A Question of Belief
DAVID: (Picks up a book from his friend's desk) Good God, I didn't know that you were into astrology! How long have you been studying it?
KELVIN: Only a few weeks, I'm afraid. Although, with certain reservations, I've been fairly interested in the subject for some time now. In fact, I borrowed that Modern Textbook of Astrology from the local library. It's a most informative and charming work by Margaret E. Hone.
DAVID: It certainly looks detailed. In fact, much more so than the few books that I have bothered to read on astrology. However, I must confess that I wasn't convinced. There is something about astrology and astrological supposition which leaves me cold. Perhaps I have other superstitions?
KELVIN: What makes you so sure that it's a superstition?
DAVID: Well, it isn't exactly a science, is it? There seem to be so many vague conjectures involved with the interpretation of planets and signs that one is left with scarcely anything concrete to stand on. Why, for instance, should one believe that a planet called Mars necessarily has any direct connection with war? Or that a planet called Mercury should likewise have any direct connection with communication? If the ancients chose to honour the then-known planets with such fancy names, that by no means proves that those planets actually possessed the qualities or attributes usually associated with them! How can a mass of inert matter possibly have anything to do with love or war or communication or whatever? One might just as well re-name the planets and give them quite different attributes, as believe in the authenticity of the traditional ones! What difference would it make to Mars, for example, if I were to rename it Gold, and thereupon declare that, henceforth, all those people born under its influence would have a marked predilection for collecting precious things and/or making money? Doubtless the planet would continue on its way as before, but astrologers would be compelled to alter their predictions, assumptions, and solicitations in accordance with the symbolic attributes of its new name. Now if I were to extend this re-naming to all the other known planets as well, then astrologers would be obliged to abandon virtually everything they had formerly believed about them. They would be forced into adopting an entirely new approach to their interpretations.
KELVIN: Yes, your argument sounds quite feasible if one merely assumes that the planets only received their names in a rather arbitrary manner, i.e. that an ancient astronomer thought he might as well call the second planet from the sun Venus as anything else, or that he might as well call the fourth planet from it Mars as anything else, and then add the respective attributes of the Roman gods to them. But it is quite inadequate if one also considers the possibility that the planets only received their names after the general tendencies of their respective influences, or 'principles', had been taken into account. In other words, it seems more than likely that people born under the sway of a given pattern of planetary influence were later found to possess certain basic character-traits which somehow corresponded to this periodically recurrent pattern and which, on deeper investigation, could be assumed to derive from one planet in particular - namely, the one most prominent at the time of their birth. Hence a name and attendant quality were then given to that planet which accorded with what was believed to be its general influence, and some of the people subsequently born under a similar pattern were later analysed in the same light, in order that budding astrologers and established astronomers might confirm the reappearance of certain basic character traits peculiar to them.
DAVID: What makes you so confident that the ancients actually bothered to study the behaviour of such people or, for that matter, to name the planets only after they had investigated what they believed to be their respective influences?
KELVIN: The realization, I suppose, that one shouldn't underestimate the ability and ingenuity of the ancients! Admittedly, one cannot be absolutely certain, in the absence of proper historical data, that this was what actually transpired. But where such men as Thales, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Hipparchus, Ptolemy, Plotinus, Porphyry, and Maternus are concerned, one can be quite certain that an arbitrary or superficial appreciation of the heavenly bodies wouldn't have satisfied them!
DAVID: So you evidently believe that astrology isn't just a superstition but something that, although officially not a science, nevertheless aspires to the truth?
KELVIN: Yes, I would certainly say that there is some truth in it. As you know, I'm not the easiest person to convince where religious, extraterrestrial, or occult phenomena are concerned, and I certainly make no claims to a special esoteric knowledge of such matters! But even though I may regard astrological investigations, contentions, and suppositions with a critical eye and a sceptical detachment, I'm by no means dogmatically opposed to them! Quite the contrary, it appears more than evident to me that many of those who are such are either partisan specialists too busy furthering their own cause to have much sympathy or time to spare on other causes or, alternatively, ordinary people who desire to have their ignorance of astrological practice regarded as profundity, and who are only too ready, in consequence, to participate in or listen to the first argument against it which vindicates their ignorance and bolsters their self-esteem. But a dogmatic denial founded on either partisanship or ignorance is hardly sufficient to convince one of its legitimacy and validity - not, anyway, from an astrologer's viewpoint! Ultimately, it is only the astrologers themselves whom one can take seriously, just as, with regard to medical science, it's only the doctors one can take seriously. It would be a fine thing if the validity of medical practice depended upon the judgements of painters, clerks, builders, or bus drivers, wouldn't it?
DAVID: Maybe, but I have a distinct recollection of disappointment in mind concerning a time when I once paid a visit to an astrologer and was duly informed that certain 'events' would occur to me in the near future, events concerning money, companionship, business, health, travel, et cetera, of an optimistic, not to say extremely promising, nature, which, not surprisingly, I was only too pleased to hear about. But do you know what happened? Nothing! None of them came true. My position in life remained almost exactly the same as before and, except for the appearance of my wife just over a year ago, it still hasn't changed very much to this day. So I have a fairly good reason, I would think, to be highly sceptical about the validity and authenticity of astrology!
KELVIN: Strange to say, the same kind of thing happened to me too. But even so, it doesn't necessarily mean that astrology is a hoax. For all we know, it could simply mean that one was hoaxed by a quack astrologer, just as one can be hoaxed by a quack doctor. There are doubtless a fair number of such people in the world, especially now that - partly on account of the decline of belief in Christianity - spiritualism, mysticism, occultism, and other kindred subjects are on the rise, and the metaphysical need or capacity in man is consequently being channelled into various esoteric, tangential, and traditionally 'unapproved' spheres. But the word 'quack' is, in itself, somewhat misleading. For it could just as easily have been the case that the astrologers whom we visited were relatively inexperienced, that they hadn't acquired a thorough knowledge or grasp of their craft, and consequently made some serious mistakes in their calculations. After all, even a highly-trained and long-experienced astrologer can occasionally make a mistake with regard to his computation, charting, aspects, progressions, interpretations, and the like, considering that no-one is infallible. Of course, a conscientious astrologer probably realizes that the reputation of his somewhat maligned profession is further jeopardized if he makes a mistake. But, there again, we lay people have no reason to believe that astrology is a hoax if, in fact, he does make a mistake. Let us rather assume, to begin with, that he was simply at fault, and then try our luck elsewhere. Besides, I'm only too well-aware, at present, of how easy it would be for a relatively inexperienced person to make miscalculations, and I dare say that if you bothered to investigate the astrological textbook you're still holding in your hands, you, too, would be quite amazed by the number of complex technical considerations which have to be taken into account. Even with a D.F.Astrol.S., the official diploma of astrology, one is little more than a beginner if one hasn't also had regular professional experience in the matter.
DAVID: Yes, there are certainly a lot more mathematical, geometrical, geographical, and planetary things to consider than I had previously imagined. The few books I have read on the subject were much more popular and correspondingly much less technical than this! They merely gave one the general theoretical outlines of each sign and planet, and then drew-up a number of fairly commonplace remarks as to the supposedly fundamental nature of Librans, Taureans, Scorpios, Virgos, Capricorns, and so on, without bothering to inform one exactly why it was believed that these signs signified particular inclinations. Fortunately, I can never be convinced of anything unless I'm given ample proof of the reasons behind such-and-such a conclusion, and, as it happened, these books required much too much faith or trust for my liking. By the way, what is your sign?
KELVIN: Libra, I am afraid. Like Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
DAVID: Good God! Don't tell me you actually make a point of knowing the signs of famous writers?
KELVIN: I'm afraid so!
DAVID: (Going across to Kelvin's bookcase) Then what was James Joyce?
KELVIN: Aquarius, like Stendhal and Schopenhauer - men of an intensely independent, original, perverse, and freedom-loving turn of mind!
DAVID: And Emerson?
KELVIN: Gemini, like de Sade.
DAVID: And Camus?
KELVIN: Scorpio, like Gide, his early idol.
DAVID: Really? That is interesting! And what about Carlyle?
KELVIN: Sagittarius, the expansive ones. Like Jim Morrison, author of The Lords and The New Creatures and lead singer with The Doors.
DAVID: I see. And do they each correspond to their respective signs as, apparently, they ought to?
KELVIN: Yes, by and large, although with some reservations. I don't know the exact times of their respective births, so it would be quite impossible for me to give you an accurate interpretation, even if I were qualified to do so, which, as you're probably aware, I'm most certainly not! But, taking their respective signs into account, and using such knowledge of astrology as I have acquired these past few weeks, I would certainly say that each of them corresponds to the general attributes of his sign as much as one might expect him to do. For instance, I said of Joyce, Stendhal, and Schopenhauer that they were all Aquarians, didn't I?
DAVID: You did.
KELVIN: Well, without
going into details which you won't understand, they are of the 'Air
Triplicity', i.e. Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, and may thus be regarded as
belonging to the predominantly intellectual and communicative group. In addition, they are of the 'Fixed Quadruplicity',
i.e. Taurus, Scorpio, Leo, and Aquarius, and may accordingly be regarded as
belonging to the group most resistant to change. Lastly, Aquarius is a 'Positive Sign', as are
all the alternate signs from Aries to Pisces, and is thus associated with self-expression
rather than self-repression. Now,
without complicating the issue any further, one can see that Joyce,
particularly in light of his two major works Ulysses and Finnegans Wake,
was of an intensely independent, original, perverse, and freedom-loving turn of
mind - four qualities, remember, which are inextricably bound-up with the
psychology of the typical Aquarian. As
indicated by the 'Air Triplicity', he was predominantly intellectual and
communicative rather than, for example, spiritual, emotional, dreamy, or regal,
as can easily be verified by the general trend of his work. Furthermore, the 'Fixed Quadruplicity'
indicates a tendency to fixity or resistance to change which, to take a single
example, we find exemplified by the length of time he spent writing his two major
books. Then, of course, the
self-expression, particularly with regard to Ulysses, is only too
evident, as is the rebelliousness - another strong Aquarian trait which, in
Joyce's case, focuses much of its attention on both the Catholic Church and the
social climate of
DAVID: Schopenhauer the greatest philosopher of the modern age! Are you kidding? What about Nietzsche, Bradley, James, Bergson, Russell, Sartre, or Joad? Admittedly, he may be greater than most of the established philosophers of this or the previous century. But to imply that he is greater than Nietzsche ...
KELVIN: I am quite convinced of it actually, and would be prepared to go beyond implication to a categorical assertion of the fact. Of course, you are well aware that some of Nietzsche's work greatly appeals to me, and I wouldn't wish to underrate his considerable influence on contemporary thought. But the fact nevertheless remains that, by strictly philosophical standards, much of his work leaves something to be desired, particularly when analysed from a detached, deliberative, and scientific point-of-view! No, anyone who has studied The World as Will and Representation in its entirety will be aware of something which should settle the issue of the relative merits of these two thinkers once and for all!
DAVID: Oh, and what, precisely, is that?
KELVIN: A knowledge of the fact that if one is to arrive at a fairly stable, logical, fair, and accurate conclusion about anything, the Will should be kept in the background as much as possible, so that the intellect, freed from the distorting intrusions of passions, emotions, prejudices, feelings, et cetera, may range unhindered over the subject to hand, and thus arrive at orderly and objective findings. If the Will intrudes overmuch, then the intellect may well be proportionately coloured or distorted, and an accurate or fair judgement of the issue at stake will be virtually impossible to achieve. One need only think of how one's judgement is impaired by the emotion of anger, to get a fair understanding of what I'm driving at! In this rather extreme case, the emotion is so violent that one is rightly accused of 'losing one's head' or of being 'blinded by rage'. Thus for a purely objective, analytical, philosophical appreciation of things, the Will must be subdued as much as possible.
DAVID: I see. But what connection, exactly, does this have with Nietzsche?
KELVIN: The very important connection that in Nietzsche's works there are far too many italicized words and exclamation marks in evidence to suggest that he wrote from a purely objective, will-less point of view. One cannot sprinkle exclamation marks all over the text if the emotions are not deeply involved. And if they are deeply involved - as would certainly seem to be so in Nietzsche's case - then one cannot expect the intellect to remain unclouded by them, to escape the relative distortion which they'll engender. Hence exaggeration will take the place of a cool appraisal of whatever is being discussed, and the true philosophical temper of detached objectivity will be rendered virtually impossible. We can learn all this from ordinary day-to-day experience. But if we are slow at learning from such experience, we must turn to Schopenhauer, the true philosopher, and see for ourselves that the man who formulated The World as Will and Representation, the Parerga and Paralipomena, and other such outstandingly objective works, usually knew how to keep his Will in place and to exploit his Aquarian temperament to extraordinary effect. By comparison, Nietzsche was only partly a philosopher. For, in addition to being a musicologist, philologist, social critic, and autobiographer, he was also a literary artist, and a rather fine one too! Few writers before him have stirred-up the passions to such a high degree or given rise to so much controversy, and, in the final analysis, it is always the artist, the man of passion, who pays tribute to the life-force by bringing a higher degree of life to others, regardless of whether or not he is to some extent sacrificing the truth.
DAVID: But even if what you say happens to be true, you must remember that Schopenhauer was largely pessimistic, whereas Nietzsche was mainly optimistic and therefore much more acceptable to the public. In many respects, Schopenhauer was a classical crank, the last and most reactionary of the objective philosophers, and thus the natural enemy of that passionate subjectivity which Nietzsche was to pioneer as perhaps the first of the truly modern philosophers. In fact, less a philosopher than an expressionistic anti-philosopher.
KELVIN: Ah, but from what I was able to gather from a recent conversation with you, it's only the 'Penguin Classics' edition of his work, published under the title Essays and Aphorisms, that you've read, the selection taken from the second volume of the Parerga and Paralipomena, in consequence of which you lack a comprehensive knowledge of his oeuvre. The idea of Schopenhauer the pessimist - partly promulgated by Nietzsche in his lopsided defiance of everything he had formerly believed in - is much too prevalent these days and tends to distort his true image. In actual fact, only a tiny percentage of Schopenhauer's entire output, probably no more than a tenth of it, is directly connected with pessimism. For by far the greater part of it deals with purely objective considerations of such subjects as genius, madness, idealism, the senses, the intellect, metaphysics, art, music, poetry, history, heredity, love, religion, the thing-in-itself, Kant's philosophy, politics, and so on. So the actual part played by pessimism - a by-no-means illegitimate or unreasonable part - is scarcely enough, in my opinion, to secure him the eternal epithet of 'pessimist'. By contrast, Nietzsche's so-called optimism was really a self-preservative measure, a violent reaction against his former self, against a nihilistic, pessimistic, pathological, neurotic, and deeply painful state-of-mind which would probably have driven him to suicide had he not experienced a 'conversion' - analogous to Harry Haller's conversion in Hesse's great Nietzschean novel Steppenwolf - and thereupon decided to adopt an amor fati, a love-of-fate approach to life and, accordingly, turn his back on everything, including his youthful admiration of Schopenhauer and Wagner, which had constituted so deep a part of his former self. Unfortunately for him, however, he took his love of fate too far. For his admirable dictum that Man is something that should be overcome acquired a perverse twist and eventually became his personal fate, in that he literally 'overcame' himself by suffering an irreversible breakdown which remained his fate for the last eleven years of his life.
DAVID: Yes, in consequence, apparently, of a syphilitic infection he contracted as a youth!
KELVIN: That may well be, though I haven't found any mention of it in his many autobiographical writings, including his letters, and am consequently more inclined to believe that he simply over-worked, since he not only wrote Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ, The Wagner Case, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche contra Wagner, Dithyrambs and Dionysus, and numerous letters to friends, publishers, editors, et cetera, in 1888, but, to cap it all, he wrote by far the greater part of what has subsequently become that immense tome The Will to Power as well! No wonder he suffered an irreversible breakdown in January 1889!
DAVID: Yes, but when you consider the vast amount of work he got through in the space of a single decade, and then compare that to the comparatively small amount of work done by Schopenhauer over the best part of five decades, it's only too obvious that Nietzsche was by far the more creative, and thus highly gifted, of the two.
KELVIN: Perhaps. Though it would probably have been better for both him and us if he had written less and deliberated more! But that wouldn't have been in accordance, seemingly, with his fiery temperament! Still, one oughtn't to allow quantity to take over from quality. If today he is more popular than Schopenhauer, it is primarily because his writings are easier to understand, because much of his work appeals to the emotions more than to reason, because of the 'mythic value' of his tragic life and collapse, and because of the many strong polemical points he made against his great predecessor. As I said earlier, Nietzsche was more of an artist, more spontaneous and excitable, and certainly less academic than a majority of theoretical writers either before or since. So it's not particularly surprising to me that he should command a wider public than Schopenhauer. But that doesn't make him a greater philosopher! On the contrary, one can see why the greatest philosophers are less well-known and appreciated when one bears in mind the complexity of their work. Yet Schopenhauer's greatness also lay in the fact that he didn't allow his work to become too complex but reduced the number of technical expressions to a bare minimum, even if, by way of compensation, he inserted far more Greek and Latin citations than virtually any other modern philosopher, with the possible exception of Heidegger. But there is a considerable difference between writing authentic philosophy, which necessarily requires and engenders a certain level of complexity, and juggling with words in a manner that suggests profundity, but is really designed to compensate for a lack of it. If a man has something worthwhile to say, he won't endeavour to hide it behind a mass of complications and contradictions, like some contemporary philosophers, but will communicate it to his readers in the most appropriate manner possible. I need hardly remind you that Schopenhauer had no sympathy for the complicators, or obscure ones, and one can be sure that there are a fair number of twentieth-century philosophers who would have failed to please him on that account! Indeed, I would give anything to know what his opinion of the works of certain more recent philosophers would be if, by some magical decree, we could enable him to return from the grave and investigate some of the philosophical developments which have taken place in the meantime.
DAVID: It's just as well, in my humble opinion, that he can't come back. For he would definitely be annoyed, if not affronted, by various of the remarks Nietzsche made against him, especially those concerning his pessimism.
KELVIN: Yes, I dare say he would. Although I am also aware that some of Nietzsche's criticisms were fully justified! However, I think Schopenhauer would be more puzzled by The Anti-Christ and similar writings than by anything else, particularly in view of the fact that Nietzsche had studied The World as Will and Representation and therefore ought to have known about that very fine essay entitled 'Man's need of Metaphysics', with its acknowledgement of the metaphysics of the people.
DAVID: I'm afraid I don't quite follow you there.
KELVIN: Well, to cut a long explanation short, let us just say that metaphysics-proper has to do with philosophy, metaphysics of the people, by contrast, with religion. Thus there is a metaphysics for the Few and a metaphysics for the Many.
KELVIN: Well, what was a philosopher doing meddling with the metaphysics of the people, i.e. with Christianity, when, by rights, he should have accepted the legitimacy of such a metaphysics and consequently turned his attention back to philosophy?
DAVID: Taking revenge on the priests, I suppose. You must remember that philosophy has often been undermined and perverted by the influence of the majority metaphysics, and that its expositors have often been persecuted, killed, outlawed, severely cautioned, or made to compromise themselves in a manner which, in the long-run, could only have disastrous consequences for both philosophy and religion. However, in Nietzsche's case, you could say that philosophy was standing-up for itself and simultaneously getting its own back on religion. Instead of compromising himself by serving the interests of Christianity, as a majority of Western philosophers had done before him, Nietzsche purposely went out of his way to undermine and slander it, to eliminate the entire trend or tradition of philosophical compromise, and thus champion the rights of the Few, as opposed to those of the Many.
KELVIN: Yes, I realize all that! But, even so, it's as unworthy of one who writes for the Few to attack the metaphysics of the Many as ... of one who writes for the Many to attack the metaphysics of the Few. It is unworthy of a true philosopher because, in light of the intellectual differences which exist between men, both kinds of metaphysics are equally justified and, no matter what guise they may take, there must always be one kind of metaphysics that interprets the Truth - insofar as we're capable of understanding it - in a direct, or factual, way and, conversely, another kind of metaphysics which interprets the Truth in an indirect, or allegorical, way. Now Schopenhauer wasn't, strictly speaking, a Christian. Nevertheless he knew well enough that the common people were entitled to a metaphysics different from philosophy, which granted them aspects of the Truth in a simplified, non-factual, figurative kind of way. With The Anti-Christ, however, it's as though Nietzsche, as a philosopher, was writing for the Many against their metaphysics rather than for the Few against an earlier philosophy. In other words, there is a contradiction involved, quite as though, in 'revaluating all values', Nietzsche unconsciously confounded the values of philosophy with those of religion and thereupon divided himself between them. But the philosopher's proper task is not, as previously noted, to meddle with the metaphysics of the people, but to propound his own philosophy in opposition to and/or as an extension of one or more of the various philosophies which have preceded him. Admittedly, to some extent Nietzsche did in fact do so. But he wasn't enough of a philosopher to prevent his emotions and prejudices from taking the lead, from time to time, and, consequently, he was driven into the realms of artistic exaggeration and romanticism. Indeed, I'm not at all surprised that, as his intellectual fatality gradually deepened and he realized where his true inclinations lay, he subsequently turned against many of Schopenhauer's viewpoints. For it's only natural, after all, that one should endeavour to defend oneself against those who threaten to refute or contradict one's theories and, if possible, turn as many people away from their work as possible. Now this is certainly what the mature Nietzsche attempted to do as regards Schopenhauer and, to an even greater extent, the Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle.
DAVID: Really? But I thought that Carlyle was against Christianity, an atheist who wanted people to throw off their old spiritual garments and emancipate themselves from the clutches of a dying society.
KELVIN: No, not entirely. For although he may have been against Christianity as it existed during his time, he certainly wasn't against a metaphysics of the people per se, as Nietzsche would appear to have been. Religion for Carlyle wasn't something that could be done away with, in order that people might live happily ever after. For such an assumption would have presupposed the impossible - namely, that the metaphysical need in the average man could be eliminated. No, it was precisely what appeared to be the inadequacy of the then-current metaphysics of the people that Carlyle was particularly worried about. Thus he wanted people to throw off the old, dead metaphysics and subsequently step into a new, healthier and better metaphysics. Although he didn't have many useful suggestions to make as to the exact nature of this other - not, anyway, unless you take his socialistic philosophy of hard work as its cornerstone! One finds in Chapter Five of Book Three of Sartor Resartus the basis of his discontent with the old metaphysics and hope that, during the process of its ultimate dissolution, a new metaphysical integrity would arise out of it, phoenix-like, to bring fresh hope and life to an ailing society. With Carlyle, there is no attempt to proclaim the 'death of God', as with Nietzsche, but, rather, a tendency to lament over the misuse and neglect of Western man's relationship to a deity, as apparent in his day. Thus one can quite understand why Nietzsche, in his iconoclastic rage against everything Christian, became somewhat contemptuous of Carlyle's insistence on the establishment of a new metaphysics, believing, as he must, that it would only lead to a resurrection or prolongation of man's relationship to God - the very thing that he was busily undermining in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Anti-Christ, Twilight of the Idols, and similar writings. With Carlyle, the idea that 'God is dead' wouldn't have been a matter for rejoicing but, rather, for lamenting, since he loathed the mechanistic and utilitarian trends that were everywhere in full-swing in consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Admittedly, Nietzsche wasn't exactly enamoured of them either! But his attitude to Christianity was even more hostile, and ultimately suggested, unlike Carlyle, that religion was largely to blame for them.
DAVID: Was Carlyle a genuine philosopher?
KELVIN: No, for like most Sagittarians he was much too expansive to remain wholly in the mould of philosophy, unlike his great compatriot, David Hume, a generation or two before. One finds Carlyle branching out into literature, biographies, travelogues, histories, criticisms, essays, letters, speeches, reminiscences, diaries, and so on, with a dash of philosophy thrown-in for good measure. As in the case, for example, of the Sartor Resartus - a work which, for all its theorizing, is predominantly literary. No, genuine philosophers are rather few-and-far-between, which is only to be expected where such a difficult subject is concerned, and in a world, moreover, where the vast majority of intellectual writers are obliged to earn their living in a somewhat more commercial vein. Schopenhauer was fortunate enough to inherit a large patrimony, following the suicide of his father. But the vast majority of modern writers have to struggle for a living, and philosophy is certainly not the best way to go about doing that! Of course, to be a genuine philosopher, it isn't enough that one should only write in a philosophical manner, with due attention to logical consistency. One has to write great philosophy, and not just juggle with words. But I don't want to go into the details of that subject here. It suffices if we regard men like Hume, Locke, Kant, and Schopenhauer as genuine philosophers.
DAVID: Hmm, which reminds me of what you contended earlier about Schopenhauer being the greatest of the moderns. I am inclined to concede now that, in strictly philosophical terms, he was greater than Nietzsche and arguably greater than such philosophers as Berkeley, Descartes, Leibniz, Condorcet, Helvetius, Spinoza, Hegel, and Mill. But as regards Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Camus, Bergson, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and John Cowper Powys ... I'm not so sure. On what criterion do you base your contention?
KELVIN: On a number of criteria actually, the most important of which must surely be that, with a little indirect help from Hume and Kant, he evolved a rather fine system of philosophy and maintained a firm allegiance to it throughout his professional life. Now Bertrand Russell may well be the greatest British thinker since Hume, but he isn't by any means a pure philosopher, and he certainly hasn't evolved a systematic methodology. There is a great deal of the mathematician, scientist, general essayist, sociologist, politician, economist, autobiographer, and even artist - he wrote several short stories - about him. Now although I have little doubt that a philosopher should comment on a wide range of topics, there is surely a limit as to how far he can comment on them without ceasing to be a philosopher. Undoubtedly, Bertrand Russell is one of the greatest writers of the modern age, but, on serious reflection, I do not think that he is the greatest philosopher of it. He is much too diversified for that! And as for Jean-Paul Sartre, I would say that he is also much too diversified to be considered a genuine philosopher. As a novelist, short-story writer, critic, essayist, playwright, biographer, autobiographer, journalist, and editor, he undoubtedly ranks with the greatest writers of the twentieth century. But I hardly think that his two principal philosophical works, Being and Nothingness and A Critique of Dialectical Reason, really qualify him to be regarded as the greatest philosopher of modern times either, even if he is arguably the greatest late-twentieth century French philosopher. Taking our previous estimation of a philosopher into account, it seems only fair to conclude that Sartre's various literary achievements have no more entitlement to a place in the world of philosophy than do the various literary achievements of anyone else. And the same, of course, applies to Albert Camus, a man whose literary work far outshines his philosophical creations, including The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus. Besides, there is something about the so-called 'philosophy of the absurd' which is rather absurd in itself and which, in its apparent supposition that man is in the world but not of it, accordingly gives rise to a certain bewilderment.
DAVID: Oh, and why is that, exactly?
KELVIN: Because I don't understand how a person who was born into this world can possibly fail to be of it. If, however, one were transported to the moon one could certainly be said to be in that world or, at any rate, on that planet but not of it, because one would require, amongst other things, the use of a special breathing apparatus and suitably-weighted attire to be able to survive there. But here on earth where, if one overrules the inconvenience of daily pollution, one can breathe perfectly well without requiring the aid of any artificial breathing apparatus and, except in a very high gale-force wind, walk about without running the risk of coming unstuck from the pavement or grass, and floating off into space, it strikes me as quite absurd to suggest that we are not of it. Admittedly, we're not earth, stones, rocks, trees, or lakes. But, then again, neither are any of our fellow inhabitants - the animals, birds, fish, and insects - who are all creatures incapable of thinking about the absurd.
DAVID: But isn't it highly probable that so much of this recent absurdist and existentialist speculation is a direct consequence of Nietzsche's dictum that 'God is dead' and that, as a result of this deplorable fact, or this fatuous notion, as you prefer, modern man finds himself trapped in a godless world with a meaningless universe all around him? In short, that everything has become exactly what Carlyle feared it would - a sort of boundless mechanistic desert?
KELVIN: Yes, this is an idea which has certainly played its part in twentieth-century philosophy. But it has also over-played itself and, from what I've gathered during the course of my studies, I doubt very much that Nietzsche would now feel any great sympathy towards it. In Carlyle's case - yes, it would have a definite appeal. However, for Nietzsche, who overcame his nihilism and whose mature philosophy is largely expressive of one who rejoices in the fact that he has personally overthrown God and thereby set mankind on a new, independent, and self-reliant course, it could only engender repugnance. In this respect, Bertrand Russell is a worthier disciple of Nietzsche than either Camus or Sartre, though he probably wouldn't have wanted to advertise the fact. However, one can only base one's opinion of a given writer on what one has already read by him, irrespective of the likelihood that he may have changed his viewpoint in the meantime, and consequently become quite different from what one superficially imagines him to be, on the basis of a few long-published works. I dare say, for instance, that if Camus were alive today he would be writing along quite different lines from those to which he dedicated himself during and just after the Second World War. If I now had to live through something similar to him, there would be a strong possibility that such a subject as the absurdity of modern life would have more influence on me than it does at present. But that is to a large extent beside-the-point, and something one ought not to consider too thoroughly, if one wants to retain one's criticisms! Curiously enough, it is usually only one's favourite authors that one criticizes anyway, much as one criticizes one's brothers, sisters, parents, friends, lovers, et cetera, because they are the only people whom one is really in a position to criticize. Indeed, when one is in a critical mood one criticizes even oneself, and sometimes more than one criticizes anyone else or, conversely, than anyone else criticizes one. Which is sufficient proof of the fact that one shouldn't allow oneself to be misled into imagining that an author who criticizes something in the work of another author necessarily dislikes either him or his work. After all, Nietzsche certainly criticized Schopenhauer a lot in later years, yet no-one could have been more enthusiastic about Schopenhauer in his youth than him!
DAVID: A thing which would indicate how much he changed over the years.
KELVIN: Yes, and also the extent of his knowledge of Schopenhauer's work and thus, by a curious paradox, his dependence on it. But to continue our discussion of the relative merits of the various philosophers, I think you can now see why I regard Schopenhauer so highly, particularly in light of his continuous, not to say exclusive, commitment to philosophy. Even John Cowper Powys is only a minor philosopher by comparison. For by far the greater part of his considerable oeuvre is of a distinctly literary nature, and no more entitles him to be considered the worthy inheritor of Schopenhauer's crown than do the literary works of Sartre and Camus or, for that matter, of Arthur Koestler. As, however, for Kierkegaard, Bergson, Jaspers, Hussurl, James, Bradley, Moore, Joad, Berlin, and Popper, each of whom is more strictly in the philosophical tradition than any of the above-mentioned writers, the plot becomes increasingly complex and the rivalry more intense, though I don't seriously believe that any of these men ultimately wins out, irrespective of the intermittent flashes of genius from Bergson and Moore. Unfortunately, I must confess to not having read a great deal of either Bradley or James, and that there are also some other modern philosophers, including Heidegger and Wittgenstein, whom I can scarcely bear reading at all! But I don't think that fact would lead me to alter my opinion very much. These days it is so easy for the philosopher to become swallowed-up by the psychologist, sociologist, behavioural scientist, biologist, educationalist, mathematician, essayist, and even artist ... that it's often exceedingly difficult to know exactly where the one begins and the other ends. But, despite the fact that the roles and boundaries of philosophy are constantly being modified in accordance with the dictates of the age, one should never forget that the true philosopher is always a rare product, and that he is usually outnumbered at least 100/1 by the scientists, educationalists, essayists, artists, et cetera, whose investigations may sometimes overlap with his own. It is hard enough to find an age with an abundance of great artists - say, poets and novelists. But to find an age with an abundance of great philosophers ... is virtually impossible! Even the ancient Greeks, masters of the dialectic as they were, only produced three really outstanding ones, viz. Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, and since then there has never been any shortage of people ready to find fault with them, including Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. In truth, men are much easier to entertain than to instruct, the reason being that entertainment is more closely bound to the perceptual than to the conceptual, and the perceptual is everywhere the root condition of things, against which the conceptual, and the highly conceptual above all, is a sort of Christian 'rebirth' or Nietzschean 'revaluation'. As soon as someone begins to instruct one in philosophy, one is automatically put on one's guard against both correct and incorrect knowledge which appears to contradict one's own knowledge or nature or even lifestyle, and there is rarely any shortage of either! But we have discussed this confounded subject of philosophy and the relative merits of philosophers quite long enough! I'm even beginning to feel that I have convinced you of the validity of my argument, since you haven't bothered to interrupt me for some time. You did say something about Nietzsche having changed so much, but that can hardly be regarded as an interruption.
DAVID: No, in actual fact I was thinking about astrology again, wondering whether Aquarius isn't the best sign for a philosopher to be born under. It certainly appears to have worked in Schopenhauer's favour, doesn't it?
KELVIN: Indeed it does, although it's altogether doubtful that he would have given the idea much credence, being, by nature, far too scientifically-minded to dabble in matters which may have superstitious or occult connections. Besides, astrology was nowhere near as popular or prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century as today, and I don't think you will discover any reference to it in his works. However, it does seem that, with the decline of faith in Christianity, subjects like astrology, numerology, and palmistry have acquired a new impetus in the world; though it must remain highly unlikely that any of them will ever become the official metaphysics of the people, just as it must remain unlikely that any of the new so-called 'religions' will, since they mostly lack the requisite ingredients for a genuine metaphysics. Indeed, some of them patently contradict one another, as do spiritualism and a belief in reincarnation. For if one believes in a spirit world, it seems fairly evident that reincarnation is ruled out, since one can hardly return to earth in the guise of another creature, human or animal, and remain a disembodied spirit at the same time, or vice versa. Thus there is always a subterranean warfare going on between the various beliefs which corresponds, as a sort of polar antithesis, to the polemical warfare going on between the various political parties at any given time, and which resembles the same sordid scramble for power. Although they may pretend otherwise while they are weak and dispersed, most of the sects involved would certainly like to be 'in power', to be regarded as representative of the official metaphysics of the people, and to have dominion over all the others - assuming the others would still be countenanced. After all, that is solely in accordance with human nature, with the ambitions, as it were, of the various sects. But, oddly enough, I am quite satisfied with the situation as we find it today, i.e. with so many conflicting beliefs and sects that none of them has complete dominion over the others and no reason, in consequence, to instigate wholesale purges or public executions in the name of the Truth and against the many 'heretics' who somehow remain unconvinced of its authenticity. Even the official metaphysics, as represented by Christianity, is much less powerful than it used to be, and consequently much more tolerant of heretics and unbelievers. Perhaps that is the chief reason why, in some countries, it appears to be making a greater effort at bringing the various denominations into closer unity, in order to make an ecumenical 'last stand', as it were, in the face of increasing Aquarian opposition as a single body, rather than as a number of separate limbs as much torn apart by inter-unitary conflict as by extra-unitary opposition. However, whether there will then be a sort of spiritual Blücher to assist it, remains to be seen.
DAVID: Perhaps that 'spiritual Blücher', as you so arcanely put it, will be the Second Coming, come back to aid the faithful and divide the chaff from the wheat?
KELVIN: Yes, although you know better than anyone that I am essentially a man of philosophy, rather than of religion.
DAVID: But if Schopenhauer is still right about philosophy being of interest only to the Few, he is certainly wrong about religion being of interest only to the Many, as can be verified by the dwindling numbers of church-goers and true believers. It is quite evident that the vast majority of ordinary people are nowhere near as Christian-minded as were their ancestors. Naturally, there are still people who can't get along without a belief in God, but one hesitates to name them among the majority. It's only too obvious that Schopenhauer's so-called metaphysics of the people is really a rather arbitrary definition for that which, in the majority of Western nations, transpires to being a metaphysics of a minority and, often enough, of a bourgeois minority at that! If Karl Marx hasn't taken over from Jesus Christ, where the majority of people are concerned, I really don't know who the hell has! Perhaps we ought to extend the horizon of contemporary religion until it encompasses everything from mystical intuition to psychedelic hallucinations; from trust in the 'born leader' to conversations with the dead; from belief in reincarnation to an explanation of the heavenly bodies in terms of astrological determinism; from a worship of one's favourite artists or film stars to a pantheistic identification with nature; from a regular perusal of wise sayings or teachings to several minutes' daily quiet and stillness, et cetera. By the way, I should be interested to learn, in light of what you were saying about the conflicts and contradictions between the various esoteric sects, whether you would give more credence to reincarnation than to spiritualism, or vice versa?
KELVIN: I'm afraid that I shall have to disappoint you, since I give no credence to either.
DAVID: Oh, and why, exactly, is that?
KELVIN: Because I don't understand how a spirit can come back to earth in the guise of another being, still less how a spirit, i.e. a 'will' in Schopenhauer's sense of the term, devoid of intellect and thus of verbal self-consciousness, can possibly communicate with the living. It may well be that the Will, as spirit and kernel of our true being, can survive bodily death. But if it does so without self-consciousness, as Schopenhauer reasonably maintained, then one might as well abandon the idea of survival altogether, since one won't know anything about it. What is the use of an Eternal Will without a consciousness to guide it? Indeed, there is adequate indication in the second volume of The World as Will and Representation that the word 'soul', as significant of a fusion of will and conceptual consciousness, was anathema to Schopenhauer, and that he expressly forbade future philosophers to make use of it because, unlike every philosopher before him, with the possible exception of Hume, he clearly saw the individual divided into will and intellect, into thing-in-itself and phenomenon, into eternal and temporal, into that which is primary and that which is secondary, in complete opposition to the hitherto-accepted belief that the Will proceeded from the intellect and thus formed a unity, or soul, of which the body was antithesis. Now spiritualists may use the term 'spirit' as opposed to 'soul', but the whole idea of communicating with a spirit presupposes the existence in that spirit of a knowing consciousness, hence a 'soul' in the worst possible sense of the word, which is capable of delivering messages, through a medium, to those present at the séance, or spiritualistic gathering. Now my objection to this is based on the realization that even if spirits did exist, they could only do so without consciousness and therefore with no possibility of being able to communicate with the living. For one cannot deliver verbal messages without the assistance of an intellect, and one certainly cannot use the intellect unless, as a function of the brain, it is being kept alive by the regular pulsation of the heart and the concomitant flow of blood through the cerebral and other arteries. And I certainly don't see how an alien spirit, deprived of consciousness, would be able to usurp the domain of one's own spirit and thereby make use of one's intellect as a means to establishing the requisite spiritual/intellectual integrity of a communicative being. Hence it appears absolutely inadmissible to me that one should ever be in a position to communicate with spirits.
DAVID: Well, you have made a fairly strong point there. Although my knowledge of Schopenhauer isn't as profound as yours, and therefore I can't remember very much of what he wrote on the difference between will and intellect. But perhaps you would now like to expatiate on your objection to reincarnation?
KELVIN: All right, but only after I have put a question to you first?
DAVID: Sure, go ahead!
KELVIN: What do you seriously suppose a spirit to be?
DAVID: You mean, how do I visualize one?
DAVID: Well, I'm not absolutely sure. I suppose one usually thinks of wills, spirits, or whatever in terms of the human form, a sort of transparent body ranging from the height of a child to that of a fully-grown adult. Even Schopenhauer contended, if I remember correctly, that the Will isn't limited to the brain or head because, objectively considered, the brain is merely a function of it, but extends throughout the entire body - indeed, that the body was really the objectification of the Will as perceived by the mind, and that the heart was its chief symbol. Yes, so one can only imagine a dead person's spirit as taking his physical shape and size.
KELVIN: It interests me the way you speak of a 'will' when considering the living but instinctively rename it a 'spirit' when speaking of the dead. It seems as though one cannot imagine the Will surviving death.
DAVID: Yes, that is an odd thing, and I'm not at all sure that Schopenhauer really appreciated the distinction! But, tell me, has my definition of a spirit satisfied you, and, if so, do you agree with me on what I can only regard as a rather dubious hypothesis?
KELVIN: I do, insofar as we're only assuming that spirits exist for the sake of argument. And so we find ourselves with the prospect of a man-sized spirit on our hands, a spirit which has come adrift, as it were, from someone's dead body and, without the assistance of either a brain or any senses, is now trying to find its way back to life, back to the land of the living. How it can get about without such assistance, I really don't know. But we must assume, for the sake of continuing our argument, that it can. Now it seems unlikely that this hypothetical spirit, this man-sized spirit of a dead person, will endeavour to find its way back to life in this world by, as it were, 'gate-crashing' a living person, presumably someone of the same sex. For where there is already a spirit or, rather, will in operation, there's hardly room or cause for another! So the only way it can return to this delightful world is presumably as a new-born baby. Thus it must await its turn in the queue, so to speak, along with the many other spirits adrift in limbo, for a suitable opportunity, and not endeavour to force any couple on earth to start a family or extend the size of their existing family against their will or before they are ready. Only when its time has at last arrived, and copulation without contraception is leading to positive results, can it surreptitiously force its way into the vagina of the potential mother and, having reached the womb, link-up with the sperm cells or incipient foetus of the potential baby and subsequently reappear, approximately nine months later, in the guise of a new-born child. The parents will, of course, recognize this child as their own, and they will think, if familiar with Schopenhauer's metaphysics, that its intellect, as the secondary function, came from the mother, whereas its Will, as the primary function, came from the father, thereby altogether ruling out the possibility that an alien spirit may have previously and unknowingly installed itself as the legitimate Will. Now as the child grows up and gradually manifests the parental inheritance in all of its various guises, is perceived, for instance, to have the father's nose but the mother's eyes, the father's build but the mother's hair, the father's moral predilections but the mother's understanding, the parents will never for a moment doubt that it is their legitimate offspring, that it was given life by them and by them alone! But those who believe, against all reason, in reincarnation know better, don't they? They know that the child's spirit came from elsewhere and surreptitiously installed itself without either of the parents being in any degree aware of the fact. They wouldn't like the idea that the Will came from the father, because that could imply that the child had two Wills which, even according to their dubious logical standards, is quite impossible. Thus they disregard the father's influence, even though everything about copulation suggests that his influence cannot be disregarded so easily.
DAVID: Enough! I quite understand why you object to reincarnation, even though you talk about it in such a serious and seemingly convincing manner! Indeed, I'm rather surprised that I ever took an interest in the subject. For I did once upon a time, when I was a credulous young adolescent intent upon getting to the 'truth' of such esoteric doctrines, no matter by what circuitous paths. What amazes me is that I didn't think about those sorts of considerations at all, but just blandly swallowed everything with a studious disregard for their intrinsic fallibility. But those days, thank God, are past, and I doubt if I shall ever again fall victim to any degree of intellectual acquiescence in such matters - not, that is, unless I'm unfortunate enough to become thoroughly senile in old age!
KELVIN: Heaven forbid!
DAVID: Well, having got this far with our discussion, I suppose we ought to continue from where we left off about the spirits, for I am quite interested to hear what else you have to say about or, more accurately, against them. We are still conveniently assuming that spirits exist, but you are quite opposed to the idea that (1) they can communicate with the living; and (2) they can return to life on this planet in the guise of another person. Thus we are faced with the problem of ascertaining exactly what they can do, and on this point it seems that we get very little help from Schopenhauer. For although he contended that the Will is eternal, he left us with no idea as to what it would be most likely to do in eternity.
KELVIN: Quite, since it isn't something about which the living are in a position to speculate with any degree of accuracy. But I should be interested to know, in asking you another question, whether you believe in ghosts?
DAVID: Certainly not! How many intelligent people actually believe in ghosts these days? Scarcely anyone!
KELVIN: Then you're aware that spirits and ghosts are really one and the same thing, and that the word 'spirit' is merely a more sophisticated term for a ghost?
DAVID: Yes, I guess so. But what does that have to do with the eternality of the Will? Surely you're not suggesting that the word 'will' has even greater dignity than 'spirit', and thus removes us twice over, in fairly Platonic fashion, from ghosts?
KELVIN: Indeed I am! For, like you, I find it difficult to believe in ghosts, and if 'ghost', 'spirit', and 'will' are all indicative of the same thing, then I must confess to finding it no less difficult to believe in the eternality of the Will, despite my genuine admiration for Schopenhauer's work. Admittedly, like you, I can conceive of the Will as the cardinal force behind every human being. But I certainly cannot conceive of Will as the cardinal force behind itself! An Eternal Will - as character, drives, passions, emotions, et cetera - without a body to serve, appears as ridiculously impossible to me as would a living body without a Will to guide it. After all, it's only the brain, with the aid of the senses and intellect, which makes it possible for the Will to respond to the information it receives in either a positive or a negative manner. It is only a high level of consciousness which makes it possible for the will to feel either pleasure or pain, love or hate, sympathy or anger, respect or contempt, certainty or doubt, enthusiasm or apathy, et cetera, and if this level of consciousness is removed from it, as appears to be the case at death, then it is very difficult to see how the Will - as drives, passions, emotions, et cetera - can continue to function in its proper capacity - indeed, how it can continue to function at all! As I said earlier, once one is deprived of consciousness, one is as good as extinct. For the idea of an Eternal Will is of little consolation if there isn't going to be a mind to witness it. Even Schopenhauer has his contradictions on this point. For, having claimed somewhere that the Will is eternal, he goes on to assert, somewhere else, that it's virtually synonymous with the heart, that age-old symbol of the soul which, as we all know, ceases to function at death. Of course, one can always use the word 'eternal' in a more down-to-earth sense, as significant of that which is always to be found in men or animals from generation to generation and which undergoes no fundamental change in itself, unlike certain parts of the organism. But that wasn't what Schopenhauer was driving at, when he considered the Eternal, nor does it explain the differences in character between people, which he also attributes to the Will. However, as to the Christian notion of the 'equality of all souls', taking the word 'soul' as synonymous with 'will' and not with 'will and intellect', one finds a fundamental truth there in that every soul or will is capable of expressing itself in terms of the various emotions and passions known to man - for example, that love, hate, anger, jealousy, fear, trust, joy, sorrow, doubt, compassion, respect, hope, contempt, malice, benevolence, et cetera, are known to everyone, although they may not be known to everyone to exactly the same extent. But, then again, one cannot claim that everyone has the same character or temperament. So, since the character is clearly a product of the Will rather than of the intellect, the 'equality of all souls' is evidently a rather limited proposition - limited, that is, if one regards it from a purely scientific viewpoint, as opposed to the social viewpoint of its psychological aid to the oppressed over the centuries. As a panacea for the humble and downtrodden, the ugly and stupid, it has undoubtedly worked wonders!
DAVID: And usually to the dismay of the ruling classes! Be that as it may, there is something about the different types of character which has started me thinking along astrological lines again. I mean if, as you learnt from Schopenhauer, character, as a product of the Will, is a direct inheritance from one's father, how, then, do you reconcile that with astrology, with a belief which quite emphatically maintains that one's character is to a large extent governed and determined by the planetary pattern existing at one's birth? Surely there is a contradiction involved here which is almost as unpardonable as the contradiction concerning reincarnation. For one obviously cannot be the inheritor of two characters, any more than one can be the inheritor of two wills! Either one acquires one's character from one's father or one acquires it from the planets.
KELVIN: That is a very good point and, in nine cases out of ten, I'm quite sure that a mother would be more willing to ascribe this important acquisition to the planets than to her husband! Now although, as previously remarked, I'm not a real devotee of astrology, I am quite prepared to accept the idea that the planets may have some relation to one's character, but a relation or 'synchronization', as the astrologers are now calling it, which is entirely different from what one inherits from one's parents and, more especially, one's male progenitor. This latter relation I assume to be largely moral, whereas the former relation I assume to be largely amoral, though not immoral. Any comparison with one's father will indicate that in certain respects of character one is quite similar, whilst in certain other respects one is quite dissimilar, and this dissimilarity, usually consisting of what may be termed 'surface traits', can be ascribed, I think, more to the time of year at which one was born than to the influence of one's mother, which, in any case, seems - if Schopenhauer is to be believed - largely to do with the understanding. Indeed, one might assume from this that only those sons who were born at the same time of year as their father, and therefore under a similar planetary configuration, would most resemble him in character. Thus a father and son who were both Leonean, and hence proud, creative, commanding, generous, strong-willed, dignified, fixed in their opinions, and so on, might further resemble each other in their moral outlook upon the world, in their respective artistic or scientific predilections, their politics, religion, class, responsibility, humour, and any other traits which might correspond to the father's hereditary bequests. But, even so, the influence of the mother still has to be reckoned with, and if she is an unusually intelligent woman, then the chances are pretty high that the son will be somewhat cleverer than his father and that some of his moral characteristics will be proportionately modified.
DAVID: Well, from what little I know about astrology, I would certainly say that you are doing your best, as a certified Libra, to strike a balance between the influences of planets and father as regards the shaping of character. A less 'balanced' person would probably settle for either one or the other, not both! I, at any rate, would definitely be more inclined to put my money on the father's influence. But if I told you that I was an Aries, I suppose you'd be able to concoct an excuse for dismissing my opinion on the basis of its lopsidedness and one-pointedness of aim, and for reminding me, in suitably terse terms, that, as a pioneer and firebrand, I'm congenitally unfit for subtle discussion! And I dare say that, if I'd been born on Mars on April 15th, I would be considered even more unfit for subtle discussion!
KELVIN: Not necessarily. For if you had been born on Mars you wouldn't be an Aries at all.
DAVID: Why ever not?
KELVIN: For the simple reason that an Aries only exists in relation to our life on earth. A person born on Mars would be subject to quite different influences, no matter in what month he was born. Instead of being influenced or affected by Mars, he would be influenced by the Earth and by an entirely different configuration of planets. Besides, as Mars takes almost two years to circle the Sun, there would have to be about twenty-three earth months or, alternatively, twelve 55 day months to make a year on Mars, and that would necessitate the introduction of a different pattern of astrological signs and values, particularly in view of the fact that Mars has two moons. Fortunately to say, no-one from this planet has yet been born there. But with space-research developments pushing ahead so quickly, it isn't altogether impossible that people may be born there in the not-too-distant future, and then astrologers, if any still exist, will be obliged to study the relative planetary configurations from Mars, in order to ascertain the strongest influences which the Earth and other planets in the Solar System are likely to have on such people. There can be no doubt that, with the rise of various space stations and air-conditioned outposts on other planets, today's astrology will appear elementary by comparison! Imagine, for instance, what difficulty an astrologer would be faced with if, in the event of people being born on Jupiter, he had to account for the influence of its twelve moons! And this is a planet which takes approximately 11¾ earth years to circle the Sun!
DAVID: I don't think that I'd want to be an astrologer, in those circumstances. And I don't think that anybody will ever be born on Jupiter anyway, at least not for hundreds of years to come. It would be a strange thing, though, if there were other highly developed beings in different solar systems throughout this galaxy that had also evolved a system of astrology, but one which, of necessity, was entirely different from our own. The mind fairly boggles at the thought of what kind of influences they might be subject to, of how many planets and moons their solar systems might contain, and of what kind of names these planets might have! But I don't want to get carried away by this sort of far-fetched speculation, when I already find the astrological speculation on this planet more than sufficiently far-fetched! I must return to sensible proportions, and not permit your perverse Libran imagination to carry me away. If people heard us talking like this, they'd probably consider us mad! Why, you'll be telling me next that if, in the future, I intend to start a family, I ought to choose the right time to make my wife pregnant so that, nine months later, she can deliver her child under the auspices of a favourable star or planetary configuration!
KELVIN: My dear friend, that is a most excellent idea, and one of the best you've given me all afternoon! I suggest, for the sake of variety, that you make her pregnant in late January or early April, in order to have either a Libran or a Sagittarian child or, failing that, in late May or early October, in order to have either an Aquarian or a Geminian child. In all four cases you should be guaranteed a high degree of natural intellectuality and communicativeness which, by keeping you both amused and instructed in later years, will largely repay you for your pains. Of course, you may think there is far too much superstition involved with this strategy and that, by a common law of nature, one should only make one's wife pregnant when one genuinely feels the urge to do so. If that is the case, then I would advise you to forget what I have just said and continue to go about your marital duties in a less methodical manner. After all, there is always the possibility that your wife may give birth either prematurely or belatedly, and thus ruin your astrological calculations altogether, plunging you into a fit of despair at the prospect of having to raise someone you hadn't in the least bargained for - a young brat of an Aries or a hypocritical Virgo, a tight-lipped Taurus or an over-emotional Scorpio. Yes, and there is even the possibility that you may change your mind when it's too late, regretting, on deeper consideration, that you hadn't made your wife pregnant in early October rather than early April. In which case, it's probably wiser to keep astrological considerations in the background and to follow your lascivious bent, whatever the consequences! As the poet Gray once wrote: "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise".
DAVID: Maybe. Although, as a married man who shortly intends to start a family, I must confess to being somewhat intrigued by the idea of planning ahead like that! But, at the moment, I don't know enough about astrology to permit myself any firm decisions.
KELVIN: You could always buy a few worthwhile books on the subject, or even go along to the local library and borrow some of the better astrological tomes to be found there. As a matter of fact, I'm returning that Modern Textbook of Astrology quite soon, so if you would like me to reserve it for you ...
DAVID: (Returns the book in question to his friend's desk) Yes, that would be an excellent idea! I shall have to go into this business in some depth, just to be on the safe side. I may not be one of the most superstitious of people but, if some of the things you've said about astrology are true, then, as a potential father, I ought to grant the subject a little more credence than hitherto! Unfortunately, my interest in astronomy has always precluded me from taking a strong interest in astrology. But if, as you maintain, everything connected with the world of man is dualistic, then I have absolutely no reason to presume that the planets are any exception, or that a material universe can exist without a spiritual, or occult, one behind it. My chief concern to-date has been with the material, whereas it would seem that yours has been with the spiritual.
KELVIN: A fact which, in astrological terms, doesn't in the least surprise me, since Aries is ruled by Mars, which is a predominantly 'material' planet, whereas Libra is ruled by Venus which, by contrast, is a predominantly 'spiritual' one. Thus whilst, as a Libran, I may endeavour to strike a balance between astronomy and astrology, it's likely that I shall be slightly more interested in the latter study, since it is mostly concerned with the spiritual influence of planets. Indeed, radio and television waves have given us ample proof, this century, of the spiritual influences at work on this planet, and one might just as well cite the moon's influence over the tides as the sun's influence over the growth of crops. But a purely material interpretation of things is of no more use to us than a purely spiritual one. For in both cases we're only given half the picture, not the whole, and so the truth remains unacknowledged. Now just as there exists a spiritualism which is a discredit to the spiritual, so there exists a materialism which is a discredit to the material, and which only succeeds in bringing the material interpretation into disrepute and in engendering, as a violent reaction, an equally disreputable spiritual interpretation. The only thing one can do to prevent oneself swinging from one extreme to the other is to cultivate authentic interpretations of both, and then keep them in as stable an equilibrium as possible. For a misuse of the one will subsequently engender a misuse of the other, and instead of serving each other, as indeed they should, they'll slander and undermine each other, to the ultimate detriment of both and, needless to say, to the lasting detriment of mankind in general. Thus, if we're wise, we will be neither anti-spiritual nor anti-material but, on the contrary, see the legitimacy, logicality, and authenticity of both spheres in their rightful perspectives. And in this respect we have something to learn from women who, on the whole, are shrewder than men and more attuned to the spiritual influences of the planets than us. We should do well to follow their moderation from time to time!
DAVID: Well, I certainly endeavour to do that as regards the material side of things. But I have to confess that my wife seems to belong to that small percentage of women who take absolutely no interest in astrology. She never reads the horoscopes.
KELVIN: I should hope not! For in the vast majority of cases the daily or weekly horoscopes aren't written by serious, professional astrologers but by quacks and hired mercenaries whose chief purpose, apart from concocting platitudinous advice and forecasts, is to detract from the already-precarious reputation of their superior colleagues and discourage one from taking astrology seriously. In this last respect they succeed remarkably well! So it's of little surprise to me that a well-educated woman like your wife should fail to be impressed. However, I wager anything that her apparent indifference will be transmuted into a growing curiosity once she realizes that you have taken a genuine interest in the subject and are perusing your textbook. If she is a loving wife, she will be the last person on earth to discourage you from your recent change-of-heart.
DAVID: I do hope you're right. For I have no immediate intentions of being discouraged, not even by you!
KELVIN: And I have no immediate intentions of discouraging you. Although, between ourselves, there is a high probability that the complexity of that textbook will. After all, not everyone is cut-out to be an astrologer!