Closing The Book

The innermost kernel of every genuine and actual piece of knowledge is a perception; every new truth is also the fruit of such a perception.

Even writing and speaking, whether didactic or poetical, have as their ultimate aim the guidance of the reader to that knowledge of perception from which the author started; if they do not have this aim, they are bad.

For this reason, the contemplation and observation of everything actual, as soon as it presents something new to the observer, is more instructive than all reading and hearing about it.

For indeed, if we go to the bottom of the matter, all truth and wisdom, in fact the ultimate secret of things, is contained in everything actual, yet certainly only in concreto and like gold hidden in ore. The question is how to extract it. From a book, on the other hand, we obtain the truth only second-hand at best, and often not at all.

[...] Therefore, as a rule, the man of the world cannot impart his accumulated truth and wisdom, but only practice it. He rightly comprehends everything that occurs, and decides what is conformable thereto. That books do not take the place of experience, and that learning is no substitute for genius, are two kindred phenomena; their common ground is that the abstract can never take the place of the perceptive.

Therefore books do not take the place of experience, because concepts always remain universal, and so do not reach down to the particular; yet it is precisely the particular that has to be dealt with in life.

Only the person who intuitively knows the true nature of men as they generally are, and comprehends the individuality of the particular person before him, will understand how to deal with him correctly and with certainty. Another person may know by heart all the three hundred maxims of wisdom by Gracián, but this will not protect him from stupid blunders and mistakes, if he lacks that intuitive knowledge.

[...] This explains why the scholar, whose merit lies in abundance of abstract knowledge, is so inferior to the man of the world, whose merit consists in perfect intuitive knowledge, which an original disposition has conceded to him, and a rich experience has developed.

According to what has been said, we find among all classes of persons of intellectual superiority, often without any learning at all. For natural understanding can take the place of almost every degree of intellectual culture, but no culture can take the place of natural understanding.

The scholar certainly has the advantage of such people in an abundance of cases and facts (historical knowledge), and of causal determinations (natural science), everything in well arranged, easily surveyed sequence; but yet, with all this, he does not have a more accurate and profound insight into what is really essential in all those cases, facts, and causalities.

The unlearned man of acuteness and penetration knows how to dispense with that abundance; we are sparing of much, we make do with little. One case from his own experience teaches him more than many a scholar is taught by a thousand cases which he knows, but does not really understand.

For the little knowledge of that unlearned man is alive, since every fact known to him is verified by accurate and well-apprehended perception. Thus this fact is for him the representative of a thousand similar facts. On the other hand, much of the ordinary scholar's knowledge is dead, since, even if it does not consist of mere words, as often is the case, it nevertheless consists of nothing but abstract knowledge.


The constant influx of other people's ideas must certainly stop and stifle our own, and indeed, in the long run, paralyse the power of thought, unless it has a high degree of elasticity able to withstand that unnatural flow.

Therefore incessant reading and study positively ruin the mind; this, moreover, is caused by the fact that the system of our own ideas and knowledge loses its completeness and uninterrupted continuity, when we arbitrarily upset this so often in order to gain room for an entirely foreign range of ideas.

To banish my thoughts in order to make room for those of a book would seem to me to be just what Shakespeare censures in the travellers of his time, that they sell their own land in order to see those of others.

It is even risky to read about a subject before we ourselves have reflected on it. For with the new material, another person's view and treatment of it creep into the mind, all the more since laziness and apathy urge us to save ourselves the trouble of thinking, to accept what has already been thought, and to allow this to become current.

The mind certainly requires nourishment, namely material from outside. All that we eat, however, is not incorporated into the organism at once, but only in so far as it has been digested, whereby only a small part of it is actually assimilated, the remainder passing from the system, so that to eat more than we can assimilate is useless, and even injurious.

It is precisely the same as regards what we read; only in so far as it gives material for thinking does it increase our insight and our knowledge proper.


[...] the more they neglected practice, the more sharply did they bring theory to a fine point.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.72, 156

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