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The Philosophy of Spiritual ActivityA Modern Philosophy of Life Develop by Scientific MethodsByRudolph Steiner
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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
A Modern Philosophy of Life Develop by Scientific Methods
Translator: R. F. Alfred Hoernle
PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION (1918)
THE THEORY OF FREEDOM
I. CONSCIOUS HUMAN ACTION
II. WHY THE DESIRE FOR KNOWLEDGE IS FUNDAMENTAL
III. THOUGHT AS THE INSTRUMENT OF KNOWLEDGE
IV. THE WORLD AS PERCEPT
V. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD
VI. HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY
VII. ARE THERE ANY LIMITS TO KNOWLEDGE?
THE REALITY OF FREEDOM
VIII. THE FACTORS OF LIFE
IX. THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
X. MONISM AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY
XI. WORLD-PURPOSE AND LIFE-PURPOSE
XII. MORAL IMAGINATION
XIII. THE VALUE OF LIFE
XIV. THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE GENUS
XV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF MONISM
TRUTH AND SCIENCE
I. PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
II. THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM OF KANT’S THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
III. THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE SINCE KANT
IV. THE STARTING-POINTS OF THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
V. KNOWLEDGE AND REALITY
VI. THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT PRESUPPOSITIONS VERSUS FICHTE’S THEORY OF SCIENCE
VII. CONCLUDING REMARKS: EPISTEMOLOGICAL
VIII. CONCLUDING REMARKS: PRACTICAL
The following pages are a translation of Dr. Steiner’s Philosophie der Freiheit, which was published in Germany some twenty years ago. The edition was soon exhausted, and has never been reprinted; copies are much sought after but very difficult to obtain.
The popularity of Dr. Steiner’s later works upon ethics, mysticism, and kindred subjects has caused people to forget his earlier work upon philosophy in spite of the fact that he makes frequent references to this book and it contains the germs of which many of his present views are the logical outcome. For the above reasons, and with the author’s sanction, I have decided to publish a translation.
I have had the good fortune to have been able to secure as joint translators Mrs. Hoernlé, who, after graduating in the University of the Cape of Good Hope, continued her studies in the Universities of Cambridge, Leipzig, Paris, and Bonn, and her husband, Mr. R. F. Alfred Hoernlé, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, U.S.A., formerly Jenkyns Exhibitioner, Balliol College, Oxford, 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.
I am glad to seize this opportunity of acknowledging my indebtedness to these two, without whom this publication could not have been undertaken.
EDITOR’S NOTE TO SECOND EDITION
In 1918 Dr. Steiner published a revised edition of the Philosophie der Freiheit. For the translation of the new passages added to, and of the incidental changes made in, this revised edition I am indebted to Mr. Hoernlé, now Professor of Philosophy in the Armstrong College (Newcastle-upon-Tyne), University of Durham.
At the author’s request I have changed the title to Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, and throughout the entire work “freedom” should be taken to mean “spiritual activity.”
Dr. Steiner’s Ph. D. Thesis on “Truth and Science,” originally published as a prelude to The Philosophy of Freedom, has, with his consent, been translated for this edition and been added at the end of this volume.
There are two fundamental problems in the life of the human mind, to one or other of which everything belongs that is to be discussed in this book. One of these problems concerns the possibility of attaining to such a view of the essential nature of man as will serve as a support for whatever else comes into his life by way of experience or of science, and yet is subject to the suspicion of having no support in itself and of being liable to be driven, by doubt and criticism, into the limbo of uncertainties. The other problem is this: Is man, as voluntary agent, entitled to attribute freedom to himself, or is freedom a mere illusion begotten of his inability to recognise the threads of necessity on which his volition, like any natural event, depends? It is no artificial tissue of theories which provokes this question. In a certain mood it presents itself quite naturally to the human mind. And it is easy to feel that a mind lacks something of its full stature which has never once confronted with the utmost seriousness of inquiry the two possibilities—freedom or necessity. This book is intended to show that the spiritual experiences which the second problem causes man to undergo, depend upon the position he is able to take up towards the first problem. An attempt will be made to prove that there is a view concerning the essential nature of man which can support the rest of knowledge; and, further, an attempt to point out how with this view we gain a complete justification for the idea of free will, provided only that we have first discovered that region of the mind in which free volition 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 mind 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 mere piece of memory-knowledge. Such an answer would, for the whole manner of thinking adopted in this book, be no real answer at all. The book will not give a finished and complete answer of this sort, but point to a field of spiritual experience in which man’s own inward spiritual activity supplies a living answer to these questions, as often as he needs one. Whoever has once discovered the region of the mind where these questions arise, will find precisely in his actual acquaintance with this region all that he needs for the solution of his two problems. With the knowledge thus acquired he may then, as desire or fate dictate, adventure further into the breadths and depths of this unfathomable life of ours. Thus it would appear that there is 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 mind.
This is how I conceived the contents of this book when I first wrote it twenty-five years ago. To-day, once again, I have to set down similar sentences if I am to characterise the leading thoughts of my book. At the original writing I contented myself with saying no more than was in the strictest sense connected with the fundamental problems which I have outlined. If anyone should be astonished at not finding in this book as yet any reference to that region of the world of spiritual experience of which I have given an account 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 Spiritual Activity contains no special results of this spiritual sort, as little as it contains special results of the natural sciences. But what it does contain is, in my judgment, indispensable for anyone who desires 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 finds something to attract him in my inquiries into the Spiritual Realm 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 problems which I have indicated and which are fundamental for all knowledge, leads to the view that man lives in the midst of a genuine Spiritual World. The aim of this book is to demonstrate, prior to our entry upon spiritual experience, that knowledge of the Spiritual World is a fact. This demonstration is so conducted that it is never necessary, in order to accept the present arguments, to cast furtive glances at the experiences on which I have dwelt in my later writings. All that is necessary is that the reader should be willing and able to adapt himself to the manner of the present discussions.
Thus it seems to me that in one sense this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on strictly spiritual matters. Yet in another sense it seems to be most intimately connected with them. These considerations have moved me now, after a lapse of twenty-five years, to re-publish the contents of this book in the main without essential alterations. I have only made additions of some length to a number of chapters. The misunderstandings of my argument with which I have met seemed to make these more detailed elaborations necessary. Actual changes of text have been made by me only where it seemed to me now that I had said clumsily what I meant to say a quarter of a century ago. (Only malice 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 theories 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 my doing as I could have wished. However, a survey, as thorough as I could make it, of the philosophical literature of the present day has convinced me that such a critical discussion, alluring though it would be in itself, would be out of place in the context of what my book has to say. All that, from the point of view of the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, it seemed to me necessary to say about recent philosophical tendencies may be found in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy.
Is man free in action and thought, or is he bound by an iron necessity? There are few questions on which so much ingenuity has been expended. The idea of freedom has found enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in plenty. There are those who, in their moral fervour, 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 thought. 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 determinism in nature of which man, after all, is a part. Others have been at no less pains 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 clear to every one whose most prominent trait of character is not the reverse of thoroughness. 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 (David Friedrich Strauss, Der alte und neue Glaube), 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 recognised as an empty illusion by every philosophy worthy of the name. The determination of the moral value of human conduct 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 only view to which the thought of the majority of our contemporaries is able to rise in this matter. Every one who has 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 quite 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, in fact, whose doctrines are gaining ground daily, says, “That every one is at liberty to desire or not to desire, which is the real proposition involved in the dogma of free will, is negatived as much by the analysis of consciousness, as by the contents of the preceding chapters” (The Principles of Psychology, Part IV, chap. ix, par. 219). 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 sophisticated arguments, so that it is difficult to recognise the straightforward train of thought which is alone in question. 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, e.g., God, though necessary, is free because he exists only through the necessity of his own nature. Similarly, God knows himself and all else as free, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature that he knows 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 impact 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, pray, assume that this stone during its motion thinks and knows that it is striving to the best of its power 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. Now this is that human freedom which 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 perceives 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.”
It is easy to detect the fundamental error of this view, because it is so clearly and definitely expressed. 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 cause. It is only because man is conscious of his action, that he thinks himself to be its originator. In doing so, he overlooks the fact that he is driven by a cause which he must obey unconditionally. The error in this train of thought is easily brought to light. 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 cause which guides him. Anyone can see that a child is not free when he desires milk, nor the drunken man when he says things which he later regrets. Neither knows anything of the causes, working deep within 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 their causes? 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 on the same level with that of the child when he desires milk? It is, no doubt, true that it is best to seek the solution of a problem where the conditions are simplest. But lack of ability to see distinctions has before now caused endless confusion. There is, after all, a profound difference between knowing the motive of my action 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 recognise and understand, 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, in his Phänomenologie des Sittlichen Bewusstseins (p. 451), asserts that the human will depends on two chief factors, the motives and the character. 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, viz., by the circumstances with which they come in contact. But if one bears in mind that men adopt an idea as the motive of their conduct, only if their character is such that this idea arouses a desire in them, then men appear as determined from within and not from without. Now, because an idea, given to us from without, must first in accordance with our characters be adopted as a motive, men believe that they are free, i.e., independent of external influences. The truth, however, according to Eduard von Hartmann, is that “even though we must first adopt an idea as a motive, we do so not arbitrarily, but according to the disposition of our characters, that is, we are anything but free.” Here again the difference between motives, which I allow to influence me only after I have consciously made them my own, 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 treated 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 conscious and unconscious motives of action, then the action in which the former issue should be judged differently from the action which springs from blind impulse. Hence our first question will concern this difference, and on the result of this inquiry will depend what attitude we ought to take up towards the question of freedom proper.
What does it mean to have knowledge of the motives of one’s actions? Too little attention has been paid to this question, because, unfortunately, man who is an indivisible whole has always been torn asunder by us. The agent has been divorced from the knower, whilst he who matters more than everything else, viz., the man who acts because he knows, has been utterly overlooked.
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 doing, a rational decision occurs in me with the same necessity with which hunger and thirst happen to me, then I must needs obey it, and my freedom is an illusion.
Another form of expression runs: to be free means, not that we can will what we will, but that we can do what we will. This thought has been expressed with great clearness by the poet-philosopher Robert Hamerling in his Atomistik des Willens. “Man can, it is true, do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills, because his will is determined by motives! He cannot will what he wills? Let us consider these phrases more closely. Have they any intelligible meaning? Does freedom of will, then, mean being able to will without ground, without motive? What does willing mean if not to have grounds for doing, or striving to do, this rather than that? To will anything without ground or motive would mean to will something without willing it. The concept of motive is indissolubly bound up with that of will. Without the determining motive the will is an empty faculty; it is the motive which makes it 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 to speak, in contrast with this ‘unfreedom,’ of a conceivable ‘freedom’ of the will, which would consist in being able to will what one does not will” (Atomistik des Willens, p. 213 ff.).
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 idea 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 impelled by a motive, but whether the only motives are such as impel me with absolute necessity. If I must will 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 will.
The question is, not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how I come to make the decision.
What distinguishes man from all other organic beings is his rational thought. Activity is common to him with other organisms. Nothing is gained by seeking analogies in the animal world to clear up the concept of freedom as applied to the actions of human beings. Modern science loves these analogies. When scientists have succeeded in finding among animals something similar to human behaviour, 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 Die Illusion der Willensfreiheit, by P. Ree, 1885, where, on Page 5, 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 cap of the ass…. The causal nexus is not visible and is 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.” Here again human actions in which there is a consciousness of the motives are simply ignored, for Ree declares, “that between us and the sphere of their activity there is the skull cap of the ass.” As these words show, it has not so much as dawned on Ree that there are actions, not indeed of the ass, but of human beings, in which the motive, become conscious, lies between us and the action. Ree 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 of the freedom of an action about the motives of which we reflect? This leads us to the question of the origin and meaning of thought. For without the recognition of the activity of mind which is called thought, it is impossible to understand what is meant either by knowledge of something or by action. When we know what thought in general means, it will be easier to see clearly the role which thought plays in human action. As Hegel rightly says, “It is thought which turns the soul, common to us and animals, into spirit.” Hence it is thought which we may expect to give to human action its characteristic stamp.
I do not mean to imply that all our actions spring only from the sober deliberations of our reason. I am very far from calling only those actions “human” in the highest sense, which proceed from abstract judgments. But as soon as our conduct rises above the sphere of the satisfaction of purely animal desires, our motives are always shaped by thoughts. Love, pity, and patriotism are motives of action which cannot be analysed away into cold concepts of the understanding. It is said that here the heart, the soul, hold sway. This is no doubt true. But the heart and the soul create no motives. They presuppose them. Pity enters my heart when the thought of a person who arouses pity had appeared 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 thoughts we form of the loved one. And the more we idealise the loved one in our thoughts, 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 the opposite view can be taken, namely that it is precisely for the good points that love opens the eyes. Many pass by these good points without notice. One, however, perceives them, and just because he does, love awakens in his soul. What else has he done except perceive what hundreds have failed to see? Love is not theirs, because they lack the perception.
From whatever point we regard the subject, it becomes more and more clear that the question of the nature of human action presupposes that of the origin of thought. I shall, therefore, turn next to this question.
Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
Die eine will sich von der andern trennen;
Die eine hält, in derber Liebeslust,
Sich an die Welt mit klammernden Organen;
Die andre hebt gewaltsam sich vom Dust
Zu den Gefilden hoher Ahnen.
Faust I, 1112–1117.
In these words Goethe expresses a trait which is deeply ingrained in human nature. Man is not a self-contained unity. He demands ever more than the world, of itself, offers him. Nature has endowed us with needs; among them are some the satisfaction of which she leaves to our own activity. However abundant the gifts which we have received, still more abundant are our desires. We seem born to dissatisfaction. And our desire for knowledge is but a special instance of this unsatisfied striving. Suppose 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, then in motion? Every glance at nature evokes in us a multitude of questions. Every phenomenon we meet presents a new problem to be solved. Every experience is to us a riddle. We observe that from the egg there emerges a creature like the mother animal, and we ask for the reason of the likeness. We observe a living being grow and develop to a determinate degree of perfection, and we seek the conditions of this experience. Nowhere are we satisfied with the facts which nature spreads out before our senses. Everywhere we seek what we call the explanation of these 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 opposition to the world. We oppose ourselves to the world as independent beings. The universe has for us two opposite poles: Self and World.
We erect this barrier between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness is first kindled 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 opposition, and ultimately the whole spiritual striving of mankind is nothing but the bridging of this opposition. The history of our spiritual life is a continuous seeking after union between ourselves and the world. Religion, Art, and Science follow, one and all, this goal. The religious man seeks in the revelation, which God grants him, the solution of the world problem, which his Self, dissatisfied with the world of mere phenomena, sets him as a task. The artist seeks to embody in his material the ideas which are his Self, that he may thus reconcile the spirit which lives within him and the outer world. He, too, feels dissatisfied with the world of mere appearances, and seeks to mould into it that something more which his Self supplies and which transcends appearances. The thinker searches for the laws of phenomena. He strives to master by thought what he experiences by observation. Only when we have transformed the world-content into our thought-content do we recapture the connection which we had ourselves broken off. We shall see later that this goal can be reached only if we penetrate much more deeply than is often done into the nature of the scientist’s problem. The whole situation, as I have here stated it, meets 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 the Self and the 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 Mind and Matter, now Subject and Object, now Thought and Appearance. The Dualist feels that there must be a bridge between the two worlds, but is not able to find it. In so far as man is aware of himself as “I,” he cannot but put down this “I” in thought on the side of Spirit; and in opposing to this “I” the world, he is bound to reckon on the world’s side the realm of percepts given to the senses, i.e., the Material World. In doing so, man assigns a position to himself within this very 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 as a part to the realm of Spirit; the material objects and processes which are perceived by the senses belong to the “World.” All the riddles which belong 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. The Dualist sees in Mind (Self) and Matter (World) two essentially different entities, and cannot therefore understand how they can interact with one another. How should Mind be aware of what goes on in Matter, seeing that the essential nature of Matter is quite alien to Mind? Or how in these circumstances should Mind act upon Matter, so as to translate its intentions into actions? The most absurd hypotheses have been propounded to answer these questions. However, up to the present the Monists are not in a much better position. They have tried three different ways of meeting the difficulty. Either they deny Mind and become Materialists; or they deny Matter in order to seek their salvation as Spiritualists; or they assert that, even in the simplest entities in the world, Mind 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 ipso facto confronted by two different sets of facts, viz., 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 ascribes mechanical, chemical, and organic processes to Nature, so he credits her 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. Instead of to himself he ascribes the power of thought to Matter. And thus he is back again at his starting-point. How does Matter come to think of its own nature? Why is it not simply satisfied with itself and content to accept its own existence? The Materialist has turned his attention away from the definite subject, his own self, and occupies himself with an indefinite shadowy somewhat. And here the old problem meets him again. The materialistic theory cannot solve the problem; it can only shift it to another place.
What of the Spiritualistic theory? The pure Spiritualist denies to Matter all independent existence and regards it merely as a product of Spirit. But when he tries to apply this theory to the solution of the riddle of his own human nature, he finds himself caught in a tight place. 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. It has to be perceived and experienced by the Ego with the help of material processes. Such material processes the Ego does not discover in itself, so long as it regards its own nature as exclusively spiritual. From all that it achieves by its own spiritual effort, the sensible world is ever excluded. It seems as if the Ego 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 acting, we have to translate our purposes into realities with the help of material things and forces. We are, therefore, dependent on the outer world. The most extreme Spiritualist, or, if you prefer it, Idealist, is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He attempts to deduce the whole edifice of the world from the “Ego.” What he has actually accomplished is a magnificent thought-picture of the world, without any empirical content. As little as it is possible for the Materialist to argue the Mina away, just as little is it possible for the Idealist to do without the outer world of Matter.
When man directs his theoretical reflection upon the Ego, he perceives, in the first instance, only the work of the Ego in the conceptual elaboration of the world of ideas. Hence a philosophy the direction of which is spiritualistic, may feel tempted, in view of 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-view in the circle of the activity of the Ego, as if it were bewitched.
A curious variant of Idealism is to be found in the theory which F. A. 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 thoughts, to be the product of purely material processes, but, in turn, 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 our thinking. Lange’s philosophy is thus nothing more than the philosophical analogon of the story of honest Baron Münchhausen, who holds himself up in the air by his own pigtail.
The third form of Monism is that which finds even in the simplest real (the atom) the union of both Matter and Mind. But nothing is gained by this either, except that the question, the origin of which is really in our consciousness, is shifted to another place. How comes it that the simple real 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 basal and fundamental opposition first in our own consciousness. It is we ourselves who break away from the bosom of Nature and contrast ourselves as Self with the World. Goethe has given classic expression to this in his essay Nature. “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: “Mankind is all in her, and she in all mankind.”
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 life which pulses also in us.
We must find the way back to her again. A simple reflection may point this way out to us. We have, it is true, torn ourselves away from Nature, but we must none the less have carried away something of her in our own selves. This quality of Nature in us we must seek out, and then we shall discover our connection with her once more. Dualism neglects to do this. It considers the human mind as a spiritual entity utterly alien to Nature and attempts somehow to hitch it on to Nature. No wonder that it cannot find the coupling link. We can find Nature outside of us only if we have first learnt to know her within us. The Natural within us must be our guide to her. This marks out our path of inquiry. We shall attempt no speculations concerning the interaction of Mind and Matter. We shall rather probe into the depths of our own being, to find there those elements which we saved in our flight from Nature.
The examination of our own being must bring the solution of the problem. We must reach a point where we can say, “This is no longer merely ‘I,’ this is something which is more than ‘I.’”
I am well aware that many who have read thus far will not consider my discussion in keeping with “the present state of science.” To such criticism I can reply only that I have so far not been concerned with any scientific results, but simply with the description of what every one of us experiences in his own consciousness. That a few phrases have slipped in about attempts to reconcile Mind and the World has been due solely to the desire to elucidate the actual facts. I have therefore made no attempt to give to the expressions “Self,” “Mind,” “World,” “Nature,” the precise meaning which they usually bear in Psychology and Philosophy. The ordinary consciousness ignores the sharp distinctions of the sciences, and so far my purpose 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.
Two souls, alas! Reside within my breast,
And each withdraws from, and repels, its brother.
One with tenacious organs holds in love
And clinging lust the world in its embraces;
The other strongly sweeps, this dust above,
Into the high ancestral spaces.
Faust, Part I, Scene 2.
(Bayard Taylor’s translation.)
When I observe how a billiard ball, when struck, communicates its motion to another, I remain entirely without influence on the process before me. The direction and velocity of the motion of the second ball is determined by the direction and velocity of the first. As long as I remain a mere spectator, I can say nothing about the motion of the second ball until after it has happened. It is quite different when I begin to reflect on the content of my observations. The purpose of my reflection is to construct concepts of the process. I connect the concept of an elastic ball with certain other concepts of mechanics, and consider the special circumstances which obtain in the instance in question. I try, in other words, to add to the process which takes place without my interference, a second process which takes place in the conceptual sphere. This latter process 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, therefore, this need is present, then I am not content until I have established a definite connection among the concepts, ball, elasticity, motion, impact, velocity, etc., so that they apply to the observed process in a definite way. As surely as the occurrence of the observed process is independent of me, so surely is the occurrence of the conceptual process dependent on me.
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 exactly as the thoughts and thought-connections determine, which happen to be in our minds at any given moment. (Cp. Ziehen, Leitfaden der Physiologischen Psychologie, Jena, 1893, p. 171.) 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 definite relation to the objects and processes which are given independently of us. Whether this activity is really ours, or whether we are determined to it by an unalterable necessity, is a question which we need not decide at present. What is unquestionable is that the activity appears, in the first instance, to be ours. We know for certain that concepts are not given together with the objects to which they correspond. My being the agent in the conceptual process may be an illusion; but there is no doubt that to immediate observation I appear to be active. Our present question is, what do we gain by supplementing a process with a conceptual counterpart?
There is a far-reaching difference between the ways in which, for me, the parts of a process are related to one another before, and after, the discovery of the corresponding concepts. Mere observation can trace the parts of a given process as they occur, but their connection remains obscure without the help of concepts. I observe the first billiard ball move towards the second in a certain direction and with a certain velocity. What will happen after the impact I cannot tell in advance. I can once more only watch it happen with my eyes. Suppose someone obstructs my view of the field where the process is happening, at the moment when the impact occurs, then, as mere spectator, I remain ignorant of what goes on. The situation is very different, if prior to the obstructing of my view I have discovered the concepts corresponding to the nexus of events. In that case I can say what occurs, even when I am no longer able to observe. There is nothing in a merely observed process or object to show its relation to other processes or objects. This relation becomes manifest only when observation is combined with thought.
Observation and thought 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 minds. Philosophers have started from various ultimate antitheses, Idea and Reality, Subject and Object, Appearance and Thing-in-itself, Ego and Non-Ego, Idea and Will, Concept and Matter, Force and Substance, the Conscious and the Unconscious. It is, however, easy to show that all these antitheses are subsequent to that between Observation and Thought, this being for man the most important.
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 concept 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 thought. He therefore indirectly admits that his activity presupposes thought. We leave open here the question whether thought or something else is the chief factor in the development of the world. But it is at any rate clear that the philosopher can gain no knowledge of this development without thought. In the occurrence of phenomena thought may play a secondary part, but it is quite certain that it plays a chief part in the construction of a theory about them.
As regards observation, our need of it is due to our organisation. Our thought about a horse and the object “horse” are two things which for us have separate existences. The object is accessible to us only by means of observation. As little as we can construct a concept of a horse by mere staring at the animal, just as little are we able by mere thought to produce the corresponding object.
In time observation actually precedes thought. For we become familiar with thought itself in the first instance by observation. It was essentially a description of an observation when, at the beginning of this chapter, we gave an account of how thought is kindled by an objective process and transcends the merely given. Whatever enters the circle of our experiences becomes an object of apprehension to us first through observation. All contents of sensations, all perceptions, intuitions, feelings, acts of will, dreams and fancies, images, concepts, ideas, all illusions and hallucinations, are given to us through observation.
But thought 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 those objects appear within the horizon of my field of consciousness. Yet I do not, at the same time, observe my thought about these things. I observe the table, but I carry on a process of thought about the table without at the same moment observing this thought-process. I must first take up a standpoint outside of my own activity, if I want to observe my thought about the table, as well as the table. Whereas the observation of things and processes, and the thinking about them, are everyday occurrences making up the continuous current of my life, the observation of the thought-process itself is an exceptional attitude to adopt. This fact must be taken into account, when we come to determine the relations of thought as an object of observation to all other objects. We must be quite clear about the fact that, in observing the thought-processes, we are applying to them a method which is our normal attitude in the study of all other objects in the world, but which in the ordinary course of that study is usually not applied to thought itself.
Someone might object that what I have said about thinking applies equally to feeling and to all other mental activities. Thus it is said that when, e.g., I have a feeling of pleasure, the feeling is kindled by the object, but it is this object I observe, 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 constructed by thought. I am conscious, in the most positive way, that the concept of a thing is formed through my activity; whereas a feeling of pleasure is produced in me by an object in a way similar to that in which, e.g., 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 concepts. I can ask why an event arouses in me a feeling of pleasure. But I certainly cannot ask why an occurrence causes in me a certain number of concepts. The question would be simply meaningless. In thinking about an occurrence, I am not concerned with it as an effect on me. I learn nothing about myself from knowing the concepts which correspond to the observed change caused in a pane of glass by a stone thrown against it. But I do learn something about myself when I know the feeling which a certain occurrence arouses in me. When I say of an object which I perceive, “this is a rose,” I say absolutely nothing about myself; but when I say of the same thing that “it causes a feeling of pleasure in me,” I characterise not only the rose, but also myself in my relation to the rose.
There can, therefore, be no question of putting thought and feeling on a level as objects of observation. And the same could easily be shown of other activities of the human mind. Unlike thought, they must be classed with any other observed objects or events. The peculiar nature of thought lies just in this, that it is an activity which is directed solely on the observed object and not on the thinking subject. 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 recognise it as a table, I do not as a rule say, “I am thinking of a table,” but, “this is a
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