Kant has written a treatise on _The Vital Powers_; but I should like to
write a dirge on them, since their lavish use in the form of knocking,
hammering, and tumbling things about has made the whole of my life a
daily torment. Certainly there are people, nay, very many, who will
smile at this, because they are not sensitive to noise; it is precisely
these people, however, who are not sensitive to argument, thought,
poetry or art, in short, to any kind of intellectual impression: a fact
to be assigned to the coarse quality and strong texture of their brain

On the other hand, in the biographies or in other records of
the personal utterances of almost all great writers, I find complaints
of the pain that noise has occasioned to intellectual men. For example,
in the case of Kant, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and indeed when no
mention is made of the matter it is merely because the context did not
lead up to it. I should explain the subject we are treating in this way:
If a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value
as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it
loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more
power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed,
distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it
concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave
mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it. Noisy
interruption prevents this concentration. This is why the most eminent
intellects have always been strongly averse to any kind of disturbance,
interruption and distraction, and above everything to that violent
interruption which is caused by noise; other people do not take any
particular notice of this sort of thing. The most intelligent of all the
European nations has called "Never interrupt" the eleventh commandment.
But noise is the most impertinent of all interruptions, for it not only
interrupts our own thoughts but disperses them. Where, however, there is
nothing to interrupt, noise naturally will not be felt particularly.
Sometimes a trifling but incessant noise torments and disturbs me for a
time, and before I become distinctly conscious of it I feel it merely as
the effort of thinking becomes more difficult, just as I should feel a
weight on my foot; then I realise what it is.
But to pass from _genus_ to _species_, the truly infernal cracking of
whips in the narrow resounding streets of a town must be denounced as
the most unwarrantable and disgraceful of all noises. It deprives life
of all peace and sensibility. Nothing gives me so clear a grasp of the
stupidity and thoughtlessness of mankind as the tolerance of the
cracking of whips. This sudden, sharp crack which paralyses the brain,
destroys all meditation, and murders thought, must cause pain to any one
who has anything like an idea in his head. Hence every crack must
disturb a hundred people applying their minds to some activity, however
trivial it may be; while it disjoints and renders painful the
meditations of the thinker; just like the executioner’s axe when it
severs the head from the body. No sound cuts so sharply into the brain
as this cursed cracking of whips; one feels the prick of the whip-cord
in one’s brain, which is affected in the same way as the _mimosa pudica_
is by touch, and which lasts the same length of time. With all respect
for the most holy doctrine of utility, I do not see why a fellow who is
removing a load of sand or manure should obtain the privilege of killing
in the bud the thoughts that are springing up in the heads of about ten
thousand people successively. (He is only half-an-hour on the road.)
Hammering, the barking of dogs, and the screaming of children are
abominable; but it is _only_ the cracking of a whip that is the true
murderer of thought. Its object is to destroy every favourable moment
that one now and then may have for reflection. If there were no other
means of urging on an animal than by making this most disgraceful of all
noises, one would forgive its existence. But it is quite the contrary:
this cursed cracking of whips is not only unnecessary but even useless.
The effect that it is intended to have on the horse mentally becomes
quite blunted and ineffective; since the constant abuse of it has
accustomed the horse to the crack, he does not quicken his pace for it.
This is especially noticeable in the unceasing crack of the whip which
comes from an empty vehicle as it is being driven at its slowest rate to
pick up a fare. The slightest touch with the whip would be more
effective. Allowing, however, that it were absolutely necessary to
remind the horse of the presence of the whip by continually cracking it,
a crack that made one hundredth part of the noise would be sufficient.
It is well known that animals in regard to hearing and seeing notice the
slightest indications, even indications that are scarcely perceptible to
ourselves. Trained dogs and canary birds furnish astonishing examples of
this. Accordingly, this cracking of whips must be regarded as something
purely wanton; nay, as an impudent defiance, on the part of those who
work with their hands, offered to those who work with their heads. That
such infamy is endured in a town is a piece of barbarity and injustice,
the more so as it could be easily removed by a police notice requiring
every whip cord to have a knot at the end of it. It would do no harm to
draw the proletariat’s attention to the classes above him who work with
their heads; for he has unbounded fear of any kind of head work. A
fellow who rides through the narrow streets of a populous town with
unemployed post-horses or cart-horses, unceasingly cracking with all his
strength a whip several yards long, instantly deserves to dismount and
receive five really good blows with a stick. If all the philanthropists
in the world, together with all the legislators, met in order to bring
forward their reasons for the total abolition of corporal punishment, I
would not be persuaded to the contrary.
But we can see often enough something that is even still worse. I mean a
carter walking alone, and without any horses, through the streets
incessantly cracking his whip. He has become so accustomed to the crack
in consequence of its unwarrantable toleration. Since one looks after
one’s body and all its needs in a most tender fashion, is the thinking
mind to be the only thing that never experiences the slightest
consideration or protection, to say nothing of respect? Carters,
sack-bearers (porters), messengers, and such-like, are the beasts of
burden of humanity; they should be treated absolutely with justice,
fairness, forbearance and care, but they ought not to be allowed to
thwart the higher exertions of the human race by wantonly making a
noise. I should like to know how many great and splendid thoughts these
whips have cracked out of the world. If I had any authority, I should
soon produce in the heads of these carters an inseparable _nexus
idearum_ between cracking a whip and receiving a whipping.
Let us hope that those nations with more intelligence and refined
feelings will make a beginning, and then by force of example induce the
Germans to do the same.[8] Meanwhile, hear what Thomas Hood says of them
(_Up the Rhine)_: "_For a musical people they are the most noisy I ever
met with_" That they are so is not due to their being more prone to
making a noise than other people, but to their insensibility, which
springs from obtuseness; they are not disturbed by it in reading or
thinking, because they do not think; they only smoke, which is their
substitute for thought. The general toleration of unnecessary noise, for
instance, of the clashing of doors, which is so extremely ill-mannered
and vulgar, is a direct proof of the dulness and poverty of thought that
one meets with everywhere. In Germany it seems as though it were planned
that no one should think for noise; take the inane drumming that goes on
as an instance. Finally, as far as the literature treated of in this
chapter is concerned, I have only one work to recommend, but it is an
excellent one: I mean a poetical epistle in _terzo rimo_ by the famous
painter Bronzino, entitled "_De’ Romori: a Messer Luca Martini_" It
describes fully and amusingly the torture to which one is put by the
many kinds of noises of a small Italian town. It is written in
tragicomic style. This epistle is to be found in _Opere burlesche del
Berni, Aretino ed altri,_ vol. ii. p. 258, apparently published in
Utrecht in 1771.
The nature of our intellect is such that _ideas_ are said to spring by
abstraction from _observations_, so that the latter are in existence
before the former. If this is really what takes place, as is the case
with a man who has merely his own experience as his teacher and book, he
knows quite well which of his observations belong to and are represented
by each of his ideas; he is perfectly acquainted with both, and
accordingly he treats everything correctly that comes before his notice.
We might call this the natural mode of education.
On the other hand, an artificial education is having one’s head crammed
full of ideas, derived from hearing others talk, from learning and
reading, before one has anything like an extensive knowledge of the
world as it is and as one sees it. The observations which produce all
these ideas are said to come later on with experience; but until then
these ideas are applied wrongly, and accordingly both things and men are
judged wrongly, seen wrongly, and treated wrongly. And so it is that
education perverts the mind; and this is why, after a long spell of
learning and reading, we enter the world, in our youth, with views that
are partly simple, partly perverted; consequently we comport ourselves
with an air of anxiety at one time, at another of presumption. This is
because our head is full of ideas which we are now trying to make use
of, but almost always apply wrongly. This is the result of [Greek:
hysteron proteron] (putting the cart before the horse), since we are
directly opposing the natural development of our mind by obtaining ideas
first and observations last; for teachers, instead of developing in a
boy his faculties of discernment and judgment, and of thinking for
himself, merely strive to stuff his head full of other people’s
thoughts. Subsequently, all the opinions that have sprung from
misapplied ideas have to be rectified by a lengthy experience; and it is
seldom that they are completely rectified. This is why so few men of
learning have such sound common sense as is quite common among the

Arthur Schopenauer