Analysis of the 'Inquiries'


In the same year as the Fables (Figures About My ABC-Book) there was published Pestalozzi's most important philosophic work, generally shortly called Nachforschungen (Inquiries). It is the fruit of years of work. The far too optimistic view of the Abendstunde (Evening Hour) turned out to be a dead end, but also the hard realism and pessimism of the Leutnantsphilosophie (Lieutenant-Philosophy) Pestalozzi more and more found a 'beschränkten Gesichtspunkt' (dense point of view) (Sämtliche Briefe 3, p. 300), as the Nicoloviusbrief (Nicolovius-Letter) which became famous shows. His previous inquiring mainly was aimed at the connection between the animal nature of man and the social reality, whereas he – following Rousseau – tended to see the absolutely necessary moral in causality with the social. The solution which appeared to him in his thinking was to see the morality of man as an opportunity which in the end is only given to the single individual, as a way of existence which is based on an absolutely independent inner power of the individual (he once calls it the 'divine spark') which is independent of anything animal or social. The animal nature of man as well as his social existence in this view turn out to be not the causes, but only the prerequisites and conditions for the moral existence of the individual. This dualistic understanding of the human nature which in the further works of Pestalozzi will almost stereotypically be described as 'animal', 'lower', 'sensual' nature on the one hand and as 'higher', 'eternal', 'inner', 'divine' nature on the other hand, also – mostly implicitly – is the basis for the way of thinking in the Inquiries.

In his work Pestalozzi proceeds from the contradictions of human life as an irrefutable fact and he wonders where they come from, what they mean for the existence of man and how they could be surmounted if necessary. His answers can be understood as a synthesis between both of the earlier points of view which most clearly have been worked out in the Evening Hour and the Lieutenant-Philosophy. The 'higher' as well as the 'lower' nature of man show to advantage. The latter is the starting point for the development to the positive as well as to the negative, because it not only takes shape in the human egoism, but over and above that in a second, positive basic instinct which leads man away from the I and to the You: the goodwill. It is true that this in the scope of the social life is conflicting and can be even weakening and destroying, but anyway it is the natural basis for the morality of man.

Pestalozzi now tries to shed light upon the inner dynamic of the contradictory human existence by understanding it as a development from the natural state over the social state to the moral state. There he is less interested in a development which has to be interpreted chronologically, but in a logical development: The natural state is that condition from which social life compellingly results and the social state is disposed in such a way that it suggests to as well as makes it possible for man to enter the moral state. We try to shortly follow this development:

a) Natural State

Within the natural state Pestalozzi distinguishes between the pure, unspoiled and the spoiled natural state:

In the unspoiled natural state the needs of man and his powers to satisfy them are in an everlasting balance. Man does not want more than what he is able to do and he is able to do anything he needs. Without much effort he abandons himself to the pure sensual pleasure and enjoys safety without having to take care of it. His doings are absolutely aimed at the moment, there are no impediments in the way of his egoism, it only serves his survival, which, however, is impeded or disputed by nobody. Egoism and goodwill therefore are balanced harmonically. The doings of man are beyond guilt as he obeys the natural, not yet spoiled instinct. His natural urge for freedom is not impeded by anyone and therefore is not violent.

In this idea of man in the unspoiled natural state we easily recognize Rousseau's image of the natural, good savage. However, while Rousseau really tries in his EMILE to save the child's naturalness until the beginning of puberty, Pestalozzi realizes the illusionary of such an idea. According to him we therefore do not know the pure natural state at all; it can only be thought and guessed. But by the very fact that it can be thought it takes effect in the human life as by this man is able to imagine the harmony which is lost and to be searched again. Pestalozzi, however, considers this purely natural harmony based on instinct to be irretrievable and necessarily lost. There is no turning back. The lost harmony must be restored with other means: by morality out of an inner freedom as we will see later.

What we really experience and know of man thus is the spoiled natural state. By this Pestalozzi understands man in so far as he is subjected to physical needs and his sensual passion, that means man as an instinctive being, as 'animal'. In the spoiled natural state the harmony between the wishes and needs and the powers necessary for to satisfy them is broken. Man experiences his inadequacy, his being in need of help, his weakness. His life is marked by exertion, worrying, fighting. As long as no one gets in his way he still is naturally benevolent as this agrees with his sluggishness and with the fact that he generally feels better in harmony than in argument. As, however, the daily worries goad on egoism, everyone more or less strives for power from which results the fight of anybody against anybody. The individual is not afraid of pushing through his egoistic claims to power and possession on the expense of the others. He claims 'natural freedom', that means: to do and not to do whatever he likes and, if necessary, uses violence. Wherever the individual asserts oneself only to avert listlessness or to win greater pleasure and to push through his egoistic interests, each time there manifests his natural state, that means he is – as Pestalozzi says – 'animal' or 'work of the nature'.

b) Social State

Also the spoiled natural state only intellectually can be separated from the next higher, the social state, because the egoistic fight for power and possession already requires the existence of property. 'Socially' are only the ideas and rules of property, 'animal', however, is the egoistic, inconsiderate pushing through of the own interests on expense of the others. Because animal egoism and property almost cannot be separated during everyday life, Pestalozzi defined the social state as 'modified natural state' and did not see the actual regulator of the social state so much in the property anymore (as in the eighties), but much more in the set ('positive') right. Of course the first positive right also is referred to the property, because the purpose of the social uniting is the facilitation and securing of the satisfaction of needs by collective means as acquisition, property, division of labour. As, however, the development of the social state creates always new possibilities of life the right has not only the task to secure the satisfaction of the primary needs of the individuals, but also to in general regulate all forms of the social life. It creates spaces for free formation, but also always imposes duties on man and restricts his natural freedom. This 'loss', among other things, gets outweighed by the 'gain' that infringements of rights get punished overindividually and thus the individual enjoys safety.

Summing up, therefore it may be said: Socially man exists in so far as his behaviour is regulated by the law, as he enjoys rights and fulfils duties, as he finds himself embedded in systems, institutions and collective processes.

The enjoying of social achievements, however, has its price: Through the socialization man, as shown already earlier, gets into contradiction with himself, because his egoism in the social state is not extinguished. It is his egoism which drives him to socialization, and it is the same egoism which again and again makes him to want to shake off the consequences of this step. This entails that in the social state he will never be able to reach the purpose because of which he entered this very state. Man socializes himself with the hope to by this regain the lost harmony between need and power, and this very, longed for harmony he will never reach in the social state. In the contrary: The social process on the one hand awakens always new needs and holds out a prospect of their possible satisfaction, on the other hand, however, by the more and more complicated dependences and the more and more extensive division of labour makes the individual weaker and weaker. The social state therefore always is labile; it depends on in how far it is regulated by just laws and in how far the individuals follow there laws. If man – he being legislator, governor or simple citizen of the state – accepts the social right he thus consolidates the social state and brings about conditions for the individual to be able to lift himself to morality. However, if he disregards the law and the social right, then he permanently threatens to again degenerate to the animal state, he either becomes a tyrant, a slave or a barbarian.

Even if this social state never can satisfy man it still is a necessary intermediate stage for the course of man from the natural state to the moral state. First it creates somewhat liveable conditions by protecting the general public from far too big excesses of individual, egoistic impulses. Thus for the individual there develops a space of relative quietness and safety which makes it possible for him to recover consciousness and to take care of more essential tasks than only the fight for existence. Thus those behaviours which require a disciplined social life in a certain way are a practice for the moral acting. What namely distinguishes the social man from the natural man especially is his ability to bridle the instinctive impulses, even if only because of social force. This accustoming to the outer obedience to the laws is a pre-stage of the inner obedience to the own conscience. Further the socially united man, by virtue of his ability to think and of the socially imparted knowledge, is able to realize the inconsistency of existing only socially and to conclude from this that he has to strive for morality if he wants to experience a fulfilled life. Pestalozzi realizes a deep sense in suffering the social inconsistencies: I as a human being shall bear them so long, 'bis ich in ihrem Erdulden zu einer höheren Selbständigkeit gereift, bis ich durch die Erfahrungen derselben von dem Trug und dem Unwert des tierischen Verderbens, auf welchem der gesellschaftliche Zustand ruht, ganz überzeugt, dahin gelange, alle Dinge dieser Welt im Gesichtspunkte ihres Einflusses auf meine innere Veredelung ins Auge zu fassen' (until I, riped to a higher independence by bearing them, by experiencing them absolutely convicted of the falsehood and unworthiness of the animal ruin on which the social state is based, get to the point of considering all things of this world with regard to their influence on my inner improvement) (PSW 12, p. 109).

c) Moral State

Thus man lifts into the moral state. It is based on an independent power inside man, on the 'divine spark'. This power which is independent of the animal and social conditions makes it possible for man to perfect himself. 'Ich besitze eine Kraft in mir selbst, alle Dinge dieser Welt mir selbst, unabhängig von meiner tierischen Begierlichkeit und von meinen gesellschaftlichen Verhältnissen, gänzlich nur im Gesichtspunkt, was sie zu meiner inneren Veredelung beitragen, vorzustellen und dieselbe nur in diesem Gesichtspunkt zu verlangen oder zu verwerfen. Diese Kraft ist im Innersten meiner Natur selbständig, ihr Wesen ist auf keine Weise eine Folge irgendeiner anderen Kraft meiner Natur. Sie ist, weil ich bin, und ich bin, weil sie ist. Sie entspringt aus dem mir wesentlich einwohnenden Gefühl: Ich vervollkommne mich selbst, wenn ich mir das, was ich soll, zum Gesetz dessen mache, was ich will' (I own a power inside myself to, independently of my animal greediness and of my social conditions, imagine all things of this world absolutely only with regard to what they contribute to my inner improvement and to desire or reject it only following this aspect. This power in the innermost part of my nature is independent, in no way it is the consequence of any other power of my nature. It is, because I am and I am, because it is. It grows out of the feeling which fundamentally lives inside me: I perfect myself if I make that what I shall to the law of what I want) (PSW 12, p. 105).

Morality understood like that 'ist ganz individuell, sie besteht nicht unter zweien. Kein Mensch kann für mich fühlen, ich bin. Kein Mensch kann für mich fühlen, ich bin sittlich.' (is absolutely individual, it does not exist among two men. Nobody can feel for me I am. Nobody can feel for me I am moral.) (PSW 12, p. 106). Thus morality must not be confound with the objective good which may have been established in good social institutions, in just laws and in old, good habits. Morality always is acting, is an act of the individual which is wanted out of a free decision of conscience, is a concrete deed (therefore not, as Pestalozzi's term suggests, 'state') and it can be recognized by the fact that the acting person overcomes its own egoism of its own free will. Only by this moral wanting man succeeds in re-establishing the lost harmony with himself and in overcoming the inconsistencies in himself. If man in the natural state was a 'work of nature' and in the social state a 'work of society' then now – in the moral state – by the free, moral act he is a 'work of his own'. He no more is only 'animal', he no more is only 'citizen', now he is a 'human being' in the full sense. And to become a 'human being' according to Pestalozzi's conviction is the principle, but unalterable task and destiny of every single individual.

As we thus see, morality is absolutely tied to the decision of the individual. Nobody can make a human being moral but he himself; the fellows and the social conditions can only make it more difficult, make it easier or suggest it. Thus Pestalozzi writes among other things:

'Rein sittlich sind für mich nur diejenigen Beweggründe zur Pflicht, die meiner Individualität ganz eigen sind. Jeder Beweggrund zur Pflicht, den ich mit anderen teile, ist es nicht, er hat im Gegenteil insoweit für mich immer Reize zur Unsittlichkeit, das ist: zur Unaufmerksamkeit auf den Trug meiner tierischen Natur und das Unrecht meiner gesellschaftlichen Verhärtung in seinem Wesen. Je größer die Zahl derer ist, mit denen ich meine Pflicht teile, je stärker und vielfältiger sind die Reize zur Unsittlichkeit, die mit dieser Pflicht verbunden sind. Hinwieder je weiter die Gegenstände, von denen sich meine Pflicht herschreibt, von meiner Individualität entfernt stehen, desto stärker wirken die Reize zur Unsittlichkeit, die damit verbunden sind, auf meine Natur. Alles was ich als Glied eines Korps, einer Gemeinde - noch mehr: was ich als Glied einer Innung, einer Faktion zu fordern habe, das entmenschlicht mich immer mehr oder weniger. Je größer das Korps, die Gemeinde, die Innung oder Faktion, von der sich mein Recht und meine Pflicht herschreibt, je größer ist auch die Gefahr meiner Entmenschlichung, das ist, meiner gesellschaftlichen Verhärtung gegen alle Ansprüche der Sittlichkeit auf diese Pflicht und auf dieses Recht' (Purely moral for me are only those reasons for a duty which are absolutely inherent to my individuality. Each reason for a duty which I share with others is not it, in the contrary, for me it in so far has always temptations for being immoral, that is: for not being watchful to the falsehood of my animal nature and to the injustice of my social hardening. The higher the number of those with whom I share my duty is the stronger and more manifold there are the temptations for being immoral which are connected with this duty. And again the farer the things from which my duty derives are away from my individuality, the stronger there work the temptations for being immoral, which are connected with it, on my nature. Everything I have to demand for as a member of a corps, a community – even more: a guild, a party always dehumanizes me more or less. The bigger the corps, the community, the guild or the party from which my right and my duty derive, the higher also is the danger of my dehumanization, that means of my social hardening against all claims of morality to this duty and to this right) (PSW 12, p. 114).

It would be a misunderstanding to interpret this position as an anti-social individualism. The basic object of morality – the self-perfection by overcoming the own egoism – already is social by nature. Morality according to Pestalozzi never is imaginable and possible in another way than in the personal devotion of the individual to the You and to the community in the acting love. But real morality the social acting is not as long as it only derives from a sensual inclination, from a social obligation or from a misunderstood solidarity in the sense of rioting, but only then if it bases on a free, subjective decision which harmonizes with the own conscience and also always means extinction of the own egoism.

It may be true that Pestalozzi considers the moral state as basically independent from the animal and social one, but nevertheless these three states in the concrete existence of the individual cannot be separated from each other. A natural and social being man always is, and necessarily so. A moral being he is always then when he wants to. But he hardly gets there to be able to want it if the social conditions are bad. The good laws and habitudes of a nation make it easier for him to take the own, inner freedom. On the other hand, however, the morality of the individuals has a good influence on the social state by moral men necessarily standing up for just laws and circumstances and for a fertilizing social life.

In Pestalozzi's anthropology and consequently in his pedagogic which is based on it, in the centre there is the demand on man to act morally. But Pestalozzi is not an utopian and admits without reserve that it is impossible for man to act purely moral, because he always is mixed up in the social and also as a natural being is provided with instincts and needs of which the satisfaction often has to take precedence of the moral act if he does not want to perish physically. Thus Pestalozzi speaks a clear Yes to the original conflicts and tensions of man. The inconsistency, from which Pestalozzi proceeded as an obvious fact in his analysis of the human existence turns out to be forming a part of the nature of the human existence. Morality and with it the inner peace and the harmony with himself and the world in this life never will be a permanent property, but only an always new event. But despite this realization Pestalozzi does not give up, but speaks a brave Nevertheless. Nature dismisses man imperfect and man has to finish his anthropogenesis himself.  'Die Natur hat ihr Werk ganz getan, also tue auch du das deine!' (Nature did its work completely, so do you yours, too!) (PSW 12, p. 25). Always then when man succeeds in becoming a 'work of his own' – and this is just not always possible -, always then he has restored the harmony inside himself by overcoming his egoism. Then he is really free, then he is human.

d) Result

As the structure of the Inquiries clearly shows, Pestalozzi does not only want to shed light upon the nature of the three 'states' and their interactions, but to be able to analyse and find out the complexity of the human existence with the help of this understanding. The three states are not to be understood as isolated or isolatable ways of life, but as ways of existence which penetrate and stipulate each other. Thus Pestalozzi analyses the following phenomena in regard of the question how man is to this as the 'work of nature', as the 'work of my race' or as the 'work of his own': acquaintance and knowledge, acquisition, property and possession, right, social state, power, honour, subjugation, domination, aristocracy, acting, crown right, legal right, freedom, tyranny, revolution, constitutional law, love, religion, truth and right, at which Pestalozzi's selection clearly reflects the political and social conditions during the last decade of the 18th century. Today other humane phenomena in addition could be submitted to this analysis of Pestalozzi, for example: peace, profession, solving conflicts, authority, marriage, education. In each case there would be shown that all of these 'simple' motions consist of three aspects which can be distinguished by their nature, and that they in so far constitute the anthropologically conditioned inconsistency as in each 'state' there are effective other and partly contradictory legalities. So for example use of power and distrust are quite in place in the social, but are foreign to the nature of the moral field and in so far are destructive.

The perception of the human being developed in the Inquiries silently lies behind all later works of Pestalozzi. His political and pedagogical striving always revolves round the question: How is it possible to, basing on the nature of man and including the social conditions, satisfy the natural instincts in such a way that they do not overgrow the higher possibilities of man, but rather are able to become the basis for the development of the dispositions of the higher nature and their further development to morality? The answer to this question generally leads man to political and educational acting. Politics without educated men leads to the mere social fight and to suppression by perfect, social means. Educating without politics misses and neglects the conditions which can either make an education striving for morality possible and easier, or, however, make it more difficult and prevent it. The direct results of politics and education, however, are not of the same value: The well functioning state never is the last purpose, but always only a means to an end; the moral man, however, is the fulfilment of the human existence.