Philosophies of life, representations of human life as a whole, surround us to-day in abundance and court our adherence. The fusion of rich historical development with active reflection gives occasion to the most diverse combinations and makes it easy for the individual to project a representation corresponding to his circumstances and his mood. Thus, to-day, the philosophies of life of individuals whirl together in chaotic confusion, gain and lose the passing favour, displace one another, and themselves change kaleidoscopically. It is not the concern of philosophy to occupy itself more closely with opinions so accidental and so fleeting.
There are, however, philosophies of life of another kind, conceptions of life, which unite and dominate large numbers of people, hold up a common ideal for their activity, and constitute a power in the life of universal history. These philosophies of life are rooted in particular concrete forms of life, in actual combinations of working and striving, which with dominating power surround the individual 4 and point out his course. With such ascendancy they may seem to him to be unassailable and a matter of natural necessity; in reality they are a product of the industry of universal history, and from this point of view appear merely as attempts to comprehend the boundless stream of life and to win a character for our otherwise indefinite existence. For at first we stand defenceless and helpless in face of the wealth of impressions and suggestions which throng upon us and draw us in opposite directions. Only in one way are we able to prevail: life must concentrate and acquire a controlling centre within itself, and from that begin a process of counteraction. We lack distinction of centre and environment; we need an inner aspiration, an aspiration which seeks to draw the whole of existence to itself and to mould it in its own particular way. This, however, is impossible, unless at the same time a philosophy of life, a profession of faith as to the nature of the whole, a justification of our undertaking, is evolved. A philosophy of life established in this manner will be incomparably more powerful, and fuller in content, than the mere foam on the surface of time.
In our days morality has ceased to be a matter of such unquestionable certainty, and has been drawn into the wave of disintegration which is passing over our minds. Formerly the scientific definition and accurate conception of morality were matters of contention; but it is now the fundamental idea of morality that is questioned. Many of our contemporaries are of opinion that the revelations of modern science and the claims of modern life have destroyed the foundations of morality and made it untenable in the old sense. Morality in the old sense demands dissociation of our aspirations from our own personal interest, and devotion to something that is esteemed higher; whenever an action that appears good is seen to proceed from selfish motives, it can no longer claim any moral value. There is a widespread tendency in modern life, to question the possibility of such detachment from the Ego, and to acknowledge the coercion exercised over man by his instinct of self-preservation. Emancipation from this restraint is not even considered desirable, for constant strife and competition seem necessary to life and progress, and a softening of this strife would inevitably reduce the energy of life.
Morality further demands independence and spontaneity of action. An action performed under the pressure of external coercion or mechanical habit, loses immediately its moral character. Now such independence and spontaneity are not possible apart from some kind of free choice, yet this would contradict the law of causality, which in the present age is generally considered to rule the whole of reality. In man's soul, the supremacy of this law of causality is strengthened by our growing insight into the power of heredity and of social environment. Yet morality in the old sense stands and falls with man's power of spontaneous and independent decision.