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The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception

18. Psychological Knowing Activity

On-line since: 20th March, 2002

18. Psychological Knowing Activity

The first science in which the human spirit has to do with itself is psychology. The human spirit confronts itself, contemplating.

Fichte allowed existence to the human being only insofar as he himself posits this existence within himself. In other words, the human personality has only those traits, characteristics, capacities, etc., that, by virtue of insight into its essential being, it ascribes to itself. A person would not recognize as his own a human capacity about which he knew nothing; he would attribute it to something foreign to him. When Fichte supposed that he could found all the science of the universe upon this truth, he was in error. But it is suited to become the highest principle of psychology. It determines the method of psychology. If the human spirit possesses a quality only insofar as this spirit attributes it to itself, then the psychological method is the penetration of the human spirit into its own activity. Self-apprehension is therefore the method here.

We are, of course, not limiting psychology to being a science of the chance characteristics of any one human individual. We are disengaging the individual spirit from its chance limitations, from its secondary features, and are seeking to raise ourselves to the contemplation of the human individual as such.

To contemplate the entirely chance single individual is not, in fact, the important thing, but rather to become clear about the individual as such, which determines itself out of itself. If someone were to say in response to this that here too we are dealing with nothing more than the typus of mankind, he would be confusing the typus with a generalized concept. It is essential to the typus that it stand as something general over against its individual forms. This is not essential to the concept of the human individual. Here the general is directly active in the individual being, but this activity expresses itself in different ways according to the objects upon which it focuses. The typus presents itself in individual forms and in these enters into interaction with the outer world. The human spirit has only one form. But in one situation certain objects stir his feelings, in another an ideal inspires him to act, etc. We are not dealing with a particular form of the human spirit; but always with the whole and complete human being. We must separate him from his surroundings if we wish to understand him. If one wishes to attain the typus, then one must ascend from the single form to the archetypal form; if one wishes to attain the human spirit one must disregard the outer manifestations through which it expresses itself, disregard the specific actions it performs, and look at it in and for itself. We must observe it to see how it acts in general, not how it has acted in this or that situation. In the typus one must separate the general form by comparison out of the individual forms; in psychology one must merely separate the individual form from its surroundings.

In psychology it is no longer the case, as in organic science, that we recognize in the particular being a configuration of the general, of the archetypal form; rather we recognize the perception of the particular as this archetypal form itself. The human spirit being is not one configuration of its idea but rather the configuration of its idea. When Jacobi believes that at the same time as we gain perception of our inner life we attain the conviction that a unified being underlies it (intuitive self-apprehension), he is in error, because in fact we perceive this unified being itself. What otherwise is intuition in fact becomes self-observation here. With regard to the highest form of existence this is also an objective necessity. What the human spirit can garner from the phenomena is the highest form of content that it can attain at all. If the human spirit then reflects upon itself, it must recognize itself as the direct manifestation of this highest form, as the bearer of this highest form. What the human spirit finds as unity in manifold reality it must find in the human spirit's singleness as direct existence. What it places, as something general, over against the particular it must ascribe to its own individuality as the essential being of this individuality itself.

One can see from all this that a true psychology can be achieved only if one studies the nature of the human spirit as an active entity. In our time one has wanted to replace this method by another which considers psychology's object of study to be the phenomena in which the human spirit presents itself rather than this spirit itself. One believes that the individual expressions of the human spirit can be brought into external relationships just as much as the facts of inorganic nature can. In this way one wants to found a “theory of the soul without any soul.” Our study shows, however, that with this method one loses sight of the very thing that matters. One should separate the human spirit from its various expressions and return to this spirit itself as the producer of them. One usually limits oneself to the expressions and forgets the spirit. Here also one has allowed oneself to be led astray to succumb to that incorrect standpoint that wants to apply the methods of mechanics, physics, etc., to all sciences.

The unified soul is given to us in experience just as much as its individual actions are. Everyone is aware of the fact that his thinking, feeling, and willing proceed from his “I.” Every activity of our personality is connected with this center of our being. If one disregards this connection with the personality in an action, then the action ceases to be an expression of the soul at all. It falls either under the concept of inorganic or of organic nature. If two balls are lying on the table and I propel one against the other, then, if one disregards my intention and my will, everything is reduced to physical or physiological processes. The main thing with all manifestations of the human spirit — thinking, feeling, and willing — is to recognize them in their essential being as expressions of the personality. Psychology is based on this.

But the human being does not belong only to himself; he also belongs to society. What lives and manifests in him is not merely his individuality but also that of the nation to which he belongs. What he accomplishes emerges just as much out of the full strength of his people as out of his own. With his mission he also fulfills a part of the mission of the larger community of his people. The point is for his place within his people to be such that he can bring to full expression the strength of his individuality. This is possible only if the social organism is such that the individual is able to find the place where he can set to work. It must not be left to chance whether he finds this place or not.

It is the task of ethnology and political science to investigate how the individual lives and acts within the social community. The individuality of peoples is the subject of this science. It has to show what form the organism of the state has to assume if the individuality of a people is to come to expression in it. The constitution a people gives itself must be developed out of its innermost being. In this domain also, errors of no small scope are in circulation. One does not regard political science as an experiential science. It is believed that all peoples can set up a constitution according to a certain model.

The constitution of a people, however, is nothing other than its individual character brought into a definite form of laws. A person who wants to predetermine the direction a particular activity of a people has to take must not impose anything upon it from outside; he must simply express what lies unconsciously within the character of his people. “It is not the intelligent person that rules, but rather intelligence; not the reasonable person, but rather reason,” says Goethe.

To grasp the individuality of a people as a reasonable one is the method of ethnology. The human being belongs to a whole, whose nature is an organization of reason. Here again we can quote a statement of Goethe's: “The rational world is to be regarded as a great immortal individual that unceasingly brings about the necessary, and through doing so in fact makes itself master over chance.” Just as psychology has to investigate the nature of the single individual, so ethnology (the psychology of peoples) has to investigate that “immortal individual.”

Last Modified: 03-Jul-2017
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