by Cynthia Chung
For Part 1 please refer here. Note to the reader: it is absolutely necessary that you first read Part 1 before proceeding to Part 2 for the lesson to have a complete overview and the reader a thorough understanding of what Schiller’s intention was for this very important and insightful drama. The video of this lecture can be found on our youtube channel here.
At the end of Part I we left off with the Count remarking that not everyone could withstand what the prince had already undergone from such a hidden villainy, and that we should remain aware that most of us have not had our reason tested from such a formidable challenge, and that we would not, for the most part, even fare so well as the prince thus far. Nonetheless, the prince did ultimately succumb to this villainy, and the tale narrated by the Count is delivered more as a warning to those in the future since the fate of the prince by now has already been finalised and his tragedy fulfilled, having already ascended the throne through crime…
Book II starts off with the Count summarising the changes in the prince’s character after the culmination of very odd events that have managed to successfully challenge the prince’s epistemology, though never with any realised intended purpose or intention as to why these events had occurred to him in such close timing to one another.
“Not long afterwards I began to notice significant changes in the prince’s state of mind. Up to this time, the prince had avoided any strict examination of his faith, and was quite content to rarify the crude and sensuous notions of religion he had been raised with, by means of the better ideas he subsequently assimilated, but without investigating the foundations of his beliefs. He once confessed to me , that the objects of religion were always like an enchanted castle to him, one into which a person did not step without shuddering, and one was better off passing it by in respectful resignation, without running the risk of losing one’s way in its labyrinths.
Our prince was haunted by dark and ghastly shapes his entire youth; joy was banned even from his play. All of his ideas about religion had something horrible about them; things dreadful and brutal were the first to take command of his lively imagination, and they made the most lasting impression. His God was an image of horror, a vengeful being; his worship, a slavish cowering, a blind submission, that suffocated all power and boldness…religion was at odds with everything his youthful heart yearned for; he never knew it as a blessing, rather only as a hostage to his passions. Gradually, a quiet rancor against religion caught fire in his heart, making for the most bizarre mixture of respectful faith and blind fear in his heart and mind – a repugnance for the Lord, before whom he felt an equal degree of horror and awe.“
“No wonder he grasped at the first opportunity to escape such a heavy yoke – but he fled like a bonded slave from his cruel master, carrying the feeling of his slavery with him into freedom. For this reason, because he had not renounced the beliefs of his youth in calm reflection, because he had not waited until his more mature reason was able to ease itself free, because he had fled like a refugee, while his Lord’s rights to possession still held. – for these reasons, after ever so many distractions, he always needed to return to Him. He had fled with his chains, and for that reason, was necessarily easy prey to every villain who discovered them. The course of this story will show, in case the reader has not already guessed as much, that such a villain did, indeed, appear.
The confessions of the Sicilian had left impressions in his heart with more significance than their object was worth, and the slight victory, that his reason had carried over this paltry deception, had remarkably increased his confidence in his powers. The ease, with which he was able to discover the fraud, seemed to have surprised even him. Truth and falsehood had not yet separated themselves so precisely in his mind for him not to confuse the pillars of the one with the pillars of the other rather often. Thus the blow delivered to his belief in miracles shook the entire edifice of his religious faith. Its effect upon him was like that of an inexperienced person, cheated in friendship or love, because he had chosen badly, who now loses faith in those very emotions, because he had once taken fortuitous impression for real and true qualities. A deception discovered made him suspicious of the truth as well, because the truth had, unfortunately, been proven with the same bad reasons.
A skepticism blossoming in him from this point onward had no mercy, even toward things most worthy of reverence.”
The prince had originally a belief in morality and purpose that was founded upon his oppressive education in religious studies. He thought he had escaped this environment which suffocated all creativity, optimism and happiness. He thought himself free but had escaped with his chains. What were those chains? That he was never able to form an independent discovery of the nature of morality, goodness, or purpose outside of ultimately what were things he was taught to obey with blind faith.
The prince was very much affected by his mystical beliefs which, unbeknownst to him, if they were to be utterly destroyed, he would have nothing to replace them with that could continue to uphold his foundation for morality and purpose. As Schiller stated; the prince’s convictions were not on firm foundation, and thus such a foundation was easily put into question, and the whole thing could come crumbling down with the discovery of one inconsistency.
The prince was confronted with a string of experiences that shattered his belief in something beyond this world, something larger than us, and thus he lost all belief of its existence, when in fact he just didn’t base his belief on these matters appropriately, as Schiller used the example of one who is deceived in love or friendship and thus denies their existence, when in fact the error was in the misidentification of such a person partaking in such noble qualities.
“In short – he had immersed himself in this labyrinth like a fanatic, with scores of articles of faith, and left it a skeptic, finally even a confirmed free-thinker.
Among the circles into which he had been drawn, there was a certain closed society, called the Bucentauro, which promoted the most unrestrained license of opinions, as well as morals, under the guise of a noble, reasonable freedom of thought…Here the prince forgot that libertinism of the mind and morals among persons in these positions [priests and cardinals] is all the more pronounced, because here it finds no reins, and is not deterred by any such aura of sanctity as often blinds the eyes more profane. And this was the case in the Bucentauro, most of whose members reviled not only their positions, but humanity itself.
…mere familiarity with this sort of people and their habits, although he did not imitate them, was sufficient for him to lose the pure and beautiful innocence of his character and tastes. His understanding, with so little of firm knowledge, was unable to free itself from the sophisms it had become entangled in, without outside aid, and imperceptibly, this ghastly corrosive gnawed everything away – nearly everything, upon which his morality should have rested. He shunned the natural pillars of happiness as sophisms which abandoned him in decisive moments, and thereby, he found himself compelled to grasp at the first, arbitrary best thing tossed at him.”
The Bucentauro was made up of very important Venetian men, not only statesmen but cardinals, which very much impresses the prince at first. However, our review in Part 1 of this series on the historical role that Venetian cardinals played in geopolitics should give us insight into what sort of closed society this in fact was, and that the prince had walked rather into a den of snakes than so called “enlightened” thinkers.
The prince thinks that these Venetian cardinals partake in the divine, but Schiller makes the point that people in these types of positions find no reins, they are at the top of the authority of what is deemed “moral”, and therefore the corruption at this level unfortunately is very high. Schiller makes the case, that a more typical criminal would feel some level of fear for the sanctity of their soul, however, with these sort of corrupt cardinals they are not concerned with such a fear, that is, they don’t actually believe in the immortality of the soul and thus are only worried with material consequences. They are in fact, not actually religious. And though they wear the robe of a cardinal, they actually revile their position and revile humanity. The prince has no insight into the nature of evil and thus is unable to recognise this at first.
The prince discovers this partially but too late, and at that point he is even scared to leave this group, knowing they would heavily disapprove and would likely not allow such a thing to pass. Just being in contact with this closed society was enough to cause the prince to lose his “pure and beautiful innocence of character“. Quite powerful! For the prince did not have a strong intellectual foundation to place his moral beliefs on, but rather were free floating and instinctive for him. Thus, when he came across this impressive group of secretive high ranking men who had an astute mental rigour and were skilled in the art of sophistical argumentation, in other words the manipulation of the mind and its convictions, the prince’s innocence could not withstand the convictions they chose him to adopt. And he was reduced by the end of it “grabbing at the first arbitrary thing tossed at him.”
What a sad position for a person to be in!
Much of what follows in Book II I will not discuss in this paper since I think it very much follows in a straightforward manner from what we have already discussed in detail at this point. I also recommend that you actually take the time to read The Ghost Seer in its entirety. An online copy can be found here.
However, what I would like to discuss in detail at this point, covers the section referred to as the philosophical dialogue within The Ghost Seer.
The Philosophical Dialogue
The philosophical dialogue section of the Ghost Seer is like a platonic dialogue except without Socrates. It is entirely up to the reader to guide themselves through the conversation. This is why this section is often forgotten about. It does not have steady ground for most people and thus it is not retained in the mind. Schiller actually made a point to extend the length of this discussion in later editions, knowing its central importance.
In the philosophical dialogue the prince and his servant/friend the Baron are having a discussion on the nature and ordering of the universe and what role does humankind have to play in all of this. Count O has at this point returned to his homeland to manage an issue that arose there. Later Count O finds out that this was organised with the purpose of getting him to leave the side of the prince as he is further deconstructed in this Venetian spiderweb. The Baron is concerned over the prince’s sudden change in character since he has been in Venice and sees he has lost his belief in morality and a genuine goodness.
Since this dialogue is somewhat challenging I have broken it up into what I believe to be its core themes so that we can discuss them more clearly. These are the central structural stones that Schiller identified as the bedrock for free thinkers, which we will discuss here and conclude what we make of them.
–The Nature of an Eternal, Higher Order; The prince describes a cold, alien like description of this Order of Nature. “Can you demand of it that which it does not itself possess? Can you, a ripple that the wind blows over the surface of the sea – can you demand, that a trace of your existence be secured on that surface?”
–Impulse to Eternally lasting Existence; “I will concede in the context, dearest friend, if you can prove to me, that this impulse to immortality in men is not consumed as completely with the temporal purpose of existence as the sensual drives are.” Our impulse towards immortality is a necessity for an effect dictated by a cold order of Nature who’s will is something wholly unrelatable to us. Thus the impulse to immortality is an illusion placed within us just so that we fulfill such an effect. (think of Dawkins theory, where genes become our God).
The prince never entirely believed in a benevolent God, as was discussed before, he had rather a love/hate relationship with a God he thought sometimes loving and sometimes wrathful. Now he has replaced that belief with a faceless, cold entity. In this cold alien world, we are nothing but material vessels for its will. It is not something that we can come to understand on any level, and these concepts of love and hate don’t have an intrinsic existence in this alien world.
The question of our immortality in such a world is brought up by the Baron. The prince responds that anything material about us, including our desires which are shaped by the material (as per the prince) are extinguished after we die, therefore, what is there of us that could partake in the immortal? The prince goes on to state that it is his belief that this cold Nature has placed within us this impulse towards immortality such that we execute its will. This is best exemplified today by the theory of Richard Dawkins, who puts forth that any emotion or desire we have within us is ultimately dictated by our genes, and that these emotions and desires are not our own choosing but rather are designed for us to execute the “will” of the genes. The prince thus concludes that this impulse towards immortality is just an illusion and disappears along with the rest of us when our life is extinguished.
The next subject of discussion turns to purpose, since obviously if you live in a world such as this, you cannot ultimately know a purpose in your life. To this the prince says…
–Purpose and Means, Cause and Effect; “We ought never to have said purpose at all. To adopt your manner of expressing it, I derive this concept from the moral world, because here we are accustomed to call the consequences of an action its purpose. In the soul, indeed, purpose has priority over means; but, when their internal effects go over into the world outside, this order is reversed, and means are related to purpose like cause and effect…Noble and common merely denote the relationship in which an object stands to a certain principle in our soul – Thus, it is a concept applicable only within, not outside our soul.”
–Pleasure and Pain; “Through pain and pleasure, the moral entity experiences only the relationship of this present condition to the condition of his highest perfection [happiness], which, in turn, is identical with the purpose of Nature.” Again thinking beings are governed by pleasure and pain to fit the purpose of Nature, and organic entities have the constraints of physics rather than emotion to keep it bound to its intended design. We are bound to this through pleasure and pain but its basis appears arbitrary to us. “Thus, men need not be cognizant of the purpose which Nature carries out through them.”
As per the prince, the purpose of humanity is subject to the physical world, however, it is a purpose that we can never come to understand. We are guided towards the execution of this purpose by what Nature has instilled in us as pleasure and pain. That is, what Nature wills for us we are given pleasure by and what Nature abhors us to do is followed by pain. Thus pleasure becomes the greatest measure for good and pain becomes the greatest measure for the bad. However, this concept of bad does not have an evil intention or consciousness so to speak. You are thus in your highest execution of perfection if you allow yourself to be purely governed by pleasure.
Whereas organic entities are constrained in their actions and completely beholden to Nature’s will through the laws of physics, such as the shape of a water droplet or that of a planet, where a water droplet or planet could not choose any other form for itself; humans are constrained and beholden to Nature’s will through the “laws” of emotion which keep us bounded according to our concept of pleasure and pain and we have just as much say in the matter as a water droplet does.
“Thus, men need not be cognizant of the purpose which Nature carries out through them.” They simply only need follow pleasure and avoid pain. The prince then continues…
–The Concept of Mind and the Order of Nature; “To grant it a mind, you want to say? Because the self-serving person would like to bring his species everything good and beautiful, because he were so pleased to have a creator in the family? If you give a crystal the ability to have ideas, its greatest world plan will be crystallization, and its godhead will be the most beautiful form of crystal.”
The Baron brings up the point, if man cannot deviate from his center point how does the prince so arrogantly assert he knows the course of such a Nature.
“I do not determine anything, I merely disregard what men have confused with Nature, what they have taken from their own breasts and pompously dressed her up with. What preceded me, and what will come after me, I see as two black, impenetrable curtains, hanging down on both sides of human life, curtains no mortal has yet lifted.”
In other words, the eternal higher order of Nature does not have a mind, not at least a mind that we could in any way relate to or understand. It is not something that we can share or partake in. We are not the children so to speak of this entity.
The Baron brings up the contradiction in the prince’s statement, that if we cannot know anything about the ordering or intention of this Nature how was the prince able to form even this extent in his understanding. Similar to those who claim “that there is no truth”, but are thus contradicting themselves in making such a statement and thinking it indeed a truth.
The prince responds that he does not determine anything but “merely disregards what men have confused with Nature”. This obviously is not addressing the contradiction, since you cannot disregard something rightfully without some manner of insight as to why, which the prince does not give. The prince continues, that what preceded him and what will follow him are like two black impenetrable curtains, that is, the prince has this approach to the unknown that it is no different than if nothing occurred before him and nothing after him. There is no point in even trying to think about it because no mortal will ever be able to enter past those curtains.
–Man has no other value than his effects; Baron states “Therefore, that person, in whom the reason for numerous effects is contained, would be the more excellent person? How can that be? Is there, then, no longer any difference between good and bad? Moral beauty is lost?”
Prince states “The feeling of moral difference is something far more important to me than my reason…Your morality needs something to support it, while mine rests upon its own axis.”
The prince: “Break your habit of presupposing, that the great masses, which the understanding only comprehends as wholes, exist as wholes in the real world.” One can only assess the initial effect and not the entire chain of effects. And since we cannot know the entire chain of effects we cannot know its reason or purpose.
The prince: “The effect of my act ceased to be my act with its immediacy, just as yours did.” Baron brings up intention, prince responds “Quite right. But never forget that one cause can only have one effect.”
The Baron’s brings up the case of your intention as an immediate effect being successful.
The prince responds, “There is no immediate connection, for an entire series of arbitrary events will insert themselves in between each effect outside of himself which a person brings forth, and the inner cause, or the will. So, you might as well admit at once, that both acts are equivalent in their effects.” i.e. morally indifferent.
The Baron responds “But the motive?”
So again using the example of Dawkins theory, if our will is really governed by our genes, the more successful we are in such actions, the more potent and superior must our genes be. And the more superior genes one contains within oneself, the more superior they will be in their cause for us to execute its will.
The Baron then asks, but how do you differentiate between a superior and inferior action, what determines whether an action is good or bad? Isn’t there still a good and bad purpose behind such actions? And if not, isn’t moral beauty lost then? The prince responds “break your habit of presupposing that Nature organises itself from wholes“. That is, the prince does not believe in the universal, that things are ordered from top-down. He believes that we are just executions of parts and that we can’t ever know the intention of the whole, or if there is even such an intention. The prince continues that one can only assess the initial effect and not the chain of effects. And since we cannot know this chain of effects we cannot know its reason or purpose.
The prince goes on to describe an example of two beggars, whereby the Baron gives a coin to one beggar who uses this to buy medicine for his ailing father and the prince gives a coin to another beggar who uses it to buy a weapon and commit murder, that despite the actions each beggar chose, the action of both the Baron and the prince are equal in effect. The prince continues “The effect of my act ceased to be my act with its immediacy“, that is, that the prince was only responsible for the action of giving a coin to a beggar and not for its outcome.
The Baron then responds, but what if his intention in giving the coin to the beggar was for him to commit murder, wouldn’t the Baron then be responsible and isn’t it more a question of intention than the act itself? The prince then responds in a way which is quite the acrobatic feat in philosophy, that there is in fact no immediate connection regardless of intention, because “an entire series of arbitrary events will insert themselves in between each effect.” In other words, even if I give a coin to a beggar with the intention that they commit murder, there will be so many other separate actions and reactions in between the giving of the coin and the act of murder that will further reinforce or dissuade such an outcome from occurring. And thus, the prince concludes “you might as well admit at once that both acts are equivalent in their immediate effect” and an effect that occurs past the immediacy is not something that we can be held responsible for, thus we are morally indifferent to such outcomes as a coin being used to commit murder.
And so the question of motive is brought up, and whether motive can even exist or have an effect as comprehended by such an outlook.
–Do Evil Acts have Motives?; The prince exclaims, if good and bad predicates exist only in the soul than we can ignore the external acts for now. Morality can be conceived only inside the soul not outside of it. “Nothing but the inner drive to give effect to all its forces, which is the equivalent of achieving the highest proclamation of its existence. It is in this condition, that we presume the perfection of the moral being, just as we say that a clock is perfect, when all the parts, out of which the artisan constructed it, correspond to the effect, on whose account he constructed it…we denote the name morality and whether an act is morally good or morally evil depends upon whether it approximates or deviates from this principle, or whether it promotes or hinders this principle…Now, since this principle is nothing but the most perfect activity of all of the powers of a person, is a good act that in which more forces were active, and an evil one that in which less were active?” Remember each cause can only have one effect, therefore a conspiracy are motives with several causes and effects and not just one motive
That is, if I am a moral person and I want to have a good intended effect but I fail at achieving such an effect, does this mean I am an immoral person? That is, is morality contingent on the success of the action or the intention? It is agreed by the Baron that morality is contingent on the intention, but not the success of the action. The prince goes on, since this is the case, we do not have to be concerned with the external world, the effects of our intentions, but rather let us focus on what internally organises our intentions. The prince then compares a moral being to a well functioning clock. And the more forces that are active within us, which is what Nature intended for us, the more perfect our function becomes, as in a clock.
That is, if a clock is to work, it needs to have so many of its parts functioning, and the more parts that do not function in such a clock the less perfect its function or effect. The same goes for a person, as per the prince, that the more parts function, the greater the moral or good effect. Whereas, a bad effect is when the parts of a person cease to function in such a way that the generated effect is of a lower potency or force. Therefore a bad effect is the result of less forces potent or active within you, and therefore, is naturally inferior in effect relative to the good.
With this approach the good will naturally have more potent forces active within itself and the bad less potent forces. Therefore, the bad is naturally inferior and cannot compete with the good.
Looking at it from the standpoint of the prince, where does the concept of evil come into play?
Well, we apparently need not concern ourselves with such matters since what Nature desires is for a good of sorts, that is, something that will exact its will that is unknown to us. With this understanding, the good is naturally superior as an accumulation of forces than the bad, and thus evil cannot play any governing role and we need not pay it attention.
This showcases how incredibly naive the prince is, to presuppose evil as so inferior and so base that you need not concern yourself at all with it, especially in the context of being in the middle of a Venetian design for him!
So how should we think of the nature of evil?
St. Augustine offers one of the best answers that I have come across so far, to get at the crux of this question. It is not just a matter of being able to recognise evil, but it is also imperative that there is an understanding as to how the good is indeed superior, despite the nature of evil being so prevalent and seemingly powerful. In response to this, St. Augustine states that light exists on its own whereas darkness is in measured degrees an absence of light. What this means, is that when something partakes in an evil intention by utilising “creativity”, it has to borrow from the “light”, but manipulates and twists its form into something unnatural. This is why the nature of evil is inherently inferior, because it has to borrow from the good in order to have a powerful effect. This does not mean that evil is not incredibly dangerous, such as the case of what organised Venice as a political structure. However, if such a force of evil were to confront something that partakes in the highest good, it would not have the means to oppose it and the good would rule over it, since the good partakes in itself as an absolute.
The problem with the prince’s philosophy, is that it is ultimately the philosophy of a slave. He thinks that he has somehow freed himself from his previous shackles and is his own sovereign now, but in fact he has become more enslaved then he has ever been in his life. He is enslaved because he denies purpose, and as soon as you deny purpose, you become the tool for someone else’s purpose.
As soon as the prince was satisfied in explaining away the series of odd events that occurred to him as coming down to mere chance, including the eerie prediction of the Armenian as to the exact time of death of the prince’s cousin, who was next in line to be king, the prince gave up on these events being organised by a purpose. At that point on, the prince had blinded himself and could not predict anything sinister that was coming his way, but rather reduced himself to a position of taking things as they occurred to him. In other words, the prince’s fate was from that point on chosen for him and the prince removed his say in the matter by denying purpose.
Let us now move onto the prince’s version of what is morality…
–A good act is one with more forces active; prince “Therefore, an evil deed only negates that which is affirmed in a good deed…I cannot say, therefore, that an evil heart is necessary to commit this act…Depravity is, therefore, only absence of virtue, foolishness the absence of understanding…Just as one can hardly say, that emptiness, quiet, or darkness exist, depravity can hardly exist in a person, or depravity at all, in the entire moral world?”
–Hierarchy of Good and Lesser Good; “We despise a person who flees, and thereby escapes death, not because we dislike the effective drive for self-preservation, but rather because he had surrendered less to this drive, had he possessed the more magnificent quality of courage. I can admire bravery, the cunning of a thief who steals from me, but I call him depraved, because he lacks the incomparably more beautiful quality of justice…You thus admit, that it is not the activity of forces which makes the depraved person depraved, but rather their inactivity…Motives, however, are such activities; so, it is incorrect to say, that an act is depraved on account of its motives. Nothing of the sort! The motives for such a deed are the only good in the act, it is only evil on account of the motive it lacks…But we could have made this proof much shorter. Would the wicked person act upon these motives, if they did not guarantee him pleasure? It is pleasure alone, that sets the moral being into motion; and, as we know, only that which is good can provide pleasure.” The Baron agrees to this, the good is superior to the bad. The prince continues “A person, whose powers are active to a great degree, will also certainly possess an excellent heart, since that which he loves in himself, he cannot hate in another.”
Again, according to the prince’s definition, a good act just has more forces in it and a bad act less forces active in it, so it is not necessarily a question of “evil”. But rather, that for whatever reason, you don’t have as many potent active forces within you to commit an act. So in this context, there really isn’t a bad per se but rather a hierarchy of more good and lesser good, and evil thus doesn’t really exist.
The prince then goes on to give examples, that a person that does something that we deem despicable is not in fact doing something “bad” but rather chose a lesser force rather than a more potent force, such as ‘self-preservation” vs ‘courage’, or ‘bravery’ vs ‘justice’. And thus we only find the act despicable because they failed to act in the more magnificent force. Thus an action is “bad” because the greater, more magnificent forces did not act within you.
From this same account, the prince concludes that a “bad” act is thus not an effect of a motive but rather the lack of a motive, in other words, it is not fulfilling its intended (by Nature) effect. This is equivalent to stating that it is not following Nature’s guide of pleasure, since pleasure as discussed earlier is the intended effect Nature desires from us, it is thus the greatest good and thus partakes in the highest morality, as per the prince. And thus, the person who has the most powers active within them must therefore possess the most excellent heart….
–Moral Excellence and Happiness in the Present; “A person’s happiness merges with his moral excellence, and, therefore, the latter requires nothing more, that no pleasure is given to him in advance of a perfection yet to be achieved, as little as a rose that blossoms today should only become beautiful the following year…It were equally inconceivable, that the glow of the sun should be present this afternoon, but the warmth only tomorrow afternoon, or that the excellence of a person should be in this world, but his happiness in another…The moral being is, therefore, perfect and circumscribed within himself…and this morality is a relationship completely independent of that which occurs outside of it…So, whatever might happen around me, the moral indifference remains.”
The Baron responds, “Oh, good Prince! You want to elevate your insensitive necessity to a position of grandeur, and you do not even wish to make a God happy with it. Wherever you find pleasure available, you find yourself a pleasure – seeking being – and yet, this infinite pleasure, this feast of perfection, is supposed to stand empty for eternity!”
Remember, the prince doesn’t believe in the immortality of the soul, thus if you are to be rewarded for good actions they must be rewarded to you in the present. This whole idea of being moral but that your happiness is not necessarily an immediate reward to this is not the effect we see in Nature argues the prince. He goes to list examples: the blossom of a rose does not produce the pleasure of beauty a year later, it produces it in the now, the glow of the sun does not produce warmth a day later but in the now, therefore why should we expect it differently for a person who is self-contained, that is, that our morality is independent of what occurs outside of ourselves and therefore we should have happiness as an immediate effect. Thus pleasure is a measure of the greatest good according to the prince, since it produces an immediate reward.
The Baron is unable to argue against this but he doesn’t agree with it, and states “and yet, this infinite pleasure, this feast of perfection, is supposed to stand empty for eternity!” The Baron recognises that what the prince has laid out as a measure for happiness is likened to one forever gorging one’s self and yet never feeling satisfied, to only know a feeling of hunger and never a feeling of satiety. Where is the fulfillment? The fulfillment is always fleeting in such an outlook. As Paolo Sarpi, a leading free thinker said (reviewed in Part 1 of this series), “we are always acquiring happiness, we have never acquired it and never will.“
“Strange!” said the prince, after considering for a long time. “That, upon which you and others found your hopes, is just that which has dashed all of mine – this supposed perfection of things. Were everything not so self-contained, were I able to see but a single, disfigured splinter, jutting out of this beautiful circle, that alone were sufficient proof for me, that immortality exists. Yet, everything I see falls back into this center, and the most noble thought we are capable of, is merely an indispensable mechanism for driving this wheel of ephemeral reality.”
“I do not understand you, most gracious Prince. Your own philosophy passes judgment upon you; you are, truly, like the rich man who starves surrounded by his treasure. You admit, that a person contains in himself everything he needs to be happy, and that he can obtain this happiness only by means of that which he possesses, but you want to seek the source of your unhappiness outside of yourself. If you are right, it is impossible for you to even wish to strive beyond the confines in which you keep mankind imprisoned.”
“That is the worst of it all, that we are only morally perfect, only happy, in order to be useful, that we enjoy our labor but not our works. A hundred thousand laboring hands carried the stones to build the pyramids – but the pyramids were not their reward. The pyramids delighted the eyes of the king, and the slaves were paid off with their livelihood. What does one owe the laborer, if he can labor no longer, or if there is nothing for him to labor upon? Or, what do you owe a person, if he is no longer useful?”
“He will always be useful!”
“Always, even as a thinking being?”
Recall that the prince believes everything do be self-contained, such as a water droplet or the shape of a planet due to what Nature prescribes. In the case of non-living material, the law of gravity holds them within a self-contained boundary that they cannot exit from. The prince believes that a person is also a self-contained unit, whose boundary condition is prescribed from Nature not through gravity by rather the emotional desire for pleasure and avoidance of pain. Because everything is self-contained in this manner, as per the prince, immortality cannot exist since it would require an ability to exit such a material boundary condition.
Thus the prince says that if he could only see a splinter jutting out of a beautiful circle proving it were not a self-contained form, if the prince could only witness such an imperfection that freed itself from its prescribed boundary, he could then believe in an immortality. But the prince concludes such an imperfection does not exist and thus immortality is nothing but an illusion, a dream.
In order for us to be solid in our morality and sovereignty we need an acknowledged purpose, very specifically and essentially a purpose that is larger than us, far larger. Religion is the domain that tends to cover this subject most often. However, belief and faith in a purpose larger than us is not the same as knowing. Is it possible to know? Belief and faith that are essentially blind and doctrinal, that is, were adopted without a proper investigation into whether they are truthful, when such beliefs are shattered or disappoint there is nothing left to uphold our understanding of ourselves nor how we are situated in something that partakes in the eternal. In the case of the prince his belief was shattered and he became a free thinker, a believer in a cold world that wasn’t any more alive than if it were all made of crystal. He denies that the universe has a mind, but rather seeks its conception of perfection which is ultimately inconsequential to humans who live mortal lives within this cold sphere. He agrees that the condition of human happiness based off of pain and pleasure are tied to this but because it has no mind and it is instinctive within us, it rules us and whatever we feel or think is a consequence of nature’s will in us. The prince no longer believes in a truly moral purpose to anything in this world. He no longer believes in an immortality of the soul. We are moulded by nature in a temporal existence and wither away.
Remark by the Count O:
“I too beg forgiveness of my dear reader for having so faithfully copied the Baron of F. If the excuse he had in his friend is no excuse for me, I have another excuse, and the reader will have to accept it. That is, the Baron of F could not foresee the influence, which the philosophy of the prince could have upon future fate – but I know, and, for that reason, I have left everything as I found it. I assure the reader, who hoped to see ghosts here, that some are still to come; but the reader will see for himself, that they make a lot of fuss about such a disbelieving person as the prince of *** happens to be.”
Count O is stating here, that it was this philosophy of the prince which sealed his doom, and which would cause him to ascend the throne in crime.
The rest of the story features the prince getting deconstructed further and further to the point where he becomes a complete slave to his senses. The story ends with Count O recounting how he rushed to meet the prince in Venice since he heard the prince was in a very bad situation:
I took the coach at once, traveled night and day, and in the third week I was in Venice. My haste was no longer of any use, I had come to bring consolation to an unfortunate; I found one fortunate, who no longer required my weak assistance. F lay ill, and could no longer speak when I arrived; I was brought the following note from his hand. “Go back where you came from, dearest O. The prince needs you no longer, nor me. His debts are paid, the cardinal reconciled, the marquis recovered. Do you remember the Armenian who distressed us so last year? In his arms you will find the prince, who has been hearing the first mass for five days.”
So the story ends with the prince in a Catholic mass. Recall that the prince was a Protestant and must have been converted to Catholicism by the Armenian. Knowing the overview we made in Part 1 on the Venetian orchestration of the Thirty Years War, it is finally revealed what the intended purpose for the prince was this entire time. The prince was to become an instrument in this pitting of Catholics against Protestants, and as Schiller remarked of the prince earlier, he would ascend his throne in crime. Recall that about 50% of the German population was killed as a result of the Thirty Years War. We can only imagine what sort of heinous crimes the prince later found himself caught up in, including most likely the annihilation of his Protestant court including his family and friends.
So much for an orchestrating purpose never existing, as per the prince.
Just like Hamlet, the prince ultimately never had any control over what happened to him or his people as a result of a flawed and rather self-contained viewpoint of oneself and the misunderstood consequences of ones action or rather inaction.