12 Jan From a high intellect, to the one that approaches the infant, the gradients are endless (ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER)
From such an intellect down to that which approaches imbecility the gradations are innumerable. Now according to these gradations, the mental horizon of each of us primarily proves to be very different. It varies from the mere apprehension of the present, which even the animal has, to the horizon embracing the next hour, the day, the following day also, the week, the year, life, the centuries, thousands of years, up to the horizon of a consciousness that has almost always present, although dimly dawning, the horizon of the infinite. Therefore the thoughts and ideas of such a consciousness assume a character in keeping therewith.
Further, this difference between intelligences shows itself in the rapidity of their thinking, which is very important, and may be as different and as finely graduated as the speed of the points in the radius of a revolving disc. The remoteness of the consequents and grounds to which anyone’s thinking can reach seems to stand in a certain relation to the rapidity of the thinking, since the greatest exertion of thinking in general can last only quite a short time, yet only while it lasts could an idea be well thought out in its complete unity. It is then a question of how far the intellect can pursue the idea in such a short time, and thus what distance it can cover in that time.
Finally, the great individual difference between intelligences, of which we are speaking, shows itself pre-eminently in the degree of clearness of understanding, and accordingly in the distinctness of the whole thinking. What to one man is comprehension or understanding, to another is only observation to some extent; the former is already finished and at the goal while the latter is only at the beginning; what is the solution to the former is only the problem to the latter. This rests on the quality of the thinking and of knowledge which has been previously mentioned. Just as the degree of brightness varies in rooms, so it does in minds.
Accordingly, in regard to the intellect nature is extremely aristocratic. The differences she has established in this respect are greater than those made in any country by birth, rank, wealth, and caste distinction. However, in nature’s aristocracy as in others, there are many thousands of plebeians to one nobleman, many millions to one prince, and the great multitude are mere populace, mob, rabble, la canaille. There is, of course, a glaring contrast between nature’s list of ranks and that of convention, and the adjustment of this difference could be hoped for only in a golden age. However, those who stand very high in the one list of ranks and those in the other have in common the fact that they generally live in exalted isolation, to which Byron refers when he says:
To feel me in the solitude of kings, Without the power that makes them bear a crown.
(The Prophecy of Dante, canto i, 1. 166)
For the intellect is a differentiating, and consequently separating, principle. Its different gradations, much more even than those of mere culture, give everyone different concepts, in consequence of which everyone lives to a certain extent in a different world, in which he meets directly only his equals in rank, but can attempt to call to the rest and make himself intelligible to them only from a distance. Great differences in the degree, and thus the development, of the understanding open a wide gulf between one man and another, which can be crossed only by kindness of heart. This, on the other hand, is the unifying principle that identifies everyone else with one’s own self. The connexion, however, remains a moral one; it cannot become intellectual. Even in the event of a fairly equal degree of culture, the conversation between a great mind and an ordinary one is like the common journey of two men, of whom one is mounted on a mettlesome horse while the other is on foot. It soon becomes extremely irksome for both of them, and in the long run impossible. It is true that for a short distance the rider can dismount, in order to walk with the other, though even then his horse’s impatience will give him a great deal of trouble.
The World as Will and Presentation