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The Riddles of Philosophy

RoP: The World Conceptions of the Modern Age of Thought Evolution (Pt1 Ch5)


Part I

Chapter V

The World Conceptions
of the Modern Age of Thought Evolution

The rise of natural science in modern times had as its fundamental cause the same search as the mysticism of Jakob Boehme. This becomes apparent in a thinker who grew directly out of the spiritual movement, which in Copernicus (1473 – 1543), Kepler (1571 – 1630), Galileo (1564 – 1642), and others, led to the first great accomplishments of natural science in modern times. This thinker is Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600). When one sees how his world consists of infinitely small, animated, psychically self-aware, fundamental beings, the monads, which are uncreated and indestructible, producing in their combined activity the phenomena of nature, one could be tempted to group him with Anaxagoras, for whom the world consists of the “homoiomeries.”

Yet, there is a significant difference between these two thinkers. For Anaxagoras, the thought of the homoiomeries unfolds while he is engaged in the contemplation of the world; the world suggests these thoughts to him. Giordano Bruno feels that what lies behind the phenomena of nature must be thought of as a world picture in such a way that the entity of the ego is possible in this world picture. The ego must be a monad; otherwise, it could not be real. Thus, the assumption of the monads becomes necessary. As only the monad can be real, therefore, the truly real entities are monads with different inner qualities.

In the depths of the soul of a personality like Giordano Bruno, something happens that is not raised into full consciousness; the effect of this inner process is then the formation of the world picture. What goes on in the depths is an unconscious soul process. The ego feels that it must form such a conception of itself that its reality is assured, and it must conceive the world in such a way that the ego can be real in it. Giordano Bruno has to form the conception of the monad in order to render possible the realization of both demands. In his thought the ego struggles for its existence in the world conception of the modern age, and the expression of this struggle is the view: I am a monad; such an entity is uncreated and indestructible.

A comparison shows how different the ways are in which Aristotle and Giordano Bruno arrive at the conception of God. Aristotle contemplates the world; he sees the evidence of reason in natural processes; he surrenders to the contemplation of this evidence; at the same time, the processes of nature are for him evidence of the thought of the “first mover” of these processes. Giordano Bruno fights his way through to the conception of the monads. The processes of nature are, as it were, extinguished in the picture in which innumerable monads are presented as acting on each other; God becomes the power entity that lives actively in all monads behind the processes of the perceptible world. In Giordano Bruno's passionate antagonism against Aristotle, the contrast between the thinker of ancient Greece and of the philosopher of modern times becomes manifest.

It becomes apparent in the modern philosophical development in a great variety of ways how the ego searches for means to experience its own reality in itself. What Francis Bacon of Verulam (1561 – 1626) represents in his writings has the same general character even if this does not at first sight become apparent in his endeavors in the field of philosophy. Bacon of Verulam demands that the investigation of world phenomena should begin with unbiased observation. One should then try to separate the essential from the nonessential in a phenomenon in order to arrive at a conception of whatever lies at the bottom of a thing or event. He is of the opinion that up to his time the fundamental thoughts, which were to explain the world phenomena, had been conceived first, and only thereafter were the description of the individual things and events arranged to fit these thoughts. He presupposed that the thoughts had not been taken out of the things themselves. Bacon wanted to combat this (deductive) method with his (inductive) method. The concepts are to be formed in direct contact with the things. One sees, so Bacon reasons, how an object is consumed by fire; one observes how a second object behaves with relation to fire and then observes the same process with many objects. In this fashion one arrives eventually at a conception of how things behave with respect to fire. The fact that the investigation in former times had not proceeded in this way had, according to Bacon's opinion, caused human conception to be dominated by so many idols instead of the true ideas about the things.

Goethe gives a significant description of this method of thought of Bacon of Verulam.

Bacon is like a man who is well-aware of the irregularity, insufficiency and dilapidated condition of an old building, and knows how to make this clear to the inhabitants. He advises them to abandon it, to give up the land, the materials and all appurtenances, to look for another plot, and to erect a new building. He is an excellent and persuasive speaker. He shakes a few walls. They break down and some of the inhabitants are forced to move out. He points out new building grounds; people begin to level it off, and yet it is everywhere too narrow. He submits new plans; they are not clear, not inviting. Mainly, he speaks of new unknown materials and now the world seems to be well-served. The crowd disperses in all directions and brings back an infinite variety of single items while at home, new plans, new activities and settlements occupy the citizens and absorb their attention.

Goethe says this in his history of the theory of color where he speaks about Bacon. In a later part of the book dealing with Galileo, he says:

If through Verulam's method of dispersion, natural science seemed to be forever broken up into fragments, it was soon brought to unity again by Galileo. He led natural philosophy back into the human being. When he developed the law of the pendulum and of falling bodies from the observation of swinging church lamps, he showed even in his early youth that, for the genius, one case stands for a thousand cases. In science, everything depends on what is called, an aperçu, that is, on the ability of becoming aware of what is really fundamental in the world of phenomena. The development of such an awareness is infinitely fruitful.

With these words Goethe indicated distinctly the point that is characteristic of Bacon. Bacon wants to find a secure path for science because he hopes that in this way man will find a dependable relationship to the world. The approach of Aristotle, so Bacon feels, can no longer be used in the modern age. He does not know that in different ages different energies of the soul are predominantly active in man. He is only aware of the fact that he must reject Aristotle. This he does passionately. He does it in such a way that Goethe is lead to say, “How can one listen to him with equanimity when he compares the works of Aristotle and of Plato with weightless tablets, which, just because they did not consist of a good solid substance, could so easily float down to us on the stream of time.”

Bacon does not understand that he is aiming at the same objective that has been reached by Plato and Aristotle, and that he must use different means for the same aim because the means of antiquity can no longer be those of the modern age. He points toward a method that could appear fruitful for the investigation in the field of external nature, but as Goethe shows in the case of Galileo, even in this field something more is necessary than what Bacon demands.

The method of Bacon proves completely useless, however, when the soul searches not only for an access to the investigation of individual facts, but also to a world conception. What good is a groping search for isolated phenomena and a derivation of general ideas from them, if these general ideas do not, like strokes of lightning, flash up out of the ground of being in the soul of man, rendering account of their truth through themselves. In antiquity, thought appeared like a perception to the soul. This mode of appearance has been dampened through the brightness of the new ego-consciousness. What can lead to thoughts capable of forming a world conception in the soul must be so formed as if it were the soul's own invention, and the soul must search for the possibility of justifying the validity of its own creation. Bacon has no feeling for all this. He, therefore, points to the materials of the building for the construction of the new world conception, namely, the individual natural phenomena. It is, however, no more possible that one can ever build a house by merely observing the form of the building stones that are to be used, than that a fruitful world conception could ever arise in a soul that is exclusively concerned with the individual processes of nature.

Contrary to Bacon of Verulam, who pointed toward the bricks of the building, Descartes (Cartesius) and Spinoza turned their attention toward its plan. Descartes was born in 1596 and died in 1650. The starting point of his philosophical endeavor is significant with him. With an unbiased questioning mind he approaches the world, which offers him much of its riddles partly through revealed religion, partly through the observation of the senses. He now contemplates both sources in such a way that he does not simply accept and recognize as truth what either of them offers to him. Instead, he sets against the suggestions of both sources the “ego,” which answers out of its own initiative with its doubt against all revelation and against all perception. In the development of modern philosophical life, this move is a fact of the most telling significance. Amidst the world the thinker allows nothing to make an impression on his soul, but sets himself against everything with a doubt that can derive its support only from the soul itself. Now the soul apprehends itself in its own action: I doubt, that is to say, I think. Therefore, no matter how things stand with the entire world, in my doubt-exerting thinking I come to the clear awareness that I am. In this manner, Cartesius arrives at his Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. The ego in him conquers the right to recognize its own being through the radical doubt directed against the entire world.

Descartes derives the further development of his world conception out of this root. In the “ego” he had attempted to seize existence. Whatever can justify its existence together with the ego may be considered truth. The ego finds in itself, innate to it, the idea of God. This idea presents itself to the ego as true, as distinct as the ego itself, but it is so sublime, so powerful, that the ego cannot have it through its own power. Therefore, it comes from transcendent reality to which it corresponds. Descartes believes in the reality of the external world, not because this external world presents itself as real, but because the ego must believe in itself and then subsequently in God, and because God must be thought as truthful. For it would be untrue of God to suggest a real external world to man if the latter did not exist.

It is only possible to arrive at the recognition of the reality of the ego as Descartes does through a thinking that in the most direct manner aims at the ego in order to find a point of support for the act of cognition. That is to say, this possibility can be fulfilled only through an inner activity but never through a perception from without. Any perception that comes from without gives only the qualities of extension. In this manner, Descartes arrives at the recognition of two substances in the world: One to which extension, and the other to which thinking, is to be attributed and that has its roots in the human soul. The animals, which in Descartes's sense cannot apprehend themselves in inner self-supporting activity, are accordingly mere beings of extension, automata, machines. The human body, too, is nothing but a machine. The soul is linked up with this machine. When the body becomes useless through being worn out or destroyed in some way, the soul abandons it to continue to live in its own element.

Descartes lives in a time in which a new impulse in the philosophical life is already discernible. The period from the beginning of the Christian era until about the time of Scotus Erigena develops in such a way that the inner experience of thought is enlivened by a force that enters the spiritual evolution as a powerful impulse. The energy of thought as it awakened in Greece is outshone by this power. Outwardly, the progress in the life of the human soul is expressed in the religious movements and by the fact that the forces of the youthful nations of Western and Central Europe become the recipients of the effects of the older forms of thought experience. They penetrate this experience with the younger, more elementary impulses and thereby transform it. In this process one forward step in the progress in human evolution becomes evident that is caused by the fact that older and subtle traces of spiritual currents that have exhausted their vitality, but not their spiritual possibilities, are continued by youthful energies emerging from the natural spring of mankind. In such processes one will be justified in recognizing the essential laws of the evolution of mankind. They are based on rejuvenating tendencies of the spiritual life. The acquired forces of the spirit can only then continue to unfold if they are transplanted into young, natural energies of mankind.

The first eight centuries of the Christian era present a continuation of the thought experience in the human soul in such a way that the new forces about to emerge are still dormant in hidden depths, but they tend to exert their formative effect on the evolution of world conception. In Descartes, these forces already show themselves at work in a high degree. In the age between Scotus Erigena and approximately the fifteenth century, thought, which in the preceding period did not openly unfold, comes again to the fore in its own force. Now, however, it emerges from a direction quite different from that of the Greek age. With the Greek thinkers, thought is experienced as a perception. From the eighth to the fifteenth centuries it comes from out of the depth of the soul so that man has the feeling: Thought generates itself within me. In the Greek thinkers, a relation between thought and the processes of nature was still immediately established; in the age just referred to, thought stands out as the product of self-consciousness. The thinker has the feeling that he must prove thought as justified. This is the feeling of the nominalists and the realists. This is also the feeling of Thomas Aquinas, who anchors the experience of thought in religious revelation.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries introduce a new impulse to the souls. This is slowly prepared and slowly absorbed in the life of the soul. A transformation takes place in the organization of the human soul. In the field of philosophical life, this transformation becomes manifest through the fact that thought cannot now be felt as a perception, but as a product of self-consciousness. This transformation in the organization of the human soul can be observed in all fields of the development of humanity. It becomes apparent in the renaissance of art and science, and of European life, as well as in the reformatory religious movements. One will be able to discover it if one investigates the art of Dante and Shakespeare with respect to their foundations in the human soul development. Here these possibilities can only be indicated, since this sketch is intended to deal only with the development of the intellectual world conception.

The advent of the mode of thought of modern natural science appears as another symptom of this transformation of the human soul organization. Just compare the state of the form of thinking about nature as it develops in Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler with what has preceded them, This natural scientific conception corresponds to the mood of the human soul at the beginning of the modern age in the sixteenth century. Nature is now looked at in such a way that the sense observation is to be the only witness of it. Bacon is one, Galileo another personality in whom this becomes apparent. The picture of nature is no longer drawn in a manner that allows thought to be felt in it as a power revealed by nature. Out of this picture of nature, every trait that could be felt as only a product of self-consciousness gradually vanishes. Thus, the creations of self-consciousness and the observation of nature are more and more abruptly contrasted, separated by a gulf, From Descartes on a transformation of the soul organization becomes discernible that tends to separate the picture of nature from the creations of the self-consciousness. With the sixteenth century a new tendency in the philosophical life begins to make itself felt. While in the preceding centuries thought had played the part of an element, which, as a product of self-consciousness, demanded its justification through the world picture, since the sixteenth century it proves to be clearly and distinctly resting solely on its own ground in the self-consciousness. Previously, thought had been felt in such a manner that the picture of nature could be considered a support for its justification; now it becomes the task of this element of thought to uphold the claim of its validity through its own strength. The thinkers of the time that now follows feel that in the thought experience itself something must be found that proves this experience to be the justified creator of a world conception.

The significance of the transformation of the soul life can be realized if one considers the way in which philosophers of nature, like H. Cardanus (1501 – 1576) and Bernardinus Telesius (1508 – 1588), still spoke of natural processes. In them a picture of nature still continued to show its effect and was to lose its power through the emergence of the mode of conception of natural science of Copernicus, Galileo and others. Something still lives in the mind of Cardanus of the processes of nature, which he conceives as similar to those of the human soul. Such an assertion would also have been possible to Greek thinking. Galileo is already compelled to say that what man has as the sensation of warmth within himself, for instance, exists no more in external nature than the sensation of tickling that a man feels when the sole of his foot is touched by a feather. Telesius still feels justified to say that warmth and coldness are the driving forces of the world processes, and Galileo must already make the statement that man knows warmth only as an inner experience. In the picture of nature he allows as thinkable only what contains nothing of this inner experience. Thus, the conceptions of mathematics and mechanics become the only ones that are allowed to form the picture of nature. In a personality like Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), who was just as great as a thinker as he was an artist, we can recognize the striving for a new law-determined picture of nature. Such spirits feel it necessary to find an access to nature not yet given to the Greek way of thinking and its after effects in the Middle Ages. Man now has to rid himself of whatever experiences he has about his own inner being if he is to find access to nature. He is permitted to depict nature only in conceptions that contain nothing of what he experiences as the effects of nature in himself.

Thus, the human soul dissociates itself from nature; it takes its stand on its own ground. As long as one could think that the stream of nature contained something that was the same as what was immediately experienced in man, one could, without hesitation, feel justified to have thought bear witness to the events of nature. The picture of nature of modern times forces the human consciousness to feel itself outside nature with its thought. This consciousness further establishes a validity for its thought, which is gained through its own power.

From the beginning of the Christian Era to Scotus Erigena, the experience of thought continues to be effective in such a way that its form is determined by the presupposition of a spiritual world, namely, the world of religious revelation. From the eighth to the sixteenth century, thought experience wrests itself free from the inner self-consciousness but allows, besides its own germinating power, the other power of consciousness, revelation, to continue in its existence. From the sixteenth century on, it is the picture of nature that eliminates the experience of thought itself; henceforth, the self-consciousness attempts to produce, out of its own energies, the resources through which it is possible to form a world conception with the help of thought. It is with this task that Descartes finds himself confronted. It is the task of the thinkers of the new period of world conception.

Benedict Spinoza (1632 – 1677) asks himself, “What must be assumed as a starting point from which the creation of a true world picture may proceed? This beginning is caused by the feeling that innumerable thoughts may present themselves in my soul as true; I can admit as the corner stone for a world conception only an element whose properties I must first determine.” Spinoza finds that one can only begin with something that is in need of nothing else for its being. He gives the name, substance, to this being. He finds that there can be only one such substance, and that this substance is God. If one observes the method by which Spinoza arrives at this beginning of his philosophy, one finds that he has modeled it after the method of mathematics. Just as the mathematician takes his start from general truths, which the human ego forms itself in free creation, so Spinoza demands that philosophy should start from such spontaneously created conceptions. The one substance is as the ego must think it to be. Thought in this way, it does not tolerate anything existing outside itself as a peer, for then it would not be everything. It would need something other than itself for its existence. Everything else is, therefore, only of the substance, as one of its attributes, as Spinoza says. Two such attributes are recognizable to man. He sees the first when he looks at the outer world; the second, when he turns his attention inward. The first attribute is extension; the second, thinking. Man contains both attributes in his being. In his body he has extension; in his soul, thinking. When he thinks, it is the divine substance that thinks; when he acts, it is this substance that acts. Spinoza obtains the existence (Dasein) for the ego in anchoring it in the general all-embracing divine substance. Under such circumstances there can be no question of an absolute freedom of man, for man is no more to be credited with the initiative of his actions and thought than a stone with that of its motion; the agent in everything is the one substance. We can speak of a relative freedom in man only when he considers himself not as an individual entity, but knows himself as one with the one substance.

Spinoza's world conception, if consistently developed to its perfection, leads a person to the consciousness: I think of myself in the right way if I no longer consider myself, but know myself in my experience as one with the divine whole. This consciousness then, to follow Spinoza, endows the whole human personality with the impulse to do what is right, that is to say, god-filled action. This results as a matter of course for the one for whom the right world conception is realized as the full truth. For this reason Spinoza calls the book in which he presents his world conception, Ethics. For him, ethics, that is to say, moral behavior, is in the highest sense the result of the true knowledge of man's dwelling in the one substance. One feels inclined to say that the private life of Spinoza, of the man who was first persecuted by fanatics and then, out of his own free will give away his fortune and sought his subsistence in poverty as a craftsman, was in the rarest fashion the outer expression of his philosophical soul, which knew its ego in the divine whole and felt its inner experience, indeed, all experience, illumined by this consciousness.

Spinoza constructs a total world conception out of thoughts. These thoughts have to satisfy the requirement that they derive their justification for the construction of the picture out of the self-consciousness. In it their certainty must be rooted. Thoughts that are conceived by human consciousness in the same way as the self-supporting mathematical ideas are capable of shaping a world picture that is the expression of what, in truth, exists behind the phenomena of the world.

In a direction that is entirely different from that of Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646 – 1716) seeks the justification of the ego-consciousness in the actual world. His point of departure is like that of Giordano Bruno insofar as he thinks of the soul or the “ego” as a monad. Leibniz finds the self-consciousness in the soul, that is, the knowledge of the soul of itself, a manifestation, therefore, of the ego. There cannot be anything else in the soul that thinks and feels except the soul itself, for how should the soul know of itself if the subject of the act of knowing were something other than itself? Furthermore, it can only be a simple entity, not a composite being, for the parts in it could and would have to know of each other. Thus, the soul is a simple entity, enclosed in itself and aware of its being, a monad. Nothing can come into this monad that is external to it, for nothing but itself can be active in it. All its experience, cognitive imagination, sensation, etc., is the result of its own activity. It could only perceive any other activity in itself through its defense against this activity, that is to say, it would at any rate perceive only itself in its defense. Thus, nothing external can enter this monad. Leibniz expresses this by saying that the monad has no windows. According to him, all real beings are monads, and only monads truly exist. These different monads are, however, differentiated with respect to the intensity of their inner life. There are monads of an extremely dull inner life that are as if in a continual state of sleep; there are monads that are, as it were, dreaming; there are, furthermore, the human monads in wake-consciousness, etc., up to the highest degree of intensity of the inner life of the divine principal monad. That man does not see monads in his sense perception is caused by the circumstance that the monads are perceived by him like the appearance of fog, for example, that is not really fog but a swarm of gnats. What is seen by the senses of man is like the appearance of a fog formed by the accumulated monads.

Thus, for Leibniz the world in reality is a sum of monads, which do not affect each other but constitute self-conscious beings, leading their lives independently of each other, that is, egos. Nevertheless, if the individual monad contains an after image of the general life of the world in its inner life, it would be wrong to assume that this is caused by an effect that the individual monads exert on each other. It is caused by the circumstance that in a given case one monad experiences inwardly by itself what is also independently experienced by another monad. The inner lives of the monads agree like clocks that indicate the same hours in spite of the fact that they do not affect each other. Just as the clocks agree because they have been originally matched, so the monads are attuned to each other through the pre-established harmony that issues from the divine principal monad.

This is the world picture to which Leibniz is driven because he has to form the picture in such a way that in it the self-conscious life of the soul, the ego, can be maintained as a reality. It is a world picture completely formed out of the “ego” itself. In Leibniz's view, this can, indeed, not be otherwise. In Leibniz, the struggle for a world conception leads to a point where, in order to find the truth, it does not accept anything as truth that is revealed in the outer world.

According to Leibniz, the life of man's senses is caused in such a way that the monad of the soul is brought into connection with other monads with a somnolent, sleeping and less acute self-consciousness. The body is a sum of such monads. The one waking soul monad is connected with it. This central monad parts from the others in death and continues its existence by itself.

Just as the world picture of Leibniz is one that is wholly formed out of the inner energy of the self-conscious soul, so the world picture of his contemporary John Locke (1632 – 1704), rests entirely on the feeling that such a productive construction out of the soul is not admissible. Locke recognizes only those parts of a world conception as justified that can be observed (experienced) and what can, on the basis of the observation, be thought about the observed objects. The soul for him is not a being that develops real experiences out of itself, but an empty slate on which the outer world writes its entries. Thus, for Locke, the human self-consciousness is a result of the experience; it is not an ego that is the cause of an experience. When a thing of the external world makes an impression on the soul, it can be said that the thing contains only extension, shape, motion in reality; through the contact with the senses, sounds, colors, warmth, etc., are produced. What thus comes into being through contact with the senses is only there as long as the senses are in touch with the things. Outside the perception there are only substances that are differently shaped and in various states of motion. Locke feels compelled to assume that, except shape and motion, nothing of what the senses perceive has anything to do with things themselves. With this assumption he makes the beginnings of a current of world conception that is unwilling to recognize the impressions of the external world experienced inwardly by man in his act of cognition, as belonging to the world “in itself.”

It is a strange spectacle that Locke presents to the contemplative soul. Man is supposed to be capable of cognition only through the fact that he perceives, and that he thinks about the content of the perception, but what he perceives has only the least part to do with the properties pertaining to the world itself. Leibniz withdraws from what the world reveals and creates a world picture from within the soul; Locke insists on a world picture that is created by the soul in conjunction with the world, but no real picture of a world is accomplished through such a creation. As Locke cannot, like Leibniz, consider the ego itself as the fulcrum of a world conception, he arrives at conceptions that appear to be inappropriate to support a world conception because they do not allow the possession of the human ego to be counted as belonging to the center of existence. A world view like that of Locke loses the connection with every realm in which the ego, the self-conscious soul, could be rooted because it rejects from the outset any approaches to the world ground except those that disappear in the darkness of the senses.

In Locke, the evolution of philosophy produces a form of world conception in which the self-conscious soul struggles for its existence in the world picture but loses this fight because it believes that it gains its experiences exclusively in the intercourse with the external world represented in the picture of nature. The self-conscious soul must, therefore, renounce all knowledge concerning anything that could belong to the nature of the soul apart from this intercourse with the outside world.

Stimulated by Locke, George Berkeley (1685 – 1753) arrived at results that were entirely different from his. Berkeley finds that the impressions that the things and events of the world appear to produce on the human soul take place in reality within this soul itself. When I see “red,” I must bring this “redness” into being within myself; when I feel “warm,” the “warmth” lives within me. Thus it is with all things that I apparently receive from without. Except for those elements I produce within myself, I know nothing whatsoever about the external things. Thus, it is senseless to speak about things that consist of material substance, for I know only what appears in my mind as something spiritual. What I call a rose, for instance, is wholly spiritual, that is to say, a conception (an idea) experienced by my mind. There is, therefore, according to Berkeley, nothing to be perceived except what is spiritual, and when I notice that something is effected in me from without, then this effect can only be caused by spiritual entities, for obviously bodies cannot cause spiritual effects and my perceptions are entirely spiritual. There are, therefore, only spirits in the world that influence each other. This is Berkeley's view. It turns the conceptions of Locke into their contrary by construing everything as spiritual reality that had been considered as impression of the material things. Thus, Berkeley believes he recognizes himself with his self-consciousness immediately in a spiritual world.

Others have been led to different results by the thoughts of Locke. Condillac (1715 – 1780) is an example. He believes, like Locke, that all knowledge of the world must and, indeed, can only depend on the observation of the senses and on thinking. He develops this view to the extreme conclusion that thinking has in itself no self-dependent reality; it is nothing but a sublimated, transformed external sensation. Thus, only sense perceptions must be accepted in a world picture that is to correspond to the truth. His explanation in this direction is indeed telling. Imagine a human body that is still completely unawakened mentally, and then suppose one sense after another to be opened. What more do we have in the sentient body than we had before in the insensate organism? A body on which the surrounding world has made impressions. These impressions made by the environment have by no means produced what believes itself to be an “ego.” This world conception does not arrive at the possibility of conceiving the “ego” as self-conscious “soul” and it does not accomplish a world picture in which this “ego” could occur. It is the world conception that tries to deliver itself of the task of dealing with the self-conscious soul by proving its nonexistence. Charles Bonnet (1720 – 1793), Claude Adrien Helvetius (1715 – 1771), Julien de la Mettrie (1709 – 1751) and the system of nature (systeme de la nature) of Holbach that appeared in 1770 follow similar paths. In Holbach's work all traces of spiritual reality have been driven out of the world picture. Only matter and its forces operate in the world, and for this spirit-deprived picture of nature, Holbach finds the words, “0 nature, mistress of all being, and you, her daughters, Virtue, Reason, and Truth, may you be forever our only divinities.”

In de la Mettrie's Man, a Machine, a world conception appears that is so overwhelmed by the picture of nature that it can admit only nature as valid. What occurs in the self-consciousness must, therefore, be thought of in about the same way as a mirror picture that we compare with the mirror. The physical organism would be compared with the mirror, the self-consciousness with the picture. The latter has, apart from the former, no independent significance. In Man, a Machine, we read:

If, however, all qualities of the soul depend so much on the specific organization of the brain and the body as a whole that they obviously are only this organization itself, then, in this case, we have to deal with a very enlightened machine. . . . ‘Soul,’ therefore, is only a meaningless expression of which one has no idea (thought picture), and that a clear head may only use in order to indicate by it the part in us that thinks. Just assume the simplest principle of motion and the animated bodies have everything they need in order to move, feel, repeat, in short, everything necessary to find their way in the physical and moral world. . . . If whatever thinks in my brain is not a part of this inner organ, why should my blood become heated when I make the plan for my works or pursue an abstract line of thought, calmly resting on my bed? (Compare de la Mettrie, Man, a Machine, Philosophische Bibliothek, Vol. 68.)

Voltaire (1694 – 1778) introduced the doctrines of Locke into the circles in which these thinkers had their effect (Diderot, Cabanis and others also belonged to them). Voltaire himself probably never went so far as to draw the last consequences of these philosophers. He allowed himself, however, to be stimulated by the thoughts of Locke and his sparkling and dazzling writings. Much can be felt of these influences, but he could not become a materialist in the sense of these thinkers. He lived in too comprehensive a thought horizon to deny the spirit. He awakened the need for philosophical questions in the widest circles because he linked these questions to the interest of them. Much would have to be said about him in an account that intended to trace philosophical investigation of current events, but that is not the purpose of this presentation. Only the higher problems of world conception in its specific sense are to be considered. For this reason, Voltaire, as well as Rousseau, the antagonist of the school of enlightenment, are not to be dealt with here.

Just as Locke loses his path in the darkness of the senses, so does David Hume (1711 – 1776) in the inward realm of the self-conscious soul, the experience of which appears to him to be ruled not by the forces of a world order, but by the power of human habit. Why does one say that one event in nature is a cause and another an effect? This is a question Hume asks. Man sees how the sun shines on a stone; he then notices that the stone has become warm. He observes that the first event often follows the second. Therefore, he becomes accustomed to think of them as belonging together. He makes the cause out of the sunshine, and the heating of the stone he turns into the effect. Thought habits tie our perceptions together, but there is nothing outside in a real world that manifests itself in such a connection. Man sees a thought in his mind followed by a motion of his body. He becomes accustomed to think of this thought as the cause and of the motion as the effect. Thought habits, nothing more, are, according to Hume, responsible for man's statements about the world processes. The self-conscious soul can arrive at a guiding direction for life through thought habits, but it cannot find anything in these habits out of which it could shape a world picture that would have any significance for the world event apart from the soul. Thus, for the philosophical view of Hume, every conception that man forms beyond the more external and internal observation remains only an object of belief; it can never become knowledge. Concerning the fate of the self-conscious human soul, there can be no reliable knowledge about its relation to any other world but that of the senses, only belief.

The picture of Leibniz's world conception underwent a drawn-out rationalistic elaboration through Christian Wolff (born in Breslau, 1679, professor in Halle). Wolff is of the opinion that a science could be founded that obtains a knowledge of what is possible through pure thinking, a knowledge of what has the potentiality for existence because it appears free from contradiction to our thinking and can be proven in this way. Thus, Wolff becomes the founder of a science of the world, the soul and God. This world conception rests on the presupposition that the self-conscious soul can produce thoughts in itself that are valid for what lies entirely and completely outside its own realm. This is the riddle with which Kant later feels himself confronted; how is knowledge that is produced in the soul and nevertheless supposed to have validity for world entities lying outside the soul, possible?

In the philosophical development since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the tendency becomes manifest to rest the self-conscious soul on itself so that it feels justified to form valid conceptions about the riddles of the world. In the consciousness of the second half of the eighteenth century, Lessing (1729 – 1781) feels this tendency as the deepest impulse of human longing. As we listen to him, we hear many individuals who reveal the fundamental character of that age in this aspiration.

Lessing strives for the transformation of the religious truths of revelation into truths of reason. This aim is distinctly discernible in the various turns and aspects that his thinking has to take. Lessing feels himself with his self-conscious ego in a period of the evolution of mankind that is destined to acquire through the power of self-consciousness, what it had previously received from without through revelation. What has preceded this phase of history becomes for Lessing a process of preparation for the moment in which man's self-consciousness becomes autonomous. Thus, for Lessing, history becomes an “Education of the Human Race.” This is also the title of his essay, written at the height of his life, in which he refuses to restrict the human soul to a single terrestrial life, but assumes repeated earth lives for it. The soul lives its lives separated by time intervals in the various periods of the evolution of mankind, absorbs from each period what such a time can yield and incarnates itself in a later period to continue its development. Thus, the soul carries the fruits of one age of humanity into the later ages and is “educated” by history. In Lessing's conception, the “ego” is, therefore, extended far beyond the individual life; it becomes rooted in a spiritually effective world that lies behind the world of the senses.

With this view Lessing stands on the ground of a world conception that means to stimulate the self-conscious ego to realize through its very nature how the active agent within itself is not completely manifested in the sense-perceptible individual life. In a different way, yet following the same impulse, Herder (1744 – 1803) attempts to arrive at a world picture. His attention turns toward the entire physical and spiritual universe. He searches, as it were, for the plan of this universe. The connection and harmony of the phenomena of nature, the first dawning and sunrise of language and poetry, the progress of historical evolution — with all this Herder allows his soul to be deeply impressed, and often penetrates it with inspired thought in order to reach a certain aim. According to Herder, something is striving for existence in the entire external world that finally appears in its manifested form in the human soul. The self-conscious soul, by feeling itself grounded in the universe, reveals to itself only the course its own forces took before it reached self-consciousness. The soul may, according to Herder's view, feel itself rooted in the cosmos, for it recognizes a process in the whole natural and spiritual connection that had to lead to the soul itself, just as childhood must lead to mature adulthood in man's personal existence. It is a comprehensive picture of this world thought of Herder that is expressed in his Ideas Toward a Philosophy of the History of Mankind. It represents an attempt to think the picture of nature in harmony with that of the spirit in such a way that there is in this nature picture a place also for the self-conscious human soul. We must not forget that Herder's world conception reflects his struggle to come to terms simultaneously with the conceptions of modern natural science and the needs of the self-conscious soul. Herder was confronted with the demands of modern world conception as was Aristotle with those of the Greek age. Their conceptions receive their characteristic coloring from the different way in which both thinkers had to take into account the pictures of nature provided by their respective ages.

Herder's attitude toward Spinoza, contrary to that of other contemporary thinkers, casts a light on his position in the evolution of world conception. This position becomes particularly distinct if one compares it to the attitude of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743 – 1819). Jacobi finds in Spinoza's world picture the elements that the human understanding must arrive at if it follows the paths predestined for it by its own forces. This picture of the world marks the limit of what man can know about the world. This knowledge, however, cannot decide anything about the nature of the soul, about the divine ground of the world or about the connection of the soul with the latter for this knowledge. These realms are disclosed to man only if he surrenders to an insight of belief that depends on a special ability of the soul. Knowledge in itself must, therefore, according to Jacobi, necessarily be atheistic. It can adhere strictly to logical order, but it cannot contain within itself divine world order. Thus, Spinozism becomes, for Jacobi, the only possible scientific mode of conception but, at the same time, he sees in it a proof of the fact that this mode of thinking cannot find the connection with the spiritual world. In 1787 Herder defends Spinoza against the accusation of atheism. He is in a position to do so, for he is not afraid to feel, in his own way but similar to that of Spinoza, man's experience with the divine being. Spinoza erects a pure thought structure; Herder tries to gain a world conception not merely through thinking but through the whole of the human soul life. For him, no abrupt contrast exists between belief and knowledge if the soul becomes clearly aware of the manner in which it experiences itself. We express Herder's intention if we describe the experience of the soul in the following way. When belief becomes aware of the reasons that move the soul, it arrives at conceptions that are no less certain than those obtained by mere thinking. Herder accepts everything that the soul can find within itself in a purified form as forces that can produce a world picture. Thus, his conception of the divine ground of the world is richer, more saturated, than that of Spinoza, but this conception allows the human ego to assume a relationship to the world ground, which in Spinoza appears merely as a result of thought.

We take our stand at a point where the various threads of the development of modern world conceptions intertwine, as it were, when we observe how the current of Spinoza's thought enters into it in the eighties of the eighteenth century. In 1785 F. H. Jacobi published his “Spinoza-Booklet.” In it he relates a conversation between himself and Lessing that took place shortly before Lessing's death. According to this conversation, Lessing had confessed his adherence to Spinozism. For Jacobi, this also establishes Lessing's atheism. If one recognizes the “Conversation with Jacobi” as decisive for the intimate thoughts of Lessing, one must regard him as a person who acknowledges that man can only acquire a world conception adequate to his nature if he takes as his point of support the firm conviction with which the soul endows the thought living through its own strength. With such an idea Lessing appears as a person whose feeling prophetically anticipates the impulses of the world conceptions of the nineteenth century. That he expresses this idea only in a conversation shortly before his death, and that it is still scarcely noticeable in his writings, shows how hard, even for the freest minds, the struggle with the enigmatic questions that the modern age raised for the development of world conceptions became.

A world conception has to be expressed in thoughts. But the convincing strength of thought, which had found its climax in Platonism and which in Aristotelianism unfolded in an unquestioned way, had vanished from the impulses of man's soul. Only the spiritually bold nature of Spinoza was capable of deriving the energy from the mathematical mode of thinking to elaborate thought into a world conception that should point as far as the ground of the world. The thinkers of the eighteenth century could not yet feel the life-energy of thought that allows them to experience themselves as human beings securely placed into a spiritually real world. Lessing stands among them as a prophet in feeling the force of the self-conscious ego in such a way that he attributes to the soul the transition through repeated terrestrial lives.

The fact that thought no longer entered the field of consciousness as it did for Plato was unconsciously felt like a nightmare in questions of world conceptions. For Plato, it manifested itself with its supporting energy and its saturated content as an active entity of the world. Now, thought was felt as emerging from the substrata of self-consciousness. One was aware of the necessity to supply it with supporting strength through whatever powers one could summon. Time and again this supporting energy was looked for in the truth of belief or in the depth of the heart, forces that were considered to be stronger than thought, which was felt to be pale and abstract. This is what many souls continually experience with respect to thought. They feel it as a mere soul content out of which they are incapable of deriving the energy that could grant them the necessary security to be found in the knowledge that man may know himself rooted with his being in the spiritual ground of the world. Such souls are impressed with the logical nature of thought; they recognize such thought as a force that would be needed to construct a scientific world view, but they demand a force that has a stronger effect on them when they look for a world conception embracing the highest knowledge. Such souls lack the spiritual boldness of Spinoza needed to feel thought as the source of world creation, and thus to know themselves with thought at the world's foundation. As a result of this soul constitution, man often scorns thought while he constructs a world conception; he therefore feels his self-consciousness more securely supported in the darkness of the forces of feeling and emotion. There are people to whom a conception appears the less valuable for its relation to the riddles of the world, the more this conception tends to leave the darkness of the emotional sphere and enter into the light of thought. We find such a mood of soul in I. G. Hamann (died 1788). He was, like many a personality of this kind, a great stimulator, but with a genius like Hamann, ideas brought up from the dark depths of the soul have a more intense effect on others than thoughts expressed in rational form. In the tone of the oracles Hamann expressed himself on questions that fill the philosophical life of his time. He had a stimulating effect on Herder as on others. A mystic feeling, often of a poetistic coloring, pervades his oracular sayings. The urge of the time is manifested chaotically in them for an experience of a force of the self-conscious soul that can serve as supporting nucleus for everything that man means to lift into awareness about world and life.

It is characteristic of this age for its representative spirits to feel that one must submerge into the depth of the soul to find the point in which the soul is linked up with the eternal ground of the world; out of the insight into this connection, out of the source of self-consciousness, one must gain a world picture. A considerable gap exists, however, between what man actually was able to embrace with his spiritual energies and this inner root of the self-consciousness. In their spiritual exertion, the representative spirits do not penetrate to the point from which they dimly feel their task originates. They go in circles, as it were, around the cause of their world riddle without coming nearer to it. This is the feeling of many thinkers who are confronted with the question of world conception when, toward the end of the eighteenth century, Spinoza begins to have an effect. Ideas of Locke and Leibniz, also those of Leibniz in the attenuated form of Wolff, pervade their minds. Besides the striving for clarity of thought, the anxious mistrust against it is at work at the same time, with the result that conceptions derived from the depth of the heart are time and again inserted into the world picture for its completion. Such a picture is found reflected in Lessing's friend, Mendelssohn, who was hurt by the publication of Jacobi's conversation with Lessing. He was unwilling to admit that this conversation really had had the content that Jacobi reported. In that case, Mendelssohn argues, his friend would actually have confessed his adherence to a world conception that means to reach the root of the spiritual world by mere thoughts, but one could not arrive at a conception of the life of this root in this way. The world spirit would have to be approached differently to be felt in the soul as a life-endowed entity. This, Mendelssohn was sure, Lessing must have meant. Therefore, he could only have confessed to a “purified Spinozism,” a Spinozism that would want to go beyond mere thinking while striving for the divine origin of existence. To feel the link with this origin in the manner it was made possible by Spinozism was a step Mendelssohn was reluctant to take.

Herder did not shy away from this step because he enriched the thought contours in the world picture of Spinoza with colorful, content-saturated conceptions that he derived from the contemplation of the panorama of nature and the world of the spirit. He could not have been satisfied with Spinoza's thoughts as they were. As given by their originator, they would have appeared to him as all painted gray on gray. He observed what went on in nature and in history and placed the human being into the world of his contemplation. What was revealed to him in this way showed him a connection between the human being and the origin of the world as well as the world itself, through the conception of which he felt himself in agreement with Spinoza's frame of mind. Herder was deeply and innately convinced that the contemplation of nature and of historical evolution should lead to a world picture through which man can feel his position in the world as a whole as satisfactory. Spinoza was of the opinion that he could arrive at such a world picture only in the light-flooded realm of a thought activity that was developed after the model of mathematics. If one compares Herder with Spinoza, remembering that Herder acknowledged the conviction of the latter, one is forced to recognize that in the evolution of modern world conception an impulse is at work that remains hidden behind the visible world pictures themselves. This impulse consists in the effort to experience in the soul what binds the self-consciousness to the totality of the world processes. It is the effort to gain a world picture in which the world appears in such a way that man can recognize himself in it as he must recognize himself when he allows the inner voice of his self-conscious soul to speak to him. Spinoza means to satisfy the desire for this kind of experience by having the power of thought enfold its own certainty. Leibniz fastens his attention on the soul and aims at a conception of the world as it must be thought if the soul, correctly conceived of, is to appear rightly placed in the world picture. Herder observes the world processes and is convinced from the outset that the right world picture will emerge in the soul if this soul approaches these processes in a healthy way and in its full strength. Herder is absolutely convinced of the later statement of Goethe that “every element of fact is already theory.” He has also been stimulated by the thought world of Leibniz, but he would never have been capable of searching theoretically for an idea of the self-consciousness in the form of the monad first, and then constructing a world picture with this idea. The soul evolution of mankind presents itself in Herder in a way that enables him to point with special clarity and distinctiveness to the impulse underlying it in the modern age. What in Greece has been treated as thought (idea) as if it were a perception is now felt as an inner experience of the soul, and the thinker is confronted with the question: How must I penetrate into the depths of my soul to be able to reach the connection of the soul with the ground of the world in such a way that my thought will at the same time be the expression of the forces of world creation? The age of enlightenment as it appears in the eighteenth century is still convinced of finding its justification in thought itself. Herder develops beyond this viewpoint. He searches, not for the point of the soul where it reveals itself as thinking, but for the living source where the thought emerges out of the creative principle inherent in the soul. With this tendency Herder comes close to what one can call the mysterious experience of the soul with thought. A world conception must express itself in thoughts, but thought only then endows the soul with the power for which it searches by means of a world conception in the modern age, when it experiences this thought in its process of its birth in the soul. When thought is born, when it has turned into a philosophical system, it has already lost its magical power over the soul. For this reason, the power of thought and the philosophical world picture are so often underestimated. This is done by all those who know only the thought that is suggested to them from without, a thought that they are supposed to believe, to which they are supposed to pledge allegiance. The real power of thought is known only to one who experiences it in the process of its formation.

How this impulse lives in souls in the modern age becomes prominently apparent in a most significant figure in the history of philosophy — Shaftesbury (1671 – 1713). According to him, an “inner sense” lives in the soul; through this inner sense ideas enter into man that become the content of a world conception just as the external perceptions enter through the outer senses. Thus, Shaftesbury does not seek the justification of thought in thought itself, but by pointing toward a fact of the soul life that enables thought to enter from the foundation of the world into the interior of the soul. Thus, for Shaftesbury, man is confronted by a twofold outer world: The “external,” material one, which enters the soul through the “outer” senses, and the spiritual outer world, which reveals itself to man through his “inner sense.”

In this age a strong tendency can be felt toward a knowledge of the soul, for man strives to know how the essence of a world view is anchored in the soul's nature. We see such an effort in Johann Nicolaus Tetens (1736 – 1807). In his investigations of the soul he arrived at a distinction of the soul faculties that has been adopted into general usage at the present time: Thinking, feeling and willing. It was customary before him to distinguish just between the faculties of thinking and the appetitive faculty.

How the spirits of the eighteenth century attempt to watch the soul in the process of creatively forming its world picture can be observed in Hemsterhuis (1721 – 1790). In this philosopher, whom Herder considered to be one of the greatest thinkers since Plato, the struggle of the eighteenth century with the soul impulse of the modern age becomes demonstrably apparent. The thoughts of Hemsterhuis can be expressed approximately in the following way. If the human soul could, through its own power and without external senses, contemplate the world, the panorama of the world would lie displayed before it in a single moment. The soul would then be infinite in the infinite. If the soul, however, had no possibility to live in itself but depended entirely on the outer senses, then it would be confronted with a never ending temporal diffusion of the world. The soul would then live, unconscious of itself, in an ocean of sensual boundlessness. Between these two poles, which are never reached in reality but which mark the limits of the inner life as two possibilities, the soul lives its actual life; it permeates its own infinity with the boundlessness of the world.

In this chapter the attempt has been made to demonstrate, through the example of a few thinkers, how the soul impulse of the modern age flows through the evolution of world conception in the eighteenth century. In this current live the seeds from which the thought development of the “Age of Kant and Goethe” grew.



Last Modified: 29-Aug-2017
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