Peter Wessel Zapffe

Norwegian philosopher, mountaineer, and author

Peter Wessel Zapffe (18 December 189912 October 1990) was a Norwegian metaphysician, author, lawyer and mountaineer, noted for his philosophically pessimistic and fatalistic view of human existence.

Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.

QuotesEdit

 
Each new generation asks – What is the meaning of life? A more fertile way of putting the question would be – Why does man need a meaning to life?
 
Man has longings and spiritual demands that reality cannot fulfill. We have expectations of a just and moral world. Man requires meaning in a meaningless world.
  • To bear children into this world is like carrying wood into a burning house.
    • As quoted in Reflekser i trylleglass: stemmer fra vårt århundre [Magical Reflections : Voices of Our Century] (1998) edited by Haagen Ringnes

The Last Messiah (1933)Edit

The Last Messiah [Den sidste Messias] (1933)
  • One night in long bygone times, man awoke and saw himself.
    He saw that he was naked under cosmos, homeless in his own body. All things dissolved before his testing thought, wonder above wonder, horror above horror unfolded in his mind.
    Then woman too awoke and said it was time to go and slay. And he fetched his bow and arrow, a fruit of the marriage of spirit and hand, and went outside beneath the stars. But as the beasts arrived at their waterholes where he expected them of habit, he felt no more the tiger’s bound in his blood, but a great psalm about the brotherhood of suffering between everything alive.
    That day he did not return with prey, and when they found him by the next new moon, he was sitting dead by the waterhole.
  • Man became fearful of life itself – indeed, of his very being. Life – that was for the beast to feel the play of power, it was heat and games and strife and hunger, and then at last to bow before the law of course. In the beast, suffering is self-confined, in man, it knocks holes into a fear of the world and a despair of life. Even as the child sets out on the river of life, the roars from the waterfall of death rise highly above the vale, ever closer, and tearing, tearing at its joy. Man beholds the earth, and it is breathing like a great lung; whenever it exhales, delightful life swarms from all its pores and reaches out toward the sun, but when it inhales, a moan of rupture passes through the multitude, and corpses whip the ground like bouts of hail. Not merely his own day could he see, the graveyards wrung themselves before his gaze, the laments of sunken millennia wailed against him from the ghastly decaying shapes, the earth-turned dreams of mothers. Future’s curtain unravelled itself to reveal a nightmare of endless repetition, a senseless squander of organic material. The suffering of human billions makes its entrance into him through the gateway of compassion, from all that happen arises a laughter to mock the demand for justice, his profoundest ordering principle.
  • Hvorfor er menneskeslegten da ikke forlængst dødd ut under store vanvidsepidemier? Hvorfor er der bare et forholdsvis ringe antal individer som forkommer fordi de ikke kan holde livspresset ut, – fordi erkjendelsen gir dem mer enn de kan bære? Saavel aandshistorien som iagttagelsen av os selv og andre gir basis for følgende svar: De fleste mennesker lærer at redde sig ved kunstig at redusere sit bevissthetsindhold.
    • Why, then, has mankind not long ago gone extinct during great epidemics of madness? Why do only a fairly minor number of individuals perish because they fail to endure the strain of living — because cognition gives them more than they can carry? Cultural history, as well as observation of ourselves and others, allow the following answer: Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.
    • trans. Gisle R. Tangenes
  • Depression, angst, a refusal to eat, and so forth, are taken without exception to be marks of a pathological condition, and are treated accordingly. In many cases, however, these phenomena are indications of a deeper, more immediate experience of what life is all about, bitter fruits of the genius of the mind or emotion, which is at the root of every antibiological tendency. It is not the soul that is ill, but its defense mechanism that either fails or is abjured because it is considered—correctly—as a betrayal of man's most potent gift.
  • A central aspect of punishment by imprisonment is that most opportunities for diversion are denied the prisoner. And, there being few other means for protecting oneself against angst, prisoners are for the most part constantly on the brink of utter despair. Any measures he can find to stave off this despair are justified as an attempt to preserve life itself; for the moment he experiences his soul alone in the universe, there is nothing else to see but the categorical impossibility of existence.
  • Nobody has ever managed to explain what it is they are longing after in religion, but it is quite clear what they are trying to escape from – this earthly vale of tears, one’s untenable existential situation.
  • When a human being takes his life in depression, this is a natural death of spiritual causes. The modern barbarity of 'saving' the suicidal is based on a hair-raising misapprehension of the nature of existence.

To Be a Human Being (1989–90)Edit

 
The immediate facts are what we must relate to. Darkness and light, beginning and end.
The philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe in his 90th year (1990 documentary, Tromsø Norway: Original Film AS)
  • Each new generation asks – What is the meaning of life? A more fertile way of putting the question would be – Why does man need a meaning to life?
  • Man is a tragic animal. Not because of his smallness, but because he is too well endowed. Man has longings and spiritual demands that reality cannot fulfill. We have expectations of a just and moral world. Man requires meaning in a meaningless world.
  • The seed of a metaphysical or religious defeat is in us all. For the honest questioner, however, who doesn’t seek refuge in some faith or fantasy, there will never be an answer.
  • We come from an inconceivable nothingness. We stay a while in something which seems equally inconceivable, only to vanish again into the inconceivable nothingness.
  • Death is a terrible provocation. It appears almost everywhere, presenting a stern but effective scale for both values and ethical standards.
  • Death is the most certain and the most uncertain event there is.
  • In accordance with my conception of life, I have chosen not to bring children into the world. A coin is examined, and only after careful deliberation, given to a beggar, whereas a child is flung out into the cosmic brutality without hesitation.
  • Mankind ought to end its existence of its own will.
  • I myself am no longer very much afflicted by the thought of my own death. The synthesis, Peter Wessel Zapffe, did not originate until 1899. It was spared from immediate participation in the horrors of the previous years, and it will not miss what awaits mankind at the end of its vertiginous madness.
  • If one regards life and death as natural processes, the metaphysical dread vanishes, and one obtains "peace of mind".

See alsoEdit

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