Monday, September 04, 2017

Theoretic Festivals

Even the objects which are the most remote from man, because they are objects to him, and to the extent to which they are so, are revelations of human nature. Even the moon, the sun, the stars, call to man Γνῶθι σεαυτόν. that he sees them, and so sees them, is an evidence of his own nature. The animal is sensible only of the beam which immediately affects life; while man perceives the ray, to him physically indifferent, of the remotest star. Man alone has purely intellectual, disinterested joys and passions; the eye of man alone keeps theoretic festivals. The eye which looks into the starry heavens, which gazes at that light, alike useless and harmless, having nothing in common with the earth and its necessities--this eye sees in that light its own nature, its own origin. The eye is heavenly in its nature. Hence man elevates himself above the earth only with the eye; hence theory begins with the contemplation of the heavens. The first philosophers were astronomers. It is the heavens that admonish man of his destination, and remind him that he is destined not merely to action, but also to contemplation.

Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, tr., Harper (New York: 1957), p. 5. Feuerbach is playing, of course, with the root meaning of the word 'theory', which derives from words for contemplation and sight, and was often linked to festivals (i.e., spectacles, shows). Feuerbach's description here is also consistent with Kant's account of the experience of sublimity, of which Kant himself famously gives the example of the starry heavens.

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