This whole line of thought I’ve been calling “design instrumentalism” — and the lighly-technical-at-most voice I use for describing it — has become increasingly productive. I can’t write in my own voice and exclude all philosophical language — especially those words and names that have become experience-near for me and are organic elements of my thinking.
I have, however gotten feedback that the name itself might be confusing or annoying, so I’m considering other names.
Because design instrumentalism views knowledge as a result of conceptualizations of perceptions of particular experiences — that is, as a product of one of myriad possible praxes capable of producing different and even conflicting truths — with a particular set of design tradeoffs — that is, with varying degrees of descriptive, predictive, prescriptive, logical, practical, valuative and social adequacy — and, further, because some designs truly are better than others — that is, they make fewer tradeoffs overall, or solve particular relevant problems far better than expected — faced with an stubborn and morally-charged controversy a design instrumentalist is more likely to attempt to resolve the impasse with intellectual reframing than direct argument for one or another position within the current conflict.
(There are some folks out there who are averse to such reframing and from inability or unwillingness cannot bring themselves to cooperate with it. In design workshops, I can spot them from across the room. They alternate between sitting and crossing their arms and leaning aggressively forward, pushing the obvious truth, insisting that people show how the idea or objection they are asserting is false. They are suspicious of reframing, seeing it as a last resort to use only after existing theories have been shown to be nonviable. They often see themselves as hard-nosed rationalists, proud to set aside personal feelings so that objective truth can be served. That people like this can also, with equal inflexible fervor adhere to magical religious beliefs appears as contradictory to some conceptions of religion, but not to mine: rigid rationalism paired with metaphysical otherworldism go together in certain souls like two wings on a bird. Through various wily tricks of the design trade I keep people like this separated from from where collaboration is trying to emerge, because they make conception of truly new ideas impossible.)
If you want to produce that soulless quality we call “corporate” just design an organizational structure that has design report up to engineering and engineering report up to business administration. Corporateness will naturally result as more expansive disciplines are truncated to fit inside horizons of narrower ones.
The best name for my approach to philosophy might be Design Instrumentalism, a variant of John Dewey’s Instrumentalism. According to Wikipedia,
Instrumentalism is a pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey that thought is an instrument for solving practical problems, and that truth is not fixed but changes as problems change. Instrumentalism is the view that scientific theories are useful tools for predicting phenomena instead of true or approximately true descriptions.
Design Instrumentalism differs from Dewey’s Instrumentalism in that it focuses on ideas as instruments that ought to be designed intentionally employing design methods and to be evaluated by design standards, such as Liz Sanders‘s famous triad of Useful, Usable and Desirable:
How well does the philosophy help its subscribers act effectively in response to concrete situations and produce good outcomes?
How well does the philosophy define, relate and elucidate ideas to allow subscribers of the philosophy to articulate clearly an account of reality as they experience it?
How well does the philosophy inspire its subscribers to value existence in whole and sum?
Philosophies, too ought to be designed as person-reality interfaces, which are should not be viewed as collections beliefs, but rather the fundamental conceptions of reality that direct attention, guide responses, shape beliefs and connect everything together into a comprehensive worldview and praxis.
Obviously, Design Instrumentalism has a lot of arguing to do to justify its legitimacy, but luckily most of this legwork has been done by Pragmatists and their various intercontinental offspring, and it all solid, persuasive and boring to rehash. I prefer to just skip to the bottom line, and rattle off some key articles of faith, which are basically the vital organs of Pragmatism.
This is a good start of a list of Pragmatic presuppositions. I’m guessing some are missing, and many more could arguably be included. Phenomenology, Philosophical Hermeneutics, Materiality Turn philosophies and, at least for me, Nietzschean ethics also figure heavily, but I’ll err toward underspecification to leave maximum room for variety.
One more thing about Design Instrumentalism: It is, like all ambitious philosophies, a meta-philosophy. It might be useful, usable and desirable for some thinkers, but it encourages the design of philosophies for those who do not find Design Instrumentalism itself valuable, and focused “single-use” philosophies for specialized purposes, such as finding frameworks that support the resolving of design problems.
Doing just this kind of reframing in the context of professional design strategy, in combination with my private philosophical work is exactly what drove me to this view of philosophy. For me, none of this is speculative theorizing, but in fact my best attempt to equip myself with the ability to explain myself, to function effectively in the situations I find myself in every day, and to infuses my work and my life with a sense of purpose. Something like an inarticulate Design Instrumentalism led me to articulate Design Instrumentalism.
I was chatting with my friend Stokes about Stefan Sagmeister. He said “I like him but I do not think It is helpful to consider him a designer. He is basically a conceptual artist who gets to practice in a totally different way.” I agreed — his way of being paid for work is just a new form of patronage.
This raises that old question: what distinguishes design from art?
My take: Design is only design if it is created for other people, and only incidentally for oneself. Art is the opposite: it is created for oneself, and only incidentally for others.
And what about engineering?
Engineering is for nobody — engineering is done purely to produce some objective outcome. Even when engineering involves human behaviors, it casts its problems in terms of behavioral outputs, rather than subjective qualities of experience, meanings or relationships. This is why Lean Startup and behavioral economics are so appealing to engineers — they are both ways to reframe design problems as engineering problems.
Friday afternoon at work, I facilitated a little salon where we tried to define what “simplicity” means in design.
Because I was facilitating, and it is bad form for facilitators to fight with participants, I had to keep my strong opinions to myself (which is probably exactly why they asked me to facilitate rather than participate).
But, of course, I did have uncomfortably strong opinions, and they had to do mostly with my own compulsion to simplify what we were saying about simplicity.
So here is my distillation, in the simplest terms possible, of how I think of design simplicity:
A design is simple when it is experienced by someone as having the following qualities:
Everything relevant is included.
Nothing irrelevant is included.
It is conceived as systematic: all relationships among parts and within the whole are clear.
It is perceived as a whole: the entire system is experienced spontaneously as a single unit.
Approaches to the composition of hybrid systems (systems made up of both objective and subjective elements) can be classified according to perspective.
Actor-Network Theory views hybrid systems from a 3rd-person perspective, in objective terms, without emphasis on either the human or the nonhuman components that make up the system.
Postphenomenology views hybrid systems from a 1st-person perspective, in subjective terms, emphasizing how a human experiences, interacts with — or, better, participates in — the hybrid system.
This suggests a question: what would a 2nd-person perspective on hybrid systems look like? I would assume a radical Buberian I-Thou conception of 2nd-person, that would concern itself with accurately empathizing with and understanding others, appealing to and persuading others and motivating participation in order to influence the formation, development and or stabilization of hybrid systems. I am tempted to answer: Design. And by design, I always mean Human-Centered Design.
When designing something — which always and necessarily means designing something for someone — the central question is always: what is the right philosophy for this context?
The purpose of design research is to get to the heart of this central question out, and then to pose the design problem in such a way that designers think about the design problem in the right way, from the philosophical perspective suited to the problem.
Design briefs are tiny philosophical primers.
A good design brief will effect a perspectival shift in the reader (the designer) that brings new possibilities into view, possibilities that were inconceivable prior to the shift. This phenomenon is what is commonly called inspiration.
It is the job of design researchers to produce precision inspiration.
Reading Verbeek’s What Things Do, I’m reminded of Latour’s handy term “hybrid”, an entity that is neither purely subjective nor purely objective, but a fusion of both.
In Latour’s eye, the distinction between nature and society, or subject and object, which has seemed so self-evident since the Enlightenment, needs to be seen as a product of modernity that has far exceeded its expiration date. No other society makes this distinction in such a radical manner, and in ours it is more and more painfully obvious how poorly it allows us to comprehend what is happening in the world. The project of modernity, according to La tour, consists of the attempt to purify objects and subjects — we set objects on one side, subjects on the other, and draw a line between them. What is on the one side of the line is then material for scientists to investigate, with what is on the other side for the social scientists. … This purification and separation of subjects and objects, according to Latour, is coming to be less and less believable. Ever more entities arise that cannot be comfortably placed in this dichotomy. Latour calls these entities “hybrids.” The irony is that these hybrids thrive thanks to the modem purification: precisely because they don’t fit within the subject-object schema, we cannot recognize them and therefore they can proliferate at an astounding rate without anyone trying to stop or change them. But now, as their numbers become ever greater, it becomes more and more difficult to deny their existence. We are flooded with entities that straddle the boundary between humans and nonhumans…
Humans and nonhumans are just as bound up together in our culture as they are in others; therefore, Latour concludes, we need to study our technological culture similarly to the ways that anthropologists study other cultures. This means studying how the networks of relations between humans and nonhumans develop and unravel. In order to understand our culture, we must trace out both the process of purification and that of hybridization; we must understand how hybrids arise and why they are not seen as hybrids. In order to understand phenomena, they should be approached as black boxes that, when opened, will appear to contain myriad relations and activity.
If we grasp and internalize this understanding of hybrids, it becomes possible to compactly differentiate how designers approach their problems versus how engineers approach theirs — and why they so often marginalize designers and accidentally prevent designers from working in the way designers believe is best. Here it goes:
I’ve written two elaborations of this idea, material to supply the understanding that makes grokking the compact definition above possible. I’ll post both, because there’s no time this morning to combine them.
An engineering perspective treats design as a sub-discipline of engineering. Design adds an aesthetic (and among more enlightened engineers) and usable “presentation layer” to a functional objective system.
A design perspective ought to treat engineering as a sub-discipline of design. Once a hybrid subjective-objective system is developed through a design approach, objective sub-systems can be defined within the larger context of the hybrid system and built according to engineering methods. According to a design mindset, an engineered system is always and necessarily a subsystem belonging to a larger hybrid system that gives it its purpose and value.
The reason so few people see the obvious truth of the latter design perspective is that their vision is obstructed by a philosophical blockage. The hybrid system concept does not play nice with the modern subject-object schema. Designers learn, through the practical activity of design, to view problems in a new way that is incommensurable with modernity’s default philosophy (as described by Latour).
But designers are rarely philosophical, so the methods rarely progress to the point of praxis. Design language is all bound up with humans and the trappings of subjectivity (emotions, opinions, habits, etc.) on the side of who the design is for and the trappings of romanticism on the side of who does the designing (insight, inspiration, creativity, passion, etc.) Design practice is a jumble of “recipes” — procedures, jargon, styles and theater — a subterfuge to make design fit the preconceptions of folks who don’t quite get what designers are really up to. So design submits to modernist schema and goes to modernism’s special territory for people people, romanticism.
Designers consciously work on developing hybrid systems where subjective and objective elements relate and interact. In design, people and things are thought of together as a single system. And things are not only material objects; they can be ideas, habits, vocabularies, etc. Whatever makes a design work or not work, including the engineered elements, as well as all business, cultural, environmental considerations are part of a design problem. When a designer opens a black box of their own making, they will see subjects interacting with objects and subjects, and objects interacting with other objects and subjects.
Engineering, on the other hand, works inside the subject-object dichotomy, and works on problems of objective systems. As a matter of method, engineering purifies objects and arranges them in systems. When an engineer opens a black box of their own making they see objective components interacting and working as a system.
From the view of engineers, the interior of the black boxes they make are their concern, and the surface layer of the box — the point where subjectivity encounters engineering, is the concern of designers. Engineers build the black box; designers paint and sculpt it to make it appealing to people.
This morning I was forced to use the redesigned Freshbooks. They’d totally revamped the user interface. It was very slick and visual. And it was six times harder to use.
This is a depressingly typical experience in these times. I’m constantly suffering the consequences of wrongheaded, well-meaning changes made to things I rely on to not change.
I was lamenting to a friend how much work, time and money Freshbooks (and companies like them) sink into solving the wrong problem and making new problem.
I complained: “Not only did they thought about it wrong — they didn’t even think about how they were thinking. This was a philosophy fail.”
And these are the mistakes that offend me: philosophy fails. People failing to reflect when reflection is most needed. They need to think about how they are thinking about what they are doing… and they instead choose to be all startuppity, and just do. Just doing is valorized, and it shouldn’t be, any more than just thinking. We need thoughtful practice matched with practical thinking: praxis.
My pet theory is that philosophies have been developed in an engineerly mode of making, with emphasis on the thought system, and to be evaluated primarily epistemically: “is it true?” The Pragmatists improved on this by asking, “does it work”?
But I believe the pluralistic insight requires us to take a designerly approach to philosophy by expanding the questions we ask of philosophies to those of design (as originally posed by Liz Sanders): “is it useful; is it usable; is it desirable?” And human-centered design has taught us always to dimensionalize this triad with “…for whom, in what contexts?”
Very few people grasp what philosophies are, and how and why they are so important. They use philosophies that lead them to believe their philosophy is their belief system — the things they believe to be true true and the means by which they evaluate these truths. They think they know what their philosophy is, because their philosophy points them only to their explicit assertions and arguments, and this sets sharp limits to what they can think and what they can do with their thoughts.
Philosophies are the tacit thinking that give us our explicit truths and our sense of reality. We had better design them well! But we keep engineering them… for other engineers.
Maybe philosophy is waiting for its own Steve Jobs.
A design brief is a compact design problem definition, carefully designed to inspire designers to produce effective solutions to a real-world problem.
I’ve been thinking about and collecting briefs for years, and I have noticed that the very best briefs do three things well: define the problem, inspire solutions and provide guidance for evaluating solutions.
1) An ideal brief should be informed by an understanding of a real-world problem.
…which means the brief focuses on the right problem, addresses the full problem, and gets the details of the problem right. This way a design team will work on solving the right problem, will consider the most important factors, will incorporate the most important elements and will strike the smartest balances and tradeoffs when designing a solution, and the team’s efforts won’t be won’t be guided by assumptions or errors. The elements of a design problem definition will always include who the design is for, why the design will be useful and desirable for them, and all factors from the use context that might affect the solution. It will also include all requirements and constraints from the client organization.
2) An ideal brief should convey the problem powerfully.
…which means the brief communicates its problem clearly, memorably and inspiringly. Clear communication means the problem is crisply and unambiguously defined for the design team. Memorable means each designer can hold the whole problem in their minds, so that the parts of the problem all hang together as a whole, while remaining distinct. Inspiring is the most difficult part: this means that the brief can help produce surprising ideas not specified or implied by the brief, but which still satisfy it. The brief stimulates ingenuity that surpasses anything the brief anticipates. (* Note: A tight, effective brief is likely to require supplemental materials to educate the team and get them aligned with the people and contexts of the design problem. Ideally, the designers will participate in the research and gain a tacit feel for the situation they are designing into. The brief does not have to carry the entire team educational load, only the interpretation of the situation into a design problem.)
3) An ideal brief should provide an explicit evaluative standard.
…which means the brief outlines criteria by which a member of the design team can assess the quality of the solution, and determine where it is and is not successful. This removes arbitrariness from the process and fully empowers designers to try bold, radically novel approaches to solve the problem.
I have never created nor have I seen a design brief that fully lives up to the ideal sketched above. I believe what I’ve written may be a design brief for a designing a design brief.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on what strikes me as the most difficult and interesting challenge I’ve faced adjusting to service design after decades of practicing other flavors of human-centered design — namely the problem of altitude and granularity appropriate to solving service design problems.
If strategy flies at 30,000 feet (where the ground is so distant it looks like a map) and we agree most design flies at 3 feet (where the ground is so close and so chaotic it is hard to survey), service design flies at 10,000 feet, approximately the height a single-engine prop plane flies.
10,000 feet is a very useful altitude that bridges 30,000 foot and ground, but it does introduce some difficulties.
First, there is the issue of clouds. At 30,000 feet, the clouds are below you. Standing on the ground, the clouds are above you. But at 10,000 feet you are flying in and out of clouds, which can become very disorienting, in the most literal sense. It can be a challenge to know which way is up. And the view is neither clear nor continuous. One moment you can see a bit of ground, the next you see nothing but your instruments, and you have to use your memory, imagination and your recording and data-gathering tools to form a sense of the whole. But that whole you finally grok has far more structural clarity than you can get from the ground, and more human richness than you can pick up from up in the cold, thin air of the stratosphere.
Second, you are dealing with some odd scales of meaning. Looking down at a town, everything looks miniaturized but still human, maybe even exaggeratedly human because the tedium of life is abstracted away and we relate to it like kids playing with toys. Some homes are big, some are small, some are complexes or towers. Some are arranged in grids, some along windy branches of street bulbing in cul-de-sacs, and some cluster along the edges of lakesides or hills. Some homes have trees or yards, pools, trampolines or gardens, driveways or parking lots. You can imagine what life in the neighborhood might be like. But you can also see the layout of the city, and get a sense of how parts of the town connect up. You can see where the schools, the stores, the churches and the sports fields are. You can see where things have been built up, what has been left in a wild state, and where development is happening.
Now imagine trying to tell a story about the life you see below, doing justice both to the individual lives taking place in the tiny buildings below but showing how it all connects in a living system… this is not the usual storytelling scale. It is neither intimate nor epic. It must generalize, but without blurring key particularities or averaging individuality into bland average anonymity. But if you wish to tell the story of how a town works, or if you want to propose significant structural modifications to the town, this is the narrative scale required. Telling such a story requires judicious zooming in and zooming out to show connections between whole and part, connecting fine grain details of breakfasts, meetings and bills with broad generalities like demographic trends, commerce and traffic patterns.
Finally, intervening at this height is strange. The proposals for changes are unnervingly between strategic and tactical. They anticipate details of implementation, but without overspecifying them. Specifications are suggestive and provisional and intended more to clarify a problem than provide a solution. Many people find the interpretive latitude confusing: what in the recommendation is fixed and what is variable? If everything is open-ended what use is the recommendation at all? It can all seem vague and insubstantial, yet there is a thrust and lasting momentum in the work that carries initiatives forward and in a direction that benefits both the organization as a whole, its employees and the people it serves. Somehow the recommendations made from this altitude are capable of creating continuity between the grand plans of strategists and the intricacies of implementers on the ground.
The 10,000 view manages to refract the grand plans and sweeping aspirations of the 30,000 foot view into actions on the ground that actualize it and prevent it from remaining mere aspiration and plan. And the 10,000 foot view provides individual actors on the ground a way to relate and connect their efforts to tangible, relatable and realistic goals that connect up with the purpose of the organization.
Recently it occurred to me that this 10,000 foot theme is closely related to an idea I hatched years ago, which I called bullshit-chickenshit.
Bullshit – Meaningful, inspiring ideas that that seem to promise practical action but never fulfill that promise and never find application.
Chickenshit – Practical actions that seem like they ought to serve some meaningful purpose, but in fact is meaningless and done for no reason.
Bullshit is meaning without application. Chickenshit is application without meaning.
The 10,000 foot view prevents strategy from dissociating from everyday application and devolving into bullshit. And the 10,000 foot view provides some meaningful, relatable context for people working on or near the front lines to help them to remember how what they do connects up with organizational goals so the operational minutia supports the organizational goals and prevents it from devolving into bureaucratic chickenshit.
Rather than complain about the bigotry, though, I chose instead to focus on what I believe is the root cause of most lousy, unempathic design: the failure to research design problems before attempting to solve them. Far too often we reflexively impose our own perspectives and interpretations upon situations and assume we know what needs doing to improve the situation — neglecting the essential hard work of listening, observing and developing an understanding of people in their contexts.
This is a failure the author herself exemplifies in making reckless assumptions about the cause of the bad design she laments and her proposed solution to this problem. Here’s the letter I sent (with slight edits):
I am disappointed that Fast Company chose to run “Design needs more feminism, less toxic masculinity”. I’ve worked with many male and female designers, and have found that the difference between those who are able to empathize and design to the emotional and functional needs of other people has far more to do with willingness to investigate and to get over our own preconceived notions than anything else. In this piece Tillyer investigated nothing. She does not know who designed that airport gate. Instead, with no attempt to understand how the design happened or who did it she applied her preconceived notions about how men essentially are and how women essentially are and decided to blame men for a design she didn’t like. If I had written that article, I’d have begun by investigating the design process that produced that gate, and if I’d discovered my suspicions were correct — that nobody had looped passengers into the design process — I’d have written an article titled “Design needs more understanding, less toxic uninformed speculation”.
I think rhetorically the choice to deemphasize morality in favor of effectiveness was the right one, but that does not mean I do not see this as a moral issue.
Our social justice discourse has become hopelessly mired in questions of Who. Who is doing the wrong thing to whom? What category of person does it? What category of person suffers? But this is exactly how irresolvable resentments are formed, entrenched and intensified. Justice is traditionally depicted blindfolded for good reason.
If we want to live in a just society, we need to refocus on the How of justice: the How of learning, understanding, interpreting and responding to specific people in specific contexts.
This kind of investigation into particulars is difficult, tiring and uninspiring work, and it is no fun at all. In this work we constantly discover where we were wrong (despite every appearance of self-evident, no-brainer truth), because that is what truth requires.
In pursuit of truth, we lose our sense of omniscience, fiery self-righteousness and uncompromising conviction, and acquire more caution, patience, reticence, reflection, humility, self-skepticism and nuance. These qualities may not be rousing, inspiring, galvanizing, romantically gratifying or revolutionary — but they are judicious.
If we truly want justice — as opposed to revenge, venting of resentment and intoxication of table-turning aggression — we need to re-acquire a taste for the judicious virtues.
This morning I was reading a pdf book (using the Notability app on my iPad) about the relationships people have with the things in their lives. As always, I was writing all over the pages, underlining, starring, etc. However, the book format was cramped, and there was insufficient space to write my own comments in the margin. I was feeling written at. So I reformatted the pdf with generous margins to make room for myself, and turned the monologue into a conversation.
Reading Appendix A of Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, “Campaigns and Movements” I came upon this bit: “Most of us, when young, hope for purity of heart. The easiest way to assure oneself of this purity is to will one thing—but this requires seeing everything as part of a pattern whose center is that single thing. Movements offer such a pattern, and thus offer such assurance of purity. [Irving] Howe’s ability, in his later decades, to retain both critical consciousness and political conscience while not attempting to fuse the two into something larger than either, showed his admirers how to forgo such purity, and such a pattern.”
That brought to mind another passage from the introduction of Nicolai Berdyaev’s Slavery and Freedom: “My thought has always belonged to the existential type of philosophy. The inconsistencies and contradictions which are to be found in my thought are expressions of spiritual conflict, of contradictions which lie at the very heart of existence itself, and are not to be disguised by a facade of logical unity.”
For me, this immediately connects up with three themes from Nietzsche’s thought: youth, wholesale thinking, and the compulsion to systematize. (To poke around in my glorious wiki — and you really should — use the password “generalad”). Rather than explicitly draw every connection, I will juxtapose some passages and make a concept chord meant to convey an ideal of maturity I learned from Nietzsche.
Rough consistency. — It is considered a mark of great distinction when people say ‘he is a character!’ — which means no more than that he exhibits a rough consistency, a consistency apparent even to the dullest eye! But when a subtler and profounder spirit reigns and is consistent in its more elevated manner, the spectators deny the existence of character. That is why statesmen with cunning usually act out their comedy beneath a cloak of rough consistency.
Beware of systematisers! — Systematisers practise a kind of play-acting: in as much as they want to fill out a system and round off its horizon, they have to try to present their weaker qualities in the same style as their stronger — they try to impersonate whole and uniformly strong natures.
Youth and criticism. — To criticize a book means to a young person no more than to repulse every single productive idea it contains and to defend oneself against it tooth and claw. A youth lives in a condition of perpetual self-defence against everything new that he cannot love wholesale, and in this condition perpetrates a superfluous crime against it as often as ever he can.
Consciousness. — Consciousness is the latest development of the organic, and hence also its most unfinished and unrobust feature. Consciousness gives rise to countless mistakes that lead an animal or human being to perish sooner than necessary, ‘beyond destiny’, as Homer puts it.’ If the preserving alliance of the instincts were not so much more powerful, if it did not serve on the whole as a regulator, humanity would have to perish with open eyes of its misjudging and its fantasizing, of its lack of thoroughness and its incredulity in short, of its consciousness; or rather, without the instincts, humanity would long have ceased to exist! Before a function is fully developed and mature, it constitutes a danger to the organism, it is a good thing for it to be properly tyrannized in the meantime! Thus, consciousness is properly tyrannized — and not least by one’s pride in it! One thinks it constitutes the kernel of man, what is abiding, eternal, ultimate, most original in him! One takes consciousness to be a given determinate magnitude! One denies its growth and intermittences! Sees it as ‘the unity of the organism’! This ridiculous overestimation and misapprehension of consciousness has the very useful consequence that an all-too-rapid development of consciousness was prevented. Since they thought they already possessed it, human beings did not take much trouble to acquire it, and things are no different today! The task of assimilating knowledge and making it instinctive is still quite new; it is only beginning to dawn on the human eye and is yet barely discernible it is a task seen only by those who have understood that so far we have incorporated only our errors and that all of our consciousness refers to errors!
When one is young, one venerates and despises without that art of nuance which constitutes life’s greatest prize, and it is only fair that one has to pay dearly for having assaulted men and things in this manner with Yes and No. Everything is arranged so that the worst of tastes, the taste for the unconditional, should be cruelly fooled and abused until a man learns to put a little art into his feelings and rather to risk trying even what is artificial: as the real artists of life do. The wrathful and reverent attitudes characteristic of youth do not seem to permit themselves any rest until they have forged men and things in such a way that these attitudes may be vented on them: — after all, youth in itself has something of forgery and deception. Later, when the young soul, tortured by all kinds of disappointments, finally turns suspiciously against itself, still hot and wild, even in its suspicion and pangs of conscience: how angry it is with itself now, how it tears itself to pieces, impatiently, how it takes revenge for its long self-delusion, just as if it had been a deliberate blindness! In this transition one punishes oneself with mistrust against one’s own feelings; one tortures one’s own enthusiasm with doubts, indeed, one experiences even a good conscience as a danger, as if it were a way of wrapping oneself in veils and the exhaustion of subtler honesty; and above all one takes sides, takes sides on principle, against ‘youth.’– A decade later: one comprehends that all this, too–was youth!
The so-called soul. — The sum of the inner movements which a man finds easy, and as a consequence performs gracefully and with pleasure, one calls his soul; — if these inner movements are plainly difficult and an effort for him, he is considered soulless.
The serious workman. — Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. The acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole. The recipe for becoming a good novelist, for example, is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says “I do not have enough talent.” One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes each day until one has learned how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one’s eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer; one should excerpt for oneself out of the individual sciences everything that will produce an artistic effect when it is well described, one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost to instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise some ten years: what is then created in the workshop, however, will be fit to go out into the world. — What, however, do most people do? They begin, not with the parts, but with the whole. Perhaps they chance to strike a right note, excite attention and from then on strike worse and worse notes, for good, natural reasons. — Sometimes, when the character and intellect needed to formulate such a life-plan are lacking, fate and need take their place and lead the future master step by step through all the stipulations of his trade.
Learning. — Michelangelo saw in Raphael study, in himself nature: there learning, here talent. This, with all deference to the great pedant, is pedantic. For what is talent but a name for an older piece of learning, experience, practice, appropriation, incorporation, whether at the stage of our fathers or an even earlier stage! And again: he who learns bestows talent upon himself — only it is not so easy to learn, and not only a matter of having the will to do so; one has to be able to learn. In the case of an artist learning is often prevented by envy, or by that pride which puts forth its sting as soon as it senses the presence of something strange and involuntarily assumes a defensive instead of a receptive posture. Raphael, like Goethe, was without pride or envy, and that is why both were great learners and not merely exploiters of those veins of ore washed clean from the siftings of the history of their forefathers. Raphael vanishes as a learner in the midst of appropriating that which his great competitor designated as his ‘nature’: he took away a piece of it every day, this noblest of thieves; but before he had taken over the whole of Michelangelo into himself, he died — and his last series of works is, as the beginning of a new plan of study, less perfect and absolutely good precisely because the great learner was interrupted in his hardest curriculum and took away with him the justificatory ultimate goal towards which he looked.
A man’s maturity — consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play.
Human beings are naturally artificial.
It is not our nature that is most precious; it is our hard-won second-nature, that set of artifices that are so well-designed that they disappear into our being and into the world we perceive around us. They become so natural to us that we can no longer experience them as man-made, and we begin to see them as God-given if we see them at all. And they are God-given, if we understand our real relationship with God.