righteous and noble principles,
his spirit may be the purest that ever breathed, his intellect of
the very highest order; and yet his honor may disappear the moment
that anyone is pleased to insult him, anyone at all who has not
offended against this code of honor himself, let him be the most
worthless rascal or the most stupid beast, an idler, gambler,
debtor, a man, in short, of no account at all. It is usually this
sort of fellow who likes to insult people; for, as Seneca"#note42">42 rightly remarks, ut quisque
contemtissimus et ludibrio est, ita solutissimae est
, the more
contemptible and ridiculous a man is,—the readier he is with
his tongue. His insults are most likely to be directed against the
very kind of man I have described, because people of different
tastes can never be friends, and the sight of pre-eminent merit is
apt to raise the secret ire of a ne’er-do-well. What Goethe
says in the Westöstlicher Divan is quite true, that it is
useless to complain against your enemies; for they can never become
your friends, if your whole being is a standing reproach to

Was klagst du über Feinde?

Sollten Solche je warden Freunde

Denen das Wesen, wie du bist,

Im stillen ein ewiger Vorwurf ist

42 De Constantia,

It is obvious that people of this worthless description have
good cause to be thankful to the principle of honor, because it
puts them on a level with people who in every other respect stand
far above them. If a fellow likes to insult any one, attribute to
him, for example, some bad quality, this is taken prima
as a well-founded opinion, true in fact; a decree, as it
were, with all the force of law; nay, if it is not at once wiped
out in blood, it is a judgment which holds good and valid to all
time. In other words, the man who is insulted remains—in the
eyes of all honorable people—what the man who
uttered the insult—even though he were the greatest wretch on
earth—was pleased to call him; for he has put up
the insult—the technical term, I believe.
Accordingly, all honorable people will have nothing more
to do with him, and treat him like a leper, and, it may be, refuse
to go into any company where he may be found, and so on.

This wise proceeding may, I think, be traced back to the fact
that in the Middle Age, up to the fifteenth century, it was not the
accuser in any criminal process who had to prove the guilt of the
accused, but the accused who had to prove his innocence."#note43">43 This he could do by swearing he was not
guilty; and his backers—consacramentales—had
to come and swear that in their opinion he was incapable of
perjury. If he could find no one to help him in this way, or the
accuser took objection to his backers, recourse was had to trial by
the Judgment of God, which generally meant a duel. For the
accused was now in disgrace,"#note44">44 and had to clear himself. Here, then,
is the origin of the notion of disgrace, and of that whole system
which prevails now-a-days amongst honorable
—only that the oath is omitted. This is also the
explanation of that deep feeling of indignation which honorable
are called upon to show if they are given the lie; it
is a reproach which they say must be wiped out in blood. It seldom
comes to this pass, however, though lies are of common occurrence;
but in England, more than elsewhere, it is a superstition which has
taken very deep root. As a matter of order, a man who threatens to
kill another for telling a lie should never have told one himself.
The fact is, that the criminal trial of the Middle Age also
admitted of a shorter form. In reply to the charge, the accused
answered: That is a lie; whereupon it was left to be
decided by the Judgment of God. Hence, the code of
knightly honor prescribes that, when the lie is given, an appeal to
arms follows as a matter of course. So much, then, for the theory
of insult.

43 See C.G. von
Waehter’s Beiträge zur deutschen Geschichte,
especially the chapter on criminal law.]

44 Translator’s
.—It is true that this expression has another
special meaning in the technical terminology of Chivalry, but it is
the nearest English equivalent which I can find for the
German—ein Bescholtener]

But there is something even worse than insult, something so
dreadful that I must beg pardon of all honorable people

for so much as mentioning it in this code of knightly honor; for I
know they will shiver, and their hair will stand on end, at the
very thought of it—the summum malum, the greatest
evil on earth, worse than death and damnation. A man may give
another—horrible dictu!—a slap or a blow. This
is such an awful thing, and so utterly fatal to all honor, that,
while any other species of insult may be healed by blood-letting,
this can be cured only by the coup-de-grace.

(3.) In the third place, this kind of honor has absolutely
nothing to do with what a man may be in and for himself; or, again,
with the question whether his moral character can ever become
better or worse, and all such pedantic inquiries. If your honor
happens to be attacked, or to all appearances gone, it can very
soon be restored in its entirety if you are only quick enough in
having recourse to the one universal remedy—a duel.
But if the aggressor does not belong to the classes which recognize
the code of knightly honor, or has himself once offended against
it, there is a safer way of meeting any attack upon your honor,
whether it consists in blows, or merely in words. If you are armed,
you can strike down your opponent on the spot, or perhaps an hour
later. This will restore your honor.

But if you wish to avoid such an extreme step, from fear of any
unpleasant consequences arising therefrom, or from uncertainty as
to whether the aggressor is subject to the laws of knightly honor
or not, there is another means of making your position good,
namely, the Avantage. This consists in returning rudeness
with still greater rudeness; and if insults are no use, you can try
a blow, which forms a sort of climax in the redemption of your
honor; for instance, a box on the ear may be cured by a blow with a
stick, and a blow with a stick by a thrashing with a horsewhip;
and, as the approved remedy for this last, some people recommend
you to spit at your opponent.45 If
all these means are of no avail, you must not shrink from drawing
blood. And the reason for these methods of wiping out insult is, in
this code, as follows:

45 Translator’s
. It must be remembered that Schopenhauer is here
describing, or perhaps caricaturing the manners and customs of the
German aristocracy of half a century ago. Now, of course, nous
avons change tout cela

(4.) To receive an insult is disgraceful; to give one,
honorable. Let me take an example. My opponent has truth, right and
reason on his side. Very well. I insult him. Thereupon right and
honor leave him and come to me, and, for the time being, he has
lost them—until he gets them back, not by the exercise of
right or reason, but by shooting and sticking me. Accordingly,
rudeness is a quality which, in point of honor, is a substitute for
any other and outweighs them all. The rudest is always right. What
more do you want? However stupid, bad or wicked a man may have
been, if he is only rude into the bargain, he condones and
legitimizes all his faults. If in any discussion or conversation,
another man shows more knowledge, greater love of truth, a sounder
judgment, better understanding than we, or generally exhibits
intellectual qualities which cast ours into the shade, we can at
once annul his superiority and our own shallowness, and in our turn
be superior to him, by being insulting and offensive. For rudeness
is better than any argument; it totally eclipses intellect. If our
opponent does not care for our mode of attack, and will not answer
still more rudely, so as to plunge us into the ignoble rivalry of
the Avantage, we are the victors and honor is on our side.
Truth, knowledge, understanding, intellect, wit, must beat a
retreat and leave the field to this almighty insolence.

Honorable people immediately make a show of mounting
their war-horse, if anyone utters an opinion adverse to theirs, or
shows more intelligence than they can muster; and if in any
controversy they are at a loss for a reply, they look about for
some weapon of rudeness, which will serve as well and come readier
to hand; so they retire masters of the position. It must now be
obvious that people are quite right in applauding this principle of
honor as having ennobled the tone of society. This principle
springs from another, which forms the heart and soul of the entire

(5.) Fifthly, the code implies that the highest court to which a
man can appeal in any differences he may have with another on a
point of honor is the court of physical force, that is, of
brutality. Every piece of rudeness is, strictly speaking, an appeal
to brutality; for it is a declaration that intellectual strength
and moral insight are incompetent to decide, and that the battle
must be fought out by physical force—a struggle which, in the
case of man, whom Franklin defines as a tool-making
, is decided by the weapons peculiar to the species; and
the decision is irrevocable. This is the well-known principle of
right of might—irony, of course, like the wit of
a fool
, a parallel phrase. The honor of a knight may be called
the glory of might.

(6.) Lastly, if, as we saw above, civic honor is very scrupulous
in the matter of meum and tuum, paying great
respect to obligations and a promise once made, the code we are
here discussing displays, on the other hand, the noblest
liberality. There is only one word which may not be broken, the
word of honor
—upon my honor, as people
say—the presumption being, of course, that every other form
of promise may be broken. Nay, if the worst comes to the worst, it
is easy to break even one’s word of honor, and still remain
honorable—again by adopting that universal remedy, the duel,
and fighting with those who maintain that we pledged our word.
Further, there is one debt, and one alone, that under no
circumstances must be left unpaid—a gambling debt, which has
accordingly been called a debt of honor. In all other
kinds of debt you may cheat Jews and Christians as much as you
like; and your knightly honor remains without a stain.

The unprejudiced reader will see at once that such a strange,
savage and ridiculous code of honor as this has no foundation in
human nature, nor any warrant in a healthy view of human affairs.
The extremely narrow sphere of its operation serves only to
intensify the feeling, which is exclusively confined to Europe
since the Middle Age, and then only to the upper classes, officers
and soldiers, and people who imitate them. Neither Greeks nor
Romans knew anything of this code of honor or of its principles;
nor the highly civilized nations of Asia, ancient or modern.
Amongst them no other kind of honor is recognized but that which I
discussed first, in virtue of which a man is what he shows himself
to be by his actions, not what any wagging tongue is pleased to say
of him. They thought that what a man said or did might perhaps
affect his own honor, but not any other man’s. To them, a
blow was but a blow—and any horse or donkey could give a
harder one—a blow which under certain circumstances might
make a man angry and demand immediate vengeance; but it had nothing
to do with honor. No one kept account of blows or insulting words,
or of the satisfaction which was demanded or omitted to be
demanded. Yet in personal bravery and contempt of death, the
ancients were certainly not inferior to the nations of Christian
Europe. The Greeks and Romans were thorough heroes, if you like;
but they knew nothing about point d’honneur. If
they had any idea of a duel, it was totally unconnected
with the life of the nobles; it was merely the exhibition of
mercenary gladiators, slaves devoted to slaughter, condemned
criminals, who, alternately with wild beasts, were set to butcher
one another to make a Roman holiday. When Christianity was
introduced, gladiatorial shows were done away with, and their place
taken, in Christian times, by the duel, which was a way of settling
difficulties by the Judgment of God.

If the gladiatorial fight was a cruel sacrifice to the
prevailing desire for great spectacles, dueling is a cruel
sacrifice to existing prejudices—a sacrifice, not of
criminals, slaves and prisoners, but of the noble and the

46 Translator’s
. These and other remarks on dueling will no doubt wear a
belated look to English readers; but they are hardly yet antiquated
for most parts of the Continent.]

There are a great many traits in the character of the ancients
which show that they were entirely free from these prejudices.
When, for instance, Marius was summoned to a duel by a Teutonic
chief, he returned answer to the effect that, if the chief were
tired of his life, he might go and hang himself; at the same time
he offered him a veteran gladiator for a round or two. Plutarch
relates in his life of Themistocles that Eurybiades, who was in
command of the fleet, once raised his stick to strike him;
whereupon Themistocles, instead of drawing his sword, simply said:
Strike, but hear me. How sorry the reader must be, if he
is an honorable man, to find that we have no information
that the Athenian officers refused in a body to serve any longer
under Themistocles, if he acted like that! There is a modern French
writer who declares that if anyone considers Demosthenes a man of
honor, his ignorance will excite a smile of pity; and that Cicero
was not a man of honor either!47
In a certain passage in Plato’s Laws"#note48">48 the philosopher speaks at length of
[Greek: aikia] or assault, showing us clearly enough that
the ancients had no notion of any feeling of honor in connection
with such matters. Socrates’ frequent discussions were often
followed by his being severely handled, and he bore it all mildly.
Once, for instance, when somebody kicked him, the patience with
which he took the insult surprised one of his friends. Do you
, said Socrates, that if an ass happened to kick me,
I should resent it
?49 On
another occasion, when he was asked, Has not that fellow abused
and insulted you? No
, was his answer, what he says is not
addressed to me
50 Stobaeus
has preserved a long passage from Musonius, from which we can see
how the ancients treated insults. They knew no other form of
satisfaction than that which the law provided, and wise people
despised even this. If a Greek received a box on the ear, he could
get satisfaction by the aid of the law; as is evident from
Plato’s Gorgias, where Socrates’ opinion may
be found. The same thing may be seen in the account given by
Gellius of one Lucius Veratius, who had the audacity to give some
Roman citizens whom he met on the road a box on the ear, without
any provocation whatever; but to avoid any ulterior consequences,
he told a slave to bring a bag of small money, and on the spot paid
the trivial legal penalty to the men whom he had astonished by his

47litteraires: par
C. Durand. Rouen, 1828.]

48 Bk. IX.].

49 Diogenes Laertius, ii.,

50 Ibid 36.]

Crates, the celebrated Cynic philosopher, got such a box on the
ear from Nicodromus, the musician, that his face swelled up and
became black and blue; whereupon he put a label on his forehead,
with the inscription, Nicodromus fecit, which brought much
disgrace to the fluteplayer who had committed such a piece of
brutality upon the man whom all Athens honored as a household
god.51 And in a letter to
Melesippus, Diogenes of Sinope tells us that he got a beating from
the drunken sons of the Athenians; but he adds that it was a matter
of no importance.52 And Seneca
devotes the last few chapters of his De Constantia to a
lengthy discussion on insult—contumelia; in order to
show that a wise man will take no notice of it. In Chapter XIV, he
says, What shall a wise man do, if he is given a blow? What
Cato did, when some one struck him on the mouth;—not fire up
or avenge the insult, or even return the blow, but simply ignore

51 Diogenes Laertius, vi.
87, and Apul: Flor: p. 126.]

52 Cf. Casaubon’s
Note, Diog. Laert., vi. 33.]

Yes, you say, but these men were
.—And you are fools, eh? Precisely.

It is clear that the whole code of knightly honor was utterly
unknown to the ancients; for the simple reason that they always
took a natural and unprejudiced view of human affairs, and did not
allow themselves to be influenced by any such vicious and
abominable folly. A blow in the face was to them a blow and nothing
more, a trivial physical injury; whereas the moderns make a
catastrophe out of it, a theme for a tragedy; as, for instance, in
the Cid of Corneille, or in a recent German comedy of
middle-class life, called The Power of Circumstance, which
should have been entitled The Power of Prejudice. If a
member of the National Assembly at Paris got a blow on the ear, it
would resound from one end of Europe to the other. The examples
which I have given of the way in which such an occurrence would
have been treated in classic times may not suit the ideas of

honorable people; so let me recommend to their notice, as
a kind of antidote, the story of Monsieur Desglands in
Diderot’s masterpiece, Jacques le fataliste. It is
an excellent specimen of modern knightly honor, which, no doubt,
they will find enjoyable and edifying."#note53">53

53 Translator’s
. The story to which Schopenhauer here refers is briefly
as follows: Two gentlemen, one of whom was named Desglands, were
paying court to the same lady. As they sat at table side by side,
with the lady opposite, Desglands did his best to charm her with
his conversation; but she pretended not to hear him, and kept
looking at his rival. In the agony of jealousy, Desglands, as he
was holding a fresh egg in his hand, involuntarily crushed it; the
shell broke, and its contents bespattered his rival’s face.
Seeing him raise his hand, Desglands seized it and whispered:
Sir, I take it as given. The next day Desglands appeared
with a large piece of black sticking-plaster upon his right cheek.
In the duel which followed, Desglands severely wounded his rival;
upon which he reduced the size of the plaster. When his rival
recovered, they had another duel; Desglands drew blood again, and
again made his plaster a little smaller; and so on for five or six
times. After every duel Desglands’ plaster grew less and
less, until at last his rival.]

From what I have said it must be quite evident that the
principle of knightly honor has no essential and spontaneous origin
in human nature. It is an artificial product, and its source is not
hard to find. Its existence obviously dates from the time when
people used their fists more than their heads, when priestcraft had
enchained the human intellect, the much bepraised Middle Age, with
its system of chivalry. That was the time when people let the
Almighty not only care for them but judge for them too; when
difficult cases were decided by an ordeal, a Judgment of
; which, with few exceptions, meant a duel, not only where
nobles were concerned, but in the case of ordinary citizens as
well. There is a neat illustration of this in Shakespeare’s
Henry VI. Every judicial sentence was subject to an appeal to
arms—a court, as it were, of higher instance, namely, the
Judgment of God
: and this really meant that physical strength
and activity, that is, our animal nature, usurped the place of
reason on the judgment seat, deciding in matters of right and
wrong, not by what a man had done, but by the force with which he
was opposed, the same system, in fact, as prevails to-day under the
principles of knightly honor. If any one doubts that such is really
the origin of our modern duel, let him read an excellent work by
J.B. Millingen, The History of Dueling. Nay, you may still
find amongst the supporters of the system,—who, by the way
are not usually the most educated or thoughtful of men,—some
who look upon the result of a duel as really constituting a divine
judgment in the matter in dispute; no doubt in consequence of the
traditional feeling on the subject.

But leaving aside the question of origin, it must now be clear
to us that the main tendency of the principle is to use physical
menace for the purpose of extorting an appearance of respect which
is deemed too difficult or superfluous to acquire in reality; a
proceeding which comes to much the same thing as if you were to
prove the warmth of your room by holding your hand on the
thermometer and so make it rise. In fact, the kernel of the matter
is this: whereas civic honor aims at peaceable intercourse, and
consists in the opinion of other people that we deserve full
, because we pay unconditional respect to their
rights; knightly honor, on the other hand, lays down that we
are to be feared
, as being determined at all costs to maintain
our own.

As not much reliance can be placed upon human integrity, the
principle that it is more essential to arouse fear than to invite
confidence would not, perhaps, be a false one, if we were living in
a state of nature, where every man would have to protect himself
and directly maintain his own rights. But in civilized life, where
the State undertakes the protection of our person and property, the
principle is no longer applicable: it stands, like the castles and
watch-towers of the age when might was right, a useless and forlorn
object, amidst well-tilled fields and frequented roads, or even

Accordingly, the application of knightly honor, which still
recognizes this principle, is confined to those small cases of
personal assault which meet with but slight punishment at the hands
of the law, or even none at all, for de minimis
,—mere trivial wrongs, committed sometimes only in
jest. The consequence of this limited application of the principle
is that it has forced itself into an exaggerated respect for the
value of the person,—a respect utterly alien to the nature,
constitution or destiny of man—which it has elated into a
species of sanctity: and as it considers that the State has imposed
a very insufficient penalty on the commission of such trivial
injuries, it takes upon itself to punish them by attacking the
aggressor in life or limb. The whole thing manifestly rests upon an
excessive degree of arrogant pride, which, completely forgetting
what man really is, claims that he shall be absolutely free from
all attack or even censure. Those who determine to carry out this
principle by main force, and announce, as their rule of action,
whoever insults or strikes me shall die! ought for their
pains to be banished the country."#note54">54

54 Knightly honor is the
child of pride and folly, and it is needy not pride, which
is the heritage of the human race. It is a very remarkable fact
that this extreme form of pride should be found exclusively amongst
the adherents of the religion which teaches the deepest humility.
Still, this pride must not be put down to religion, but, rather, to
the feudal system, which made every nobleman a petty sovereign who
recognized no human judge, and learned to regard his person as
sacred and inviolable, and any attack upon it, or any blow or
insulting word, as an offence punishable with death. The principle
of knightly honor and of the duel were at first confined to the
nobles, and, later on, also to officers in the army, who, enjoying
a kind of off-and-on relationship with the upper classes, though
they were never incorporated with them, were anxious not to be
behind them. It is true that duels were the product of the old
ordeals; but the latter are not the foundation, but rather the
consequence and application of the principle of honor: the man who
recognized no human judge appealed to the divine. Ordeals, however,
are not peculiar to Christendom: they may be found in great force
among the Hindoos, especially of ancient times; and there are
traces of them even now.]

As a palliative to this rash arrogance, people are in the habit
of giving way on everything. If two intrepid persons meet, and
neither will give way, the slightest difference may cause a shower
of abuse, then fisticuffs, and, finally, a fatal blow: so that it
would really be a more decorous proceeding to omit the intermediate
steps and appeal to arms at once. An appeal to arms has its own
special formalities; and these have developed into a rigid and
precise system of laws and regulations, together forming the most
solemn farce there is—a regular temple of honor dedicated to
folly! For if two intrepid persons dispute over some trivial
matter, (more important affairs are dealt with by law), one of
them, the cleverer of the two, will of course yield; and they will
agree to differ. That this is so is proved by the fact that common
people,—or, rather, the numerous classes of the community who
do not acknowledge the principle of knightly honor, let any dispute
run its natural course. Amongst these classes homicide is a
hundredfold rarer than amongst those—and they amount,
perhaps, in all, to hardly one in a thousand,—who pay homage
to the principle: and even blows are of no very frequent

Then it has been said that the manners and tone of good society
are ultimately based upon this principle of honor, which, with its
system of duels, is made out to be a bulwark against the assaults
of savagery and rudeness. But Athens, Corinth and Rome could
assuredly boast of good, nay, excellent society, and manners and
tone of a high order, without any support from the bogey of
knightly honor. It is true that women did not occupy that prominent
place in ancient society which they hold now, when conversation has
taken on a frivolous and trifling character, to the exclusion of
that weighty discourse which distinguished the ancients.

This change has certainly contributed a great deal to bring
about the tendency, which is observable in good society now-a-days,
to prefer personal courage to the possession of any other quality.
The fact is that personal courage is really a very subordinate
virtue,—merely the distinguishing mark of a
subaltern,—a virtue, indeed, in which we are surpassed by the
lower animals; or else you would not hear people say, as brave
as a lion
. Far from being the pillar of society, knightly
honor affords a sure asylum, in general for dishonesty and
wickedness, and also for small incivilities, want of consideration
and unmannerliness. Rude behavior is often passed over in silence
because no one cares to risk his neck in correcting it.

After what I have said, it will not appear strange that the
dueling system is carried to the highest pitch of sanguinary zeal
precisely in that nation whose political and financial records show
that they are not too honorable. What that nation is like in its
private and domestic life, is a question which may be best put to
those who are experienced in the matter. Their urbanity and social
culture have long been conspicuous by their absence.

There is no truth, then, in such pretexts. It can be urged with
more justice that as, when you snarl at a dog, he snarls in return,
and when you pet him, he fawns; so it lies in the nature of men to
return hostility by hostility, and to be embittered and irritated
at any signs of depreciatory treatment or hatred: and, as Cicero
says, there is something so penetrating in the shaft of envy
that even men of wisdom and worth find its wound a painful
; and nowhere in the world, except, perhaps, in a few
religious sects, is an insult or a blow taken with equanimity. And
yet a natural view of either would in no case demand anything more
than a requital proportionate to the offence, and would never go to
the length of assigning death as the proper penalty for
anyone who accuses another of lying or stupidity or cowardice. The
old German theory of blood for a blow is a revolting
superstition of the age of chivalry. And in any case the return or
requital of an insult is dictated by anger, and not by any such
obligation of honor and duty as the advocates of chivalry seek to
attach to it. The fact is that, the greater the truth, the greater
the slander; and it is clear that the slightest hint of some real
delinquency will give much greater offence than a most terrible
accusation which is perfectly baseless: so that a man who is quite
sure that he has done nothing to deserve a reproach may treat it
with contempt, and will be safe in doing so. The theory of honor
demands that he shall show a susceptibility which he does not
possess, and take bloody vengeance for insults which he cannot
feel. A man must himself have but a poor opinion of his own worth
who hastens to prevent the utterance of an unfavorable opinion by
giving his enemy a black eye.

True appreciation of his own value will make a man really
indifferent to insult; but if he cannot help resenting it, a little
shrewdness and culture will enable him to save appearances and
dissemble his anger. If he could only get rid of this superstition
about honor—the idea, I mean, that it disappears when you are
insulted, and can be restored by returning the insult; if we could
only stop people from thinking that wrong, brutality and insolence
can be legalized by expressing readiness to give satisfaction, that
is, to fight in defence of it, we should all soon come to the
general opinion that insult and depreciation are like a battle in
which the loser wins; and that, as Vincenzo Monti says, abuse
resembles a church-procession, because it always returns to the
point from which it set out. If we could only get people to look
upon insult in this light, we should no longer have to say
something rude in order to prove that we are in the right. Now,
unfortunately, if we want to take a serious view of any question,
we have first of all to consider whether it will not give offence
in some way or other to the dullard, who generally shows alarm and
resentment at the merest sign of intelligence; and it may easily
happen that the head which contains the intelligent view has to be
pitted against the noodle which is empty of everything but
narrowness and stupidity. If all this were done away with,
intellectual superiority could take the leading place in society
which is its due—a place now occupied, though people do not
like to confess it, by excellence of physique, mere fighting pluck,
in fact; and the natural effect of such a change would be that the
best kind of people would have one reason the less for withdrawing
from society. This would pave the way for the introduction of real
courtesy and genuinely good society, such as undoubtedly existed in
Athens, Corinth and Rome. If anyone wants to see a good example of
what I mean, I should like him to read Xenophon’s

The last argument in defence of knightly honor no doubt is,
that, but for its existence, the world—awful
thought!—would be a regular bear-garden. To which I may
briefly reply that nine hundred and ninety-nine people out of a
thousand who do not recognize the code, have often given and
received a blow without any fatal consequences: whereas amongst the
adherents of the code a blow usually means death to one of the
parties. But let me examine this argument more closely.

I have often tried to find some tenable, or at any rate,
plausible basis—other than a merely conventional
one—some positive reasons, that is to say, for the rooted
conviction which a portion of mankind entertains, that a blow is a
very dreadful thing; but I have looked for it in vain, either in
the animal or in the rational side of human nature. A blow is, and
always will be, a trivial physical injury which one man can do to
another; proving, thereby, nothing more than his superiority in
strength or skill, or that his enemy was off his guard. Analysis
will carry us no further. The same knight who regards a blow from
the human hand as the greatest of evils, if he gets a ten times
harder blow from his horse, will give you the assurance, as he
limps away in suppressed pain, that it is a matter of no
consequence whatever. So I have come to think that it is the human
hand which is at the bottom of the mischief. And yet in a battle
the knight may get cuts and thrusts from the same hand, and still
assure you that his wounds are not worth mentioning. Now, I hear
that a blow from the flat of a sword is not by any means so bad as
a blow from a stick; and that, a short time ago, cadets were liable
to be punished by the one but not the other, and that the very
greatest honor of all is the accolade. This is all the
psychological or moral basis that I can find; and so there is
nothing left me but to pronounce the whole thing an antiquated
superstition that has taken deep root, and one more of the many
examples which show the force of tradition. My view is confirmed by
the well-known fact that in China a beating with a bamboo is a very
frequent punishment for the common people, and even for officials
of every class; which shows that human nature, even in a highly
civilized state, does not run in the same groove here and in

On the contrary, an unprejudiced view of human nature shows that
it is just as natural for a man to beat as it is for savage animals
to bite and rend in pieces, or for horned beasts to butt or push.
Man may be said to be the animal that beats. Hence it is revolting
to our sense of the fitness of things to hear, as we sometimes do,
that one man bitten another; on the other hand, it is a natural and
everyday occurrence for him to get blows or give them. It is
intelligible enough that, as we become educated, we are glad to
dispense with blows by a system of mutual restraint. But it is a
cruel thing to compel a nation or a single class to regard a blow
as an awful misfortune which must have death and murder for its
consequences. There are too many genuine evils in the world to
allow of our increasing them by imaginary misfortunes, which brings
real ones in their train: and yet this is the precise effect of the
superstition, which thus proves itself at once stupid and

It does not seem to me wise of governments and legislative
bodies to promote any such folly by attempting to do away with
flogging as a punishment in civil or military life. Their idea is
that they are acting in the interests of humanity; but, in point of
fact, they are doing just the opposite; for the abolition of
flogging will serve only to strengthen this inhuman and abominable
superstition, to which so many sacrifices have already been made.
For all offences, except the worst, a beating is the obvious, and
therefore the natural penalty; and a man who will not listen to
reason will yield to blows. It seems to me right and proper to
administer corporal punishment to the man who possesses nothing and
therefore cannot be fined, or cannot be put in prison because his
master’s interests would suffer by the loss of his service.
There are really no arguments against it: only mere talk about
the dignity of man—talk which proceeds, not from any
clear notions on the subject, but from the pernicious superstition
I have been describing. That it is a superstition which lies at the
bottom of the whole business is proved by an almost laughable
example. Not long ago, in the military discipline of many
countries, the cat was replaced by the stick. In either case the
object was to produce physical pain; but the latter method involved
no disgrace, and was not derogatory to honor.

By promoting this superstition, the State is playing into the
hands of the principle of knightly honor, and therefore of the
duel; while at the same time it is trying, or at any rate it
pretends it is trying, to abolish the duel by legislative
enactment. As a natural consequence we find that this fragment of
the theory that might is right, which has come down to us
from the most savage days of the Middle Age, has still in this
nineteenth century a good deal of life left in it—more shame
to us! It is high time for the principle to be driven out bag and
baggage. Now-a-days no one is allowed to set dogs or cocks to fight
each other,—at any rate, in England it is a penal
offence,—but men are plunged into deadly strife, against
their will, by the operation of this ridiculous, superstitious and
absurd principle, which imposes upon us the obligation, as its
narrow-minded supporters and advocates declare, of fighting with
one another like gladiators, for any little trifle. Let me
recommend our purists to adopt the expression
baiting55 instead of

duel, which probably comes to us, not from the Latin
duellum, but from the Spanish
duelo,—meaning suffering, nuisance, annoyance.

55 Ritterhetze]

In any case, we may well laugh at the pedantic excess to which
this foolish system has been carried. It is really revolting that
this principle, with its absurd code, can form a power within the
State—imperium in imperio—a power too easily
put in motion, which, recognizing no right but might, tyrannizes
over the classes which come within its range, by keeping up a sort
of inquisition, before which any one may be haled on the most
flimsy pretext, and there and then be tried on an issue of life and
death between himself and his opponent. This is the lurking place
from which every rascal, if he only belongs to the classes in
question, may menace and even exterminate the noblest and best of
men, who, as such, must of course be an object of hatred to him.
Our system of justice and police-protection has made it impossible
in these days for any scoundrel in the street to attack us
with—Your money or your life! An end should be put
to the burden which weighs upon the higher classes—the
burden, I mean, of having to be ready every moment to expose life
and limb to the mercy of anyone who takes it into his rascally head
to be coarse, rude, foolish or malicious. It is perfectly atrocious
that a pair of silly, passionate boys should be wounded, maimed or
even killed, simply because they have had a few words.

The strength of this tyrannical power within the State, and the
force of the superstition, may be measured by the fact that people
who are prevented from restoring their knightly honor by the
superior or inferior rank of their aggressor, or anything else that
puts the persons on a different level, often come to a tragic-comic
end by committing suicide in sheer despair. You may generally know
a thing to be false and ridiculous by finding that, if it is
carried to its logical conclusion, it results in a contradiction;
and here, too, we have a very glaring absurdity. For an officer is
forbidden to take part in a duel; but if he is challenged and
declines to come out, he is punished by being dismissed the

As I am on the matter, let me be more frank still. The important
distinction, which is often insisted upon, between killing your
enemy in a fair fight with equal weapons, and lying in ambush for
him, is entirely a corollary of the fact that the power within the
State, of which I have spoken, recognizes no other right than
might, that is, the right of the stronger, and appeals to a
Judgment of God as the basis of the whole code. For to
kill a man in a fair fight, is to prove that you are superior to
him in strength or skill; and to justify the deed, you must
assume that the right of the stronger is really a right

But the truth is that, if my opponent is unable to defend
himself, it gives me the possibility, but not by any means the
right, of killing him. The right, the moral
, must depend entirely upon the motives
which I have for taking his life. Even supposing that I have
sufficient motive for taking a man’s life, there is no reason
why I should make his death depend upon whether I can shoot or
fence better than he. In such a case, it is immaterial in what way
I kill him, whether I attack him from the front or the rear. From a
moral point of view, the right of the stronger is no more
convincing than the right of the more skillful; and it is skill
which is employed if you murder a a man treacherously. Might and
skill are in this case equally right; in a duel, for instance, both
the one and the other come into play; for a feint is only another
name for treachery. If I consider myself morally justified in
taking a man’s life, it is stupid of me to try first of all
whether he can shoot or fence better than I; as, if he can, he will
not only have wronged me, but have taken my life into the

It is Rousseau’s opinion that the proper way to avenge an
insult is, not to fight a duel with your aggressor, but to
assassinate him,—an opinion, however, which he is cautious
enough only to barely indicate in a mysterious note to one of the
books of his Emile. This shows the philosopher so
completely under the influence of the mediaeval superstition of
knightly honor that he considers it justifiable to murder a man who
accuses you of lying: whilst he must have known that every man, and
himself especially, has deserved to have the lie given him times
without number.

The prejudice which justifies the killing of your adversary, so
long as it is done in an open contest and with equal weapons,
obviously looks upon might as really right, and a duel as the
interference of God. The Italian who, in a fit of rage, falls upon
his aggressor wherever he finds him, and despatches him without any
ceremony, acts, at any rate, consistently and naturally: he may be
cleverer, but he is not worse, than the duelist. If you say, I am
justified in killing my adversary in a duel, because he is at the
moment doing his best to kill me; I can reply that it is your
challenge which has placed him under the necessity of defending
himself; and that by mutually putting it on the ground of
self-defence, the combatants are seeking a plausible pretext for
committing murder. I should rather justify the deed by the legal
maxim Volenti non fit injuria; because the parties
mutually agree to set their life upon the issue.

This argument may, however, be rebutted by showing that the
injured party is not injured volens; because it is this
tyrannical principle of knightly honor, with its absurd code, which
forcibly drags one at least of the combatants before a bloody

I have been rather prolix on the subject of knightly honor, but
I had good reason for being so, because the Augean stable of moral
and intellectual enormity in this world can be cleaned out only
with the besom of philosophy. There are two things which more than
all else serve to make the social arrangements of modern life
compare unfavorably with those of antiquity, by giving our age a
gloomy, dark and sinister aspect, from which antiquity, fresh,
natural and, as it were, in the morning of life, is completely
free; I mean modern honor and modern disease,—par nobile
!—which have combined to poison all the relations
of life, whether public or private. The second of this noble pair
extends its influence much farther than at first appears to be the
case, as being not merely a physical, but also a moral disease.
From the time that poisoned arrows have been found in Cupid’s
quiver, an estranging, hostile, nay, devilish element has entered
into the relations of men and women, like a sinister thread of fear
and mistrust in the warp and woof of their intercourse; indirectly
shaking the foundations of human fellowship, and so more or less
affecting the whole tenor of existence. But it would be beside my
present purpose to pursue the subject further.

An influence analogous to this, though working on other lines,
is exerted by the principle of knightly honor,—that solemn
farce, unknown to the ancient world, which makes modern society
stiff, gloomy and timid, forcing us to keep the strictest watch on
every word that falls. Nor is this all. The principle is a
universal Minotaur; and the goodly company of the sons of noble
houses which it demands in yearly tribute, comes, not from one
country alone, as of old, but from every land in Europe. It is high
time to make a regular attack upon this foolish system; and this is
what I am trying to do now. Would that these two monsters of the
modern world might disappear before the end of the century!

Let us hope that medicine may be able to find some means of
preventing the one, and that, by clearing our ideals, philosophy
may put an end to the other: for it is only by clearing our ideas
that the evil can be eradicated. Governments have tried to do so by
legislation, and failed.

Still, if they are really concerned to stop the dueling system;
and if the small success that has attended their efforts is really
due only to their inability to cope with the evil, I do not mind
proposing a law the success of which I am prepared to guarantee. It
will involve no sanguinary measures, and can be put into operation
without recourse either to the scaffold or the gallows, or to
imprisonment for life. It is a small homeopathic pilule, with no
serious after effects. If any man send or accept a challenge, let
the corporal take him before the guard house, and there give him,
in broad daylight, twelve strokes with a stick a la
; a non-commissioned officer or a private to receive
six. If a duel has actually taken place, the usual criminal
proceedings should be instituted.

A person with knightly notions might, perhaps, object that, if
such a punishment were carried out, a man of honor would possibly
shoot himself; to which I should answer that it is better for a
fool like that to shoot himself rather than other people. However,
I know very well that governments are not really in earnest about
putting down dueling. Civil officials, and much more so, officers
in the army, (except those in the highest positions), are paid most
inadequately for the services they perform; and the deficiency is
made up by honor, which is represented by titles and orders, and,
in general, by the system of rank and distinction. The duel is, so
to speak, a very serviceable extra-horse for people of rank: so
they are trained in the knowledge of it at the universities. The
accidents which happen to those who use it make up in blood for the
deficiency of the pay.

Just to complete the discussion, let me here mention the subject
of national honor. It is the honor of a nation as a unit
in the aggregate of nations. And as there is no court to appeal to
but the court of force; and as every nation must be prepared to
defend its own interests, the honor of a nation consists in
establishing the opinion, not only that it may be trusted (its
credit), but also that it is to be feared. An attack upon its
rights must never be allowed to pass unheeded. It is a combination
of civic and knightly honor.

Section 5.—Fame.

Under the heading of place in the estimation of the world we
have put Fame; and this we must now proceed to

Fame and honor are twins; and twins, too, like Castor and
Pollux, of whom the one was mortal and the other was not. Fame is
the undying brother of ephemeral honor. I speak, of course, of the
highest kind of fame, that is, of fame in the true and genuine
sense of the word; for, to be sure, there are many sorts of fame,
some of which last but a day. Honor is concerned merely with such
qualities as everyone may be expected to show under similar
circumstances; fame only of those which cannot be required of any
man. Honor is of qualities which everyone has a right to attribute
to himself; fame only of those which should be left to others to
attribute. Whilst our honor extends as far as people have knowledge
of us; fame runs in advance, and makes us known wherever it finds
its way. Everyone can make a claim to honor; very few to fame, as
being attainable only in virtue of extraordinary achievements.

These achievements may be of two kinds, either actions
or works; and so to fame there are two paths open. On the
path of actions, a great heart is the chief recommendation; on that
of works, a great head. Each of the two paths has its own peculiar
advantages and detriments; and the chief difference between them is
that actions are fleeting, while works remain. The influence of an
action, be it never so noble, can last but a short time; but a work
of genius is a living influence, beneficial and ennobling
throughout the ages. All that can remain of actions is a memory,
and that becomes weak and disfigured by time—a matter of
indifference to us, until at last it is extinguished altogether;
unless, indeed, history takes it up, and presents it, fossilized,
to posterity. Works are immortal in themselves, and once committed
to writing, may live for ever. Of Alexander the Great we have but
the name and the record; but Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Horace
are alive, and as directly at work to-day as they were in their own
lifetime. The Vedas, and their Upanishads, are
still with us: but of all contemporaneous actions not a trace has
come down to us.56

56 Accordingly it is a poor
compliment, though sometimes a fashionable one, to try to pay honor
to a work by calling it an action. For a work is something
essentially higher in its nature. An action is always something
based on motive, and, therefore, fragmentary and fleeting—a
part, in fact, of that Will which is the universal and original
element in the constitution of the world. But a great and beautiful
work has a permanent character, as being of universal significance,
and sprung from the Intellect, which rises, like a perfume, above
the faults and follies of the world of Will.

The fame of a great action has this advantage, that it generally
starts with a loud explosion; so loud, indeed, as to be heard all
over Europe: whereas the fame of a great work is slow and gradual
in its beginnings; the noise it makes is at first slight, but it
goes on growing greater, until at last, after a hundred years
perhaps, it attains its full force; but then it remains, because
the works remain, for thousands of years. But in the other case,
when the first explosion is over, the noise it makes grows less and
less, and is heard by fewer and fewer persons; until it ends by the
action having only a shadowy existence in the pages of

Another disadvantage under which actions labor is that they
depend upon chance for the possibility of coming into existence;
and hence, the fame they win does not flow entirely from their
intrinsic value, but also from the circumstances which happened to
lend them importance and lustre. Again, the fame of actions, if, as
in war, they are purely personal, depends upon the testimony of
fewer witnesses; and these are not always present, and even if
present, are not always just or unbiased observers. This
disadvantage, however, is counterbalanced by the fact that actions
have the advantage of being of a practical character, and,
therefore, within the range of general human intelligence; so that
once the facts have been correctly reported, justice is immediately
done; unless, indeed, the motive underlying the action is not at
first properly understood or appreciated. No action can be really
understood apart from the motive which prompted it.

It is just the contrary with works. Their inception does not
depend upon chance, but wholly and entirely upon their author; and
whoever they are in and for themselves, that they remain as long as
they live. Further, there is a difficulty in properly judging them,
which becomes all the harder, the higher their character; often
there are no persons competent to understand the work, and often no
unbiased or honest critics. Their fame, however, does not depend
upon one judge only; they can enter an appeal to another. In the
case of actions, as I have said, it is only their memory which
comes down to posterity, and then only in the traditional form; but
works are handed down themselves, and, except when parts of them
have been lost, in the form in which they first appeared. In this
case there is no room for any disfigurement of the facts; and any
circumstance which may have prejudiced them in their origin, fall
away with the lapse of time. Nay, it is often only after the lapse
of time that the persons really competent to judge them
appear—exceptional critics sitting in judgment on exceptional
works, and giving their weighty verdicts in succession. These
collectively form a perfectly just appreciation; and though there
are cases where it has taken some hundreds of years to form it, no
further lapse of time is able to reverse the verdict;—so
secure and inevitable is the fame of a great work.

Whether authors ever live to see the dawn of their fame depends
upon the chance of circumstance; and the higher and more important
their works are, the less likelihood there is of their doing so.
That was an incomparable fine saying of Seneca’s, that fame
follows merit as surely as the body casts a shadow; sometimes
falling in front, and sometimes behind. And he goes on to remark
that though the envy of contemporaries be shown by universal
silence, there will come those who will judge without enmity or
. From this remark it is manifest that even in
Seneca’s age there were rascals who understood the art of
suppressing merit by maliciously ignoring its existence, and of
concealing good work from the public in order to favor the bad: it
is an art well understood in our day, too, manifesting itself, both
then and now, in an envious conspiracy of silence.

As a general rule, the longer a man’s fame is likely to
last, the later it will be in coming; for all excellent products
require time for their development. The fame which lasts to
posterity is like an oak, of very slow growth; and that which
endures but a little while, like plants which spring up in a year
and then die; whilst false fame is like a fungus, shooting up in a
night and perishing as soon.

And why? For this reason; the more a man belongs to posterity,
in other words, to humanity in general, the more of an alien he is
to his contemporaries; since his work is not meant for them as
such, but only for them in so far as they form part of mankind at
large; there is none of that familiar local color about his
productions which would appeal to them; and so what he does, fails
of recognition because it is strange.

People are more likely to appreciate the man who serves the
circumstances of his own brief hour, or the temper of the
moment,—belonging to it, living and dying with it.

The general history of art and literature shows that the highest
achievements of the human mind are, as a rule, not favorably
received at first; but remain in obscurity until they win notice
from intelligence of a high order, by whose influence they are
brought into a position which they then maintain, in virtue of the
authority thus given them.

If the reason of this should be asked, it will be found that
ultimately, a man can really understand and appreciate those things
only which are of like nature with himself. The dull person will
like what is dull, and the common person what is common; a man
whose ideas are mixed will be attracted by confusion of thought;
and folly will appeal to him who has no brains at all; but best of
all, a man will like his own works, as being of a character
thoroughly at one with himself. This is a truth as old as
Epicharmus of fabulous memory—

[Greek: Thaumaston ouden esti me tauth outo legein

Kal andanein autoisin autous kal dokein

Kalos pethukenai kal gar ho kuon kuni

Kalloton eimen phainetai koi bous boi

Onos dono kalliston [estin], us dut.]

The sense of this passage—for it should not be
lost—is that we should not be surprised if people are pleased
with themselves, and fancy that they are in good case; for to a dog
the best thing in the world is a dog; to an ox, an ox; to an ass,
an ass; and to a sow, a sow.

The strongest arm is unavailing to give impetus to a
featherweight; for, instead of speeding on its way and hitting its
mark with effect, it will soon fall to the ground, having expended
what little energy was given to it, and possessing no mass of its
own to be the vehicle of momentum. So it is with great and noble
thoughts, nay, with the very masterpieces of genius, when there are
none but little, weak, and perverse minds to appreciate
them,—a fact which has been deplored by a chorus of the wise
in all ages. Jesus, the son of Sirach, for instance, declares that
He that telleth a tale to a fool speaketh to one in slumber:
when he hath told his tale, he will say, What is the
?57 And Hamlet says,

A knavish speech sleeps in a fool’s ear."#note58">58 And Goethe is of the same opinion, that
a dull ear mocks at the wisest word,

Das glücktichste Wort es wird verhöhnt,

Wenn der Hörer ein Schiefohr ist

and again, that we should not be discouraged if people are
stupid, for you can make no rings if you throw your stone into a

Du iwirkest nicht, Alles bleibt so stumpf:

Sei guter Dinge!

Der Stein in Sumpf

Macht keine Ringe

57 Ecclesiasticus, xxii.,

58 Act iv., Sc. 2.]

Lichtenberg asks: When a head and a book come into
collision, and one sounds hollow, is it always the book
? And
in another place: Works like this are as a mirror; if an ass
looks in, you cannot expect an apostle to look out
. We should
do well to remember old Gellert’s fine and touching lament,
that the best gifts of all find the fewest admirers, and that most
men mistake the bad for the good,—a daily evil that nothing
can prevent, like a plague which no remedy can cure. There is but
one thing to be done, though how difficult!—the foolish must
become wise,—and that they can never be. The value of life
they never know; they see with the outer eye but never with the
mind, and praise the trivial because the good is strange to

Nie kennen sie den Werth der Dinge,

Ihr Auge schliesst, nicht ihr Verstand;

Sie loben ewig das Geringe

Weil sie das Gute nie gekannt

To the intellectual incapacity which, as Goethe says, fails to
recognize and appreciate the good which exists, must be added
something which comes into play everywhere, the moral baseness of
mankind, here taking the form of envy. The new fame that a man wins
raises him afresh over the heads of his fellows, who are thus
degraded in proportion. All conspicuous merit is obtained at the
cost of those who possess none; or, as Goethe has it in the
Westöstlicher Divan, another’s praise is one’s
own depreciation—

Wenn wir Andern Ehre geben

Müssen wir uns selbst entadeln

We see, then, how it is that, whatever be the form which
excellence takes, mediocrity, the common lot of by far the greatest
number, is leagued against it in a conspiracy to resist, and if
possible, to suppress it. The pass-word of this league is à bas le
mérite. Nay more; those who have done something themselves, and
enjoy a certain amount of fame, do not care about the appearance of
a new reputation, because its success is apt to throw theirs into
the shade. Hence, Goethe declares that if we had to depend for our
life upon the favor of others, we should never have lived at all;
from their desire to appear important themselves, people gladly
ignore our very existence:—

Hätte ich gezaudert zu werden,

Bis man mir’s Leben geögnut,

Ich wäre noch nicht auf Erden,

Wie ihr begreifen könnt,

Wenn ihr seht, wie sie sich geberden,

Die, um etwas zu scheinen,

Mich gerne mochten verneinen

Honor, on the contrary, generally meets with fair appreciation,
and is not exposed to the onslaught of envy; nay, every man is
credited with the possession of it until the contrary is proved.
But fame has to be won in despite of envy, and the tribunal which
awards the laurel is composed of judges biased against the
applicant from the very first. Honor is something which we are able
and ready to share with everyone; fame suffers encroachment and is
rendered more unattainable in proportion as more people come by it.
Further, the difficulty of winning fame by any given work stands in
reverse ratio to the number of people who are likely to read it;
and hence it is so much harder to become famous as the author of a
learned work than as a writer who aspires only to amuse. It is
hardest of all in the case of philosophical works, because the
result at which they aim is rather vague, and, at the same time,
useless from a material point of view; they appeal chiefly to
readers who are working on the same lines themselves.

It is clear, then, from what I have said as to the difficulty of
winning fame, that those who labor, not out of love for their
subject, nor from pleasure in pursuing it, but under the stimulus
of ambition, rarely or never leave mankind a legacy of immortal
works. The man who seeks to do what is good and genuine, must avoid
what is bad, and be ready to defy the opinions of the mob, nay,
even to despise it and its misleaders. Hence the truth of the
remark, (especially insisted upon by Osorius de Gloria),
that fame shuns those who seek it, and seeks those who shun it; for
the one adapt themselves to the taste of their contemporaries, and
the others work in defiance of it.

But, difficult though it be to acquire fame, it is an easy thing
to keep when once acquired. Here, again, fame is in direct
opposition to honor, with which everyone is presumably to be
accredited. Honor has not to be won; it must only not be lost. But
there lies the difficulty! For by a single unworthy action, it is
gone irretrievably. But fame, in the proper sense of the word, can
never disappear; for the action or work by which it was acquired
can never be undone; and fame attaches to its author, even though
he does nothing to deserve it anew. The fame which vanishes, or is
outlived, proves itself thereby to be spurious, in other words,
unmerited, and due to a momentary overestimate of a man’s
work; not to speak of the kind of fame which Hegel enjoyed, and
which Lichtenberg describes as trumpeted forth by a clique of
admiring undergraduates
the resounding echo of empty
;—such a fame as will make posterity smile when
it lights upon a grotesque architecture of words, a fine nest with
the birds long ago flown; it will knock at the door of this decayed
structure of conventionalities and find it utterly
!—not even a trace of thought there to invite
the passer-by

The truth is that fame means nothing but what a man is in
comparison with others. It is essentially relative in character,
and therefore only indirectly valuable; for it vanishes the moment
other people become what the famous man is. Absolute value can be
predicated only of what a man possesses under any and all
circumstances,—here, what a man is directly and in himself.
It is the possession of a great heart or a great head, and not the
mere fame of it, which is worth having, and conducive to happiness.
Not fame, but that which deserves to be famous, is what a man
should hold in esteem. This is, as it were, the true underlying
substance, and fame is only an accident, affecting its subject
chiefly as a kind of external symptom, which serves to confirm his
own opinion of himself. Light is not visible unless it meets with
something to reflect it; and talent is sure of itself only when its
fame is noised abroad. But fame is not a certain symptom of merit;
because you can have the one without the other; or, as Lessing
nicely puts it, Some people obtain fame, and others deserve

It would be a miserable existence which should make its value or
want of value depend upon what other people think; but such would
be the life of a hero or a genius if its worth consisted in fame,
that is, in the applause of the world. Every man lives and exists
on his own account, and, therefore, mainly in and for himself; and
what he is and the whole manner of his being concern himself more
than anyone else; so if he is not worth much in this respect, he
cannot be worth much otherwise. The idea which other people form of
his existence is something secondary, derivative, exposed to all
the chances of fate, and in the end affecting him but very
indirectly. Besides, other people’s heads are a wretched
place to be the home of a man’s true happiness—a
fanciful happiness perhaps, but not a real one.

And what a mixed company inhabits the Temple of Universal
Fame!—generals, ministers, charlatans, jugglers, dancers,
singers, millionaires and Jews! It is a temple in which more
sincere recognition, more genuine esteem, is given to the several
excellencies of such folk, than to superiority of mind, even of a
high order, which obtains from the great majority only a verbal

From the point of view of human happiness, fame is, surely,
nothing but a very rare and delicate morsel for the appetite that
feeds on pride and vanity—an appetite which, however
carefully concealed, exists to an immoderate degree in every man,
and is, perhaps strongest of all in those who set their hearts on
becoming famous at any cost. Such people generally have to wait
some time in uncertainty as to their own value, before the
opportunity comes which will put it to the proof and let other
people see what they are made of; but until then, they feel as if
they were suffering secret injustice."#note59">59

59 Our greatest pleasure
consists in being admired; but those who admire us, even if they
have every reason to do so, are slow to express their sentiments.
Hence he is the happiest man who, no matter how, manages sincerely
to admire himself—so long as other people leave him

But, as I explained at the beginning of this chapter, an
unreasonable value is set upon other people’s opinion, and
one quite disproportionate to its real worth. Hobbes has some
strong remarks on this subject; and no doubt he is quite right.
Mental pleasure, he writes, and ecstacy of any kind,
arise when, on comparing ourselves with others, we come to the
conclusion that we may think well of ourselves
. So we can
easily understand the great value which is always attached to fame,
as worth any sacrifices if there is the slightest hope of attaining

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise

(That hath infirmity of noble mind)

To scorn delights and live laborious days"#note60">60

And again:

How hard it is to climb

The heights where Fame’s proud temple shines afar

60 Milton.


We can thus understand how it is that the vainest people in the
world are always talking about la gloire, with the most
implicit faith in it as a stimulus to great actions and great
works. But there can he no doubt that fame is something secondary
in its character, a mere echo or reflection—as it were, a
shadow or symptom—of merit: and, in any case, what excites
admiration must be of more value than the admiration itself. The
truth is that a man is made happy, not by fame, but by that which
brings him fame, by his merits, or to speak more correctly, by the
disposition and capacity from which his merits proceed, whether
they be moral or intellectual. The best side of a man’s
nature must of necessity be more important for him than for anyone
else: the reflection of it, the opinion which exists in the heads
of others, is a matter that can affect him only in a very
subordinate degree. He who deserves fame without getting it
possesses by far the more important element of happiness, which
should console him for the loss of the other. It is not that a man
is thought to be great by masses of incompetent and often
infatuated people, but that he really is great, which should move
us to envy his position; and his happiness lies, not in the fact
that posterity will hear of him, but that he is the creator of
thoughts worthy to be treasured up and studied for hundreds of

Besides, if a man has done this, he possesses something which
cannot be wrested from him; and, unlike fame, it is a possession
dependent entirely upon himself. If admiration were his chief aim,
there would be nothing in him to admire. This is just what happens
in the case of false, that is, unmerited, fame; for its recipient
lives upon it without actually possessing the solid substratum of
which fame is the outward and visible sign. False fame must often
put its possessor out of conceit with himself; for the time may
come when, in spite of the illusions borne of self-love, he will
feel giddy on the heights which he was never meant to climb, or
look upon himself as spurious coin; and in the anguish of
threatened discovery and well-merited degradation, he will read the
sentence of posterity on the foreheads of the wise—like a man
who owes his property to a forged will.

The truest fame, the fame that comes after death, is never heard
of by its recipient; and yet he is called a happy man.

His happiness lay both in the possession of those great
qualities which won him fame, and in the opportunity that was
granted him of developing them—the leisure he had to act as
he pleased, to dedicate himself to his favorite pursuits. It is
only work done from the heart that ever gains the laurel.

Greatness of soul, or wealth of intellect, is what makes a man
happy—intellect, such as, when stamped on its productions,
will receive the admiration of centuries to come,—thoughts
which make him happy at the time, and will in their turn be a
source of study and delight to the noblest minds of the most remote
posterity. The value of posthumous fame lies in deserving it; and
this is its own reward. Whether works destined to fame attain it in
the lifetime of their author is a chance affair, of no very great
importance. For the average man has no critical power of his own,
and is absolutely incapable of appreciating the difficulty of a
great work. People are always swayed by authority; and where fame
is widespread, it means that ninety-nine out of a hundred take it
on faith alone. If a man is famed far and wide in his own lifetime,
he will, if he is wise, not set too much value upon it, because it
is no more than the echo of a few voices, which the chance of a day
has touched in his favor.

Would a musician feel flattered by the loud applause of an
audience if he knew that they were nearly all deaf, and that, to
conceal their infirmity, they set to work to clap vigorously as
soon as ever they saw one or two persons applauding? And what would
he say if he got to know that those one or two persons had often
taken bribes to secure the loudest applause for the poorest

It is easy to see why contemporary praise so seldom develops
into posthumous fame. D’Alembert, in an extremely fine
description of the temple of literary fame, remarks that the
sanctuary of the temple is inhabited by the great dead, who during
their life had no place there, and by a very few living persons,
who are nearly all ejected on their death. Let me remark, in
passing, that to erect a monument to a man in his lifetime is as
much as declaring that posterity is not to be trusted in its
judgment of him. If a man does happen to see his own true fame, it
can very rarely be before he is old, though there have been artists
and musicians who have been exceptions to this rule, but very few
philosophers. This is confirmed by the portraits of people
celebrated by their works; for most of them are taken only after
their subjects have attained celebrity, generally depicting them as
old and grey; more especially if philosophy has been the work of
their lives. From the eudaemonistic standpoint, this is a very
proper arrangement; as fame and youth are too much for a mortal at
one and the same time. Life is such a poor business that the
strictest economy must be exercised in its good things. Youth has
enough and to spare in itself, and must rest content with what it
has. But when the delights and joys of life fall away in old age,
as the leaves from a tree in autumn, fame buds forth opportunely,
like a plant that is green in winter. Fame is, as it were, the
fruit that must grow all the summer before it can be enjoyed at
Yule. There is no greater consolation in age than the feeling of
having put the whole force of one’s youth into works which
still remain young.

Finally, let us examine a little more closely the kinds of fame
which attach to various intellectual pursuits; for it is with fame
of this sort that my remarks are more immediately concerned.

I think it may be said broadly that the intellectual superiority
it denotes consists in forming theories, that is, new combinations
of certain facts. These facts may be of very different kinds; but
the better they are known, and the more they come within everyday
experience, the greater and wider will be the fame which is to be
won by theorizing about them.

For instance, if the facts in question are numbers or lines or
special branches of science, such as physics, zoology, botany,
anatomy, or corrupt passages in ancient authors, or undecipherable
inscriptions, written, it may be, in some unknown alphabet, or
obscure points in history; the kind of fame that may be obtained by
correctly manipulating such facts will not extend much beyond those
who make a study of them—a small number of persons, most of
whom live retired lives and are envious of others who become famous
in their special branch of knowledge.

But if the facts be such as are known to everyone, for example,
the fundamental characteristics of the human mind or the human
heart, which are shared by all alike; or the great physical
agencies which are constantly in operation before our eyes, or the
general course of natural laws; the kind of fame which is to be won
by spreading the light of a new and manifestly true theory in
regard to them, is such as in time will extend almost all over the
civilized world: for if the facts be such as everyone can grasp,
the theory also will be generally intelligible. But the extent of
the fame will depend upon the difficulties overcome; and the more
generally known the facts are, the harder it will be to form a
theory that shall be both new and true: because a great many heads
will have been occupied with them, and there will be little or no
possibility of saying anything that has not been said before.

On the other hand, facts which are not accessible to everybody,
and can be got at only after much difficulty and labor, nearly
always admit of new combinations and theories; so that, if sound
understanding and judgment are brought to bear upon
them—qualities which do not involve very high intellectual
power—a man may easily be so fortunate as to light upon some
new theory in regard to them which shall be also true. But fame won
on such paths does not extend much beyond those who possess a
knowledge of the facts in question. To solve problems of this sort
requires, no doubt, a great ideal of study and labor, if only to
get at the facts; whilst on the path where the greatest and most
widespread fame is to be won, the facts may be grasped without any
labor at all. But just in proportion as less labor is necessary,
more talent or genius is required; and between such qualities and
the drudgery of research no comparison is possible, in respect
either of their intrinsic value, or of the estimation in which they
are held.

And so people who feel that they possess solid intellectual
capacity and a sound judgment, and yet cannot claim the highest
mental powers, should not be afraid of laborious study; for by its
aid they may work themselves above the great mob of humanity who
have the facts constantly before their eyes, and reach those
secluded spots which are accessible to learned toil.

For this is a sphere where there are infinitely fewer rivals,
and a man of only moderate capacity may soon find an opportunity of
proclaiming a theory which shall be both new and true; nay, the
merit of his discovery will partly rest upon the difficulty of
coming at the facts. But applause from one’s fellow-students,
who are the only persons with a knowledge of the subject, sounds
very faint to the far-off multitude. And if we follow up this sort
of fame far enough, we shall at last come to a point where facts
very difficult to get at are in themselves sufficient to lay a
foundation of fame, without any necessity for forming a
theory;—travels, for instance, in remote and little-known
countries, which make a man famous by what he has seen, not by what
he has thought. The great advantage of this kind of fame is that to
relate what one has seen, is much easier than to impart one’s
thoughts, and people are apt to understand descriptions better than
ideas, reading the one more readily than the other: for, as Asmus

When one goes forth a-voyaging

He has a tale to tell

And yet for all that, a personal acquaintance with celebrated
travelers often remind us of a line from Horace—new scenes do
not always mean new ideas—

Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare

61 Epist. I. II.]

But if a man finds himself in possession of great mental
faculties, such as alone should venture on the solution of the
hardest of all problems—those which concern nature as a whole
and humanity in its widest range, he will do well to extend his
view equally in all directions, without ever straying too far amid
the intricacies of various by-paths, or invading regions little
known; in other words, without occupying himself with special
branches of knowledge, to say nothing of their petty details. There
is no necessity for him to seek out subjects difficult of access,
in order to escape a crowd of rivals; the common objects of life
will give him material for new theories at once serious and true;
and the service he renders will be appreciated by all
those—and they form a great part of mankind—who know
the facts of which he treats. What a vast distinction there is
between students of physics, chemistry, anatomy, mineralogy,
zoology, philology, history, and the men who deal with the great
facts of human life, the poet and the philosopher!