Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Experience and the Conservation of Value

Experience, in the sense of that which we live through, is never concluded as long as life lasts. Hence it may present a series of particular states but never a completed totality, and no general axiom can emerge as the crystallized result of experience. Totalities and generalizations spring either from an elaboration by thought of that which has been experienced, or by an unconscious emphasis of one particular experience or one particular kind of experience as that which decides and determines all else. Before the stage of conscious reflection we shall find this unconscious emphasis forming the basis of all which afterwards comes to be regarded as the result of religious experience. It lies in the nature of feeling that once aroused by any particular event, it tends to spread over the whole life of conscious- ness and seeks to impart its own colouring to all other elements of this life, indifferent as to whether they are or are not connected with the event in question. …

If faith in the conservation of value be the core of all religion, it follows that no religion can be constructed on the basis of immediate experience. We can only immediately learn to know the particular and definite values which are conditioned by our human and individual nature and our special conditions of life; no experience can immediately teach us anything about the conservation of these values any more than it can show us that that which possesses the highest value for us is the central fact of existence. What we have experienced and lived through may supply us with a motive for believing in the conservation of value, but it can never supply the content of this faith. Personal life—more especially as it expresses itself in great crises, when new paths are struck out and new forms of life produced — is highest value we know. Hence we involuntarily employ the experiences we have of this life to illuminate the whole of existence; it appears to us as though in such crises existence reveals to us its hidden powers. An expansion of feeling is here in operation. If we try to translate this into the form of thought, we get a conclusion by analogy, and an analogy which lies on the other side of the line at which thought passes over into poetry

Harald Høffding (born March 11, 1843)


We, who are ordinary people, are apt to develop a discontent that runs into envy and jealousy, until it becomes bitter and hard, and that destroys not only our own happiness, but is exceedingly unjust towards those in the presence of whom we are thus discontented and envious. Suppose a person is handsomer than I am, has more brain power, more money, occupies a more distinguished position in society. For what is such a person responsible? He did not make himself handsome. He did not earn the money which he inherited. He did not manufacture the brain power which has come from his ancestors. These things are conferred upon him. It is not out of spite to us, that he is handsomer or richer or better endowed in any way. It is no personal injury to us, on his part, that he possesses these things. He is only responsible for the use that he makes of these endowments ; and, therefore, his responsibility may be larger and more critical than ours. But there is something unspeakably mean and little-souled in being bitter, envious, spiteful toward a person, because he is better off in any way than we are.

Minot J. Savage (1841-1918)

Peter Flötner - Allegory of Envy (circa 1540)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

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