EXPOSITION IN BRIEF
of publication of book: 1886)
A. PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS
The Point of Departure. Philosophy
alone, the central and unifying branch of knowledge, is
uninfluenced by the great “classic age” of German
thought — especially by Goethe. Hence, it fails to provide
the inner certitude at present so deeply needed. Goethe
possessed a profound philosophical sense. Completely
centered and many-sided, he employed the appropriate form of
cognition for each object of research.
Goethe's Science Considered According to the Method of Schiller.
The present inquiry will interpret and justify Goethe's mode of cognition
as applied to the living world. It will follow Schiller's method in doing
this. It will not deal with mere formulae. — The return to Kant will
not benefit philosophy, but the understanding of Goethe will.
The Function of This Branch of Science.
Each of the sciences seeks to discover the relationships among objects
in its special field — these being wholly unrelated in the
form of pure experience. But there must be one branch of
knowledge which seeks to determine the relationship between
experience as a whole and the totality of thoughts, between
human thoughts and the objects of
Definition of the Concept of Experience.
Without our participation, except in passive
sense-receptivity, the world appears as if from an unknown
source. This, in its first form of appearance, we term
includes our feelings, our impulses of will. It includes also our
thoughts. This becomes clear upon adequate observation of our
thinking. For thinking is contemplation, an activity directed
outward, and it would be directed into a void if an inner object
of contemplation did not meet it. This object is a thought.
Examination of the Content of Experience.
Experience is merely a juxtaposition in space and succession
in time of single things, wholly unrelated —
different in their impressions on the senses but undifferentiated
in significance. Our own personality is, at this stage, one item
of experience, also unrelated. Thinking alone establishes
relationships and significance.
Correction of an Erroneous Conception of Experience As a Totality.
The opinion that the world of experience is wholly within us, mere
generated through our senses by an unknown source, is very
widespread. This opinion certainly does not come from experience
itself, for the untutored person never holds it. It could result
only from much reflection. Therefore, it is utterly illogical to
postulate such a characterization of the nature of experience,
and then proceed from this point to inquire into the nature of
Reference to the Experience of the Individual Reader.
The characterization of experience in 5,
above, is not intended dogmatically. It is only a definition of
the use of the term, merely directing attention to the nature of
the first appearance of reality in consciousness before any
concept arises. The best name for this is “appearance for
the senses” — meaning both inner and outer senses. If
this is the real nature of things, no knowledge whatever is
possible beyond the registering of single unrelated sense
impressions. But, if it is only the outer shell of reality, and
is capable of being penetrated, knowledge is
Thinking As a Higher Experience within Experience.
Thought — one item of experience — is
the key to all others. It differs from all others in that it
appears at once in its completeness and its relationships. (For
example, the thought of cause brings with it the thought of
effect.) The demand of science that we must limit ourselves to
experience, but must discover the inner laws within experience,
becomes possible only through this one item. The requirement is
fulfilled immediately in the case of this item itself, and is
fulfilled in all other cases through the application of this
item. Goethe practiced this principle to the full. He declared
that it is impossible to get outside of Nature; that all higher
views of Nature give also only Nature. — We must bear in
mind two aspects of the thought world: — 1. the content of
ideas, law-conforming, complete in itself; 2. my inner activity,
prerequisite to their appearance in consciousness. Since we
ourselves permeate thought completely, we can rightly use this
one item of experience to interpret all
Thought and Consciousness.
But thought is not subjective. Evidence is this. — 1. We
combine thoughts wholly according to their content; not at all
according to our subjective nature. 2. We do not create the
content subjectively; for, if we did, how could anything else
than ourselves determine the combinations. What is
essential is not the subjective activity prerequisite to the
appearance of thoughts, but their objective content. Each
personality, working with the one thought content of the world,
brings to manifestation in his own consciousness thoughts which
are objectively real. As a mechanic brings natural forces
into interaction and produces mechanical effects, so a thinker
brings thoughts into connection and creates thought combinations
— ideas and whole systems. — Thoughts do not
merely reflect their
essential nature in their manifestations in consciousness
while the essential nature is not actually present. Observation
of our thinking will show that the real content is present in the
The Inner Nature of Thought.
Our thought realm consists of a multitude of single thoughts all
interrelated. A new thought is disturbing until it is
interrelated. The fixing of a harmonious relation among all
thoughts creates the assurance of truth. — Thoughts are not
mere photographs of experience, for the following reasons:
— 1. If thoughts completely copy the sense world, this
world gives us all we need, and thought is superfluous. We have
shown that this is not the case. 2. Thoughts do not copy
essential characteristics from the sense world; for experience,
as we have seen, gives no clue to what qualities are essential.
3. Nor do thoughts select even identical characteristics —
without regard to what is essential — since identical
characteristics practically never appear in
If, for the sake
of argument, we should assume that thoughts give only a reflection of
real content, while this lies beyond our reach, we should have at
least indirect access in this way to real content. As to this detail
of the question, we need go no further at this stage.
Thought and Perception.
The perceptual aspect of reality, passively received, is
permeated by the conceptual aspect, actively apprehended and
elaborated. This union constitutes reality. Thinking is the organ
for perceiving something above the level of
sense-perception. — The self-sufficing harmony of thoughts
seems to separate them completely from the world of percepts. But
this is not true, since general thought characterizations can be
made particular and concrete only by means of percepts. —
Experience comes psychologically before thought, but it is
really derivative. The process is as follows: — A percept
stimulates me to seek for its inner nature. This seeking is
really a concept working its way upward from below into
consciousness. Then percept and concept unite to form one item in
my thought realm. To discover the inner nature of a percept, we
must have the corresponding concept already within us, or be able
to evolve it from the world of concepts. In the concept we bring
to manifestation the content of the empty form of the
Intellect and Reason.
Thinking is twofold: — I. It forms clearly differentiated
concepts; and, 2. it establishes relationships among these. The
former capacity is called the intellect; the latter, the reason.
In modern science, the intellect is much more common and more
highly valued. Intellectual activity is essential, for the
creation of sharply differentiated parts, but only as preliminary
to the development by the reason of a harmonious whole. —
Kant declared all ideas — combinations of related concepts
— to be merely subjective, without content, only regulative
norms of our own subjective nature. This is false. Reason does
strive for unity, but it can establish this only where unity is
inherent in the content of the concepts. Where experience cannot
function without the use of certain ideas, Kant admitted the
validity of these ideas for merely practical purposes. But
Kant's explanation of the creation of such ideas is incorrect;
they are intuitive.
The Act of Cognition.
All reality is in two realms; experience and thought. Experience may be
considered from two points of view: — 1. to what extent it
is inherent in the nature of reality that it can manifest itself
only as experience; 2. to what extent it is inherent in the
nature of our mind, whose form of action is contemplation, that
it requires this form of manifestation. From this point of view,
we may consider two possibilities: — 1. That the
experiential form is only transitional, and is to be overcome in
reaching the essential nature of the “appearance for the
senses.” 2. That the experiential form is identical with
the essential nature of what we experience, but that our minds
require an effort in order to discover this fact. The second is
true of thought; the first is true of all other items of
experience. — The two realms of experience and thought must
be united through thought activity. Thinking is an organ of
perception. As the eye perceives light and the ear
perceives sound, so does thinking perceive concepts, ideas. There
is one world of ideas, but many minds. — The external is
merely the form; the inner is the real
Cognition and the Ultimate Foundation of Things.
Kant achieved an important step in philosophy in
pointing out that man must seek the reasons for certitude in his
affirmations in his own spiritual faculties, and not in any truth
imposed upon him from without. But Kant did not adequately
differentiate the two scientific trends thus indicated.
Two kinds of judgment are formed by: 1. the union of a percept with
a concept; and: 2. the union of two concepts. Example of 2: “No
effect without a cause.” If the content of the two concepts, as
this is given to me, does not include the reason for their being united,
then I can never reach that objective reason, and the real meaning of
the assertion is in a world inaccessible to me. Such judgments would
then be dogmas — dogmas of revelation. Moreover, those who
insist that we must limit ourselves to pure experience, would condemn
us to remain likewise ignorant of reality. But the author's view has
shown that there is no Fundament of Being lying beyond the reach of
thought: that this Fundament of Being has poured itself out in
thought. According to this view, every judgment is a union of two
elements in our thought, which means two elements of reality. It has
shown also that thought must give a knowledge of experience, not as
product but as productive — in its productive
The real being of
things exists only in connection with man. Truth is anthropomorphic.
Not only is the world known to us as it appears, but it appears
— to thinking contemplation — as it is.
E. THE SCIENCE OF NATURE
The simplest action in Nature occurs when two factors are external
to each other. Example: a rolling stone setting another stone in
motion. The whole system of such occurrences constitutes inorganic
Nature. This appears first as one form of our experience.
Cognition arises here only when we discover causes through our
thinking. The process is the elimination of one factor after
another until it becomes evident that one or more specific
factors are prerequisite to the occurrence. Or it may be
simplification: reducing a complex problem to a simpler form till
it becomes transparent.
An occurrence which must result
inevitably and directly from observed factors is called a primal
phenomenon. Identical with a law of Nature. All natural laws may be
stated thus: “If this is present, that must occur.” This
mode of thinking is superior to induction, which requires the
observation of innumerable instances, and can never be
absolutely certain. Scientific progress demands the discovery of
primal phenomena. A primal phenomenon is higher experience within
experience. — An experiment creates the conditions needed for
discovering prerequisite factors. It is a mediator between subject
and object in inorganic science. — The mind raises objects in
Nature from “appearance for the senses” to appearance for
the mind itself.
insight gives satisfaction only when it leads to a
self-sufficing totality. In inorganic Nature, only the cosmos
is such a totality; therefore, the cosmos must be the ultimate
goal in this part of science.
Until the nineteenth century, the determinative forces in living
entities were supposed to be in the mind of the Creator. Human minds
were considered incapable of understanding living things. This was
Kant's view. It was opposed by Goethe, who sought to discover the
evolution of organs and organisms. Later came a gradual
change of view but the fundamental error occurred of applying the
methods of the physical sciences to living things. Scientific
methods as a whole were falsely identified with methods in
one branch of science.
not create living entities. The inner forces create; environment can
only modify the result of the action of the inner forces. — The
essence present in each specialized form is the general which is
manifest in the special. This general thus manifest is the type: the
primal organism, either plant or animal. It evolves into all the
specialized forms. The type corresponds in the living world to the
natural law in the inorganic world.
The activity of
thought in this realm must be entirely different. In the inorganic
realm, natural law determines the single phenomenon. In the organic
realm, the type actually manifests itself in the single entity. Here
we must first apprehend the type; then apprehend all potential
modifications of the type; and finally trace the actual living form
back to one of the potential modifications of the type. This demands
intuitive thinking. The mind must acquire the power of
perception in the supersensible realm: it must be able to perceive in
thinking and think in perceiving. Goethe called this capacity the
“perceptive power of thought.”
Intuition is generally distrusted,
but it is the sole mode of cognition applicable to the living
world. According to the author's theory of knowledge —
which he considers to be the theory implicit in Goethe's mode of
scientific work — it is entirely logical to seek to develop
this form of knowledge. For, according to this theory of knowledge,
all thinking is a direct apprehension of reality. Limits of proof
— required in the inorganic realm — do not constitute
limits of knowledge. — Intuition means being within
F. THE SPIRITUAL, OR CULTURAL,
Introduction: Spirit and Nature.Above the level of
“organics” are the cultural, or spiritual, sciences.
Here, again, the mind must alter its form of activity. In the natural
sciences, the human mind completes the world process by bringing to
manifestation (in human consciousness) the reality within phenomena,
which otherwise would never reach manifestation. The mind interprets
Nature to herself. Human knowledge is the conclusion of the work of
creation, the final link in the process which constitutes Nature. In
the spiritual sciences, the mind deals with spiritual realities
already in manifestation, — human actions, thoughts, creations.
Here, the human spirit comes to an understanding of itself.
These sciences, likewise, arise out of a sense of inner need. Their
function is to know the spiritual world in order that the human spirit
may freely choose and play its own role. Here the idea of freedom is
central. In place of the determining law (in inorganic Nature) and the
evolving type (in organic Nature), we have the single personality, who
determines instead of being determined.
Psychological Cognition. The method
in psychological cognition is immersion of the mind in the
contemplation of its own activity — that is,
self-apprehension; but apprehension of the essential self, not
of its casual manifestations. We must seek the fundamental
human being in each personality. The individual here is
not a specialized form of the general, but is the general. In
thought applied to objects observed in external reality, man
discovers the highest form of content. In contemplating
himself, he finds that he is this highest content.
Modern psychology fails because it applies in its own field the
methods of inorganic science, seeking through observed phenomena
to infer the activating being within. This central being is given
to us in direct experience just as truly as are the phenomenal
But the single personality acts also partly out of the forces of
his people. Hence we must add to psychology the science of
folk-psychology, the psychology of a whole people. — The
scientific study of any people must be based upon the inner nature
of this people — the folk-personality.
Human action is determined by human thinking. Hence a personality
will act freely or under compulsion according as he knows the reality
in his own intuitions or accepts dogmas dictated from without. The
World Fundament has poured itself out into the world. Its
highest form is manifested in human thought. Thus the Guiding
Power of the world lives in human thoughts. Hence man is in
harmony with this Guiding Power when he acts according to his
own true intuitions. History also is determined by the thoughts
Optimism and Pessimism.
Since man is the central point of the world process, and his thought
its highest manifestation, he is self-sufficing. Only he can
determine his own happiness or unhappiness. Happiness or
unhappiness bestowed upon him from without would negate his
Scientific Knowledge and Artistic Creation.
The Idea is the content of knowledge. It is the product of the
activity of the mind. In cognition, man arises from the
phenomenal, the product, to the Idea, the creative reality. He
strips all unessentials from the manifested form, and
apprehends the essential in the Idea. In art, the human
spirit imprints the same eternal Idea upon an object of Nature.
In doing this, it is necessary to subdue to the eternal Idea
all that is casual and unessential in the object used to
receive this imprint. Art is a product of the eternal laws of
Nature, as Goethe discovered in contemplating the great
masterpieces in Italy. In both science and art, the human
spirit masters the sensible characteristics and brings to
manifestation the innermost reality.