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四川大地震的哲学思考

2008-05-30
四川大地震,STOICISM AND THE SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE
四川大地震的哲学思考
英国哲学家阿兰·德波顿(Alain de Botton)为英国《金融时报》中文网撰稿
2008年5月28日 星期三
公元62年2月5日凌晨,一场强烈的震灾在罗马坎帕尼亚省(Campania)地底迸发,数千名毫无察觉的居民在几秒钟内丧命。庞培城(Pompeii)内大部分建筑在睡梦中的人们头顶上坍塌。救援行动因随后发生的火灾而受阻。幸存者除了身上污黑的衣衫,失去了一切,而往日的豪宅大院也变成了一堆瓦砾。在整个罗马帝国境内,到处是惊恐、难以置信和愤怒的情绪。这个世界上最强大、技术上最先进的民族,这些建造出高架引水渠、并驭服了蛮族部落的罗马人,在大自然的脾气面前,怎会如此不堪一击?

这些痛苦与惶惑(所有这一切,在今天四川大地震过后,又让人感到多么熟悉),引起了罗马哲学家塞内加(Seneca)的注意。塞内加是西方哲学史上“斯多噶学派”(Stoicism)的代表人物之一,他撰写了一系列文章来安慰他的读者。但他以自己一贯的风格,提供的是那种最为生硬和阴郁的安慰:“你们说:‘我没想到这一切会发生。'难道你们以为,当你知道某件事有可能发生,当你看见它已经发生,这件事居然还不会发生吗……?”为了平息读者心中的不平,塞内加提醒大家(在公元62年的春季):无论我们认为自己已变得多么高明和安全,自然灾难与人为灾难始终是我们生命的一部分。因此,我们必须时刻都要想到未可预料的事情。平静,不过是历次混乱之间的间歇。没有什么是可靠的,即便是我们双脚依凭的大地。

如果我们不去仔细思忖大地震突然爆发的危险,并为自己的天真而付出代价,那是因为现实当中包含了两种残酷的混淆特征:一方面,是代代相传的持续性和可靠性;另一方面,则是毫无征兆的灾难。我们发现,自己在两种情况面前无所适从:一是那种貌似有理的认识,会导致我们推想,明天会与今天大致相仿;二是可能发生令人震惊的事件,而一切将随之改变。个中缘由,是因为我们怀有强烈的动机,想要忽略后一种情况。塞内加要求大家记住:我们的命运永远都掌握在命运之神(Goddess of Fortune)的手中。这位神祇会给我们播撒礼物,但又会转瞬无情地眼看着我们被一根鱼刺卡住喉咙窒息而亡,或是殒身于公寓的废墟之下。

塞内加认为,由于未曾预料到的事件对我们的伤害最大,由于我们必须预想到所有事情(“世上没有命运之神所不敢为之事”),因此我们任何时候都必须牢记,最糟糕的事情有可能发生。每个人在驾车启程、走下楼梯,或是与朋友话别时,都应意识到各种致命的可能性。塞内加希望大家不要厌恶这种念头,或者认为这是没有必要的戏剧化想法。

鉴于我们拥有强大的科技能力,我们自然以为自己能够掌控命运。人类不再是随机力量的玩物。通过运用理性,我们所有的问题都可能得到解决。这与斯多噶学派的想法极为不同。塞内加强调:我们必须要拓宽自己的感知,以便察觉到生命中随时可能出现的问题:“不应有始料未及之事。我们的思想应先行一步,去面对所有的问题。我们应该考虑的,不是什么事常会发生,而是什么事有可能发生。人是什么?人是一件容器。哪怕是最轻微的振动,最小的颠簸,都会让它破碎。人的躯体软弱而易碎。”

在卡拉布里亚(Calabria)地震之后,许多人主张应疏散整个地区的民众,并且不要再在震区重建房屋。但塞内加并不认同这样一种潜在想法:即地球上会有一个地方,或许是利古里亚(Liguria),或许是卡拉布里亚,那里能有人真正摆脱命运之神的意志,并做到彻底的安全。“谁又能保证,他们所站立的这块或那块土地,就是更好的地基呢?所有地方的情况都一样,如果它们迄今为止没遇到过地震,那么将来还是有可能会碰上。也许就在今夜,也许在今夜之前,此时你安然伫立的地方会被撕裂开来。你又怎能知道,在命运之神已经折腾够了的那些地方,那些在废墟上重建的地方,情况从此就会变得更好呢?如果我们以为,世界上的某个地方可以幸免于难,保证安全,那我们就错了……大自然还没用这种方式创造过任何永恒不变的东西。”

为了让我们在心理上对灾难有所准备,塞内加让大家在每天早晨都进行一种奇怪的练习。这是一种拉丁文里称之为“praemeditatio”的预想:它要求你在早餐前躺在床上,想象眼前的这一天里有可能出问题的任何事情。这种练习并不是没事找事,它意在让你做好准备——如果你所在的城市当晚毁于大火,或是你的孩子不幸夭亡:“我们周遭的种种事物都注定要灭亡”。举例说来,有一种预想是:“你生为凡人,终有一死;你留下的后代也终有一死。因此你必须承认一切,预期一切。”

斯多噶主义就意味着接受生命抛给你的一切吗?不,它只是在说,我们要承认:尽管自己已经取得了如此多的进步,但我们仍是那么地脆弱。塞内加要求大家将自己视为拴在马车上的一条狗,而驾车的是一位意图难测的驭手。拴系我们的那条皮带的长度,足以给我们一定的回旋余地,但又不足以让我们想去哪里就去哪里。作为一条狗,自然希望随心所欲地四处游逛。但正如塞内加的比喻所示,如果它做不到这一点,最好还是顺从地跟在马车后面,而不是被拖着拽着,以至于被皮带勒死。就像塞内加所言:“一个动物,如果它和套索较劲,只会让套索越勒越紧……如果它拉着轭套走路,而不是与之厮斗,那么,没有哪一件轭套会紧到足以造成伤害的地步。战胜不幸的最佳好慰藉,便是保持坚忍,并承认必然性。”

回顾一下斯多噶学派哲人的智慧,我们或许能找到一种有益的方法,从而调节我们的种种期望,并减轻灾难和流血带来的震惊。公元65年,当塞内加被丧心病狂的尼禄皇帝(Emperor Nero)赐自尽时,他的妻子和家人痛哭失声,接近崩溃,但塞内加已学会如何顺应生命的马车。当他平静地用刀割断自己的血管时,留下了一句话。在那些格外让人伤悲的清晨里,当我们耳闻噩耗之际,对自己重复这一句话,不失为明智之举:“何必为生命中的一部分而哭泣呢?全部的生命才值得流泪。”
阿兰•德波顿是《哲学的慰藉》(The Consolations of Philosophy)一书作者
译者/文怀川
STOICISM AND THE SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE
By Alain de Botton
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Early in the morning on the fifth of February AD 62, a gigantic earthquake rippled beneath the Roman province of Campania and in seconds, killed thousands of unsuspecting inhabitants. Large sections of Pompeii collapsed on top of people in their beds. Attempts to rescue them were stopped when fires broke out. The survivors were left destitute in only the soot-covered clothes they stood in, their noble buildings shattered into rubble. There was horror, disbelief and anger throughout the Empire. How could the Romans, the world's mightiest, most technologically sophisticated people, who had built aqueducts and tamed barbarian hordes, be so vulnerable to the insane tempers of nature?

The suffering and confusion – only too familiar today in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake – attracted the notice of the Roman philosopher, Seneca, one of the key figures in the school of Western philosophy known as Stoicism. He wrote a succession of essays to comfort his readers but, typically for Seneca, the consolation on offer was of the stiffest, darkest sort: ‘You say: ‘I did not think it would happen.' Do you think there is anything that will not happen, when you know that it is possible to happen, when you see that it has already happened...?' Seneca tried to calm the sense of injustice in his readers by reminding them – in the spring of AD62 – that natural and man-made disasters will always be a feature of our lives, however sophisticated and safe we think we have become. We must therefore at all times expect the unexpected. Calm is only an interval between chaos. Nothing is guaranteed, not even the ground we stand on.

If we do not dwell on the risk of sudden giant quakes and pay a price for our innocence, it is because reality comprises two cruelly confusing characteristics: on the one hand, continuity and reliability lasting across generations, on the other, unheralded cataclysms. We find ourselves divided between a plausible invitation to assume that tomorrow will be much like today, and the possibility that we will meet with an appalling event after which nothing will ever be the same again. It is because we have such powerful incentives to neglect the latter scenario that Seneca asked us to remember that our fate is forever in the hands of the Goddess of Fortune. This Goddess can scatter gifts, then with terrifying speed watch us choke to death on a fishbone or disappear under an apartment building.

Because we are hurt most by what we do not expect, and because we must expect everything (‘There is nothing which Fortune does not dare'), we must, argued Seneca, hold the possibility of the most obscene events in mind at all times. No one should undertake a journey by car, or walk down the stairs or say goodbye to a friend without an awareness, which Seneca would have wished to be neither gruesome nor unnecessarily dramatic, of fatal possibilities.

Given our technological prowess, it's become natural to think of ourselves as controlling our destiny. Man doesn't any longer have to be a plaything of random forces and with the application of reason, all our problems may be solved. Nothing could be further from a Stoic mindset. We must, stressed Seneca, expand our sense of what may at any time go wrong in our lives: ‘Nothing ought to be unexpected by us. Our minds should be sent forward in advance to meet all the problems, and we should consider, not what is wont to happen, but what can happen. What is man? A vessel that the slightest shaking, the slightest toss will break. A body weak and fragile.'

In the wake of the Calabria earthquake, many people argued that the whole area should be evacuated, and nothing more built on earthquake zones. But Seneca disagreed with the underlying belief that there might be somewhere on earth, in Liguria or Calabria perhaps, where someone could actually be wholly safe, out of reach of Fortune's will: ‘Who promises them better foundations for this or that soil to stand on? All places have the same conditions and if they have not yet had an earthquake, they can none the less have quakes. Perhaps tonight or before tonight will split open the spot where you stand securely. How do you know whether conditions will henceforth be better in those places against which Fortune has already exhausted her strength or in those places which are supported on their own ruins? We are mistaken if we believe any part of the world is exempt and safe... Nature has not created anything in such a way that it is immobile."

To try to prepare ourselves psychologically for disaster, Seneca asked us to perform a strange exercise every morning which he called in Latin a praemeditatio – a premedition – and which involved lying in bed before breakfast and imagining everything that could go wrong in the day ahead. This exercise was no idle fun, it was designed to prepared you if your town burnt down that evening or your children died: ‘We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die,' ran one example of a premeditation, ‘Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth. So you must reckon on everything, expect everything.'

Does Stoicism mean accepting everything that life throws at you? No, it simply means recognising how vulnerable we remain, despite all our advances. Seneca asked us to think of ourselves like dogs who have been tied to a charriot driven by an unpredictable driver. Our leash is long enough to give us a degree of leeway, but is not long enough to allow us to wander wherever we please. A dog will naturally hope to roam about as it wants. But as Seneca's metaphor implies, if it can't, then it's better for the animal to follow obediently behind the cart rather than dragged and strangled by it. As Seneca put it: ‘An animal, struggling against the noose, tightens it... there is no yoke so tight that it will not hurt the animal less if it pulls with it than if it fights against it. The best alleviation for overwhelming evils is to endure and bow to necessity.'

By turning back to the wisdom of the Stoic philosophers, we may find a helpful way of tempering some of our expectations and dampening our shock at disasters and bloodshed. When, in AD 65, Seneca was ordered to kill himself by the crazed Emperor Nero, his wife and family collapsed in tears, but Seneca had learnt to follow the charriot of life with resignation. As he calmly took the knife to his veins, he remarked – in a sentence we may be wise to repeat to ourselves as we read the news on certain particularly sad mornings – ‘What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.'

Alain de Botton is the author of The Consolations of Philosophy
(注:此文是作者专门为英国《金融时报》中文网撰写,作者表示,他将把此文的稿费捐献给中国四川地震灾民。)

本栏目主要介绍文化发展研究方面,包括中国社会文化、文化遗产、文化科学、科学与文化、中国传统文化、四川大地震的哲学思考等。特别关注有关人与生命的意义与生命的价值方面的研究。

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