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The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception

9. Thinking and Consciousness

On-line since: 20th March, 2002

9. Thinking and Consciousness

Now, however, it seems as though we ourselves are bringing in the subjective element here, which we had wanted so decisively to keep out of our epistemology. Although the rest of the perceptual world does not bear a subjective character — as one could gather from our discussions — thoughts do, in fact, bear such a character, even according to our view.

This objection is based on a confusion of two things: the stage upon which our thoughts appear, and the element which determines their content, from which they receive their inner lawfulness. We definitely do not produce a thought-content as though, in this production, we were the ones who determined into which connections our thoughts are to enter. We only provide the opportunity for the thought-content to unfold itself in accordance with its own nature. We grasp thought a and thought b and give them the opportunity to enter into a lawful connection by bringing them into mutual interaction with each other. It is not our subjective organization that determines this particular connection between a and b in precisely one particular way and no other. The human spirit effects the joining of thought masses only in accordance with their content. In thinking we therefore fulfill the principle of experience in its most basic form.

This refutes the view of Kant, of Schopenhauer, and in a broader sense also of Fichte, which states that the laws we assume for the purpose of explaining the world are only a result of our own spiritual organization and that we lay them into the world only by virtue of our spiritual individuality.

One could raise yet another objection from the subjectivistic standpoint. Even if the lawful connection of thought-masses is not brought about by us in accordance with our organization but rather is dependent upon their content, still, this very content itself might be a purely subjective product, a mere quality of our spirit; thus we would only be uniting elements that we ourselves first created. Then our thought-world would be no less a subjective semblance. It is very easy to meet this objection, however. If it had any basis, we would then be connecting the content of our thinking according to laws whose origins would truly be unknown to us. If these laws do not spring from our subjectivity — and this subjectivity is the view we disputed earlier and can now regard as refuted — then what should provide us with laws by which to interconnect a content we ourselves create?

Our thought-world is therefore an entity fully founded upon itself; it is a self-contained totality, perfect and complete in itself. Here we see which of the two aspects of the thought-world is the essential one: the objective aspect of its content, and not the subjective aspect of the way it arises.

This insight into the inner soundness and completeness of thinking appears most clearly in the scientific system of Hegel. No one has credited thinking, to the degree he did, with a power so complete that it could found a world view out of itself. Hegel had an absolute trust in thinking; it is, in fact, the only factor of reality that he trusted in the true sense of the word. But no matter how correct his view is in general, he is still precisely the one who totally discredited thinking through the all too extreme form in which he defended it. The way he presented his view is to blame for the hopeless confusion that has entered our “thinking about thinking.” He wanted to make the significance of thoughts, of ideas, really visible by declaring the necessity in thought to be at the same time the necessity in the factual world. He therefore gave rise to the error that the characterizations made by thinking are not purely ideal ones but rather factual ones. One soon took his view to mean that he sought, in the world of sense-perceptible reality, even thoughts as though they were objects. He never really did make this very clear. It must indeed be recognized that the field of thoughts is human consciousness alone. Then it must be shown that the thought-world forfeits none of its objectivity through this fact. Hegel demonstrated only the objective side of thoughts, but most people see only the subjective side, because this is easier; and it seems to them that he treated something purely ideal as though it were an object, that he made it into something mystical. Even many contemporary scholars cannot be said to be free of this error. They condemn Hegel for a failing he himself did not have, but which, to be sure, one can impute to him because he did not clarify this matter sufficiently.

We acknowledge that there is a difficulty here for our power of judgment. But we believe that this difficulty can be overcome by energetic thinking. We must picture two things to ourselves: first, that we actively bring the ideal world into manifestation, and at the same time, that what we actively call into existence is founded upon its own laws.

Now admittedly, we are used to picturing a phenomenon in such a way that we need only approach it and passively observe it. This is not an absolute requirement, however. No matter how unusual it might be for us to picture that we ourselves actively bring something objective into manifestation — that we do not merely perceive a phenomenon, in other words, but produce it at the same time — it is not inadmissible for us to do so.

One simply needs to give up the usual opinion that there are as many thought-worlds as there are human individuals. This opinion is in any case nothing more than an old preconception from the past. It is tacitly assumed everywhere, without people realizing that there is another view at least just as possible, and that the reasons must first be weighed as to the validity of one or the other. Instead of this opinion, let us consider the following one: There is absolutely only one single thought-content, and our individual thinking is nothing more than our self, our individual personality, working its way into the thought-center of the world. This is not the place to investigate whether this view is correct or not, but it is possible, and we have accomplished what we wanted; we have shown that what we have presented as the necessary objectivity of thinking can easily be seen not to contradict itself even in another context.

With regard to objectivity, the work of the thinker can very well be compared with that of the mechanic. Just as the mechanic brings the forces of nature into mutual interplay and thereby effects a purposeful activity and release of power, so the thinker lets the thought-masses enter into lively interaction, and they develop into the thought-systems that comprise our sciences.

Nothing sheds more light on a view than exposing the errors that stand in its way. Let us call upon this method once again as one that has often been used by us to advantage.

One usually believes that we join certain concepts into larger complexes, or that we think in general in a certain way, because we feel a certain inner (logical) compulsion to do so. Even Volkelt adheres to this view. But how does this view accord with the transparent clarity with which our entire thought-world is present in our consciousness? We know absolutely nothing in the world more exactly than our thoughts. Now can it really be supposed that a certain connection is established on the basis of an inner compulsion, where everything is so clear? Why do I need the compulsion, if I know the nature of what is to be joined, know it through and through, and can therefore guide myself by it? All our thought-operations are processes that occur on the basis of insight into the entities of thoughts and not according to a compulsion. Any such compulsion contradicts the nature of thinking.

Nonetheless, it could be the case that it is the nature of thinking to impress its content into its own manifestation at the same time, and that, because of our spirit's organization, we are nevertheless unable to perceive this content directly. But this is not the case. The way thought-content approaches us is our guarantee that here we have before us the essential being of the thing. We are indeed conscious of the fact that we accompany every process in the thought world with our spirit. One can nevertheless think of the form of manifestation only as being determined by the essential being of the thing. How would we be able to reproduce the form of manifestation if we did not know the essential being of the thing? One can very well think that the form of manifestation confronts us as a finished totality and that we then seek its core. But one absolutely cannot believe that one is a co-worker in this production of the phenomenon without effecting this production from within the core.

Last Modified: 03-Jul-2017
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