From The Private Journal of Henri Frederic Amiel, tr. Brooks and Brooks (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1935), pp. 428-429:
22 December 1874. Written in the South of France. – Gioberti says that the French mind assumes only the form of truth and, by isolating this, exaggerates it, in such a way that it dissolves the realities with which it is concerned. I express the same thing by the word speciousness. It takes the shadow for the object, the word for the thing, the appearance for the reality and the abstract formula for the truth. It does not go beyond intellectual assignats. Its gold is pinch-beck, its diamond paste; the artificial and the conventional suffice for it. When one talks with a Frenchman about art, language, religion, the State, duty, the family, one feels from his way of talking that his thought remains outside the object, that it does not enter its substance, its marrow. He does not seek to understand it in its inwardness, but only to say something specious about it. This spirit is superficial and yet not comprehensive; it pricks the surface of things shrewdly enough, and yet it does not penetrate. It wishes to enjoy itself in relation to things; but it has not the respect, the disinterestedness, the patience and the self-forgetfulness that are necessary for contemplating things as they really are. Far from being the philosophic spirit, it is an abortive counterfeit of it, for it does not help to resolve any problem and it remains powerless to grasp that which is living, complex and concrete. Abstraction is it original vice, presumption its incurable eccentricity and speciousness its fatal limit.
The French language can express nothing that is budding or germinating; it depicts only effects, results the caput mortuum, and not the cause, the movement, the force, the becoming of any sort of phenomenon. It is analytical and descriptive, but it does not make one understand anything. . .
The thirst for truth is not a French passion. In everything, what appears is more relished than what is, the outside than the inside, the style than the stuff, the glittering than the useful, opinion than conscience. . . .
"Duty has the virtue of making us feel the reality of a positive world while at the same time detaching us from it." (See here.)
This is a penetrating observation, and a nearly perfect specimen of the aphorist's art. It is terse, true, but not trite. The tip of an iceberg of thought, it invites exfoliation.
If the world were literally a dream, there would be no need to act in it or take it seriously. One could treat it as one who dreams lucidly can treat a dream: one lies back and enjoys the show in the knowledge that it is only a dream. But to the extent that I feel duty-bound to do this or refrain from that, I take the world to be real, to be more than maya or illusion. Feeling duty-bound, I realize the world.
And to the extent that I feel duty-bound to do something, to make real what merely ought to be, I am referred to this positive world as to the locus of realization.
But just how real is the world of our ordinary waking experience? Is it the ne plus ultra of reality? Its manifest deficiency gives the lie to this supposition, which is why great philosophers from Plato to Bradley have denied ultimate reality to the sense world. Things are not the way they ought to be, and things are the way they ought not be, and everyone with moral sense feels this to be true. The Real falls short of the Ideal, and, falling short demonstrates its lack of plenary reality. So while the perception of duty realizes the world, it also and by the same stroke de-realizes it by measuring it against a standard from elsewhere.
The sense of duty detaches us from the world of what is by referring us to what ought to be. What ought to be, however, in many cases is not; hence we are referred back to the world of what is as the scene wherein alone ideals can be realized.
It is a curious dialectic. The Real falls short of the Ideal and is what is is in virtue of this falling short. The Ideal, however, is not but only ought to be. It lacks reality just as the Real lacks ideality. Each is what it is by not being what it is not. And we moral agents are caught in this interplay. We are citizens of two worlds and must play the ambassador between them.