Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten).

The Wanderer and his Shadow, the second supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1880.


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Two Means of Consolation.  Epicurus, the soul comforter of later antiquity, said, with that marvellous insight which to this very day is so rarely to be found, that for the calming of the spirit the solution of the final and ultimate theoretical problems is by no means necessary.  Hence, instead of raising a barren and remote discussion of the final question, whether the Gods existed, it sufficed him to say to those who were tormented by "fear of the Gods": "If there are Gods, they do not concern themselves with us”.  The latter position is far stronger and more favourable, for, by conceding a few points to the other, one makes him readier to listen and to take to heart.  But as soon as he sets about proving the opposite (that the Gods do concern themselves with us), into what thorny jungles of error must the poor man fall, quite of his own accord, and without any cunning on the part of his interlocutor!  The latter must only have enough subtlety and humanity to conceal his sympathy with this tragedy.  Finally, the other comes to feel disgust — the strongest argument against any proposition — disgust with his own hypothesis.  He becomes cold, and goes away in the same frame of mind as the pure atheist who says, "What do the Gods matter to me?  The devil take them!"  — In other cases, especially when a half physical, half moral assumption had cast a gloom over his spirit, Epicurus did not refute the assumption.  He agreed that it might be true, but that there was a second assumption to explain the same phenomenon, and that it could perhaps be maintained in other ways.  The plurality of hypotheses (for example, that concerning the origin of conscientious scruples) suffices even in our time to remove from the soul the shadows that arise so easily from pondering over a hypothesis which is isolated, merely visible, and hence overvalued a hundredfold.  Thus whoever wishes to console the unfortunate, the criminal, the hypochondriac, the dying, may call to mind the two soothing suggestions of Epicurus, which can be applied to a great number of problems.  In their simplest form they would run: firstly, granted the thing is so, it does not concern us; secondly, the thing may be so, but it may also be otherwise.  

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