Podcast 1: Overview
Original Tape of Lecture I
Sources of Creative Power – Fall Semester
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[Audio file starts here.] Now I don’t know why you want to take this course; I almost do not know why I want to give it. The reasons why, the different reasons why you are here and want to take the course might come out by and by in the first hour of this course which we will usually use for discussion. Those reasons might, I hope, be very relevant to the purpose of the course. They will be very relevant if we all could find out that we have one reason in common — namely, that you are taking this course for the one reason why I think I should give this course. I hope you came here because you are troubled — because I came here because I am troubled, deeply troubled. This program was written in such a way as to try to bring in the ones who are troubled and somehow to keep out the busybodies, namely, those who are not troubled in the least because they have the answers. I certainly cannot give answers in this course and certainly am not here to give answers.
If people come because they are troubled then they should be people who know first that ready-made answers are not possible, and second, who would never be ready to accept any ready made answers — and that would mean that they already have the philosophic attitude, that they come with a philosophic attitude. It is
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happy times when philosophers could say that what induced them to do philosophy, to philosophize, was this wonderment, astonishment with the world — Aristotle said that — a lucky man and a lucky situation of philosophy. Philosophers today must confess if really asked sufficiently that mostly they have been driven to philosophize because they were so troubled — troubled about themselves — well, people who are troubled about themselves should go to a psychoanalyst. There they find out that the ready-made answers don’t answer much but they might get help for certain problems and if they really are only troubled about themselves it might be easy. But being fundamentally troubled means to have realized that one’s self, one’s friends, the society one lives in, the world altogether seems to have lost sense of direction, that nothing makes really sense any more, that the question »why all that« can somehow not be answered so readily any more as before for former generations. They might have had illusions and we might be free of illusions — sorry state to be in.
There has not been a time in mankind’s history, I think, where they didn’t think they were in a crisis. The old times were always the fine and the good times and the time one lived in was always a bad one and decidedly a time of crisis. We think so too. The question is have we a better reason to think so; it might be so.
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What have the answers been? The answers have always been two simple answers and they relate to what Schopenhauer calls the basic qualities of man-dumbness and laziness. The answers have been in two categories — the one, there’s great hope (we call that progress today); the other, there’s great danger (we have our theories of doom today). About all the answers we get today as well as ones gotten in the time of the Romans, the Greeks, and in every other crisis, are in those two categories. They have something in common: they relate to those qualities. They seem to show that man is not made for thinking, that he tries one thing most in his life — to avoid thinking — because there is no difference between despair and hopes; both serve the same purpose.
Man is a funny kind of animated being. We will have to ask and find out if he is really free or can be free. One thing is sure: he is arbitrary. He is a fantastic being and if he starts to believe in religions or theories or ideologies of doom — the world will go to pieces in the century or the next year — it gives him great joy. He pleases himself very much with theories like that. A great critic of languages, a German named Fritz Mauthner, had once asked the question of the pessimists, »You always say life is short and very spoiled and rotten. Now I ask you one question: ›Can it be rotten and also too short?‹«1 There is
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pleasure in pessimism and there is pleasure in optimism. They give the great satisfaction first silently that one does not really have anything to do about anything because what is going to happen is going to happen anyway — if it be doom, well, being a fantastic being first man has the unfortunate quality to enjoy suffering. There is no animal or being in the world except man who can manage to do that — enjoy suffering. It mostly takes the form, of course, the precautious form that man first enjoys the personal suffering of others — that means makes them suffer; the source of cruelty, a capability of man that distinguishes him from every other being alive; the possibility to be cruel, to make suffer, to invent pain, to inflict pain.
But we have seen very often, too, that those must not be cowards. We have examples that the worst torturers of our time, Nazis and Bolsheviks, produced types who when their turn came to suffer enjoyed that, too, in a way. They all have one thing in common: they never really have anything to do about things. They only were executing things that had to happen anyway. That way they became executioners even, enjoyed it, and some of them even enjoyed being executed. Man is a strange being.
So, from a philosophical point of view we distrust the prophets of doom as we distrust the prophets of pro-
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phets of progress. Optimism and pessimism are feelings, self-enjoyments, and they have the great thing in common that one does not need to think and to do — which is the same. Our time, or better, our situation seems to be especially a troublesome one. Everybody will be able to account for that. The question is ›Is there a reason for that?‹ First, it is certainly the biggest trouble mankind ever ran into. Why is it the biggest? For the simple reason that there has never been such masses of people involved. It makes things more complicated every day and more terrible, but is it also, perhaps, the greatest time of trouble we know of? If it should be the greatest time of trouble, then it would mean that it must have a significance for mankind that points to a new set of man’s possibilities never dreamed of before — and that seems exactly to be the case. The power, the mere performing power of man has so tremendously increased and taken on a new quality that the possibilities that open up before him for his possible creative actions seem almost to be limitless. If that were so and we could find it so, it might help us to find out about our situation, judge it, and enable us to take position within that situation in order to make the best of it — if we could find it. This course has to do with finding out about what we can do. If we are troubled it means we are not satisfied with the answers given, that we do not belong to any
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of the numerous sects of our day who have a program to redeem the world, who believe in some ideology, who think they have a recipe that only has to be applied. We are, so to speak, non-believers in such things, at least if we are interested in such a kind of a course. So we always have to ask ourselves the question: »What can we do?«
This is a nice question because if we take that philosophically it shows us at once a difference from the approaches we know because since Plato, speaking generally, we have had two main trends of ideologies, metaphysical systems, religious systems, whatever. They tried to answer two things: what man must do and what man should do or ought to do. Let me call, for the matter of argument, — I will later have to prove that — those two trends naturalism and supernaturalism. The naturalists in this wide sense are metaphysicians, so are the supernaturalists. They might call themselves materialists and the other idealists, they might call themselves religious and the others worldly, the one theists, the others atheists, whatever names they chose, the basic trend is the same. If we analyze the questions they take up and pretend to answer, then the one wants to answer us the the question what we must do and the others what we should do. It seems very similar. If there were such a thing, such an answer possible as to what we should do, it amounts almost to a must, especially if the powers that gave us
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this answer are supposed to be supernatural powers. If we receive those answers by revelations of Gods or divinities, there can hardly be any doubt that it amounts to a must. The fact is, nevertheless, that this still applies, that we might be so weak, or such daring sinners that we either just do not want to do what we should or must, or just that we cannot do what we should or must do. However, that might be, a certain amount of freedom seems to be given: namely, the freedom of choice between the good and the evil, between that what we really should do and that what we wish so heartily to do, namely, be sinners. The other trend tries to show us, tried it for three thousand years now, that they know what we must do. Naturalism in that sense means we pretend that being as a whole can be known or can at least in its essence be known so far that it is made out, it has its iron laws, its run, the socalled nature of things. When I say naturalism I do not mean worship of nature or naturalism as it is sometimes known — but mainly this belief that we could know about the nature of things and that as far as we know about the nature of things and being, we ourselves being merely parts of being are then compelled to certain actions we must do.
Do those philosophers leave us a certain minimum space of freedom? No, but they pretend to do so. The minimum space they assign to us is best taken in the words
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of Karl Marx, perhaps the most influential natural metaphysician, metaphysician of naturalism in our time, in modern time, »Freedom is insight into necessity,«2 That means man has a certain intelligence which might enable him to get an insight into the nature of things and so find out what in every instance and situation of his life, he actually must do. But the Christian weakness is accorded to this worldly naturalistic man, too. It has become not a weakness of what one at least can take a certain pride in — namely, the weakness of our flesh, the flesh has certain enjoyments and the weakness of the flesh is not entirely a not enjoyable thing and is such a thing as leaves some human pride also as, for instance, the sinner. Take a sinner like Don Juan, for instance, that is something. A man who manifests the freedom, so to speak, to know that what he does is evil, but doing it nevertheless because he is ready to take hell upon him — that is at least an interesting figure and one makes operas out of this figure and we read about this figure and it is an exciting thing. But the supposed so-called freedom that the naturalist philosopher leaves us is a very shabby and by no means an exciting thing. It is not a weakness of character which can be enjoyable and it is not a strength of pride that can give us at least a certain feeling of freedom — it is just a weakness of intellect, just plain dumbness. If you do not see that in our historical moment
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you must do everything in order to bring about the victory of the proletarian class, then the train of history will just move over your dead body and those who are sitting in it will spit on your dead body and say, ›He didn’t get on the right band wagon. He was not intelligent enough to see whom he had to join. He didn’t know how to march with history. Poor fool, he tried to do something against history‹ The naturalist of the more psychological inclination might have the same set of arguments, »He is not a sinner. He has no element of freedom left in him, nothing he could take pride in. He has been so absolutely full of vice it turns out to be that it is nothing that could speak for him, it is only that he is mentally disordered, insane perhaps — what an insult if the person is not insane, and cases of real insanity and real strong neurosis are rare.
So, the naturalist metaphysics — and I will later examine (?) that metaphysics and what I mean by metaphysics since metaphysics is frequently a term applied in a most different sense — he does not want to give us any kind of freedom, or at least he gives us a caricature of it. So, both lines of inquiry — namely, the ones who want to answer the question of what we should do and ought to do and the others who want to give an answer to the question of what we must do are very much alike in their basic assumptions. In addition to that, the assumptions are
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funny. It would mean that if somebody really could tell us what we must do, suppose we were really not free at all, then it would be so that we would be absolutely conditioned, then he has a busy time to show that to us. It means he has to give account really of all the movements and motions in the whole, in the all, that is so full of laws that we, the little ones, have to be directed by them. Nobody ever tried that — let alone they couldn’t achieve the task. It leads into infinity — that’s a long time to wait. In the meantime we shall just take for granted their assumption that our situation is really so, that we are absolutely determined through and through. The other ones, as long as they can stick to revelations, that is a fine thing because they assemble a certain society that believes — as soon as belief is there, as William James would say, if we believe in a God then he is there, he is a reality, he is a reality for my mind, or for the mind of the society. But if the situation is so, as ours is, that nobody really believes in that sense but is just talking about religion instead of believing, then he makes a toy out of religion and the thing becomes perfectly ridiculous. That leaves a third line of inquiry open, a line of inquiry that is not naturalistic and is not idealistic, supernaturalistic, and has nothing to do with any assumptions, general assumptions that we have to believe — a line that once has been tried and then forgotten, and a
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line of inquiry to which we are forced back today by our troubles. When Socrates took the saying of the Delphic oracle for the first time among all the Greeks seriously, namely, »Know Thyself,« then he seems (and I hope I can prove the point) to have intended that we should start, and he started this line, a line of inquiry that does not ask ›What should we do, What ought we to do,‹ or the other line, ›What must we do,‹ but asking the question, ›What can we do?‹ what can we do, and can we do perhaps so much that we can also ask the question ›What shall we do?‹ — not ›what should we do‹.
All those questions and answers are questions and answers concerned with being — let me translate those questions into another set of questions. The third line of inquiry would mean what can we do. First let’s find out what it is, as far as we can know, that we do by the help of science. Science is a system for us to use in philosophic matters. Science is also a controlling power. We have to check on the results of science we find, find out what is, then find out what can be. To decide what can be is man’s privilege and then to find out what can be and then to decide, not, of course, the individual but the person with other persons in a community of thinking and doing, what shall be. What can be and what shall be is the philosophical inquiry. It is non-metaphysical; it
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has no assumptions except the assumption we name as such — namely, we make the assumption that man is free, is a free being.
We make this assumption in order to take over first the responsibility for what we are doing any how — namely, we move by this assumption, we couldn’t make a move without this assumption, and the men to the contrary who tell us that we must do things and that there is no will in man would have the duty to show us that they can live by the categories they think in — but they don’t because if they did, if they would really try to live by those categories they pretend to think in or do think in, namely, the non-existence of will — then they wouldn’t be able to make a move, let alone to design whole philosophical systems. So there is a contradiction in their statements, an abyss between what they think they should do or must do and what they think about how things are and how they act — because they act also on the assumption that man acts out of himself, that means out of will. So we only take this assumption, we confess to distinguish ourselves from those who make the assumption also, live according to it — but say they don’t — namely, either the supernaturalists or the naturalists. We confess that we not only act according to those categories, but that we also try to think according to them because we have a dim feeling that it
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would. be a good thing for once to try to think in the way one lives and vice versa — a unity of thought and action even if it should be a wrong one first, would have a great advantage — namely, that we shouldn’t constantly run into contradictions, so we try to operate on this line — what can we do, what can be, what are we able to do, what shall be. That is the method. Now technicalities.
Since this line of inquiry is new and hasn’t been used since Socrates, hasn’t been tried, we first have to give account why we try it again — that I said because we are troubled and do not see any other way. Second, that would be a very unusual situation. It turns out that our time that also claims to be a time of trouble, crisis and so on, has a specific reason for it to say so. This specific reason is that we have nothing any more which could give us a universal lead, a universal guidance. We have fallen out, mostly without knowing it, of the metaphysical predicament of man because we have become critical of belief in any form. That means the supernaturalists and the naturalists try their tools on us in vain. We are sceptical to a degree that has not been met before in humanity. We do not believe in belief anymore and that has always been done — I mean not only religion. I mean we lost the quality, the ability to start on general assumptions. We are half-believers in every respect, have grown, so to speak, absolutely skeptical. This general trend of humanity
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is a new situation that mankind has encountered. So it is at least an unusual situation and an unusual situation has to be met by unusual means. One of the unusual means is to revive this third line of inquiry that has been forgotten since Socrates and to try our luck with this one because this one has for us the great advantage that it makes only an assumption, that it confesses to be an assumption, and makes us skeptical as to that from the beginning. We want first to find out if we can be free at all, what indications are there — or is that perhaps an illusion of ours that we just want to feel that — but then where does this illusion come from? How are we able to produce such illusion as the quality of freedom?
But it requires other unusual means that follow from this one — the methodical. We are in a jam as to witnesses to take into our inquiry. If we follow this line that starts with the demand »Know Thyself,« it means in the modern way we really want to find out what in our time of trouble we can do, not what is to be done, what has to be done, what must be done, but what we can do, everybody of us. We have a vague suspicion that since all the recipes didn’t help any but made the chaos even bigger, that that might be all our fault, that we did not earnestly consider the question that we might have to start with ourselves. We just want to do that; we want to start with
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ourselves. To start with ourselves means again to contradict every kind of inquiry we are used to because the inquiry lines of what must we do, what should we do always start with the beginning, begin with the beginning. They suppose they know something about the beginning whether it be the beginning of the world or the beginning of the spirit — The beginning — or atoms or whatever. We ask the question: ›Where do we have that notion of the beginning from anyhow? What gave us that term?‹ We have not found any beginning; we just assumed beginnings, but why are we so constantly thinking about beginning? Where do we have the idea from? Then we get a suspicion if there is any real experience of man that gives him an inkling of beginning, it is his own inner experience that he might be a beginner. He is able to begin, to start things anew, to use conditions. He might not be entirely conditioned; he might be a conditioned-conditioner.
This part where he is a conditioner we want to look into. Is he a conditioner? Does he change conditions? Does he even go farther — invent conditions, create conditions, new conditions? Is that vague term beginning which he could never apply to anything in the world, much as he tried, due to the fact that he was dimly aware of a quality of beginning in himself? So we start not with the beginning, we start with the beginner. We look after this quality of beginning and starting with somebody, some being
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that we suspect to be able to begin things. We want to find out about him, about man, about ourselves.
If we do that we get not enough witnesses. Who can we ask? If we really want to begin with the beginner, then that is valid subjectivity too — the first witness, the first beginner are we ourselves as we sit here. We are the first witnesses. That is what the first hour of the course is for. The first hour of the course is there in order that everybody of you might try to tell not only why he came to this course but if possible why he is troubled — namely, troubled about the world. What makes him to be troubled, what the questions are out of his personal experience — and I do not mean subjective and individual experience, that means the troubles of our mental state. If we are mentally unstable or not does not interest me in the least because we all are emotionally unstable and I hope we all will be until we die because if we aren’t we would be cold fish — but what interests me here is the question: »What are your personal experiences with this our situation? What have you thought about it? What lines of inquiry have you tried, and what makes you so troubled?« Those things we want to find out in the first hour of the course, to discuss with each other, to make them as far as we can more and more relevant because using or renewing the Socratic method not as it is believed to be — because that is the Platonic method and by no means the Socratic
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method — I mean the forgotten Socratic method which consists in one very daring assumption and one wonderful assumption: namely, that Socrates really meant to say to everybody, »You are as much a philosopher as I am, you just don’t know it. You have not become enough aware of it.« Let me add to this line my own line. I would say, »Perhaps you are aware of it. There is no human being that can make any valuable move in his life without philosophizing.« So we want to engage in a practice, the practice of philosophizing. We want to interchange our experiences which we made by philosophizing consciously or unconsciously, whatever. We want to evaluate those experiences and find out their relevance to the situations and specific life and death problems of our time and our situation.
So, the first witnesses are we ourselves — and the main ones. That is what the first hour is for — not to make us philosophers, whatever that might be, but to make us what we are. The Delphic oracle also said »Become who you are.« And we suppose here, this is an assumption, that we are or might be free — which means that we are philosophic men all of us and we try to become in that sense what we are, only to become it fuller and better — namely, philosophic men who look into things for themselves and know more and more about how to do it. For that we also take philosophers into our inquiry sometimes. People who can show us how they did it. It is also useful to
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take courses in philosophy for that purpose, but we do not teach philosophy here because philosophy cannot be taught. It can only be taught as a science of ideas, as a history of ideas, namely, what other men have thought — that is very interesting and very useful, but it does not help us in the least for our inquiry. It only supports us, as science can support us, as art can support us. We are trying to philosophize; we are interested in an activity. We suspect that this activity is a creative activity of man, of free men and that it might be a central creative activity. Perhaps we can find out that other creative activities of man are somehow related to this activity and that man without being philosophic is not creative at all. This inquiry demands ourselves as the first participants in our full birthright as philosophical men. Others can come to our help.
There are a few men who had already fallen out of the metaphysical predicament — namely, philosophers, or let’s say thinking men, philosophic men, let’s not even call them philosophers because they didn’t want or couldn’t be, were unable to be, metaphysicians any more — but men, so to speak, who first realized that they did not have the right any more to move on general assumptions and therefore are suspected to be slightly nihilistic; people who first suffered the trouble of our time and really exposed themselves to it and did not only think, but either thought
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in a way that amounted to deeds and they became outcasts and lost their lives or at least their social standing by it immediately, or even people who did certain things by which they made themselves unpopular. The father of them is Immanuel Kant who in a way we can excuse because he did not know what he was doing; he did not intend to do what he did — namely really to destroy the belief in metaphysical assumptions and to make metaphysics impossible for modern man, but he did it bravely in spite of his longing for quite different things, and so we might sometimes call him in to ask him questions about our problems. But then certainly there are some people who suffered the full breakdown of what we call the nihilistic situation on themselves — they are Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and, of the younger ones, thinkers like Camus, like Heidegger, people who in a way, and we will prove that, exposed themselves to this new predicament of absolute uncertainty and confessed to be absolutely uncertain. Followers of the real philosophic man who Socrates was, who were brave enough first to say that »I know that I do not know«?: that means I confess that I do not know about general assumptions; I will not come before you and tell you that I received some higher messages about what man should do because I did not receive them, I come before you as a man who knows that he does not know more than you — that means essentially more, that he has no superior knowledge, no higher knowledge,
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that he can have only the knowledge you have and can have — and without any assumptions. We are in our inquiry entitled, I think, to trust persons like that to a certain degree in order to listen to their experiences and what they had to say about us and our situation.
And there is fortunately a third set, and those are — I will not call them philosophers either because at that time one did not know what philosophy is and it had not been established as a discipline then — thinkers who were in a way in a situation like ours, namely, a situation of the breakdown of one decisive state of the development of mankind, the mythical state. When myth broke down and the mythical world did not hold together any more, as later the metaphysical world did not hold together any more, then great critics of myth, the first truly independent human thinkers emerged. They are the nine thinkers and I take them only as thinkers into account here as I indicated in the program — from Lao-tze to Jesus of Nazareth. They all have one thing in common they worked and thought at a time when the distinction, which is a metaphysical distinction, between body and spirit had not yet been made. We are in a situation where the distinction between body and spirit has become very doubtful to us; they worked in a situation where this distinction had not yet been made. That gives them, their experiences, a certain similarity to our experiences, a certain similarity. They also
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did not claim, none of them, that they had higher knowledge; they just started with the question, ›What can man do, what is he really like?‹ Or to formulate it more philosophically, ›Who is man?‹ not ›What is man?‹ — ›Who am I?‹ Is man such a being really to which we can apply the question ›Who is that?‹ not ›What is that?‹ Is he entitled to ask for himself by the question who he is; what gives him that right, what are the qualities that entitle him to ask that way — or is that an illusion of his already; is that merely an act of power to distinguish himself from everything else that he gives himself the honor to ask of himself who and not what — because the answers that metaphysics have given in our time finally are that we are not entitled to ask ›who‹ but ›what.‹ What function are we in society, what kind of an organism or a mechanism or a functionality are we — not who are we — who asks us who we are, according to those theories. But they ask who is man, who am I, what is a person.
So, they are very near to us and it is no accident. It is symptomatic that modern philosophers in their despair have since fifteen to thirty years now tried again and again to concern themselves with the so-called prePlatonic philosophers. We concern ourselves also with pre-Platonic philosophers, but not with the pre-Platonic philosophers of Greece, but with pre-Platonic thinkers: that means with pre-Platonic men and that means with pre-
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metaphysical men and post mythical men; men who were neither mythical nor metaphysical, but in a unique situation where they had the possibility to look at things as if they looked at them first, as if they were absolutely new. Their experience is fundamental experience. Their findings might be of great relevance to our problems, at least we hope so. Those are the three categories of people we are going to ask questions of here: you or we, the modern victims of the breakdown of our assured world, philosophers who went mad or broke down because they did not want to accept any kind of belief that was offered them in order to at least give them an injection to feel better, but wanted to die absolutely conscious of the situation in which they thought they were; and the third group, those thinkers of the age, so to speak, between the mythical age and metaphysical age — which is breaking down now. Those are the reasons why we use this unusual method, the method of asking of what can we do; why we try to find out about ourselves first and why we take those three groups of persons permanently into account in our inquiry. Those were the preliminary remarks and, in a way, the lecture of this class. We will add some things later and then come to normal procedure. [Audio file ends here.]
1 Probably in: Mauthner, Fritz: Wörterbuch der Philosophie. Neue Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache, Bd. 2, 1910, VIII »Optimismus (Pessimismus)«.
2 It was Friedrich Engels and not Marx who formulated »freedom is the insight in necessity« based on G.W. Hegel. Engels, Friedrich: Anti-Dühring (Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft), 1878 (English 1907).