Adolf Gerecke "The Hopelessness Of Morality"

Rudolf Steiner, Literary Mercury, XII. Jg., No. 51, December 24, 1892
Google translate: German to English


The author seeks to prove the irrelevance, indeed harmfulness, of moral commandments or norms for human action. He sees the establishment of such norms as a consequence of the more or less consciously represented world-view of dualistic philosophers and religious founders. According to the latter, the laws of the morality of the soul are to be implanted, whereby it controls the sensuality and refines the merely physical existence into a moral one.

Gerecke is trying to show that there is not a special spiritual addition to the physical nature of man. For him, human sensations are only the result of an external impulse to our organism. Knowledge arises through the mechanical play of the new external impulses with the ongoing effects in the existing organism. Emotions and desires are to him the reaction of the organic forces relationship to such impressions. If an effect on an organism is such that its metabolism is promoted, pleasure is inhibited and becomes pain. We bring sympathy to a person when the effects of his presence on our organism are such that the latter finds himself encouraged in his activity, in the other case the presence of the person triggers antipathy. Since man does not have the power to set up the outside world in such a way that he acts on him in a manner he desires, he is also unable to establish his acts, which are dependent on them, according to norms which are quite foreign to this external world. and that come solely from within. Our affections and desires, our passions and sympathies are in the sense of Gereckes the result of the mechanical world process. However, the effects of moral legislation on them are meaningless. They can not change the necessary course of our physical life; they can only work in the same way as the material agents in the way that they produce desires and affects.

According to Gereckes conviction, this usually happens in a harmful way. Any moral teacher or statesman "who, in the interest of his social system, seeks to control the antipathic and sympathetic emotions, who, more correctly, makes the foolish and criminal attempt to force men --through the power of the law and the powers of persuasion-- the effects thereof is to suppress emotions, I call an educator of criminals" (p. 183). Gerecke believes that by the process of suppressing desires, other more unusual and refined ones emerge. "The desire for control, or even eradication of desires is tantamount to the same education to the extreme" (p 190).

I must confess that rarely has a book caused me bitter feelings like this. The author, I am convinced, has good faculties to serve science in the sense that is required at present, if we are to overcome the often unsatisfied conceptions of the past. The path leading to a prosperous future lies indeed in the overcoming of dualism and in the foundation of monism, which rejects the acceptance of two worlds. The future will see man's ethical life emerge from the same source from which natural events spring. Moral laws will only be considered as special cases of natural laws. Therefore, they will no longer be sought in abstract norms, but in concrete individual life.

The author of this book suspects this, rather: a kind of unconscious conviction of it haunts him. But his imagination life is polluted by the banal intuitions of materialism. This world-view knows no difference between man and a machine. At least no qualitative. What in their sense man has other than, for example, the clock, is only the complexity of the substances and forces that compose it. There can be nothing more harmful in the spiritual realm than this world-view. It therefore causes tremendous devastation in the human mind because it is shallow and superficial, and the shallow views are always the best food for the great masses. That in Gerecke we are dealing with a writer who had much to do in his training before he took up his pen, is proved by his incredibly awkward style. Too bad that the man did not work on himself a little bit, a better style would probably have brought to him more thorough thoughts. However, this book is useless for anyone.

© Tom Last 2017