The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activ

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The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activ

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:46 pm

The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity): The Basis for a Modern World Conception
Some results of introspective observation following the methods of Natural Science.
by Rudolf Steiner
Seventh English edition:
Translated from the German, and with an Introduction by Michael Wilson
© Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1964.





Introduction by Michael Wilson
Author's Prefaces: Preface to the revised edition of 1918
Author's Prefaces: Preface to the first edition, 1894; revised, 1918
Chapter One Conscious Human Action
Chapter Two The Fundamental Desire for Knowledge
Chapter Three Thinking in the Service of Knowledge
Chapter Four The World as Percept
Chapter Five The Act of Knowing the World
Chapter Six Human Individuality
Chapter Seven Are There Limits to Knowledge?
Chapter Eight The Factors of Life
Chapter Nine The Idea of Freedom
Chapter Ten Freedom — Philosophy and Monism
Chapter Eleven World Purpose and Life Purpose
Chapter Twelve Moral Imagination
Chapter Thirteen The Value of Life
Chapter Fourteen Individuality and Genus
The Consequences of Monism
Appendix Added to the new edition, 1918
Translator's Note
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

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RUDOLF STEINER was born in 1861 and died in 1925. In his autobiography, The Course of My Life (see fn 1), he makes quite clear that the problems dealt with in The Philosophy of Freedom played a leading part in his life.

His childhood was spent in the Austrian countryside, where his father was a stationmaster. At the age of eight Steiner was already aware of things and beings that are not seen as well as those that are. Writing about his experiences at this age, he said, “... the reality of the spiritual world was as certain to me as that of the physical. I felt the need, however, for a sort of justification for this assumption.”

Recognizing the boy's ability, his father sent him to the Realschule at Wiener Neustadt, and later to the Technical University in Vienna. Here Steiner had to support himself, by means of scholarships and tutoring. Studying and mastering many more subjects than were in his curriculum, he always came back to the problem of knowledge itself. He was very much aware: that in the experience of oneself as an ego, one is in the world of the spirit. Although he took part in all the social activities going on around him — in the arts, the sciences, even in politics — he wrote that “much more vital at that time was the need to find an answer to the question: How far is it possible to prove that in human thinking real spirit is the agent?”

He made a deep study of philosophy, particularly the writings of Kant, but nowhere did he find a way of thinking that could be carried as far as a perception of the spiritual world. Thus Steiner was led to develop a theory of knowledge out of his own striving after truth, one which took its start from a direct experience of the spiritual nature of thinking.

As a student, Steiner's scientific ability was acknowledged when he was asked to edit Goethe's writings on nature. In Goethe he recognized one who had been able to perceive the spiritual in nature, even though he had not carried this as far as a direct perception of the spirit. Steiner was able to bring a new understanding to Goethe's scientific work through this insight into his perception of nature. Since no existing philosophical theory could take this kind of vision into account, and since Goethe had never stated explicitly what his philosophy of life was, Steiner filled this need by publishing, in 1886, an introductory book called The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception. His introductions to the several volumes and sections of Goethe's scientific writings (1883–97) have been collected into the book Goethe the Scientist. These are valuable contributions to the philosophy of science.

During this time his thoughts about his own philosophy were gradually coming to maturity. In the year 1888 he met Eduard von Hartmann, with whom he had already had a long correspondence. He describes the chilling effect on him of the way this philosopher of pessimism denied that thinking could ever reach reality, but must forever deal with illusions. Steiner was already clear in his mind how such obstacles were to be overcome. He did not stop at the problem of knowledge, but carried his ideas from this realm into the field of ethics, to help him deal with the problem of human freedom. He wanted to show that morality could be given a sure foundation without basing it upon imposed rules of conduct.

Meanwhile his work of editing had taken him away from his beloved Vienna to Weimar. Here Steiner wrestled with the task of presenting his ideas to the world. His observations of the spiritual had all the exactness of a science, and yet his experience of the reality of ideas was in some ways akin to the mystic's experience. Mysticism presents the intensity of immediate knowledge with conviction, but deals only with subjective impressions; it fails to deal with the reality outside man. Science, on the other hand, consists of ideas about the world, even if the ideas are mainly materialistic. By starting from the spiritual nature of thinking, Steiner was able to form ideas that bear upon the spiritual world in the same way that the ideas of natural science bear upon the physical. Thus he could describe his philosophy as the result of “introspective observation following the methods of Natural Science.” He first presented an outline of his ideas in his doctoral dissertation, Truth and Knowledge, which bore the sub-title “Prelude to a ‘Philosophy of Freedom’.”

In 1894 The Philosophy of Freedom was published, and the content which had formed the centre of his life's striving was placed before the world. Steiner was deeply disappointed at the lack of understanding it received. Hartmann's reaction was typical; instead of accepting the discovery that thinking can lead to the reality of the spirit in the world, he continued to think that “spirit” was merely a concept existing in the human mind, and freedom an illusion based on ignorance. Such was fundamentally the view of the age to which Steiner introduced his philosophy. But however it seemed to others, Steiner had in fact established a firm foundation for knowledge of the spirit, and now he felt able to pursue his researches in this field without restraint. The Philosophy of Freedom summed up the ideas he had formed to deal with the riddles of existence that had so far dominated his life. “The further way,” he wrote, “could now be nothing else but a struggle to find the right form of ideas to express the spiritual world itself.”

While still at Weimar, Steiner wrote two more books, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom (1895), inspired by a visit to the aged philosopher, and Goethe's Conception of the World (1897), which completed his work in this field. He then moved to Berlin to take over the editing of a literary magazine; here he wrote Riddles of Philosophy (1901) and Mysticism and Modern Thought (1901). He also embarked on an ever-increasing activity of lecturing. But his real task lay in deepening his knowledge of the spiritual world until he could reach the point of publishing the results of this research.

The rest of his life was devoted to building up a complete science of the spirit, to which he gave the name Anthroposophy. Foremost amongst his discoveries was his direct experience of the reality of the Christ, which soon took a central place in his whole teaching. The many books and lectures which he published set forth the magnificent scope of his vision. (see fn 2) From 1911 he turned also to the arts — drama, painting, architecture, eurythmy — showing the creative forming powers that can be drawn from spiritual vision. As a response to the disaster of the 1914-18 war, he showed how the social sphere could be given new life through an insight into the nature of man, his initiative bearing practical fruit in the fields of education, agriculture, therapy and medicine. After a few more years of intense activity, now as the leader of a world-wide movement, he died, leaving behind him an achievement that must allow his recognition as the first Initiate of the age of science. (see fn 3) Anthroposophy is itself a science, firmly based on the results of observation, and open to investigation by anyone who is prepared to follow the path of development he pioneered — a path that takes its start from the struggle for inner freedom set forth in this book.

* * *

THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM can be seen as the crowning achievement of nineteenth-century philosophy. It answers all the problems of knowledge and morality that philosophers had raised, argued over, and eventually left unsolved with the conclusion that “we can never know”. Yet this great achievement received no recognition, and only when Steiner had acquired a large following of people thankful for all that he had given them of his spiritual revelation, did there arise the desire to read also his earlier work, upon which he always insisted his whole research was firmly based. Perhaps if Steiner had spent the rest of his life expounding his philosophy, he would today be recognized throughout the world as a major philosopher; yet his achievement in going forward himself to develop the science of the spirit is much the greater, and this will surely be recognized in time. Indeed, philosophy has got itself a bad name, perhaps from its too-frequent negative results, and it might even be better to consider the Philosophy of Freedom not just as a chapter of philosophy, but as the key to a whole way of life.

Considered just as a piece of philosophy, it might in any case be thought out of date, having only historical interest. For instance, a modern scientist may well believe that any philosopher who spoke up against atomism has been proved wrong by the success of atomic physics. But this would be to misunderstand the nature of philosophy. Steiner deals in turn with each possible point of view, illustrating each one with an example from the literature, and then showing the fallacies or shortcomings that have to be overcome. Atomism is justified only so long as it is taken as an aid to the intellect in dealing with the forces of nature; it is wrong if it postulates qualities of a kind that belong to perceived phenomena, but attributes them to a realm that by definition can never be perceived. This mistaken view of the atom may have been abandoned by science, but it still persists in many quarters. Similarly, many of the old philosophical points of view, dating back to Kant, survive among scientists who are very advanced in the experimental or theoretical fields, so that Steiner's treatment of the problem of knowledge is still relevant. Confusion concerning the nature of perception is widespread, because of the reluctance to consider the central part played by thinking. Thinking is all too often dismissed as “subjective” and hence unreliable, without any realization that it is thinking itself that has made this decision. The belief that science can deal only with the “objective” world has led to the position where many scientists are quite unable to say whether the real world is the familiar world of their surroundings, as experienced through the senses and pictured in the imagination, or the theoretical world of spinning particles, imperceptible forces and statistical probabilities that is inferred from their experimental results. (see fn 4) Here Steiner's path of knowledge can give a firmer basis for natural science than it has ever had before, as well as providing a sure foundation for the development of spiritual science. Although there are many people who find all that they need in contemplating the wonders of the spiritual world, the Philosophy of Freedom does not exist mainly to provide a philosophical justification for their belief; its main value lies in the sound basis it can give to those who cannot bring themselves to accept anything that is not clearly scientific — a basis for knowledge, for self-knowledge, for moral action, for life itself. It does not “tell us what to do”, but it opens a way to the spirit for all those for whom the scientific path to truth, rather than the mystical, is the only possibility.

Today we hear about the “free world” and the “value of the individual”, and yet the current scientific view of man seems to lend little support to these concepts, but seems rather to lead to a kind of morality in which every type of behavior is excused on the plea that “I cannot help being what I am!” If we would really value the individual, and support our feeling of freedom with knowledge, we must find a point of view which will lead the ego to help itself become what it wants to be — a free being. This cannot mean that we must abandon the scientific path; only that the scope of science must be widened to take into account the ego that experiences itself as spirit, which it does in the act of thinking. Thus the Philosophy of Freedom takes its start by examining the process of thinking, and shows that there need be no fear of unknown causes in unknown worlds forever beyond the reach of our knowledge, since limits to knowledge exist only in so far as we fail to awaken our thinking to the point where it becomes an organ of direct perception. Having established the possibility of knowing, the book goes on to show that we can also know the causes of our actions, and if our motive for acting comes from pure intuition, from thinking alone, without any promptings from the appearances and illusions of the sense-world, then we can indeed act in freedom, out of pure love for the deed.

Man ultimately has his fate in his own hands, though the path to this condition of freedom is a long and a hard one, in the course of which he must develop merciless knowledge of himself and selfless understanding of others. He must, through his own labors, give birth to what St. Paul called “the second Adam that was made a quickening spirit”. Indeed Steiner himself has referred to his philosophy of freedom as a Pauline theory of knowledge.

Notes on the translation

This book was first translated into English by Professor and Mrs. R. F. Alfred Hoernle, in 1916, and was edited by Mr. Harry Collison, who wrote that he was fortunate to have been able to secure them as translators, “their thorough knowledge of philosophy and their complete command of the German and English languages enabling them to overcome the difficulty of finding adequate English equivalents for the terms of German Philosophy.”

Following the publication of the revised German edition in 1918, Professor Hoernle translated the new passages and other incidental changes that Dr. Steiner had made. For this 1922 edition the title was changed, at the author's request, to The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, with the added remark that “throughout the entire work ‘freedom’ should be taken to mean ‘spiritual activity’.” The reasons for this change and also for the present decision to change back to the original title are given below (see Freedom, below).

The translation was revised in 1939 by Dr. Hermann Poppelbaum, whose object was to “check certain words and phrases from the strictly Steiner point of view”. He wrote in his preface as follows:

The readers of the German original of this book will know that the author's argument is largely based upon a distinction between the different elements making up the act of Knowledge. English philosophical terms are rarely exact equivalents of German philosophical terms, and the translator's standing problem is to avoid, or at least to minimize, the ambiguities resulting therefrom. The aim of the present revision of the original translation has been to help the reader to understand the analysis of the act of Knowledge and to enable him to follow the subsequent chapters without being troubled by ambiguous terms.

In spite of Dr. Poppelbaum's removal of certain ambiguities, readers were still troubled by difficulties that did not derive from the original German. When I was asked by the publishers to prepare this new edition, it soon became clear to me that further alterations to words and phrases would not be sufficient to remove these difficulties. It may therefore be helpful to state briefly what my guiding principles have been in making this translation.

Steiner did not write his book as a thesis for students of philosophy, but in order to give a sound philosophical basis to the experience of oneself as a free spirit — an experience that is open to everybody. The book is written in such a way that the very reading of it is a help towards participating in this experience. For this reason all the terms used must convey a real meaning to the reader, and any explanations required must be in words that are self-evident. Indeed, Steiner states clearly that the terms he uses do not always have the precise meanings given in current scientific writings, but that his intention is to record the facts of everyday experience (see Chapter 2). I have tried throughout to convey the essential meaning of Steiner's original words, and to follow closely his train of thought, so that the English reader may have as nearly as possible the same experience that a German reader has from the original text. Thus the structure of the original has been preserved, sentence by sentence. It might be argued that a “free” translation, making full use of English idiom and style, would be far more appropriate for an English reader; this could cut out the wordy repetitions and lengthy phrases typical of German philosophical writing and make for a more readable text. But it would also have to be written out of the English philosophical tradition, and would require a complete reconstruction of Steiner's arguments from the point of view of an Englishman's philosophy. This might be an excellent thing to do, but would constitute a new work, not a translation. Even if it were attempted, there would still be the need for a close translation making Steiner's path of knowledge available in detail for the English reader.

The method I have followed was to make a fresh translation of each passage and then compare it with the existing one, choosing the better version of the two. Where there was no advantage in making a change, I have left the earlier version, so that many passages appear unaltered from the previous edition. This is therefore a thoroughly revised, rather than an entirely new, translation. It is my hope that it will prove straightforward reading for anyone prepared to follow the author along the path of experience he has described. The following notes explaining certain of the terms used are intended for those who want to compare this edition with the German original, or who are making a special study of philosophy.

FREEDOM is not an exact equivalent of the German word Freiheit, although among its wide spectrum of meanings there are some that do correspond. In certain circumstances, however, the differences are important. Steiner himself drew attention to this, for instance, in a lecture he gave at Oxford in 1922, where he said with reference to this book,

“Therefore today we need above all a view of the world based on Freiheit — one can use this word in German, but here in England one must put it differently because the word ‘freedom’ has a different meaning — one must say a view of the world based on spiritual activity, on action, on thinking and feeling that arise from the individual human spirit.” (Translated from the German.)

Steiner also drew attention to the different endings of the words; Freiheit could be rendered literally as “freehood” if such a word existed. The German ending -heit implied an inner condition or degree, while -tum, corresponding to our “-dom”, implied something granted or imposed from outside. This is only partly true in English, as a consideration of the words “manhood”, “knighthood”, “serfdom”, “earldom”, and “wisdom” will show. In any case, meanings change with time, and current usage rather than etymology is the best guide.

When describing any kind of creative activity we speak of a “freedom of style” or “freedom of expression” in a way that indicates an inner conquest of outer restraints. This inner conquest is the theme of the book, and it is in this sense that I believe the title The Philosophy of Freedom would be understood today. When Steiner questioned the aptness of this title, he expressed the view that English people believed that they already possessed freedom, and that they needed to be shocked out of their complacency and made to realize that the freedom he meant had to be attained by hard work. While this may still be true today, the alternative he suggested is now less likely to achieve this shock than is the original. I have not found that the title “The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” gives the newcomer any indication that the goal of the book is the attainment of inner freedom. Today it is just as likely to suggest a justification of religious practices. Throughout the book it has proved quite impossible to translate Freiheit as “spiritual activity” wherever it occurs. The word appears in the titles of the parts of the book and of some of the chapters; the book opens with the question of freedom or necessity, and the final sentence (see Consequences of Monism) is “He is free.” Undoubtedly “freedom” is the proper English word to express the main theme of the book, and should also appear in the book's title. Times have changed, and what may well have been good reasons for changing the title in 1922 are not necessarily still valid. After much thought, and taking everything into account, I have decided that the content of the book is better represented today by the title The Philosophy of Freedom. Moreover, with this title the book may be instantly identified with Die Philosophie der Freiheit, and I have already remarked that this edition is intended as a close translation of the German, rather than a new book specially written for the English.

SPIRIT, SOUL and MIND are not precise equivalents in English of the German Geist and Seele. Perhaps because we use the concept of mind to include all our experiences through thinking, the concepts of spirit and soul have practically dropped out of everyday use, whereas in German there is no distinct equivalent for “mind” and the concepts “spirit” (Geist) and “soul” (Seele) are consequently broader in scope. Any work describing Steiner's point of view in terms of English philosophy would have to deal with the mind as a central theme (see fn 5), but here our task is to introduce readers to Steiner's concepts of spirit and soul. For Steiner, the spirit is experienced directly in the act of intuitive thinking. The human spirit is that part of us that thinks, but the spiritual world is not limited to the personal field of the individual human being; it opens out to embrace the eternal truths of existence. The English word “spirit” gives the sense of something more universal, less personal, than “mind”, and since Steiner's philosophical path leads to an experience of the reality of the spiritual world, I have kept the word wherever possible, using “mind” or “mental” in a few places where it seemed more appropriate. The “spiritual activity” here meant is thus more than mental activity, although it starts at a level we would call mental; it leads the human being, aware of himself as a spirit, into the ultimate experience of truth.

The soul, too, is directly experienced; it is not a vague metaphysical entity, but is that region in us where we experience our likes and dislikes, our feelings of pleasure and pain. It contains those characteristics of thought and feeling that make us individual, different from each other. In many common phrases we use the word “mind” where German has the word Seele, but since Steiner recognizes a distinction between soul and spirit, it is important to keep these different words. Even in modern English usage something of this difference remains, and it is not too late to hope that Steiner's exact observations in this realm may help to prevent the terms “soul” and “spirit” becoming mere synonyms. Therefore I have kept these words wherever the distinction was important, though in a few places an alternative rendering seemed to fit better; for instance, the “introspective observation” quoted in the motto on the title-page could have been rendered literally as “observation of the soul” — this observation involves a critical examination of our habits of thought and feeling, not studied from outside in the manner of a psychological survey of human behavior, but from inside where each person meets himself face to face.

The whole book can be considered as a study of the mind, but using an exactness of observation and clarity of thinking never before achieved. Nevertheless, the stream of materialism still flows so strongly that there is a real danger that the mind, and indeed the whole realm of the soul and the spirit, will be dismissed as a metaphysical construction. Only by adopting a philosophy such as is developed in this book will it be possible to retain an experience of soul and of spirit which will be strong enough to stand up to the overwhelming desire to accept nothing as real unless it is supported by science. For in this philosophy Steiner opens the door to a science of the spirit every bit as exact and precise as our current science of nature would be.

CONCEPT and PERCEPT are the direct equivalents of Begriff and Wahrnehmung. The concept is something grasped by thinking, an element of the world of ideas. Steiner describes what it is at the beginning of Chapter 4 (see Chapter 4).

In describing the percept (see Chapter 4), Steiner mentions the ambiguity of current speech. The German word Wahrnehmung, like the English “perception”, can mean either the process of perceiving or the object perceived as an element of observation. Steiner uses the word in the latter sense, and the word “percept”, though not perhaps in common use, does avoid the ambiguity. The word does not refer to an actual concrete object that is being observed, for this would only be recognized as such after the appropriate concept had been attached to it, but to the content of observation devoid of any conceptual element. This includes not only sensations of color, sound, pressure, warmth, taste, smell, and so on, but feelings of pleasure and pain and even thoughts, once the thinking is done. Modern science has come to the conclusion that one cannot deal with a sensation devoid of any conceptual element, and uses the term “perception” to include the whole response to a stimulus, in other words, to mean the result of perceiving. But even if one cannot communicate the nature of an experience of pure percept to another person, one must still be able to deal with it as an essential part of the analysis of the process of knowledge. Using the word “percept” for this element of the analysis, we are free to keep the word “perception” for the process of perceiving.

IDEA and MENTAL PICTURE, as used here, correspond to the German words Idee and Vorstellung respectively. Normally these would both be rendered as “idea”, and this practice led to an ambiguity that obscured a distinction central to Steiner's argument. This was the main cause of Dr. Poppelbaum's concern, and his solution was to render Vorstellung as “representation” and Idee as “Idea” with a capital “I”. Though this usage may have philosophical justification, it has been my experience in group studies of this book over many years that it has never been fully accepted in practice; “representation” remains a specialist term with a sense rather different from its usual meaning in English, and it certainly does not have the same obvious meaning for the English reader that Vorstellung has for the German.

In explaining his use of the word “representation”, Dr. Poppelbaum wrote in his preface as follows:

The mental picture which the thinker forms to represent the concept in an individual way is here called a “representation” ...

Since “mental picture” is here used to explain the term “representation”, it seems simpler to use “mental picture” throughout. It fits Steiner's treatment very well, since it conveys to the reader both the sense of something conceptual, in that it is mental, and the sense of something perceptual, in that it is a picture. In fact, Steiner gives two definitions of the mental picture, one as a “percept in my self” (see Chapter 4) and another as an “individualized concept” (see Chapter 6), and it is this intermediate position between percept and concept that gives the mental picture its importance in the process of knowledge.

Another advantage of the term “mental picture” is that the verb “to picture” corresponds well with the German vorstellen, implying a mental creation of a scene rather than a physical representation with pencil, paints or camera, which would be “to depict”. Of course the visual term “picture” must be understood to cover also the content of other senses, for instance, a remembered tune or a recollection of tranquillity, but this broadening of meaning through analogy is inherent in English usage.

Although mental pictures are commonly regarded as a special class of ideas, here the term “idea” is used only for the German Idee, without ambiguity. Ideas are not individualized, but are “fuller, more saturated, more comprehensive concepts” (see Chapter 4). In the later part of the book, when discussing the nature of a conscious motive, Steiner uses the word to include all concepts in the most general way, individualized or not, which comes very close to the English use of the word “idea”.

IMAGINATION means the faculty and process of creating mental pictures. The word is the same as the German Imagination, but I have also used it for the German Phantasie, because the word “fantasy” suggests something altogether too far from reality, whereas “imagination” can mean something not only the product of our own consciousness, but also a step towards the realization of something new. Thus the title given to Chapter 12, Moral Imagination (for Moralische Phantasie), seemed to me to be correct, and I have kept it. It describes the process of taking an abstract idea, or concept, and creating a vivid mental picture of how it can be applied in a particular circumstance, so that it may become the motive for a moral deed.

In later writings Steiner describes how this ordinary faculty of imagining, or making mental pictures, can be developed to the point where it becomes the faculty of actually perceiving the creative ideas behind the phenomena of nature. In these later writings “Imagination” becomes a special term to indicate this level of perception, but in this book the meaning remains near to the ordinary usage. However, the gateway to such higher levels of perception is opened through the path of experience here set forth.

INTUITION is again the same as the German word, and means the faculty and process of grasping concepts, in particular the immediate apprehension of a thought without reasoning. This is the normal English usage, though Steiner uses the term in an exact way, as follows (see Chapter 5):

In contrast to the content of the percept which is given to us from without, the content of thinking appears inwardly. The form in which this first makes its appearance we will call intuition. Intuition is for thinking what observation is for the percept.

Later in the book he gives another definition (see Chapter 9):

Intuition is the conscious experience — in pure spirit — of a purely spiritual content. Only through an intuition can the essence of thinking be grasped.

From this it is not difficult to see how again, in later writings, Steiner could describe a stage of perception still higher than that called “Imagination”, the stage of “Intuition” in which one immediately apprehends the reality of other spiritual beings. Although this book deals only with the spiritual content of pure thinking, intuition at this level is also a step towards a higher level of perceiving reality.

EXPERIENCE has two meanings, which correspond to different words in German. “Actual observation of facts or events” corresponds to the German Erlebnis and to the verb erleben, while “the knowledge resulting from this observation” corresponds to Erfahrung. Thus the accumulation of knowledge can be described as “past experience” or “total sum of experience”, if the single word is ambiguous (see, for instance, Chapter 6). When speaking of human behavior that is based on past experience, Steiner calls it praktische Erfahrung, which is rendered as “practical experience” (see Chapter 9).

On the other hand, having direct experience as an activity of observation is expressed by the verb erleben, which means literally “to live through”. Thus, in the latter part of the book, particularly in those passages which were added in 1918 (see Chapter 7 and Consequences of Monism), Steiner speaks repeatedly of the “thinking which can be experienced”. This experience is to be understood as every bit as real and concrete as the “actual observation of facts and events” described above.

MOTIVE and DRIVING FORCE are two elements in any act of will that have to be recognized as distinct (see Chapter 9). They correspond to the German words Motiv and Triebfeder, respectively.

“Motive”, as used by Steiner, corresponds exactly to the common English usage, meaning the reason that a person has for his action. It has to be a conscious motive, in the form of a concept or mental picture, or else we cannot speak of an act of will, let alone a moral deed. An “unconscious motive” is really a contradiction in terms, and should properly be described as a driving force — it implies that some other person has been able to grasp the concept which was the reason for the action, though the person acting was not himself aware of it; he acted as an automaton, or, as we properly say, “without motive”. Nevertheless, modern psychology has contrived to define the “motive” as something no different from the driving force, which precludes the recognition of a motive grasped out of pure intuition, and therefore of the essential difference between a moral deed where a man knows why he acts and an amoral one where his knowledge is a matter of indifference. By making the distinction between motive and driving force, Steiner has been able to characterize all possible levels of action from the purely instinctive to the completely free deed.

The literal meaning of Triebfeder is the mainspring that drives a piece of clockwork. In previous editions, this was rendered as “spring of action”. While this is legitimate philosophical usage, I found that it was often misunderstood by the ordinary reader, being taken to mean a spring like a fountain or river-source, as in the phrase “springs of life”. This immediately causes confusion with the origin or source of the action, which is the motive. Of course, at the higher levels of action there is no other driving force than the idea which stands as the motive, but in order to follow the development from lower levels one must distinguish the idea, which is the motive, from whatever it is in us that throws us into action whenever a suitable motive presents itself. “Mainspring” does not always fit well in the text, and after trying various words and phrases I have chosen “driving force” as best expressing the dynamic nature of this part of our constitution. The driving force differs from the motive in that we may well remain unconscious of it. But if we are not conscious of the driving force behind our actions, we cannot be acting in freedom, even though we are aware of our motives. Only if we make our own ideals the driving force of our will can we act in freedom, because then nothing apart from ourselves determines our action. Thus the final triumph of Steiner's path of development depends on making this clear distinction between motive and driving force. A view that treats all motives as driving forces will not be able to recognize the possibility of freedom, while a view that regards all driving forces as ideal elements will not see the need for overcoming our unconscious urges and habits if freedom is to be attained.

WILL and WANT are two distinct words in English where the German has only one verb wollen and its derivatives. Here the task of translating runs into a considerable difficulty, for in any discussion of free will it is important to be clear what willing is. The noun forms are fairly straightforward: ein Wollen means “an act of will”, das Wollen means “willing” in general, and der Wille means “the will”. But the English verb “to will” has a restricted range of meaning, and to use it all the time to render the German wollen can be quite misleading. An example is the quotation from Hamerling in the first chapter (see Chapter 1):

Der Mensch kann allerdings tun, was er will — aber er kann nicht wollen, was er will, weil sein Wille durch Motive bestimmt ist.

The previous edition rendered this:

Man can, it is true, do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills, because his will is determined by motives.

If this means anything at all in English, it means that man cannot direct his will as he chooses. The archaic sense of “willing” as “desiring” is kept in the phrase “what he wills”, in keeping with current usage, for instance, in the remark “Come when you will.” But the active sense of “willing” as contrasted with “doing” implies a metaphysical power of compulsion quite out of keeping with Steiner's whole method of treating the subject. This metaphysical attitude to the will is clearly expressed in a sentence such as “I willed him to go”, which implies something more than mere desire but less than overt action. It is less obvious when dealing with the genesis of one's own actions, but the tendency to attribute a metaphysical quality to the will is developed in Schopenhauer's philosophy, and this may well be a tendency inherent in the German language. Steiner has no such intention, and he leaves us in no doubt that his use of wollen implies a definite element of desire (see Chapter 13); indeed, the highest expression of man's will is when it becomes the faculty of spiritual desire or craving (geistige Begehrungsvermögen). Therefore, whenever the archaic sense of the verb “to will” is not appropriate, I have decided that it is better to render the German verb wollen with the English “want” and its variants, “wanting”, “to want to ...” and so on. This makes immediate good sense of many passages, and moreover if one would translate this back into German one would have to use the word wollen. Hamerling's sentence now becomes:

Man can certainly do as he wills, but he cannot want as he wills, because his wanting is determined by motives.

Although Steiner has to show that this view is mistaken, one can at least understand how it could come to be written. That it can be a genuine human experience is shown by the similar remark attributed to T. E. Lawrence, “I can do what I want, but I cannot want what I want.” In other words, “I can carry out any desires for action that I may have, but I cannot choose how these desires come to me.” Both Lawrence and Hamerling leave out of account just those cases where man can want as he wills, because he has freely chosen his own motive. Steiner's treatment of the will overcomes any necessity for metaphysical thinking; for instance, it now makes sense to say that to want without motive would make the will an “empty faculty” (see Chapter 1), because to want without wanting something would be meaningless.

I have dealt with this at some length because it has been my experience that the message of the entire book springs to life in a new and vivid way when it is realized that the original motive power of the will is in fact desire, and that desire can be transformed by knowledge into its most noble form, which is love.

* * *

It was the late Friedrich Geuter who showed me, together with many others, the importance of this book as a basis for the social as well as the intellectual life of today. My debt to the previous translators and editors will already be clear. I also owe much to the many friends who have taken part in joint studies of this book over the past thirty years and to those who have helped and advised me with suggestions for the translation, especially the late George Adams, Owen Barfield, and Rita Stebbing. Finally I must mention my colleague Ralph Brocklebank, who has shared much of the work, and, with Dorothy Osmond, prepared it for the Press.

Michael Wilson, Clent, 1964.



1. Published in parts from 1923–5, and never completed. The titles given for Dr. Steiner's books are those of the English translations.

2. The list of titles is long, but the more important books include:

Christianity as Mystical Fact (1902),
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment (1904),
Theosophy, a description of the nature of man and his relation to the spiritual world (1904), and
Occult Science — an Outline, an account of the evolution of man and the universe in terms of spiritual realities (1910).

3. For an account of the life and work of Rudolf Steiner, see A Scientist of The Invisible, by A. P. Shepherd (1954). The range of his contribution to modern thought can be seen in The Faithful Thinker, edited by A. C. Harwood (1961).

4. See the discussion by Owen Barfield in “Saving the Appearances”, (1957).

5. See “Rudolf Steiner's Concept of Mind” by Owen Barfield, in The Faithful Thinker, pp. 11–21.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:49 pm

Author's Prefaces

Preface to the revised edition of 1918

There are two fundamental questions in the life of the human soul towards which everything to be discussed in this book is directed. One is: Is it possible to find a view of the essential nature of man such as will give us a foundation for everything else that comes to meet us — whether through life experience or through science — which we feel is otherwise not self-supporting and therefore liable to be driven by doubt and criticism into the realm of uncertainty? The other question is this: Is man entitled to claim for himself freedom of will, or is freedom a mere illusion begotten of his inability to recognize the threads of necessity on which his will, like any natural event, depends? It is no artificial tissue of theories that provokes this question. In a certain mood it presents itself quite naturally to the human soul. And one may well feel that if the soul has not at some time found itself faced in utmost seriousness by the problem of free will or necessity it will not have reached its full stature. This book is intended to show that the experiences which the second problem causes man's soul to undergo depend upon the position he is able to take up towards the first problem. An attempt is made to prove that there is a view of the nature of man's being which can support the rest of knowledge; and further, that this view completely justifies the idea of free will, provided only that we have first discovered that region of the soul in which free will can unfold itself.

The view to which we here refer is one which, once gained, is capable of becoming part and parcel of the very life of the soul itself. The answer given to the two problems will not be of the purely theoretical sort which, once mastered, may be carried about as a conviction preserved by memory. Such an answer would, for the whole manner of thinking on which this book is based, be no real answer at all. The book will not give a ready-made self-contained answer of this sort, but will point to a field of experience in which man's inner soul activity supplies a living answer to these questions at every moment that he needs one. Whoever has once discovered the region of the soul where these questions unfold, will find that the very contemplation of this region gives him all that he needs for the solution of the two problems. With the knowledge thus acquired, he may then, as desire or destiny impels him, adventure further into the breadths and depths of this enigmatical life of ours. Thus it would appear that a kind of knowledge which proves its justification and validity by its own inner life as well as by the kinship of its own life with the whole life of the human soul, does in fact exist.

This is how I thought about the content of this book when I first wrote it down twenty-five years ago. Today, once again, I have to set down similar sentences if I am to characterize the main ideas of the book. At the original writing I limited myself to saying no more than was in the strictest sense connected with the two fundamental questions which I have outlined. If anyone should be astonished at not finding in this book any reference to that region of the world of spiritual experience described in my later writings, I would ask him to bear in mind that it was not my purpose at that time to set down the results of spiritual research, but first to lay the foundations on which such results can rest.

The Philosophy of Freedom does not contain any results of this sort, any more than it contains special results of the natural sciences. But what it does contain is in my judgment absolutely necessary for anyone who seeks a secure foundation for such knowledge. What I have said in this book may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my researches into the spiritual realm. But anyone who feels drawn towards the results of these spiritual researches may well appreciate the importance of what I was here trying to do. It is this: to show that open-minded consideration simply of the two questions I have indicated and which are fundamental for every kind of knowledge, leads to the view that man lives in the midst of a genuine spiritual world.

In this book the attempt is made to show that a knowledge of the spirit realm before entering upon actual spiritual experience is fully justified. The course of this demonstration is so conducted that for anyone who is able and willing to enter into these arguments it is never necessary, in order to accept them, to cast furtive glances at the experiences which my later writings have shown to be relevant.

Thus it seems to me that in one sense this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters. Yet in another sense it is most intimately connected with them. These considerations have moved me now, after a lapse of twenty-five years, to republish the contents of this book practically unaltered in all essentials. I have, however, made additions of some length to a number of chapters. The misunderstandings of my argument which I have met seemed to make these more detailed elaborations necessary. Changes of text have been made only where it appeared to me that I had said clumsily what I meant to say a quarter of a century ago. (Only ill will could find in these changes occasion to suggest that I have changed my fundamental conviction.)

For many years my book has been out of print. In spite of the fact, which is apparent from what I have just said, that my utterances of twenty-five years ago about these problems still seem to me just as relevant today, I hesitated a long time about the completion of this revised edition. Again and again I have asked myself whether I ought not, at this point or that, to define my position towards the numerous philosophical views which have been put forward since the publication of the first edition. Yet my preoccupation in recent years with researches into the purely spiritual realm prevented me from doing this in the way I could have wished. However, a survey of the philosophical literature of the present day, as thorough as I could make it, has convinced me that such a critical discussion, tempting though it would be in itself, would be out of place in the context of this book. All that it seemed to me necessary to say about recent philosophical tendencies, from the point of view of the Philosophy of Freedom, may be found in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy.

Rudolf Steiner, April 1918.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:50 pm

Author's Prefaces

Preface to the first edition, 1894; revised, 1918

In the following is reproduced, in all essentials, what stood as a preface in the first edition of this book. Since it shows the mood of thought out of which I wrote this book twenty-five years ago, rather than having any direct bearing on its contents, I include it here as an appendix. I do not want to omit it altogether, because the opinion keeps cropping up that I need to suppress some of my earlier writings on account of my later ones on spiritual science. Only the very first introductory sentences of this preface (in the first edition) have been altogether omitted here, because today they seem to me quite irrelevant. But the rest of what was said seems to me necessary even today, in spite of, indeed, just because of the natural scientific manner of thinking of our contemporaries.

Our age can only accept truth from the depths of human nature. Of Schiller's two well-known paths, it is the second that will mostly be chosen at the present time:

Truth seek we both — Thou in the life without thee and around;
I in the heart within. By both can Truth alike be found.
The healthy eye can through the world the great Creator track;
The healthy heart is but the glass which gives Creation back.
(Translation by E. Bulwer Lytton.)

A truth which comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. We can believe only what appears to each one of us in our own hearts as truth.

Only the truth can give us assurance in developing our individual powers. Whoever is tortured by doubts finds his powers lamed. In a world full of riddles, he can find no goal for his creative energies.

We no longer want merely to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths which we do not fully comprehend. But things we do not fully comprehend are repugnant to the individual element in us, which wants to experience everything in the depths of its inner being. The only knowledge which satisfies us is one which is subject to no external standards but springs from the inner life of the personality.

Again, we do not want any knowledge of the kind that has become frozen once and for all into rigid academic rules, preserved in encyclopedias valid for all time. Each of us claims the right to start from the facts that lie nearest to hand, from his own immediate experiences, and thence to ascend to a knowledge of the whole universe. We strive after certainty in knowledge, but each in his own way.

Our scientific doctrines, too, should no longer be formulated as if we were unconditionally compelled to accept them. None of us would wish to give a scientific work a title like Fichte's “A Pellucid Account for the General Public concerning the Real Nature of the Newest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Readers to Understand.” Today nobody should be compelled to understand. From anyone who is not driven to a certain view by his own individual needs, we demand no acknowledgment or agreement. Even with the immature human being, the child, we do not nowadays cram knowledge into it, but we try to develop its capacities so that it will no longer need to be compelled to understand, but will want to understand.

I am under no illusion about these characteristics of my time. I know how much the tendency prevails to make things impersonal and stereotyped. But I know equally well that many of my contemporaries try to order their lives in the kind of way I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It is not meant to give “the only possible” path to the truth, but is meant to describe the path taken by one for whom truth is the main concern.

The book leads at first into somewhat abstract regions, where thought must draw sharp outlines if it is to reach clearly defined positions. But the reader will also be led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am indeed fully convinced that one must raise oneself into the ethereal realm of concepts if one would experience every aspect of existence. Whoever appreciates only the pleasures of the senses is unacquainted with life's sweetest savors. The oriental sages make their disciples live a life of renunciation and asceticism for years before they impart to them their own wisdom. The western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic habits as a preparation for science, but it does require the willingness to withdraw oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life, and to betake oneself into the realm of pure thought.

The realms of life are many. For each one, special sciences develop. But life itself is a unity, and the more deeply the sciences try to penetrate into their separate realms, the more they withdraw themselves from the vision of the world as a living whole. There must be a knowledge which seeks in the separate sciences the elements for leading man back once more to the fullness of life. The scientific specialist seeks through his findings to develop awareness of the world and its workings; in this book the aim is a philosophical one — that knowledge itself shall become organically alive. The separate sciences are stages on the way to that knowledge we are here trying to achieve. A similar relationship exists in the arts. The composer works on the basis of the theory of composition. This theory is a collection of rules which one has to know in order to compose. In composing, the rules of the theory become the servants of life itself, of reality. In exactly the same sense, philosophy is an art. All real philosophers have been artists in the realm of concepts. For them, human ideas were their artists' materials and scientific method their artistic technique. Abstract thinking thus takes on concrete individual life. The ideas become powerful forces in life. Then we do not merely have knowledge about things, but have made knowledge into a real self-governing organism; our actual working consciousness has risen beyond a mere passive reception of truths.

How philosophy as an art is related to human freedom, what freedom is, and whether we do, or can, participate in it — this is the main theme of my book. All other scientific discussions are included only because they ultimately throw light on these questions, which are, in my opinion, the most immediate concern of mankind. These pages offer a “Philosophy of Freedom”.

All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity did it not strive to raise the value of existence for the personality of man. The sciences attain their true value only by showing the human significance of their results. The ultimate aim of the individual can never be the cultivation of a single faculty, but only the development of all the capacities that slumber within us. Knowledge has value only in so far as it contributes to the all-round development of the whole nature of man.

This book, therefore, conceives the relationship between science and life, not in such a way that man must bow down before an idea and devote his powers to its service, but in the sense that he masters the world of ideas in order to use them for his human aims, which transcend those of mere science.

One must be able to confront an idea and experience it; otherwise one will fall into its bondage.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:53 pm

CHAPTER ONE: Conscious Human Action

IS man in his thinking and acting a spiritually free being, or is he compelled by the iron necessity of purely natural law? There are few questions upon which so much sagacity has been brought to bear. The idea of the freedom of the human will has found enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in plenty. There are those who, in their moral fervor, label anyone a man of limited intelligence who can deny so patent a fact as freedom. Opposed to them are others who regard it as the acme of unscientific thinking for anyone to believe that the uniformity of natural law is broken in the sphere of human action and thinking. One and the same thing is thus proclaimed, now as the most precious possession of humanity, now as its most fatal illusion. Infinite subtlety has been employed to explain how human freedom can be consistent with the laws working in nature, of which man, after all, is a part. No less is the trouble to which others have gone to explain how such a delusion as this could have arisen. That we are dealing here with one of the most important questions for life, religion, conduct, science, must be felt by anyone who includes any degree of thoroughness at all in his make-up. It is one of the sad signs of the superficiality of present-day thought that a book which attempts to develop a new faith out of the results of recent scientific research, (see fn 1) has nothing more to say on this question than these words:

With the question of the freedom of the human will we are not concerned. The alleged freedom of indifferent choice has been recognized as an empty illusion by every philosophy worthy of the name. The moral valuation of human action and character remains untouched by this problem.

It is not because I consider that the book in which it occurs has any special importance that I quote this passage, but because it seems to me to express the view to which the thinking of most of our contemporaries manages to rise in this matter. Everyone who claims to have grown beyond the kindergarten stage of science appears to know nowadays that freedom cannot consist in choosing, at one's pleasure, one or other of two possible courses of action. There is always, so we are told, a perfectly definite reason why, out of several possible actions, we carry out just one and no other.

This seems obvious. Nevertheless, down to the present day, the main attacks of the opponents of freedom are directed only against freedom of choice. Even Herbert Spencer, whose doctrines are gaining ground daily, says,

That everyone is at liberty to desire or not to desire, which is the real proposition involved in the dogma of free will, is negated as much by the analysis of consciousness, as by the contents of the preceding chapter. (see fn 2)

Others, too, start from the same point of view in combating the concept of free will. The germs of all the relevant arguments are to be found as early as Spinoza. All that he brought forward in clear and simple language against the idea of freedom has since been repeated times without number, but as a rule enveloped in the most hair-splitting theoretical doctrines, so that it is difficult to recognize the straightforward train of thought which is all that matters. Spinoza writes in a letter of October or November, 1674,

I call a thing free which exists and acts from the pure necessity of its nature, and I call that unfree, of which the being and action are precisely and fixedly determined by something else. Thus, for example, God, though necessary, is free because he exists only through the necessity of his own nature. Similarly, God cognizes himself and all else freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature that he cognizes all. You see, therefore, that for me freedom consists not in free decision, but in free necessity.

But let us come down to created things which are all determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner. To perceive this more clearly, let us imagine a perfectly simple case. A stone, for example, receives from an external cause acting upon it a certain quantity of motion, by reason of which it necessarily continues to move, after the impact of the external cause has ceased. The continued motion of the stone is due to compulsion, not to the necessity of its own nature, because it requires to be defined by the thrust of an external cause. What is true here for the stone is true also for every other particular thing, however complicated and many-sided it may be, namely, that everything is necessarily determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner.

Now, please, suppose that this stone during its motion thinks and knows that it is striving to the best of its ability to continue in motion. This stone, which is conscious only of its striving and is by no means indifferent, will believe that it is absolutely free, and that it continues in motion for no other reason than its own will to continue. But this is just the human freedom that everybody claims to possess and which consists in nothing but this, that men are conscious of their desires, but ignorant of the causes by which they are determined. Thus the child believes that he desires milk of his own free will, the angry boy regards his desire for vengeance as free, and the coward his desire for flight. Again, the drunken man believes that he says of his own free will what, sober again, he would fain have left unsaid, and as this prejudice is innate in all men, it is difficult to free oneself from it. For, although experience teaches us often enough that man least of all can temper his desires, and that, moved by conflicting passions, he sees the better and pursues the worse, yet he considers himself free because there are some things which he desires less strongly, and some desires which he can easily inhibit through the recollection of something else which it is often possible to recall.

Because this view is so clearly and definitely expressed it is easy to detect the fundamental error that it contains. The same necessity by which a stone makes a definite movement as the result of an impact, is said to compel a man to carry out an action when impelled thereto by any reason. It is only because man is conscious of his action that he thinks himself to be its originator. But in doing so he overlooks the fact that he is driven by a cause which he cannot help obeying. The error in this train of thought is soon discovered. Spinoza, and all who think like him, overlook the fact that man not only is conscious of his action, but also may become conscious of the causes which guide him. Nobody will deny that the child is unfree when he desires milk, or the drunken man when he says things which he later regrets. Neither knows anything of the causes, working in the depths of their organisms, which exercise irresistible control over them. But is it justifiable to lump together actions of this kind with those in which a man is conscious not only of his actions but also of the reasons which cause him to act? Are the actions of men really all of one kind? Should the act of a soldier on the field of battle, of the scientific researcher in his laboratory, of the statesman in the most complicated diplomatic negotiations, be placed scientifically on the same level with that of the child when it desires milk: It is no doubt true that it is best to seek the solution of a problem where the conditions are simplest. But inability to discriminate has before now caused endless confusion. There is, after all, a profound difference between knowing why I am acting and not knowing it. At first sight this seems a self-evident truth. And yet the opponents of freedom never ask themselves whether a motive of action which I recognize and see through, is to be regarded as compulsory for me in the same sense as the organic process which causes the child to cry for milk.

Eduard von Hartmann asserts that the human will depends on two chief factors, the motives and the character. (see fn 3) If one regards men as all alike, or at any rate the differences between them as negligible, then their will appears as determined from without, that is to say, by the circumstances which come to meet them. But if one bears in mind that a man adopts an idea, or mental picture, as the motive of his action only if his character is such that this mental picture arouses a desire in him, then he appears as determined from within and not from without. Now because, in accordance with his character, he must first adopt as a motive a mental picture given to him from without, a man believes he is free, that is, independent of external impulses. The truth, however, according to Eduard von Hartmann, is that

even though we ourselves first adopt a mental picture as a motive, we do so not arbitrarily, but according to the necessity of our characterological disposition, that is, we are anything but free.

Here again the difference between motives which I allow to influence me only after I have permeated them with my consciousness, and those which I follow without any clear knowledge of them, is absolutely ignored.

This leads us straight to the standpoint from which the subject will be considered here. Have we any right to consider the question of the freedom of the will by itself at all? And if not, with what other question must it necessarily be connected?

If there is a difference between a conscious motive of action and an unconscious urge, then the conscious motive will result in an action which must be judged differently from one that springs from blind impulse. Hence our first question will concern this difference, and on the result of this enquiry will depend what attitude we shall have to take towards the question of freedom proper.

What does it mean to have knowledge of the reasons for one's action? Too little attention has been paid to this question because, unfortunately, we have torn into two what is really an inseparable whole: Man. We have distinguished between the knower and the doer and have left out of account precisely the one who matters most of all — the knowing doer.

It is said that man is free when he is controlled only by his reason and not by his animal passions. Or again, that to be free means to be able to determine one's life and action by purposes and deliberate decisions.

Nothing is gained by assertions of this sort. For the question is just whether reason, purposes, and decisions exercise the same kind of compulsion over a man as his animal passions. If without my co-operation, a rational decision emerges in me with the same necessity with which hunger and thirst arise, then I must needs obey it, and my freedom is an illusion.

Another form of expression runs: to be free does not mean to be able to want as one wills, but to be able to do as one wills. This thought has been expressed with great clearness by the poet-philosopher Robert Hamerling.

Man can certainly do as he wills, but he cannot want as he wills, because his wanting is determined by motives. He cannot want as he wills? Let us consider these phrases more closely. Have they any intelligible meaning: Freedom of will would then mean being able to want without ground, without motive. But what does wanting mean if not to have grounds for doing, or trying to do, this rather than that: To want something without ground or motive would be to want something without wanting it. The concept of wanting cannot be divorced from the concept of motive. Without a determining motive the will is an empty faculty; only through the motive does it become active and real. It is, therefore, quite true that the human will is not “free” inasmuch as its direction is always determined by the strongest motive. But on the other hand it must be admitted that it is absurd, in contrast with this “unfreedom”, to speak of a conceivable freedom of the will which would consist in being able to want what one does not want. (see fn 4)

Here again, only motives in general are mentioned, without taking into account the difference between unconscious and conscious motives. If a motive affects me, and I am compelled to act on it because it proves to be the “strongest” of its kind, then the thought of freedom ceases to have any meaning. How should it matter to me whether I can do a thing or not, if I am forced by the motive to do it? The primary question is not whether I can do a thing or not when a motive has worked upon me, but whether there are any motives except such as impel me with absolute necessity. If I am compelled to want something, then I may well be absolutely indifferent as to whether I can also do it. And if, through my character, or through circumstances prevailing in my environment, a motive is forced on me which to my thinking is unreasonable, then I should even have to be glad if I could not do what I want.

The question is not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how the decision comes about within me.

What distinguishes man from all other organic beings arises from his rational thinking. Activity he has in common with other organisms. Nothing is gained by seeking analogies in the animal world to clarify the concept of freedom as applied to the actions of human beings. Modern science loves such analogies. When scientists have succeeded in finding among animals something similar to human behavior, they believe they have touched on the most important question of the science of man. To what misunderstandings this view leads is seen, for example, in the book The Illusion of Freewill, by P. Rée, where the following remark on freedom appears:

It is easy to explain why the movement of a stone seems to us necessary, while the volition of a donkey does not. The causes which set the stone in motion are external and visible, while the causes which determine the donkey's volition are internal and invisible. Between us and the place of their activity there is the skull of the ass. ... The determining causes are not visible and therefore thought to be non-existent. The volition, it is explained, is, indeed, the cause of the donkey's turning round, but is itself unconditioned; it is an absolute beginning. (see fn 5)

Here again human actions in which there is a consciousness of the motives are simply ignored, for Rée declares that “between us and the place of their activity there is the skull of the ass.” To judge from these words, it has not dawned on Rée that there are actions, not indeed of the ass, but of human beings, in which between us and the action lies the motive that has become conscious. Rée demonstrates his blindness once again, a few pages further on, when he says,

We do not perceive the causes by which our will is determined, hence we think it is not causally determined at all.

But enough of examples which prove that many argue against freedom without knowing in the least what freedom is.

That an action, of which the agent does not know why he performs it, cannot be free, goes without saying. But what about an action for which the reasons are known? This leads us to the question of the origin and meaning of thinking. For without the recognition of the thinking activity of the soul, it is impossible to form a concept of knowledge about anything, and therefore of knowledge about an action. When we know what thinking in general means, it will be easy to get clear about the role that thinking plays in human action. As Hegel rightly says,

It is thinking that turns the soul, which the animals also possess, into spirit.

Hence it will also be thinking that gives to human action its characteristic stamp.

On no account should it be said that all our action springs only from the sober deliberations of our reason. I am very far from calling human in the highest sense only those actions that proceed from abstract judgment. But as soon as our conduct rises above the sphere of the satisfaction of purely animal desires, our motives are always permeated by thoughts. Love, pity, and patriotism are driving forces for actions which cannot be analysed away into cold concepts of the intellect. It is said that here the heart, the mood of the soul, hold sway. No doubt. But the heart and the mood of the soul do not create the motives. They presuppose them and let them enter. Pity enters my heart when the mental picture of a person who arouses pity appears in my consciousness. The way to the heart is through the head. Love is no exception. Whenever it is not merely the expression of bare sexual instinct, it depends on the mental picture we form of the loved one. And the more idealistic these mental pictures are, just so much the more blessed is our love. Here too, thought is the father of feeling. It is said that love makes us blind to the failings of the loved one. But this can be expressed the other way round, namely, that it is just for the good qualities that love opens the eyes. Many pass by these good qualities without noticing them. One, however, perceives them, and just because he does, love awakens in his soul. What else has he done but made a mental picture of what hundreds have failed to see? Love is not theirs, because they lack the mental picture.

However we approach the matter, it becomes more and more clear that the question of the nature of human action presupposes that of the origin of thinking. I shall, therefore, turn next to this question.



1. David Freidrich Strauss, Der alte und neue Glaube.

2. The Principles of Psychology, 1855, German edition 1882; Part IV, Chap. ix, par. 219.

3. Phaenomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins, p. 451.

4. Atomistik des Willens, Vol. 2, p. 213 ff.

5. Die Illusion der Willensfreiheit, 1885, page 5.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:54 pm

CHAPTER TWO: The Fundamental Desire for Knowledge

Two souls reside, alas, within my breast,
And each one from the other would be parted.
The one holds fast, in sturdy lust for love,
With clutching organs clinging to the world;
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage.

-- Faust I, Scene 2, lines 1112-1117.

In these words Goethe expresses a characteristic feature which is deeply rooted in human nature. Man is not organized as a self-consistent unity. He always demands more than the world, of its own accord, gives him. Nature has endowed us with needs; among them are some that she leaves to our own activity to satisfy. Abundant as are the gifts she has bestowed upon us, still more abundant are our desires. We seem born to be dissatisfied. And our thirst for knowledge is but a special instance of this dissatisfaction. We look twice at a tree. The first time we see its branches at rest, the second time in motion. We are not satisfied with this observation. Why, we ask, does the tree appear to us now at rest, now in motion? Every glance at Nature evokes in us a multitude of questions. Every phenomenon we meet sets us a new problem. Every experience is a riddle. We see that from the egg there emerges a creature like the mother animal, and we ask the reason for the likeness. We observe a living being grow and develop to a certain degree of perfection, and we seek the underlying conditions for this experience. Nowhere are we satisfied with what Nature spreads out before our senses. Everywhere we seek what we call the explanation of the facts.

The something more which we seek in things, over and above what is immediately given to us in them, splits our whole being into two parts. We become conscious of our antithesis to the world. We confront the world as independent beings. The universe appears to us in two opposite parts: I and World.

We erect this barrier between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness first dawns in us. But we never cease to feel that, in spite of all, we belong to the world, that there is a connecting link between it and us, and that we are beings within, and not without, the universe.

This feeling makes us strive to bridge over this antithesis, and in this bridging lies ultimately the whole spiritual striving of mankind. The history of our spiritual life is a continuing search for the unity between ourselves and the world. Religion, art and science follow, one and all, this aim. The religious believer seeks in the revelation which God grants him the solution to the universal riddle which his I, dissatisfied with the world of mere appearance, sets before him. The artist seeks to embody in his material the ideas that are in his I, in order to reconcile what lives in him with the world outside. He too feels dissatisfied with the world of mere appearance and seeks to mould into it that something more which his I, transcending it, contains. The thinker seeks the laws of phenomena, and strives to penetrate by thinking what he experiences by observing. Only when we have made the world-content into our thought-content do we again find the unity out of which we had separated ourselves. We shall see later that this goal can be reached only if the task of the research scientist is conceived at a much deeper level than is often the case. The whole situation I have described here presents itself to us on the stage of history in the conflict between the one-world theory, or monism, and the two-world theory, or dualism.

Dualism pays attention only to the separation between I and World which the consciousness of man has brought about. All its efforts consist in a vain struggle to reconcile these opposites, which it calls now spirit and matter, now subject and object, now thinking and appearance. It feels that there must be a bridge between the two worlds but is not in a position to find it. In that man is aware of himself as “I”, he cannot but think of this “I” as being on the side of the spirit; and in contrasting this “I” with the world, he is bound to put on the world's side the realm of percepts given to the senses, that is, the world of matter. In doing so, man puts himself right into the middle of this antithesis of spirit and matter. He is the more compelled to do so because his own body belongs to the material world. Thus the “I”, or Ego, belongs to the realm of spirit as a part of it; the material objects and events which are perceived by the senses belong to the “World”. All the riddles which relate to spirit and matter, man must inevitably rediscover in the fundamental riddle of his own nature.

Monism pays attention only to the unity and tries either to deny or to slur over the opposites, present though they are. Neither of these two points of view can satisfy us, for they do not do justice to the facts. Dualism sees in spirit (I) and matter (World) two fundamentally different entities, and cannot, therefore, understand how they can interact with one another. How should spirit be aware of what goes on in matter, seeing that the essential nature of matter is quite alien to spirit? Or how in these circumstances should spirit act upon matter, so as to translate its intentions into actions? The most ingenious and the most absurd hypotheses have been propounded to answer these questions. Up to the present, however, monism is not in a much better position. It has tried three different ways of meeting the difficulty. Either it denies spirit and becomes materialism; or it denies matter in order to seek its salvation in spiritualism (see fn 1); or it asserts that even in the simplest entities in the world, spirit and matter are indissolubly bound together so that there is no need to marvel at the appearance in man of these two modes of existence, seeing that they are never found apart.

Materialism can never offer a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at an explanation must begin with the formation of thoughts about the phenomena of the world. Materialism thus begins with the thought of matter or material processes. But, in doing so, it is already confronted by two different sets of facts: the material world, and the thoughts about it. The materialist seeks to make these latter intelligible by regarding them as purely material processes. He believes that thinking takes place in the brain, much in the same way that digestion takes place in the animal organs. Just as he attributes mechanical and organic effects to matter, so he credits matter in certain circumstances with the capacity to think. He overlooks that, in doing so, he is merely shifting the problem from one place to another. He ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself. And thus he is back again at his starting point. How does matter come to think about its own nature? Why is it not simply satisfied with itself and content just to exist? The materialist has turned his attention away from the definite subject, his own I, and has arrived at an image of something quite vague and indefinite. Here the old riddle meets him again. The materialistic conception cannot solve the problem; it can only shift it from one place to another.

What of the spiritualistic theory? The genuine spiritualist denies to matter all independent existence and regards it merely as a product of spirit. But when he tries to use this theory to solve the riddle of his own human nature, he finds himself driven into a corner. Over against the “I” or Ego, which can be ranged on the side of spirit, there stands directly the world of the senses. No spiritual approach to it seems open. Only with the help of material processes can it be perceived and experienced by the “I”. Such material processes the “I” does not discover in itself so long as it regards its own nature as exclusively spiritual. In what it achieves spiritually by its own effort, the sense-perceptible world is never to be found. It seems as if the “I” had to concede that the world would be a closed book to it unless it could establish a non-spiritual relation to the world. Similarly, when it comes to action, we have to translate our purposes into realities with the help of material things and forces. We are, therefore, referred back to the outer world. The most extreme spiritualist — or rather, the thinker who through his absolute idealism appears as extreme spiritualist — is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He attempts to derive the whole edifice of the world from the “I”. What he has actually accomplished is a magnificent thought-picture of the world, without any content of experience. As little as it is possible for the materialist to argue the spirit away, just as little is it possible for the spiritualist to argue away the outer world of matter.

When man reflects upon the “I”, he perceives in the first instance the work of this “I” in the conceptual elaboration of the world of ideas. Hence a world-conception that inclines towards spiritualism may feel tempted, in looking at man's own essential nature, to acknowledge nothing of spirit except this world of ideas. In this way spiritualism becomes one-sided idealism. Instead of going on to penetrate through the world of ideas to the spiritual world, idealism identifies the spiritual world with the world of ideas itself. As a result, it is compelled to remain fixed with its world-outlook in the circle of activity of the Ego, as if bewitched.

A curious variant of idealism is to be found in the view which Friedrich Albert Lange has put forward in his widely read History of Materialism. He holds that the materialists are quite right in declaring all phenomena, including our thinking, to be the product of purely material processes, but, conversely, matter and its processes are for him themselves the product of our thinking.

The senses give us only the effects of things, not true copies, much less the things themselves. But among these mere effects we must include the senses themselves together with the brain and the molecular vibrations which we assume to go on there.

That is, our thinking is produced by the material processes, and these by the thinking of our I. Lange's philosophy is thus nothing more than the story, in philosophical terms, of the intrepid Baron Münchhausen, who holds himself up in the air by his own pigtail.

The third form of monism is the one which finds even in the simplest entity (the atom) both matter and spirit already united. But nothing is gained by this either, except that the question, which really originates in our consciousness, is shifted to another place. How comes it that the simple entity manifests itself in a two-fold manner, if it is an indivisible unity?

Against all these theories we must urge the fact that we meet with the basic and primary opposition first in our own consciousness. It is we ourselves who break away from the bosom of Nature and contrast ourselves as “I” with the “World”. Goethe has given classic expression to this in his essay Nature, although his manner may at first sight be considered quite unscientific: “Living in the midst of her (Nature) we are strangers to her. Ceaselessly she speaks to us, yet betrays none of her secrets.” But Goethe knows the reverse side too: “Men are all in her and she in all.”

However true it may be that we have estranged ourselves from Nature, it is none the less true that we feel we are in her and belong to her. It can be only her own working which pulsates also in us.

We must find the way back to her again. A simple reflection can point this way out to us. We have, it is true, torn ourselves away from Nature, but we must none the less have taken something of her with us into our own being. This element of Nature in us we must seek out, and then we shall find the connection with her once more. Dualism fails to do this. It considers human inwardness as a spiritual entity utterly alien to Nature, and then attempts somehow to hitch it on to Nature. No wonder that it cannot find the connecting link. We can find Nature outside us only if we have first learned to know her within us. What is akin to her within us must be our guide. This marks out our path of enquiry. We shall attempt no speculations concerning the interaction of Nature and spirit. Rather shall we probe into the depths of our own being, to find there those elements which we saved in our flight from Nature.

Investigation of our own being must give us the answer to the riddle. We must reach a point where we can say to ourselves, “Here we are no longer merely ‘I’, here is something which is more than ‘I’.”

I am well aware that many who have read thus far will not find my discussion “scientific”, as this term is used today. To this I can only reply that I have so far been concerned not with scientific results of any kind, but with the simple description of what every one of us experiences in his own consciousness. The inclusion of a few phrases about attempts to reconcile man's consciousness and the world serves solely to elucidate the actual facts. I have therefore made no attempt to use the various expressions “I”, “Spirit”, “World”, “Nature”, in the precise way that is usual in psychology and philosophy. The ordinary consciousness is unaware of the sharp distinctions made by the sciences, and my purpose so far has been solely to record the facts of everyday experience. I am concerned, not with the way in which science, so far, has interpreted consciousness, but with the way in which we experience it in every moment of our lives.



1. The author refers to philosophical “spiritualism” as opposed to philosophical “materialism”. See reference to Fichte that follows. — Translator's Footnote.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

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CHAPTER THREE: Thinking in the service of Knowledge

WHEN I observe how a billiard ball, when struck, communicates its motion to another, I remain entirely without influence on the course of this observed process. The direction of motion and the velocity of the second ball are determined by the direction and velocity of the first. As long as I remain a mere spectator, I can only say anything about the movement of the second ball when it has taken place. It is quite different when I begin to reflect on the content of my observation. The purpose of my reflection is to form concepts of the occurrence. I connect the concept of an elastic ball with certain other concepts of mechanics, and take into consideration the special circumstances which obtain in the instance in question. I try, in other words, to add to the occurrence which takes place without my assistance a second process which takes place in the conceptual sphere. This latter one is dependent on me. This is shown by the fact that I can rest content with the observation, and renounce all search for concepts if I have no need of them. If however, this need is present, then I am not satisfied until I have brought the concepts Ball, Elasticity, Motion, Impact, Velocity, etc., into a certain connection, to which the observed process is related in a definite way. As surely as the occurrence goes on independently of me, so surely is the conceptual process unable to take place without my assistance.

We shall have to consider later whether this activity of mine really proceeds from my own independent being, or whether those modern physiologists are right who say that we cannot think as we will, but that we must think just as those thoughts and thought-connections determine that happen to be present in our consciousness. (see fn 1) For the present we wish merely to establish the fact that we constantly feel obliged to seek for concepts and connections of concepts, which stand in a certain relation to the objects and events which are given independently of us. Whether this activity is really ours or whether we perform it according to an unalterable necessity, is a question we need not decide at present. That it appears in the first instance to be ours is beyond question. We know for certain that we are not given the concepts together with the objects. That I am myself the agent in the conceptual process may be an illusion, but to immediate observation it certainly appears to be so. The question is, therefore: What do we gain by supplementing an event with a conceptual counterpart?

There is a profound difference between the ways in which, for me, the parts of an event are related to one another before, and after, the discovery of the corresponding concepts. Mere observation can trace the parts of a given event as they occur, but their connection remains obscure without the help of concepts. I see the first billiard ball move towards the second in a certain direction and with a certain velocity. What will happen after the impact I must await, and again I can only follow it with my eyes. Suppose someone, at the moment of impact, obstructs my view of the field where the event is taking place, then, as mere spectator, I remain ignorant of what happens afterwards. The situation is different if prior to the obstruction of my view I have discovered the concepts corresponding to the pattern of events. In that case I can say what will happen even when I am no longer able to observe. An event or an object which is merely observed, does not of itself reveal anything about its connection with other events or objects. This connection becomes evident only when observation is combined with thinking.

Observation and thinking are the two points of departure for all the spiritual striving of man, in so far as he is conscious of such striving. The workings of common sense, as well as the most complicated scientific researches, rest on these two fundamental pillars of our spirit. Philosophers have started from various primary antitheses: idea and reality, subject and object, appearance and thing-in-itself, “I” and “Not-I”, idea and will, concept and matter, force and substance, the conscious and the unconscious. It is easy to show, however, that all these antitheses must be preceded by that of observation and thinking, this being for man the most important one.

Whatever principle we choose to lay down, we must either prove that somewhere we have observed it, or we must enunciate it in the form of a clear thought which can be re-thought by any other thinker. Every philosopher who sets out to discuss his fundamental principles must express them in conceptual form and thus use thinking. He therefore indirectly admits that his activity presupposes thinking. Whether thinking or something else is the chief factor in the evolution of the world will not be decided at this point. But that without thinking, the philosopher can gain no knowledge of such evolution, is clear from the start. In the occurrence of the world phenomena, thinking may play a minor part; but in the forming of a view about them, there can be no doubt that, its part is a leading one.

As regards observation, our need of it is due to the way we are constituted. Our thinking about a horse and the object “horse” are two things which for us emerge apart from each other. This object is accessible to us only by means of observation. As little as we can form a concept of a horse by merely staring at the animal, just as little are we able by mere thinking to produce a corresponding object.

In sequence of time, observation does in fact come before thinking. For even thinking we must get to know first through observation. It was essentially a description of an observation when, at the beginning of this chapter, we gave an account of how thinking lights up in the presence of an event and goes beyond what is merely presented. Everything that enters the circle of our experience, we first become aware of through observation. The content of sensation, perception and contemplation, all feelings, acts of will, dreams and fancies, mental pictures, concepts and ideas, all illusions and hallucinations, are given to us through observation.

But thinking as an object of observation differs essentially from all other objects. The observation of a table, or a tree, occurs in me as soon as these objects appear upon the horizon of my experience. Yet I do not, at the same time, observe my thinking about these things. I observe the table, and I carry out the thinking about the table, but I do not at the same moment observe this. I must first take up a standpoint outside my own activity if, in addition to observing the table, I want also to observe my thinking about the table. Whereas observation of things and events, and thinking about them, are everyday occurrences filling up the continuous current of my life, observation of the thinking itself is a kind of exceptional state. This fact must be properly taken into account when we come to determine the relationship of thinking to all other contents of observation. We must be quite clear about the fact that, in observing thinking, we are applying to it a procedure which constitutes the normal course of events for the study of the whole of the rest of the world-content, but which in this normal course of events is not applied to thinking itself.

Someone might object that what I have said about thinking applies equally to feeling and to all other spiritual activities. Thus for instance, when I have a feeling of pleasure, the feeling is also kindled by the object, and it is this object that I observe, but not the feeling of pleasure. This objection, however, is based on an error. Pleasure does not stand at all in the same relation to its object as the concept formed by thinking. I am conscious, in the most positive way, that the concept of a thing is formed through my activity; whereas pleasure is produced in me by an object in the same way as, for instance, a change is caused in an object by a stone which falls on it. For observation, a pleasure is given in exactly the same way as the event which causes it. The same is not true of the concept. I can ask why a particular event arouses in me a feeling of pleasure, but I certainly cannot ask why an event produces in me a particular set of concepts. The question would be simply meaningless. In reflecting upon an event, I am in no way concerned with an effect upon myself. I can learn nothing about myself through knowing the concepts which correspond to the observed change in a pane of glass by a stone thrown against it. But I do very definitely learn something about my personality when I know the feeling which a certain event arouses in me. When I say of an observed object, “This is a rose,” I say absolutely nothing about myself; but when I say of the same thing that “it gives me a feeling of pleasure,” I characterize not only the rose, but also myself in my relation to the rose.

There can, therefore, be no question of putting thinking and feeling on a level as objects of observation. And the same could easily be shown of other activities of the human spirit. Unlike thinking, they must be classed with other observed objects or events. The peculiar nature of thinking lies just in this, that it is an activity which is directed solely upon the observed object and not on the thinking personality. This is apparent even from the way in which we express our thoughts about an object, as distinct from our feelings or acts of will. When I see an object and recognize it as a table, I do not as a rule say, “I am thinking of a table,” but, “this is a table.” On the other hand, I do say, “I am pleased with the table.” In the former case, I am not at all interested in stating that I have entered into a relation with the table; whereas in the latter case, it is just this relation that matters. In saying, “I am thinking of a table,” I already enter the exceptional state characterized above, in which something that is always contained — though not as an observed object — within our spiritual activity, is itself made into an object of observation.

This is just the peculiar nature of thinking, that the thinker forgets his thinking while actually engaged in it. What occupies his attention is not his thinking, but the object of his thinking, which he is observing.

The first observation which we make about thinking is therefore this: that it is the unobserved element in our ordinary mental and spiritual life.

The reason why we do not observe the thinking that goes on in our ordinary life is none other than this, that it is due to our own activity. Whatever I do not myself produce, appears in my field of observation as an object; I find myself confronted by it as something that has come about independently of me. It comes to meet me. I must accept it as something that precedes my thinking process, as a premise. While I am reflecting upon the object, I am occupied with it, my attention is focussed upon it. To be thus occupied is precisely to contemplate by thinking. I attend, not to my activity, but to the object of this activity. In other words, while I am thinking I pay no heed to my thinking, which is of my own making, but only to the object of my thinking, which is not of my making.

I am, moreover, in the same position when I enter into the exceptional state and reflect on my own thinking. I can never observe my present thinking; I can only subsequently take my experiences of my thinking process as the object of fresh thinking. If I wanted to watch my present thinking, I should have to split myself into two persons, one to think, the other to observe this thinking. But this I cannot do. I can only accomplish it in two separate acts. The thinking to be observed is never that in which I am actually engaged, but another one. Whether, for this purpose, I make observations of my own former thinking, or follow the thinking process of another person, or finally, as in the example of the motions of the billiard balls, assume an imaginary thinking process, is immaterial.

There are two things which are incompatible with one another: productive activity and the simultaneous contemplation of it. This is recognized even in Genesis (1, 31). Here God creates the world in the first six days, and only when it is there is any contemplation of it possible: “And God saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good.” The same applies to our thinking. It must be there first, if we would observe it.

The reason why it is impossible to observe thinking in the actual moment of its occurrence, is the very one which makes it possible for us to know it more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world. Just because it is our own creation do we know the characteristic features of its course, the manner in which the process takes place. What in all other spheres of observation can be found only indirectly, namely, the relevant context and the relationship between the individual objects, is, in the case of thinking, known to us in an absolutely direct way. I do not on the face of it know why, for my observation, thunder follows lightning; but I know directly, from the very content of the two concepts, why my thinking connects the concept of thunder with the concept of lightning. It does not matter in the least whether I have the right concepts of lightning and thunder. The connection between those concepts that I do have is clear to me, and this through the very concepts themselves.

This transparent clearness concerning our thinking process is quite independent of our knowledge of the physiological basis of thinking. Here I am speaking of thinking in so far as we know it from the observation of our own spiritual activity. How one material process in my brain causes or influences another while I am carrying out a thinking operation, is quite irrelevant. What I observe about thinking is not what process in my brain connects the concept lightning with the concept thunder but what causes me to bring the two concepts into a particular relationship. My observation shows me that in linking one thought with another there is nothing to guide me but the content of my thoughts; I am not guided by any material processes in my brain. In a less materialistic age than our own, this remark would of course be entirely superfluous. Today, however, when there are people who believe that once we know what matter is we shall also know how it thinks, we do have to insist that one may talk about thinking without trespassing on the domain of brain physiology.

Many people today find it difficult to grasp the concept of thinking in its purity. Anyone who challenges the description of thinking which I have given here by quoting Cabanis' statement that “the brain secretes thoughts as the liver does gall or the spittle-glands spittle ...”, simply does not know what I am talking about. He tries to find thinking by a process of mere observation in the same way that we proceed in the case of other objects that make up the world. But he cannot find it in this way because, as I have shown, it eludes just this ordinary observation. Whoever cannot transcend materialism lacks the ability to bring about the exceptional condition I have described, in which he becomes conscious of what in all other spiritual activity remains unconscious. If someone is not willing to take this standpoint, then one can no more discuss thinking with him than one can discuss color with a blind man. But in any case he must not imagine that we regard physiological processes as thinking. He fails to explain thinking because he simply does not see it.

For everyone, however, who has the ability to observe thinking — and with good will every normal man has this ability — this observation is the most important one he can possibly make. For he observes something of which he himself is the creator; he finds himself confronted, not by an apparently foreign object, but by his own activity. He knows how the thing he is observing comes into being. He sees into its connections and relationships. A firm point has now been reached from which one can, with some hope of success, seek an explanation of all other phenomena of the world.

The feeling that he had found such a firm point led the father of modern philosophy, Descartes, to base the whole of human knowledge on the principle: I think, therefore I am. All other things, all other events, are there independently of me. Whether they be truth, or illusion, or dream, I know not. There is only one thing of which I am absolutely certain, for I myself give it its certain existence; and that is my thinking. Whatever other origin it may ultimately have, may it come from God or from elsewhere, of one thing I am certain: that it exists in the sense that I myself bring it forth. Descartes had, to begin with, no justification for giving his statement more meaning than this. All that he had any right to assert was that within the whole world content I apprehend myself in my thinking as in that activity which is most uniquely my own. What the attached “therefore I am” is supposed to mean has been much debated. It can have a meaning on one condition only. The simplest assertion I can make of a thing is that it is, that it exists. How this existence can be further defined in the case of any particular thing that appears on the horizon of my experience, is at first sight impossible to say. Each object must first be studied in its relation to others before we can determine in what sense it can be said to exist. An experienced event may be a set of percepts or it may be a dream, an hallucination, or something else. In short, I am unable to say in what sense it exists. I cannot gather this from the event in itself, but I shall find it out when I consider the event in its relation to other things. But here again I cannot know more than just how it stands in relation to these other things. My investigation touches firm ground only when I find an object which exists in a sense which I can derive from the object itself. But I am myself such an object in that I think, for I give to my existence the definite, self-determined content of the thinking activity. From here I can go on to ask whether other things exist in the same or in some other sense.

When we make thinking an object of observation, we add to the other observed contents of the world something which usually escapes our attention. But the way we stand in relation to the other things is in no way altered. We add to the number of objects of observation, but not to the number of methods. While we are observing the other things, there enters among the processes of the world — among which I now include observation — one process which is overlooked. Something is present which is different from all other processes, something which is not taken into account. But when I observe my own thinking, no such neglected element is present. For what now hovers in the background is once more just thinking itself. The object of observation is qualitatively identical with the activity directed upon it. This is another characteristic feature of thinking. When we make it an object of observation, we are not compelled to do so with the help of something qualitatively different, but can remain within the same element.

When I weave an independently given object into my thinking, I transcend my observation, and the question arises: What right have I to do this? Why do I not simply let the object impress itself upon me? How is it possible for my thinking to be related to the object? These are questions which everyone must put to himself who reflects on his own thought processes. But all these questions cease to exist when we think about thinking itself. We then add nothing to our thinking that is foreign to it, and therefore have no need to justify any such addition.

Schelling says, “To know Nature means to create Nature.” If we take these words of this bold Nature-philosopher literally, we shall have to renounce for ever all hope of gaining knowledge of Nature. For Nature is there already, and in order to create it a second time, we must first know the principles according to which it has originated. From the Nature that already exists we should have to borrow or crib the fundamental principles for the Nature we want to begin by creating. This borrowing, which would have to precede the creating, would however mean knowing Nature, and this would still be so even if after the borrowing no creation were to take place. The only kind of Nature we could create without first having knowledge of it would be a Nature that does not yet exist.

What is impossible for us with regard to Nature, namely, creating before knowing, we achieve in the case of thinking. Were we to refrain from thinking until we had first gained knowledge of it, we would never come to it at all. We must resolutely plunge right into the activity of thinking, so that afterwards, by observing what we have done, we may gain knowledge of it. For the observation of thinking, we ourselves first create an object; the presence of all other objects is taken care of without any activity on our part.

My contention that we must think before we can examine thinking might easily be countered by the apparently equally valid contention that we cannot wait with digesting until we have first observed the process of digestion. This objection would be similar to that brought by Pascal against Descartes, when he asserted that we might also say, “I walk, therefore I am.” Certainly I must go straight ahead with digesting and not wait until I have studied the physiological process of digestion. But I could only compare this with the study of thinking if, after digestion, I set myself not to study it by thinking, but to eat and digest it. It is after all not without reason that, whereas digestion cannot become the object of digestion, thinking can very well become the object of thinking.

This then is indisputable, that in thinking we have got hold of one corner of the whole world process which requires our presence if anything is to happen. And this is just the point upon which everything turns. The very reason why things confront me in such a puzzling way is just that I play no part in their production. They are simply given to me, whereas in the case of thinking I know how it is done. Hence for the study of all that happens in the world there can be no more fundamental starting point than thinking itself.

I should now like to mention a widely current error which prevails with regard to thinking. It is often said that thinking, as it is in itself, is nowhere given to us: the thinking that connects our observations and weaves a network of concepts about them is not at all the same as that which we subsequently extract from the objects of observation in order to make it the object of our study. What we first weave unconsciously into the things is said to be quite different from what we consciously extract from them again.

Those who hold this view do not see that it is impossible in this way to escape from thinking. I cannot get outside thinking when I want to study it. If we want to distinguish between thinking before we have become conscious of it, and thinking of which we have subsequently become aware, we should not forget that this distinction is a purely external one which has nothing to do with the thing itself. I do not in any way alter a thing by thinking about it. I can well imagine that a being with quite differently constructed sense organs and with a differently functioning intelligence, would have a very different mental picture of a horse from mine, but I cannot imagine that my own thinking becomes something different through the fact that I observe it. I myself observe what I myself produce. Here we are not talking of how my thinking looks to an intelligence other than mine, but of how it looks to me. In any case the picture of my thinking which another intelligence might have cannot be a truer one than my own. Only if I were not myself the being doing the thinking, but if the thinking were to confront me as the activity of a being quite foreign to me, might I then say that although my own picture of the thinking may arise in a particular way, what the thinking of that being may be like in itself, I am quite unable to know.

So far, there is not the slightest reason why I should regard my own thinking from any point of view other than my own. After all, I contemplate the rest of the world by means of thinking. Why should I make my thinking an exception?

I believe I have given sufficient reasons for making thinking the starting point for my study of the world. When Archimedes had discovered the lever, he thought he could lift the whole cosmos from its hinges, if only he could find a point of support for his instrument. He needed something that was supported by itself and by nothing else. In thinking we have a principle which subsists through itself. Let us try, therefore, to understand the world starting from this basis. We can grasp thinking by means of itself. The question is, whether we can also grasp anything else through it.

I have so far spoken of thinking without taking account of its vehicle, human consciousness. Most present-day philosophers would object that before there can be thinking, there must be consciousness. Hence we ought to start, not from thinking, but from consciousness. There is no thinking, they say, without consciousness. To this I must reply that in order to clear up the relation between thinking and consciousness, I must think about it. Hence I presuppose thinking. Nevertheless one could still argue that although, when the philosopher tries to understand consciousness he makes use of thinking and to that extent presupposes it, yet in the ordinary course of life thinking does arise within consciousness and therefore presupposes consciousness.

Now if this answer were given to the world creator when he was about to create thinking, it would doubtless be to the point. Naturally it is not possible to create thinking before consciousness. The philosopher, however, is not concerned with creating the world but with understanding it. Accordingly he has to seek the starting points not for the creation of the world but for the understanding of it. It seems to me very strange that the philosopher should be reproached for troubling himself first and foremost about the correctness of his principles instead of turning straight to the objects which he seeks to understand. The world creator had above all to know how to find a vehicle for thinking, but the philosopher has to seek a secure foundation for his attempts to understand what already exists. How does it help us to start with consciousness and subject it to the scrutiny of thinking, if we do not first know whether thinking is in fact able to give us insight into things at all?

We must first consider thinking quite impartially, without reference to a thinking subject or a thought object. For both subject and object are concepts formed by thinking. There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood. Whoever denies this fails to realize that man is not the first link in the chain of creation but the last. Hence, in order to explain the world by means of concepts, we cannot start from the elements of existence which came first in time, but we must begin with that element which is given to us as the nearest and most intimate. We cannot at one bound transport ourselves back to the beginning of the world in order to begin our studies from there, but we must start from the present moment and see whether we can ascend from the later to the earlier. As long as Geology invented fabulous catastrophes to account for the present state of the earth, it groped in darkness. It was only when it began to study the processes at present at work on the earth, and from these to argue back to the past, that it gained a firm foundation. As long as Philosophy goes on assuming all sorts of basic principles, such as atom, motion, matter, will, or the unconscious, it will hang in the air. Only if the philosopher recognizes that which is last in time as his first point of attack, can he reach his goal. This absolutely last thing at which world evolution has arrived is in fact thinking.

There are people who say it is impossible to ascertain with certainty whether our thinking is right or wrong, and thus our starting point is in any case a doubtful one. It would be just as sensible to doubt whether a tree is in itself right or wrong. Thinking is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the truth or falsity of a fact. I can, at most, be in doubt as to whether thinking is correctly applied, just as I can doubt whether a certain tree supplies wood adapted to the making of this or that useful object. To show how far the application of thinking to the world is right or wrong, is precisely the task of this book. I can understand anyone doubting whether, by means of thinking, we can gain knowledge of the world, but it is incomprehensible to me how anyone can doubt the rightness of thinking in itself.

Author's addition, 1918

In the preceding discussion I have pointed out the significant difference between thinking and all other activities of the soul, as a fact which presents itself to genuinely unprejudiced observation. Anyone who does not strive towards this unprejudiced observation will be tempted to bring against my arguments such objections as these: When I think about a rose, this after all only expresses a relation of my “I” to the rose, just as when I feel the beauty of the rose. There is a relation between “I” and object in the case of thinking just as much as in the case of feeling or perceiving. Such an objection leaves out of account the fact that only in the thinking activity does the “I” know itself to be one and the same being with that which is active, right into all the ramifications of this activity. With no other soul activity is this so completely the case. For example, in a feeling of pleasure it is perfectly possible for a more delicate observation to discriminate between the extent to which the “I” knows itself to be one and the same being with what is active, and the extent to which there is something passive in the “I” to which the pleasure merely presents itself. The same applies to the other soul activities. Above all one should not confuse the “having of thought-images” with the elaboration of thought by thinking. Thought-images may appear in the soul after the fashion of dreams, like vague intimations. But this is not thinking. True, someone might now say: If this is what you mean by “thinking”, then your thinking involves willing and you have to do not merely with thinking but also with the will in the thinking. However, this would simply justify us in saying: Genuine thinking must always be willed. But this is quite irrelevant to the characterization of thinking as this has been given in the preceding discussion. Granted that the nature of thinking necessarily implies its being willed, the point that matters is that nothing is willed which, in being carried out, does not appear to the “I” as an activity completely its own and under its own supervision. Indeed, we must say that owing to the very nature of thinking as here defined, it must appear to the observer as willed through and through. If we really make the effort to grasp everything that is relevant to a judgment about the nature of thinking, we cannot fail to see that this soul activity does have the unique character we have here described.

A person whom the author of this book rates very highly as a thinker has objected that it is impossible to speak about thinking as we are doing here, because what one believes oneself to have observed as active thinking is nothing but an illusion. In reality one is observing only the results of an unconscious activity which lies at the basis of thinking. Only because this unconscious activity is not observed does the illusion arise that the observed thinking exists in its own right, just as when in an illumination by means of a rapid succession of electric sparks we believe that we are seeing a continuous movement. This objection, too, rests only on an inaccurate view of the facts. In making it, one forgets that it is the “I” itself which, from its standpoint inside the thinking, observes its own activity. The “I” would have to stand outside the thinking in order to suffer the sort of deception which is caused by an illumination with a rapid succession of electric sparks. It would be much truer to say that precisely in using such an analogy one is forcibly deceiving oneself, just as if someone seeing a moving light were to insist that it is being freshly lit by an unknown hand at every point where it appears. No, whoever is determined to see in thinking anything other than a clearly surveyable activity produced by the “I” itself, must first shut his eyes to the plain facts that are there for the seeing, in order then to invent a hypothetical activity as the basis of thinking. If he does not thus blind himself, he will have to recognize that everything which he “thinks up” in this way as an addition to the thinking only leads him away from its real nature. Unprejudiced observation shows that nothing is to be counted as belonging to the nature of thinking except what is found in thinking itself. One will never arrive at something which is the cause of thinking if one steps outside the realm of thinking itself.



1. E.g., Ziehen, Leitfaden der physiologischen Psychologie, Jena 1893, p 171.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

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CHAPTER FOUR: The World as Percept

THROUGH thinking, concepts and ideas arise. What a concept is cannot be expressed in words. Words can do no more than draw our attention to the fact that we have concepts. When someone sees a tree, his thinking reacts to his observation, an ideal element is added to the object, and he considers the object and the ideal counterpart as belonging together. When the object disappears from his field of observation, only the ideal counterpart of it remains. This latter is the concept of the object. The more our range of experience is widened, the greater becomes the sum of our concepts. But concepts certainly do not stand isolated from one another. They combine to form a systematically ordered whole. The concept “organism”, for instance, links up with those of “orderly development” and “growth”. Other concepts which are based on single objects merge together into a unity. All concepts I may form of lions merge into the collective concept “lion”. In this way all the separate concepts combine to form a closed conceptual system in which each has its special place. Ideas do not differ qualitatively from concepts. They are but fuller, more saturated, more comprehensive concepts. I must attach special importance to the necessity of bearing in mind, here, that I make thinking my starting point, and not concepts and ideas which are first gained by means of thinking. For these latter already presuppose thinking. My remarks regarding the self-supporting and self-determined nature of thinking cannot, therefore, be simply transferred to concepts. (I make special mention of this, because it is here that I differ from Hegel, who regards the concept as something primary and original.)

Concepts cannot be gained through observation. This follows from the simple fact that the growing human being only slowly and gradually forms the concepts corresponding to the objects which surround him. Concepts are added to observation.

A philosopher widely read at the present day — Herbert Spencer — describes the mental process which we carry out with respect to observation as follows:

If, when walking through the fields some day in September, you hear a rustle a few yards in advance, and on observing the ditch-side where it occurs, see the herbage agitated, you will probably turn towards the spot to learn by what this sound and motion are produced. As you approach there flutters into the ditch a partridge; on seeing which your curiosity is satisfied — you have what you call an explanation of the appearances. The explanation, mark, amounts to this; that whereas throughout life you have had countless experiences of disturbance among small stationary bodies, accompanying the movement of other bodies among them, and have generalized the relation between such disturbances and such movements, you consider this particular disturbance explained on finding it to present an instance of the like relation. (see fn 1)

A closer analysis shows matters to stand very differently from the way described above. When I hear a noise, I first look for the concept which fits this observation. It is this concept which first leads me beyond the mere noise. If one thinks no further, one simply hears the noise and is content to leave it at that. But my reflecting makes it clear to me that I have to regard the noise as an effect. Therefore not until I have connected the concept of effect with the perception of the noise, do I feel the need to go beyond the solitary observation and look for the cause. The concept of effect calls up that of cause, and my next step is to look for the object which is being the cause, which I find in the shape of the partridge. But these concepts, cause and effect, I can never gain through mere observation, however many instances the observation may cover. Observation evokes thinking, and it is thinking that first shows me how to link one separate experience to another.

If one demands of a “strictly objective science” that it should take its content from observation alone, then one must at the same time demand that it should forego all thinking. For thinking, by its very nature, goes beyond what is observed.

We must now pass from thinking to the being that thinks; for it is through the thinker that thinking is combined with observation. Human consciousness is the stage upon which concept and observation meet and become linked to one another. In saying this we have in fact characterized this (human) consciousness. It is the mediator between thinking and observation. In as far as we observe a thing it appears to us as given; in as far as we think, we appear to ourselves as being active. We regard the thing as object and ourselves as thinking subject. Because we direct our thinking upon our observation, we have consciousness of objects; because we direct it upon ourselves, we have consciousness of ourselves, or self-consciousness. Human consciousness must of necessity be at the same time self-consciousness because it is a consciousness which thinks. For when thinking contemplates its own activity, it makes its own essential being, as subject, into a thing, as object.

It must, however, not be overlooked that only with the help of thinking am I able to determine myself as subject and contrast myself with objects. Therefore thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking lies beyond subject and object. It produces these two concepts just as it produces all others. When, therefore, I, as thinking subject, refer a concept to an object, we must not regard this reference as something purely subjective. It is not the subject that makes the reference, but thinking. The subject does not think because it is a subject; rather it appears to itself as subject because it can think. The activity exercised by man as a thinking being is thus not merely subjective. Rather is it something neither subjective nor objective, that transcends both these concepts. I ought never to say that my individual subject thinks, but much more that my individual subject lives by the grace of thinking. Thinking is thus an element which leads me out beyond myself and connects me with the objects. But at the same time it separates me from them, inasmuch as it sets me, as subject, over against them.

It is just this which constitutes the double nature of man. He thinks, and thereby embraces both himself and the rest of the world. But at the same time it is by means of thinking that he determines himself as an individual confronting the things.

We must next ask ourselves how that other element, which we have so far simply called the object of observation and which meets the thinking in our consciousness, comes into our consciousness at all.

In order to answer this question we must eliminate from our field of observation everything that has been imported by thinking. For at any moment the content of our consciousness will already be interwoven with concepts in the most varied ways.

We must imagine that a being with fully developed human intelligence originates out of nothing and confronts the world. What it would be aware of, before it sets its thinking in motion, would be the pure content of observation. The world would then appear to this being as nothing but a mere disconnected aggregate of objects of sensation: colors, sounds, sensations of pressure, of warmth, of taste and smell; also feelings of pleasure and pain. This aggregate is the content of pure, unthinking observation. Over against it stands thinking, ready to begin its activity as soon as a point of attack presents itself. Experience shows at once that this does happen. Thinking is able to draw threads from one element of observation to another. It links definite concepts with these elements and thereby establishes a relationship between them. We have already seen how a noise which we hear becomes connected with another observation by our identifying the former as the effect of the latter.

If now we recollect that the activity of thinking is on no account to be considered as merely subjective, then we shall also not be tempted to believe that the relationships thus established by thinking have merely subjective validity.

Our next task is to discover by means of thoughtful reflection what relation the immediately given content of observation mentioned above has to the conscious subject.

The ambiguity of current speech makes it necessary for me to come to an agreement with my readers concerning the use of a word which I shall have to employ in what follows. I shall apply the word “percept” to the immediate objects of sensation enumerated above, in so far as the conscious subject apprehends them through observation. It is, then, not the process of observation but the object of observation which I call the “percept”.

I do not choose the term “sensation”, since this has a definite meaning in physiology which is narrower than that of my concept of “percept”. I can speak of a feeling in myself (emotion) as percept, but not as sensation in the physiological sense of the term. Even my feeling becomes known to me by becoming a percept for me. And the way in which we gain knowledge of our thinking through observation is such that thinking too, in its first appearance for our consciousness, may be called a percept.

The naïve man regards his percepts, such as they appear to his immediate apprehension, as things having an existence wholly independent of him. When he sees a tree he believes in the first instance that it stands in the form which he sees, with the colors of its various parts, and so on, there on the spot towards which his gaze is directed. When the same man sees the sun in the morning appear as a disc on the horizon, and follows the course of this disc, he believes that all this actually exists and happens just as he observes it. To this belief he clings until he meets with further percepts which contradict his former ones. The child who as yet has no experience of distance grasps at the moon, and only corrects its picture of the reality, based on first impressions, when a second percept contradicts the first. Every extension of the circle of my percepts compels me to correct my picture of the world. We see this in everyday life, as well as in the spiritual development of mankind. The picture which the ancients made for themselves of the relation of the earth to the sun and other heavenly bodies had to be replaced by another when Copernicus found that it was not in accordance with some percepts, which in those early days were unknown. A man who had been born blind said, when operated on by Dr. Franz, that the picture of the size of objects which he had formed by his sense of touch before his operation, was a very different one. He had to correct his tactual percepts by his visual percepts.

How is it that we are compelled to make these continual corrections to our observations?

A simple reflection gives the answer to this question. When I stand at one end of an avenue, the trees at the other end, away from me, seem smaller and nearer together than those where I stand. My percept-picture changes when I change the place from which I am looking. Therefore the form in which it presents itself to me is dependent on a condition which is due not to the object but to me, the perceiver. It is all the same to the avenue wherever I stand. But the picture I have of it depends essentially on just this viewpoint. In the same way, it makes no difference to the sun and the planetary system that human beings happen to look at them from the earth; but the percept-picture of the heavens presented to them is determined by the fact that they inhabit the earth. This dependence of our percept-picture on our place of observation is the easiest one to understand. The matter becomes more difficult when we realize how our world of percepts is dependent on our bodily and spiritual organization. The physicist shows us that within the space in which we hear a sound there are vibrations of the air, and also that the body in which we seek the origin of the sound exhibits a vibrating movement of its parts. We perceive this movement as sound only if we have a normally constructed ear. Without this the world would be for ever silent for us. Physiology tells us that there are people who perceive nothing of the magnificent splendor of color which surrounds us. Their percept-picture has only degrees of light and dark. Others are blind only to one color, for example, red. Their world picture lacks this hue, and hence it is actually a different one from that of the average man. I should like to call the dependence of my percept-picture on my place of observation, “mathematical”, and its dependence on my organization, “qualitative”. The former determines the proportions of size and mutual distances of my percepts, the latter their quality. The fact that I see a red surface as red — this qualitative determination — depends on the organization of my eye.

My percept-pictures, then, are in the first instance subjective. The recognition of the subjective character of our percepts may easily lead us to doubt whether there is any objective basis for them at all. When we realize that a percept, for example that of a red color or of a certain tone, is not possible without a specific structure of our organism, we may easily be led to believe that it has no permanency apart from our subjective organization and that, were it not for our act of perceiving it as an object, it would not exist in any sense. The classical representative of this view is George Berkeley, who held that from the moment we realize the importance of the subject for perception, we are no longer able to believe in the existence of a world without a conscious Spirit.

Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind that man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, to wit, that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known; that, consequently, so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some Eternal Spirit. (see fn 2)

On this view, when we take away the fact of its being perceived, nothing remains of the percept. There is no color when none is seen, no sound when none is heard. Extension, form, and motion exist as little as color and sound apart from the act of perception. Nowhere do we see bare extension or shape, but these are always bound up with color or some other quality unquestionably dependent upon our subjectivity. If these latter disappear when we cease to perceive them, then the former, being bound up with them, must disappear likewise.

To the objection that there must be things that exist apart from consciousness and to which the conscious percept-pictures are similar, even though figure, color, sound, and so on, have no existence except within the act of perceiving, the above view would answer that a color can be similar only to a color, a figure only to a figure. Our percepts can be similar only to our percepts and to nothing else. Even what we call an object is nothing but a collection of percepts which are connected in a particular way. If I strip a table of its shape, extension, color, etc. — in short, of all that is merely my percept — then nothing remains over. This view, followed up logically, leads to the assertion that the objects of my perceptions exist only through me, and indeed only in as far as, and as long as, I perceive them; they disappear with my perceiving and have no meaning apart from it. Apart from my percepts, I know of no objects and cannot know of any.

No objection can be made to this assertion as long as I am merely referring to the general fact that the percept is partly determined by the organization of myself as subject. The matter would appear very different if we were in a position to say just what part is played by our perceiving in the bringing forth of a percept. We should then know what happens to a percept while it is being perceived, and we should also be able to determine what character it must already possess before it comes to be perceived.

This leads us to turn our attention from the object of perception to the subject of perception. I perceive not only other things, but also myself. The percept of myself contains, to begin with, the fact that I am the stable element in contrast to the continual coming and going of the percept-pictures. The percept of my “I” can always come up in my consciousness while I am having other percepts. When I am absorbed in the perception of a given object I am for the time being aware only of this object. To this the percept of my self can be added. I am then conscious not only of the object but also of my own personality which confronts the object and observes it. I do not merely see a tree, but I also know that it is I who am seeing it. I know, moreover, that something happens in me while I am observing the tree. When the tree disappears from my field of vision, an after-effect of this process remains in my consciousness — a picture of the tree. This picture has become associated with my self during my observation. My self has become enriched; its content has absorbed a new element. This element I call my mental picture of the tree. I should never have occasion to speak of mental pictures did I not experience them in the percept of my own self. Percepts would come and go; I should let them slip by. Only because I perceive my self, and observe that with each percept the content of my self, too, is changed, am I compelled to connect the observation of the object with the changes in my own condition, and to speak of my mental picture.

I perceive the mental picture in my self in the same sense as I perceive color, sound, etc., in other objects. I am now also able to distinguish these other objects that confront me, by calling them the outer world, whereas the content of my percept of my self I call my inner world. The failure to recognize the true relationship between mental picture and object has led to the greatest misunderstandings in modern philosophy. The perception of a change in me, the modification my self undergoes, has been thrust into the foreground, while the object which causes this modification is lost sight of altogether. It has been said that we perceive not objects but only our mental pictures. I know, so it is said, nothing of the table in itself, which is the object of my observation, but only of the change which occurs within me while I am perceiving the table. This view should not be confused with the Berkeleyan theory mentioned above. Berkeley maintains the subjective nature of the content of my percepts, but he does not say that my knowledge is limited to my mental pictures. He limits my knowledge to my mental pictures because, in his opinion, there are no objects apart from mental picturing. What I take to be a table no longer exists, according to Berkeley, when I cease to look at it. This is why Berkeley holds that my percepts arise directly through the omnipotence of God. I see a table because God calls up this percept in me. For Berkeley, therefore, there are no real beings other than God and human spirits. What we call the “world” exists only in these spirits. What the naïve man calls the outer world, or corporeal nature, is for Berkeley non-existent. This theory is confronted by the now predominant Kantian view which limits our knowledge of the world to our mental pictures, not because it is convinced that things cannot exist beyond these mental pictures, but because it believes us to be so organized that we can experience only the changes of our own selves, but not the things-in-themselves that cause these changes. This view concludes from the fact that I know only my mental pictures, not that there is no reality independent of them, but only that the subject cannot directly assimilate such reality. The subject can merely, “through the medium of its subjective thoughts, imagine it, invent it, think it, cognize it, or perhaps even fail to cognize it.” (see fn 3) This (Kantian) conception believes it gives expression to something absolutely certain, something which is immediately evident, requiring no proof.

The first fundamental proposition which the philosopher must bring to clear consciousness is the recognition that our knowledge, to begin with, is limited to our mental pictures. Our mental pictures are the only things that we know directly, experience directly; and just because we have direct experience of them, even the most radical doubt cannot rob us of our knowledge of them. On the other hand, the knowledge which goes beyond my mental pictures — taking mental pictures here in the widest possible sense, so as to include all psychical processes — is not proof against doubt. Hence, at the very beginning of all philosophizing we must explicitly set down all knowledge which goes beyond mental pictures as being open to doubt.

These are the opening sentences of Volkelt's book on Immanuel Kant's Theory of Knowledge. What is here put forward as an immediate and self-evident truth is in reality the result of a thought operation which runs as follows: The naïve man believes that things, just as we perceive them, exist also outside our consciousness. Physics, physiology, and psychology, however, seem to teach us that for our percepts our organization is necessary, and that therefore we cannot know anything about external objects except what our organization transmits to us. Our percepts are thus modifications of our organization, not things-in-themselves. This train of thought has in fact been characterized by Eduard von Hartmann as the one which must lead to the conviction that we can have direct knowledge only of our mental pictures. (see fn 4) Because, outside our organism, we find vibrations of physical bodies and of the air which are perceived by us as sound, it is concluded that what we call sound is nothing more than a subjective reaction of our organism to these motions in the external world. Similarly, it is concluded that color and warmth are merely modifications of our organism. And, further, these two kinds of percepts are held to be produced in us through processes in the external world which are utterly different from what we experience as warmth or as color. When these processes stimulate the nerves in my skin, I have the subjective percept of warmth; when they stimulate the optic nerve, I perceive light and color. Light, color, and warmth, then, are the responses of my sensory nerves to external stimuli. Even the sense of touch reveals to me, not the objects of the outer world, but only states of my own body. In the sense of modern physics one could somehow think that bodies consist of infinitely small particles called molecules, and that these molecules are not in direct contact, but are at certain distances from one another. Between them, therefore, is empty space. Across this space they act on one another by forces of attraction and repulsion. If I put my hand on a body, the molecules of my hand by no means touch those of the body directly, but there remains a certain distance between body and hand, and what I experience as the body's resistance is nothing but the effect of the force of repulsion which its molecules exert on my hand. I am absolutely external to the body and perceive only its effects on my organism.

In amplification of this discussion, there is the theory of the so-called Specific Nerve Energies, advanced by J. Müller (1801–1858). It asserts that each sense has the peculiarity that it responds to all external stimuli in one particular way only. If the optic nerve is stimulated, perception of light results, irrespective of whether the stimulation is due to what we call light, or whether mechanical pressure or an electric current works upon the nerve. On the other hand, the same external stimulus applied to different senses gives rise to different percepts. The conclusion from these facts seems to be that our senses can transmit only what occurs in themselves, but nothing of the external world. They determine our percepts, each according to its own nature.

Physiology shows that there can be no direct knowledge even of the effects which objects produce on our sense organs. Through following up the processes which occur in our own bodies, the physiologist finds that, even in the sense organs, the effects of the external movement are transformed in the most manifold ways. We can see this most clearly in the case of eye and ear. Both are very complicated organs which modify the external stimulus considerably before they conduct it to the corresponding nerve. From the peripheral end of the nerve the already modified stimulus is then conducted to the brain. Only now can the central organs be stimulated. Therefore it is concluded that the external process undergoes a series of transformations before it reaches consciousness. What goes on in the brain is connected by so many intermediate links with the external process, that any similarity to the latter is out of the question. What the brain ultimately transmits to the soul is neither external processes, nor processes in the sense organs, but only such as occur in the brain. But even these are not perceived directly by the soul. What we finally have in consciousness are not brain processes at all, but sensations. My sensation of red has absolutely no similarity to the process which occurs in the brain when I sense red. The redness, again, only appears as an effect in the soul, and the brain process is merely its cause. This is why Hartmann says, “What the subject perceives, therefore, are always only modifications of his own psychical states and nothing else.” (see fn 5) When I have the sensations, however, they are as yet very far from being grouped into what I perceive as “things”. Only single sensations can be transmitted to me by the brain. The sensations of hardness and softness are transmitted to me by the sense of touch, those of color and light by the sense of sight. Yet all these are to be found united in one and the same object. This unification, therefore, can only be brought about by the soul itself; that is, the soul combines the separate sensations, mediated through the brain, into bodies. My brain conveys to me singly, and by widely different paths, the visual, tactile, and auditory sensations which the soul then combines into the mental picture of a trumpet. It is just this very last link in a process (the mental picture of the trumpet) which for my consciousness is the very first thing that is given. In it nothing can any longer be found of what exists outside me and originally made an impression on my senses. The external object has been entirely lost on the way to the brain and through the brain to the soul.

It would be hard to find in the history of human culture another edifice of thought which has been built up with greater ingenuity, and which yet, on closer analysis, collapses into nothing. Let us look a little closer at the way it has been constructed. One starts with what is given in naïve consciousness, with the thing as perceived. Then one shows that none of the qualities which we find in this thing would exist for us had we no sense organs. No eye — no color. Therefore the color is not yet present in that which affects the eye. It arises first through the interaction of the eye and the object. The latter is, therefore, colorless. But neither is the color in the eye, for in the eye there is only a chemical or physical process which is first conducted by the optic nerve to the brain, and there initiates another process. Even this is not yet the color. That is only produced in the soul by means of the brain process. Even then it does not yet enter my consciousness, but is first transferred by the soul to a body in the external world. There, upon this body, I finally believe myself to perceive it. We have traveled in a complete circle. We became conscious of a colored body. That is the first thing. Here the thought operation starts. If I had no eye, the body would be, for me, colorless. I cannot therefore attribute the color to the body. I start on the search for it. I look for it in the eye — in vain; in the nerve — in vain; in the brain — in vain once more; in the soul — here I find it indeed, but not attached to the body. I find the colored body again only on returning to my starting point. The circle is completed. I believe that I am cognizing as a product of my soul that which the naïve man regards as existing outside him, in space.

As long as one stops here everything seems to fit beautifully. But we must go over the whole thing again from the beginning. Hitherto I have been dealing with something — the external percept — of which, from my naïve standpoint, I have had until now a totally wrong conception. I thought that the percept, just as I perceive it, had objective existence. But now I observe that it disappears together with my mental picture, that it is only a modification of my inner state of soul. Have I, then, any right at all to start from it in my arguments? Can I say of it that it acts on my soul? I must henceforth treat the table, of which formerly I believed that it acted on me and produced a mental picture of itself in me, as itself a mental picture. But from this it follows logically that my sense organs and the processes in them are also merely subjective. I have no right to speak of a real eye but only of my mental picture of the eye. Exactly the same is true of the nerve paths, and the brain process, and no less of the process in the soul itself, through which things are supposed to be built up out of the chaos of manifold sensations. If, assuming the truth of the first circle of argumentation, I run through the steps of my act of cognition once more, the latter reveals itself as a tissue of mental pictures which, as such, cannot act on one another. I cannot say that my mental picture of the object acts on my mental picture of the eye, and that from this interaction my mental picture of color results. Nor is it necessary that I should say this. For as soon as I see clearly that my sense organs and their activity, my nerve and soul processes, can also be known to me only through perception, the train of thought which I have outlined reveals itself in its full absurdity. It is quite true that I can have no percept without the corresponding sense organ. But just as little can I be aware of a sense organ without perception. From the percept of a table I can pass to the eye which sees it, or the nerves in the skin which touch it, but what takes place in these I can, in turn, learn only from perception. And then I soon notice that there is no trace of similarity between the process which takes place in the eye and the color which I perceive. I cannot eliminate my color percept by pointing to the process which takes place in the eye during this perception. No more can I rediscover the color in the nerve or brain processes. I only add new percepts, localized within the organism, to the first percept, which the naïve man localizes outside his organism. I merely pass from one percept to another.

Moreover there is a gap in the whole argument. I can follow the processes in my organism up to those in my brain, even though my assumptions become more and more hypothetical as I approach the central processes of the brain. The path of external observation ceases with the process in my brain, more particularly with the process which I should observe if I could deal with the brain using the instruments and methods of physics and chemistry. The path of inner observation begins with the sensation, and continues up to the building of things out of the material of sensation. At the point of transition from brain process to sensation, the path of observation is interrupted.

The way of thinking here described, known as critical idealism, in contrast to the standpoint of naïve consciousness known as naïve realism, makes the mistake of characterizing the one percept as mental picture while taking the other in the very same sense as does the naïve realism which it apparently refutes. It wants to prove that percepts have the character of mental pictures by naïvely accepting the percepts connected with one's own organism as objectively valid facts; and over and above this, it fails to see that it confuses two spheres of observation, between which it can find no connection.

Critical idealism can refute naïve realism only by itself assuming, in naïve-realistic fashion, that one's own organism has objective existence. As soon as the idealist realizes that the percepts connected with his own organism are exactly of the same nature as those which naïve realism assumes to have objective existence, he can no longer use those percepts as a safe foundation for his theory. He would have to regard even his own subjective organization as a mere complex of mental pictures. But this removes the possibility of regarding the content of the perceived world as a product of our spiritual organization. One would have to assume that the mental picture “color” was only a modification of the mental picture “eye”. So-called critical idealism cannot be proved without borrowing from naïve realism. Naive realism can be refuted only if, in another sphere, its own assumptions are accepted without proof as being valid.

This much, then, is certain: Investigation within the world of percepts cannot establish critical idealism, and consequently, cannot strip percepts of their objective character.

Still less can the principle “the perceived world is my mental picture” be claimed as obvious and needing no proof. Schopenhauer begins his chief work (see fn 6) with the words:

The world is my mental picture — this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and cognizes, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness. If he really does this, he has attained to philosophical discretion. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he knows no sun and no earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world which surrounds him is there only as mental picture, that is, only in relation to something else, to the one who pictures it, which is he himself. If any truth can be asserted a priori, it is this one, for it is the expression of that form of all possible and thinkable experience which is more universal than all others, than time, space, or causality, for all these presuppose it ...

This whole theory is wrecked by the fact, already mentioned, that the eye and the hand are percepts no less than the sun and the earth. Using Schopenhauer's expressions in his own sense, we could reply: My eye that sees the sun, my hand that feels the earth, are my mental pictures just as much as the sun and the earth themselves. That with this the whole theory cancels itself, is clear without further argument. For only my real eye and my real hand could have the mental pictures “sun” and “earth” as modifications of themselves; the mental pictures “eye” and “hand” cannot have them. Yet it is only of these mental pictures that critical idealism is allowed to speak.

Critical idealism is totally unfitted to form an opinion about the relationship between percept and mental picture. It cannot begin to make the distinction, mentioned above, between what happens to the percept in the process of perception and what must be inherent in it prior to perception. We must, therefore, tackle this problem in another way.



1. First Principles, Part I, 23.

2. Berkeley Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I, Section 6.

3. O. Liebmann, Zur Analysis der Wirklichkeit, p 28.

4. See his Das Grundproblem der Erkenntnistheorie, pp. 16–40.

5. Das Grundproblem der Erkenntnistheorie, pp. 37.

6. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

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CHAPTER FIVE: The Act of Knowing the World

FROM the foregoing considerations it follows that it is impossible to prove by investigating the content of our observation that our percepts are mental pictures. Such proof is supposed to be established by showing that, if the process of perceiving takes place in the way in which — on the basis of naïve-realistic assumptions about our psychological and physiological constitution — we imagine that it does, then we have to do, not with things in themselves, but only with our mental pictures of things. Now if naïve realism, when consistently thought out, leads to results which directly contradict its presuppositions, then these presuppositions must be discarded as unsuitable for the foundation of a universal philosophy. In any case, it is not permissible to reject the presuppositions and yet accept the consequences, as the critical idealist does when he bases his assertion that the world is my mental picture on the line of argument already described. (Eduard von Hartmann gives a full account of this line of argument in his work, Das Grundproblem der Erkenntnistheorie.)

The truth of critical idealism is one thing, the force of its proof another. How it stands with the former will appear later on in the course of this book, but the force of its proof is exactly nil. If one builds a house, and the ground floor collapses while the first floor is being built, then the first floor collapses also. Naïve realism and critical idealism is related as ground floor to the first floor in this simile.

For someone who believes that the whole perceived world is only an imagined one, a mental picture, and is in fact the effect upon my soul of things unknown to me, the real problem of knowledge is naturally concerned not with the mental pictures present only in the soul but with the things which are independent of us and which lie outside our consciousness. He asks: How much can we learn about these things indirectly, seeing that we cannot observe them directly? From this point of view, he is concerned not with the inner connection of his conscious percepts with one another but with their causes which transcend his consciousness and exist independently of him, since the percepts, in his opinion, disappear as soon as he turns his senses away from things. Our consciousness, on this view, works like a mirror from which the pictures of definite things disappear the moment its reflecting surface is not turned toward them. If, now, we do not see the things themselves but only their reflections, then we must learn indirectly about the nature of things by drawing conclusions from the behavior of the reflections. Modern science takes this attitude in that it uses percepts only as a last resort in obtaining information about the processes of matter which lie behind them, and which alone really “are.” If the philosopher, as critical idealist, admits real existence at all, then his search for knowledge through the medium of mental pictures is directed solely toward this existence. His interest skips over the subjective world of mental pictures and goes straight for what produces these pictures.

The critical idealist can, however, go even further and say: I am confined to the world of my mental pictures and [cannot] escape from it. If I think of a thing as being behind my mental picture, then thought is again nothing but a mental picture. An idealist of this type will either deny the thing-in-itself entirely or at any rate assert that it has no significance for human beings, in other words, that it is as good as non-existent since we can know nothing of it.

To this kind of critical idealist the whole world seems a dream, in the face of which all striving for knowledge is simply meaningless. For him there can be only two sorts of men: victims of the illusion that their own dream structures are real things, and the wise ones who see through the nothingness of this dream world and who must therefore gradually lose all desire to trouble themselves further about it. From this point of view, even one's own personality may become a mere dream phantom. Just as during sleep there appears among my dream images an image of myself, so in waking consciousness the mental picture of my own I is added to the mental picture of the outer world. We have then given to us in consciousness, not our real I, but only our mental picture of our I. Whoever denies that things exist, or at least that we can know anything of them, must also deny the existence, or at least the knowledge, of one's own personality. The critical idealist then comes to the conclusion that “All reality resolves itself into a wonderful dream, without a life which is dreamed about, and without a spirit which is having the dream; into a dream which hangs together in a dream of itself.” (see fn 1)

For the person who believes that he recognizes our immediate life to be a dream, it is immaterial whether he postulates nothing more behind this dream or whether he relates his mental pictures to actual things. In both cases life must lose all academic interest for him. But whereas all learning must be meaningless for those who believe that the whole of the accessible universe is exhausted in dreams, yet for others who feel entitled to argue from mental pictures to things, learning will consist in the investigation of these “things-in-themselves.” The first of these theories may be called absolute illusionism, the second is called transcendental realism by its most rigorously logical exponent, Eduard von Hartmann. (see fn 2)

Both these points of views have this in common with naïve realism, that they seek to gain a footing in the world by means of an investigation of perceptions. Within this sphere, however, they are unable to find a firm foundation.

One of the most important questions for an adherent of transcendental realism would have to be: How does the Ego produce the world of mental pictures out of itself? A world of mental pictures which was given to us, and which disappeared as soon as we shut our senses to the external world, might kindle as earnest desire for knowledge, in so far as it was a means of investigating indirectly the world of the I-in-itself. If the things of our experience were “mental pictures”, then our everyday life would be like a dream, and the discovery of the true state of affairs would be like waking. Now our dream images interest us as long as we dream and consequently do not detect their dream character. But as soon as we wake, we no longer look for the inner connections of our dream images among themselves, but rather for the physical, physiological and psychological processes which underlie them. In the same way, a philosopher who holds the world to be his mental picture cannot be interested in the mutual relations of the details within the picture. If he allows for the existence of a real Ego at all, then his question will be, not how one of his mental pictures is linked with another, but what takes place in the independently existing soul while a certain train of mental pictures passes through his consciousness. If I dream that I am drinking wine which makes my throat dry, and then wake up with a cough (see fn 3), I cease, the moment I wake, to be interested in progress of the dream for its own sake. My attention is now concerned only with the physiological and psychological processes by means of which the irritation which causes me to cough comes to be symbolically expressed in the dream picture. Similarly, once the philosopher is convinced that the given world consists of nothing but mental pictures, his interest is bound to switch at once from this world to the real soul which lies behind. The matter is more serious, however, for the adherent of illusionism who denies altogether the existence of an Ego-in-itself behind the mental pictures, or at least holds this Ego to be unknowable. We might very easily be led to such a view by the observation that, in contrast to dreaming, there is indeed the waking state in which we have the opportunity of seeing through our dreams and referring them to the real relations of things, but that there is no state of the self which is related similarly to our waking conscious life. Whoever takes this view fails to see that there is, in fact, something which is related to mere perceiving in the way that our waking experience is related to our dreaming. This something is thinking.

The naïve man cannot be charged with the lack of insight referred to here. He accepts life as it is, and regards things as real just as they present themselves to him in experience. The first step, however, which we take beyond this standpoint can be only this, that we ask how thinking is related to percept. It makes no difference whether or no the percept, in the shape given to me, exists continuously before and after my forming a mental picture; if I want to assert anything whatever about it, I can do so only with the help of thinking. If I assert that the world is my mental picture, I have enunciated the result of an act of thinking. and if my thinking is not applicable to the world, then this result is false. Between a percept and every kind of assertion about it there intervenes thinking.

The reason why we generally overlook thinking in our consideration of things has already been given (see Chapter 3). It lies in the fact that our attention is concentrated only on the object we are thinking about, but not at the same time on the thinking itself. The naïve consciousness, therefore, treats thinking as something which has nothing to do with things, but stands altogether aloof from them and contemplates them. The picture which the thinker makes of the phenomena of the world is regarded not as something belonging to the things but as existing only in the human head. The world is complete in itself without this picture. It is finished and complete with all its substances and forces, and of this ready-made world man makes a picture. Whoever thinks thus need only be asked one question. What right have you to declare the world to be complete without thinking? Does not the world produce thinking in the heads of men with the same necessity as it produces the blossom on a plant? Plant a seed in the earth. It puts forth root and stem, it unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Set the plant before yourself. It connects itself, in your mind, with a definite concept. Why should this concept belong any less to the whole plant than leaf and blossom? You say the leaves and blossoms exist quite apart from a perceiving subject, but the concept appears only when a human being confronts the plant. Quite so. But leaves and blossoms also appear on the plant only if there is soil in which the seed can be planted, and light and air in which the leaves and blossoms can unfold. Just so the concept of a plant arises when a thinking consciousness approaches the plant.

It is quite arbitrary to regard the sum of what we experience of a thing through bare perception as a totality, as the whole thing, while that which reveals itself through thoughtful contemplation is regarded as a mere accretion which has nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud today, the picture that offers itself to my perception is complete only for the moment. If I put the bud into water, I shall tomorrow get a very different picture of my object. If I watch the rosebud without interruption, I shall see today's state change continuously into tomorrow's through an infinite number of intermediate stages. The picture which presents itself to me at any one moment is only a chance cross-section of an object which is in a continual process of development. If I do not put the bud into water, a whole series of states which lay as possibilities within the bud will not develop. Similarly I may be prevented tomorrow from observing the blossom further, and will thereby have an incomplete picture of it.

It would be a quite unobjective and fortuitous kind of opinion that declared of the purely momentary appearance of a thing: this is the thing.

Just as little is it legitimate to regard the sum of perceptual characteristics as the thing. It might be quite possible for a spirit to receive the concept at the same time as, and united with, the percept. It would never occur to such a spirit that the concept did not belong to the thing. It would have to ascribe to the concept an existence indivisibly bound up with the thing.

I will make myself clearer by an example. If I throw a stone horizontally through the air, I perceive it in different places one after the other. I connect these places so as to form a line. Mathematics teaches me to know various kinds of lines, one of which is the parabola. I know the parabola to be a line which is produced when a point moves according to a particular law. If I examine the conditions under which the stone thrown by me moves, I find the path traversed is identical with the line I know as a parabola. That the stone moves just in a parabola is a result of the given conditions and follows necessarily from them. The form of the parabola belongs to the whole phenomenon as much as any other feature of it does. The spirit described above who has no need of the detour of thinking would find itself presented not only a sequence of visual percepts at different points but, as part and parcel of these phenomena, also with the parabolic form of the path which we add to the phenomenon only by thinking.

It is not due to the objects that they are given us at first without the corresponding concepts, but to our mental organization. Our whole being functions in such a way that from every real thing the relevant elements come to us from two sides, from perceiving and from thinking.

The way I am organized for apprehending the things has nothing to do with the nature of the things themselves. The gap between perceiving and thinking exists only from the moment that I as spectator confront the things. Which elements do, and which do not, belong to the things cannot depend at all on the manner in which I obtain my knowledge of these elements.

Man is a limited being. First of all, he is a being among other beings. His existence belongs to space and time. Thus, only a limited part of the total universe can be given him at any one time. This limited part, however, is linked up with other parts in all directions both in time and in space. If our existence were so linked up with the things that every occurrence in the world were at the same time also an occurrence in us, the distinction between ourselves and the things would not exist. But then there would be no separate things at all for us. All occurrences would pass continuously one into the other. The cosmos would be a unity and a whole, complete in itself. The stream of events would nowhere be interrupted. It is owing to our limitations that a thing appears to us as single and separate when in truth it is not a separate thing at all. Nowhere, for example, is the single quality “red” to be found by itself in isolation. It is surrounded on all sides by other qualities to which it belongs, and without which it could not subsist. For us, however, it is necessary to isolate certain sections of the world and to consider them by themselves. Our eye can grasp only single colors one after another out of a manifold totality of color, and our understanding, can grasp only single concepts out of a connected conceptual system. This separating off is a subjective act, which is due to the fact that we are not identical with the world process, but are a single being among other beings.

The all important thing now is to determine how the being that we ourselves are is related to the other entities. This determination must be distinguished from merely becoming conscious of ourselves. For this latter self-awareness we depend on perceiving just as we do for our awareness of any other thing. The perception of myself reveals to me a number of qualities which I combine into my personality as a whole, just as I combine the qualities yellow, metallic, hard, etc., in the unity “gold.” The perception of myself does not take me beyond the sphere of what belongs to me. This perceiving of myself must be distinguished from determining myself by means of thinking. Just as, by means of thinking, I fit any single external percept into the whole world context, so by means of thinking I integrate into the world process the percepts I have made of myself. My self-perception confines me within certain limits, but my thinking is not concerned with these limits. In this sense I am a two-sided being. I am enclosed within the sphere which I perceive as that of my personality, but I am also the bearer of an activity which, from a higher sphere, defines my limited existence. Our thinking is not individual like our sensing and feeling; it is universal. It receives an individual stamp in each separate human being only because it comes to be related to his individual feelings and sensations. By means of these particular colorings of the universal thinking, individual men differentiate themselves from one another. There is only one single concept of “triangle”. It is quite immaterial for the content of this concept whether it is grasped in A's consciousness or in B's. It will, however, be grasped by each of the two in his own individual way.

This thought is opposed by a common prejudice very hard to overcome. This prejudice prevents one from seeing that the concept of a triangle that my head grasps is the same as the concept that my neighbor's head grasps. The naïve man believes himself to be the creator of his concepts. Hence he believes that each person has his own concepts. It is a fundamental requirement of philosophic thinking that it should overcome this prejudice. The one uniform concept of “triangle” does not become a multiplicity because it is thought by many persons. For the thinking of the many is itself a unity.

In thinking, we have that element given us which welds our separate individuality into one whole with the cosmos. In so far as we sense and feel (and also perceive), we are single beings; in so far as we think, we are the all-one being that pervades everything. This is the deeper meaning of our two-sided nature: We see coming into being in us a force complete and absolute in itself, a force which is universal but which we learn to know, not as it issues from the center of the world, but rather at a point in the periphery. Were we to know it at its source, we should understand the whole riddle of the universe the moment we became conscious. But since we stand at a point in the periphery, and find that our own existence is bounded by definite limits, we must explore the region which lies outside our own being with the help of thinking, which projects into us from the universal world existence.

The fact that the thinking, in us, reaches out beyond our separate existence and relates itself to the universal world existence, gives rise to the fundamental desire for knowledge in us. Beings without thinking do not have this desire. When they are faced with other things, no questions arise for them. These other things remain external to such beings. But in thinking beings the concept rises up when they confront the external thing. It is that part of the thing which we receive not from outside but from within. To match up, to unite the two elements, inner and outer, is the task of knowledge.

The percept is thus not something finished and self-contained, but one side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of knowing is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only percept and concept together constitute the whole thing.

The foregoing arguments show that it is senseless to look for any common element in the separate entities of the world other than the ideal content that thinking offers us. All attempts to find a unity in the world other than this internally coherent ideal content, which we gain by a thoughtful contemplation of our percepts, are bound to fail. Neither a humanly personal God, nor force, nor matter, nor the blind will (Schopenhauer), can be valid for us as a universal world unity. All these entities belong only to limited spheres of our observation. Humanly limited personality we perceive only in ourselves; force and matter in external things. As far as the will is concerned, it can be regarded only as the expression of the activity of our finite personality. Schopenhauer wants to avoid making “abstract” thinking the bearer of unity in the world, and seeks instead something which presents itself to him immediately as real. This philosopher believes that we can never approach the world so long as we regard it as “external” world.

In point of fact, the sought for meaning of the world which confronts me is nothing more than mental picture, or the passage from the world as mere mental picture of the knowing subject to whatever it may be besides this, could never be found at all if the investigator himself were nothing more than the purely knowing subject (a winged cherub without a body). But he himself is rooted in that world: he finds himself in it as an individual, that is to say, his knowledge, which is the determining factor supporting the whole world as mental picture, is thus always given through the medium of a body, whose affections are, for the intellect, the starting point for the contemplation of that world, as we have shown. For the purely knowing subject as such, this body is a mental picture like any other, an object among objects; its movements and actions are so far known to him in precisely the same way as the changes of all other perceived objects, and would be just as strange and incomprehensible to him if their sense were not made clear for him in an entirely different way. ... To the subject of knowledge, who appears as an individual through his identity with the body, this body is given in two entirely different ways: once as a mental picture for intelligent consideration, as an object among objects and obeying their laws; but at the same time, in quite a different way, namely as the thing immediately known to everyone by the word will. Every true act of his will is at once and without exception also a movement of his body: he cannot will the act without at the same time perceiving that it appears as a movement of the body. The act of will and the action of the body are not two things objectively known to be different, which the bond of causality unites; they do not stand in the relation of cause and effect; they are one and the same, but they are given in two entirely different ways: once quite directly and once in contemplation for the intellect. (see fn 4)

Schopenhauer considers himself entitled by these arguments to find in the human body the “objectivity” of the will. He believes that in the activities of the body he feels an immediate reality — the thing-in-itself in the concrete. Against these arguments it must be said that the activities of our body come to our consciousness only through percepts of the self, and that, as such, they are in no way superior to other percepts. If we want to know their real nature, we can do so only by a thinking investigation, that is, by fitting them into the ideal system of our concepts and ideas.

Rooted most deeply in the naïve consciousness of mankind is the opinion that thinking is abstract, without any concrete content; it can at most give us an “ideal” counterpart of the unity of the world, but never the unity itself. Whoever judges in this way has never made it clear to himself what a percept without the concept really is. Let us see what this world of percepts is like: a mere juxtaposition in space, a mere succession in time, a mass of unconnected details — that is how it appears. None of the things which come and go on the stage of perception has any direct connection, that can be perceived, with any other. The world is thus a multiplicity of objects of equal value. None plays any greater part in the whole machinery of the world than any other. If it is to become clear to us that this or that fact has greater significance than another, we must consult our thinking. Were thinking not to function, the rudimentary organ of an animal which has no significance in its life would appear equal in value to the most important limb of its body. The separate facts appear in their true significance, both in themselves and for the rest of the world only when thinking spins its threads from one entity to another. This activity of thinking is one full of content. For it is only through a quite definite concrete content that I can know why the snail belongs to a lower level of organization than the lion. The mere appearance, the percept, gives me no content which could inform me as to the degree of perfection of the organization.

Thinking offers this content to the percept, from man's world of concepts and ideas. In contrast to the content of percept which is given to us from without, the content of thinking appears inwardly. The form in which this first makes its appearance we will call intuition. Intuition is for thinking what observation is for percept. Intuition and observation are the sources of our knowledge. An observed object of the world remains unintelligible to us until we have within ourselves the corresponding intuition which adds that part of reality which is lacking in the percept. To anyone who is incapable of finding intuitions corresponding to the things, the full reality remains inaccessible. Just as the color-blind person sees only differences of brightness without any color qualities, so can the person without intuition observe only unconnected perceptual fragments.

To explain a thing, to make it intelligible, means nothing else than to place it into the context from which it has been torn by the peculiar character of our organization as already described. A thing cut off from the world-whole does not exist. All isolating has only subjective validity for our organization. For us the universe divides itself up into above and below, before and after, cause and effect, thing and mental picture, matter and force, object and subject, etc. What appears to us in observation as separate parts becomes combined, bit by bit, through the coherent, unified world of our intuitions. By thinking we fit together again into one piece all that we have taken apart through perceiving.

The enigmatic character of an object consists in its separateness. But this separation is our own making and can, within the world of concepts, be overcome again.

Except through thinking and perceiving nothing is given to us directly. The question now arises: What is the significance of the percept, according to our line of argument? We have learnt that the proof which critical idealism offers of the subjective nature of perceptions collapses. But insight into the falsity of the proof is not alone sufficient to show that the doctrine itself is erroneous. Critical idealism does not base its proof on the absolute nature of thinking, but relies on the argument of naïve realism, which when followed to its logical conclusion, cancels itself out. How does the matter appear when we have recognized the absoluteness of thinking?

Let us assume that a certain perception, for example, red, appears in my consciousness. To continued observation, this percept shows itself to be connected with other percepts, for example, a definite figure and with certain temperature- and touch-percepts. This combination I call an object belonging to the sense-perceptible world. I can now ask myself: Over and above the percepts just mentioned, what else is there in the section of space in which they appear? I shall then find mechanical, chemical and other processes in that section of space. I next go further and study the processes I find on the way from the object to my sense organs. I can find movements in an elastic medium, which by their very nature have not the slightest in common with the percepts from which I started. I get the same result when I go on and examine the transmission from sense organs to brain. In each of these fields I gather new percepts, but the connecting medium which weaves through all these spatially and temporally separated percepts is thinking. The air vibrations which transmit sound are given to me as percepts just like the sound itself. Thinking alone links all these percepts to one another and shows them to us in their mutual relationship. We cannot speak of anything existing beyond what is directly perceived except what can be recognized through the ideal connections of percepts, that is, connections accessible to thinking). The way objects as percepts are related to the subject as percept — a relationship that goes beyond what is merely perceived — is therefore purely ideal, that is, it can be expressed only by means of concepts. Only if I could perceive how the percept object affects the percept subject, or, conversely, could watch the building up of the perceptual pattern by the subject, would it be possible to speak as modern physiology and the critical idealism based on it do. Their view confuses an ideal relation (that of the object to the subject) with a process which we could speak of only if it were possible to perceive it. The proposition, “No color without a color-sensing eye,” cannot be taken to mean that the eye produces the color, but only that an ideal relation, recognizable by thinking, subsists between the percept “color” and the percept “eye”. Empirical science will have to ascertain how the properties of the eye and those of the colors are related to one another, by what means the organ of sight transmits the perception of colors, and so forth. I can trace how one percept succeeds another in time and is related to others in space, and I can formulate these relations in conceptual terms, but I can never perceive how a percept originates out of the non-perceptible. All attempts to seek any relations between percepts other than thought relations must of necessity fail.

What, then is a percept? The question, asked in this general way, is absurd. A percept emerges always as something perfectly definite, as a concrete content. This content is directly given and is completely contained in what is given. The only question one can ask concerning the given content is what it is apart from perception, that is, what it is for thinking? The question concerning the “what” of a percept can, therefore, only refer to the conceptual intuition that corresponds to this percept. From this point of view, the question of the subjectivity of percepts, in the sense of critical idealism, cannot be raised at all. Only what is perceived as belonging to the subject can be termed “subjective.” To form a link between something subjective and something objective is impossible for any process that is “real” in the naïve sense, that is, one that can be perceived; it is possible only for thinking. Therefore what appears for our perception to be external to the percept of myself as subject is for us “objective”. The percept of myself as subject remains perceptible to me after the table which now stands before me has disappeared from my field of observation. The observation of the table has produced in me a modification which likewise persists. I retain the faculty to produce later on an image of the table. This faculty of producing an image remains connected with me. Psychology calls this image a memory-picture. It is in fact the only thing which can justifiably be called the mental picture of the table. For it corresponds to the perceptible modification of my own state through the presence of the table in my visual field. Moreover, it does not mean a modification of some “Ego-in-itself” standing behind the percept of the subject, but the modification of the perceptible subject itself. The mental picture is, therefore, a subjective percept, in contrast with the objective percept which occurs when the object is present in the field of vision. Confusing the subjective percept with the objective percept leads to the misconception contained in idealism — that the world is my mental picture.

Our next task must be to define the concept of “mental picture” more closely. What we have said about it so far does not give us the concept of it but only shows us whereabouts in the perceptual field the mental picture is to be found. The exact concept of mental picture will make it possible for us also to obtain a satisfactory explanation of the way that mental picture and object are related. This will then lead us over the border line where the relationship between the human subject and the object belonging to the world is brought down from the purely conceptual field of cognition into concrete individual life. Once we know what to make of the world, it will be a simple matter to direct ourselves accordingly. We can only act with full energy when we know what it is in the world to which we devote our activity.

Author's addition, 1918

The view I have outlined here may be regarded as one to which man is at first quite naturally driven when he begins to reflect upon his relation to the world. He then finds himself caught in a system of thoughts which dissolves for him as fast as he frames it. The thought formation is such that it requires something more than mere theoretical refutation. We have to live through it in order to understand the aberration into which it leads us and thence to find the way out. It must figure in any discussion of the relation of man to the world, not for the sake of refuting others whom one believes to be holding mistaken views about this relation, but because it is necessary to understand the confusion to which every first effort at reflection about such a relation is apt to lead. One needs to arrive at just that insight which will enable one to refute oneself with respect to these first reflections. This is the point of view from which the arguments of the preceding chapter are put forward.

Whoever tries to work out for himself a view of the relation of man to the world becomes aware of the fact that he creates this relation, at least in part, by forming mental pictures about the things and events in the world. In consequence, his attention is deflected from what exists outside in the world and is directed towards his inner world, the life of his mental pictures. He begins to say to himself: It is impossible for me to have a relationship to any thing or event unless a mental picture appears in me. Once we have noticed this fact, it is but a step to the opinion: After all, I experience only my mental pictures; I know of a world outside me only in so far as it is a mental picture in me. With this opinion, the standpoint of naïve realism, which man takes up prior to all reflection about his relation to the world, is abandoned. So long as he keeps that standpoint, he believes that he is dealing with real things, but reflection about himself drives him away from it. Reflection prevents him from turning his gaze towards a real world such as naïve consciousness believes it has before it. It allows him to gaze only upon his mental picture — these interpose themselves between his own being and a supposedly real world, such as the naïve point of view believes itself entitled to affirm. Man can no longer see such a real world through the intervening world of mental pictures. He must suppose that he is blind to this reality. Thus arises the thought of a “thing-in-itself” which is inaccessible to knowledge.

So long as we consider only the relationship to the world, into which man appears to enter through the life of his mental pictures, we cannot escape from this form of thought. Yet one cannot remain at the standpoint of naïve realism except by closing one's mind artificially to the craving for knowledge. The very existence of this craving for knowledge about the relation of man to the world shows that this naïve point of view must be abandoned. If the naïve point of view yielded anything we could acknowledge as truth, we could never experience this craving.

But we do not arrive at anything else which we could regard as truth if we merely abandon the naïve point of view while unconsciously retaining the type of thought which it necessitates. This is just the mistake made by the man who says to himself: “I experience only my mental pictures, and though I believe that I am dealing with realities, I am actually conscious only of my mental pictures of reality; I must therefore suppose that the true reality, the 'things-in-themselves', exist only beyond the horizon of my consciousness, that I know absolutely nothing of them directly, and that they somehow approach me and influence me so that my world of mental pictures arises in me.” Whoever thinks in this way is merely adding another world in his thoughts to the world already spread out before him. But with regard to this additional world, he ought strictly to begin his thinking activity all over again. For the unknown “thing-in-itself”, in its relation to man's own nature, is conceived in exactly the same way as is the known thing in the sense of naïve realism.

One only avoids the confusion into which one falls through the critical attitude based on this naïve standpoint, if one notices that, inside everything we can experience by means of perceiving, be it within ourselves or outside in the world, there is something which cannot suffer the fate of having a mental picture interpose itself between the process and the person observing it. This something is thinking. With regard to thinking, we can maintain the point of view of naïve realism. If we fail to do so, it is only because we have learnt that we must abandon it in the case of other things, but overlook that what we have found to be true for these other things does not apply to thinking. When we realize this, we open the way to the further insight that in thinking and through thinking man must recognize the very thing to which he has apparently blinded himself by having to interpose his life of mental pictures between the world and himself.

From a source greatly respected by the author of this book comes the objection that this discussion of thinking remains at the level of a naïve realism of thinking, just as one might object if someone held the real world and the world of mental pictures to be one and the same. However, the author believes himself to have shown in this very discussion that the validity of this “naïve realism” for thinking results inevitably from an unprejudiced observation of thinking; and that naïve realism, in so far as it is invalid for other things, is overcome through the recognition of the true nature of thinking.



1. See Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen.

2. Knowledge is called transcendental in the sense of this theory when it believes itself to be conscious that nothing can be asserted directly about the thing-in-itself, but makes indirect inferences from the subjective, which is known, to the unknown which lies beyond the subjective (transcendental). The thing-in-itself is, according to this view, beyond the sphere of the directly knowable world; in other words, it is transcendent. Our world can, however, be transcendentally related to the transcendent. Hartmann's theory is called realism because it proceeds from the subjective, the ideal, to the transcendent, the real.

3. See Weygandt, Entstehung der Träume, 1893.

4. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Book 2, par. 18.
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Re: The Philosophy of Freedom (The Philosophy of Spiritual A

Postby admin » Tue Feb 06, 2018 12:00 am

CHAPTER SIX: Human Individuality

IN explaining mental pictures, philosophers have found the chief difficulty in the fact that we ourselves are not the outer things, and yet our mental pictures must have a form corresponding to the things. But on closer inspection it turns out that this difficulty does not really exist. We certainly are not the external things, but we belong together with them to one and the same world. That section of the world which I perceive to be myself as subject is permeated by the stream of the universal cosmic process. To my perception I am, in the first instance, confined within the limits bounded by my skin. But all that is contained within this skin belongs to the cosmos as a whole. Hence, for a relation to subsist between my organism and an object external to me, it is by no means necessary that something of the object should slip into me, or make an impression on my mind, like a signet ring on wax. The question: “How do I get information about that tree ten feet away from me?” is utterly misleading. It springs from the view that the boundaries of my body are absolute barriers, through which information about things filters into me. The forces which are at work inside my body are the same as those which exist outside. Therefore I really am the things; not, however, “I” in so far as I am a percept of myself as subject, but “I” in so far as I am a part of the universal world process. The percept of the tree belongs to the same whole as my I. This universal world process produces equally the percept of the tree out there and the percept of my I in here. Were I not a world knower, but world creator, object and subject (percept and I) would originate in one act. For each implies the other. In so far as these are entities that belong together, I can as world knower discover the common element in both only through thinking, which relates one to the other by means of concepts.

The most difficult to drive from the field are the so-called physiological proofs of the subjectivity of our percepts. When I exert pressure on my skin I perceive it as a pressure sensation. This same pressure can be sensed as light by the eye, as sound by the ear. An electric shock is perceived by the eye as light, by the ear as noise, by the nerves of the skin as impact, and by the nose as a phosphoric smell. What follows from these facts? Only this: I perceive an electric shock (or a pressure, as the case may be) followed by an impression of light, or sound, or perhaps a certain smell, and so on. If there were no eye present, then no perception of light would accompany the perception of the mechanical disturbance in my environment; without the presence of the ear, no perception of sound, and so on. But what right have we to say that in the absence of sense organs the whole process would not exist at all? Those who, from the fact that an electrical process calls forth light in the eye, conclude that what we sense as light is only a mechanical process of motion when outside our organism, forget that they are only passing from one percept to another, and not at all to something lying beyond percepts. Just as we can say that the eye perceives a mechanical process of motion in its surroundings as light, so we could equally well say that a regular and systematic change in an object is perceived by us as a process of motion. If I draw twelve pictures of a horse on the circumference of a rotating disc, reproducing exactly the attitudes which the horse's body successively assumes when galloping, I can produce the illusion of movement by rotating the disc. I need only look through an opening in such a way that, in the proper intervals, I see the successive positions of the horse. I do not see twelve separate pictures of a horse but the picture of a single galloping horse.

The physiological fact mentioned above cannot therefore throw any light on the relation of percept to mental picture. We must go about it rather differently.

The moment a percept appears in my field of observation, thinking also becomes active through me. An element of my thought system, a definite intuition, a concept, connects itself with the percept. Then, when the percept disappears from my field of vision, what remains? My intuition, with the reference to the particular percept which it acquired in the moment of perceiving. The degree of vividness with which I can subsequently recall this reference depends on the manner in which my mental and bodily organism is working. A mental picture is nothing but an intuition related to a particular percept; it is a concept that was once connected with a certain percept, and which retains the reference to this percept. My concept of a lion is not formed out of my percepts of lions; but my mental picture of a lion is very definitely formed according to a percept. I can convey the concept of a lion to someone who has never seen a lion. I cannot convey to him a vivid mental picture without the help of his own perception.

Thus the mental picture is an individualized concept. And now we can see how real objects can be represented to us by mental pictures. The full reality of a thing is given to us in the moment of observation through the fitting together of concept and percept. By means of a percept, the concept acquires an individualized form, a relation to this particular percept. In this individualized form, which carries the reference to the percept as a characteristic feature, the concept lives on in us and constitutes the mental picture of the thing in question. If we come across a second thing with which the same concept connects itself, we recognize the second as belonging to the same kind as the first; if we come across the same thing a second time, we find in our conceptual system, not merely a corresponding concept, but the individualized concept with its characteristic relation to the same object, and thus we recognize the object again.

Thus the mental picture stands between percept and concept. It is the particularized concept which points to the percept.

The sum of those things about which I can form mental pictures may be called my total experience. The man who has the greater number of individualized concepts will be the man of richer experience. A man who lacks all power of intuition is not capable of acquiring experience. He loses the objects again when they disappear from his field of vision, because he lacks the concepts which he should bring into relation with them. A man whose faculty of thinking is well developed, but whose perception functions badly owing to his clumsy sense organs, will just as little be able to gather experience. He can, it is true, acquire concepts by one means or another; but his intuitions lack the vivid reference to definite things. The unthinking traveler and the scholar living in abstract conceptual systems are alike incapable of acquiring a rich sum of experience.

Reality shows itself to us as percept and concept; the subjective representative of this reality shows itself to us as mental picture.

If our personality expressed itself only in cognition, the totality of all that is objective would be given in percept, concept and mental picture.

However, we are not satisfied merely to refer the percept, by means of thinking, to the concept, but we relate them also to our particular subjectivity, our individual Ego. The expression of this individual relationship is feeling, which manifests itself as pleasure or displeasure.

Thinking and feeling correspond to the two-fold nature of our being to which reference has already been made. Thinking is the element through which we take part in the universal cosmic process; feeling is that through which we can withdraw ourselves into the narrow confines of our own being.

Our thinking links us to the world; our feeling leads us back into ourselves and thus makes us individuals. Were we merely thinking and perceiving beings, our whole life would flow along in monotonous indifference. Were we able merely to know ourselves as selves, we should be totally indifferent to ourselves. It is only because we experience self-feeling with self-knowledge, and pleasure and pain with the perception of objects, that we live as individual beings whose existence is not limited to the conceptual relations between us and the rest of the world, but who have besides this a special value for ourselves.

One might be tempted to see in the life of feeling an element that is more richly saturated with reality than is the contemplation of the world through thinking. But the reply to this is that the life of feeling, after all, has this richer meaning only for my individual self. For the universe as a whole my life of feeling can have value only if, as a percept of my self, the feeling enters into connection with a concept and in this roundabout way links itself to the cosmos.

Our life is a continual oscillation between living with the universal world process and being our own individual selves. The farther we ascend into the universal nature of thinking where in the end what is individual interests us only as an example or specimen of the concept, the more the character of the separate being, of the quite definite single personality, becomes lost in us. The farther we descend into the depths of our own life and allow our feelings to resound with our experiences of the outer world, the more we cut ourselves off from universal being. A true individuality will be the one who reaches up with his feelings to the farthest possible extent into the region of the ideal. There are men in whom even the most general ideas that enter their heads still bear that peculiar personal tinge which shows unmistakably the connection with their author. There are others whose concepts come before us without the least trace of individual character as if they had not been produced by a man of flesh and blood at all.

Making mental pictures gives our conceptual life at once an individual stamp. Each one of us has his own particular place from which he surveys the world. His concepts link themselves to his percepts. He thinks the general concepts in his own special way. This special determination results for each of us from the place where we stand in the world, from the range of percepts peculiar to our place in life.

Distinct from this determination is another which depends on our particular organization. Our organization is indeed a special, fully determined entity. Each of us combines special feelings, and these in the most varying degrees of intensity, with his percepts. This is just the individual element in the personality of each one of us. It is what remains over when we have allowed fully for all the determining factors in our surroundings.

A life of feeling, wholly devoid of thinking, would gradually lose all connection with the world. But man is meant to be a whole, and for him knowledge of things will go hand in hand with the development and education of the life of feeling.

Feeling is the means whereby, in the first instance, concepts gain concrete life.
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