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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

On-line since: 6th February, 2006

First Appendix

(Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918)


Certain objections raised from philosophical quarters immediately after the appearance of this book move me to add the following brief comments to this new edition. I can very well imagine that there are readers interested in the content of this book who will nevertheless regard the following as a superfluous, remote, and abstract spinning out of concepts. They can leave this brief presentation unread. However, within the philosophical way of looking at the world, problems arise which have their origin more in certain preconceptions of thinkers than in the natural course of general human thinking. What is otherwise taken upon in this book seems tome to be a task which concerns every person who is struggling for clarity with respect to the being of man and his relationship to the world. What follows, however, is more a problem that certain philosophers demand be taken up when the things presented in this boo are discussed, because, through their way of picturing things, these philosophers have created for themselves certain difficulties not generally present. If one completely bypasses such problems, then certain personalities are quick at hand with the reproach of dilettantism and the like. And there arises an opinion as though the author of a presentation like the one given in this book had not come to terms with views which he does not discuss within the book itself.

The problem to which I refer is this; there are thinkers who are of the opinion that a particular difficulty arises when one wants to grasp how another human soul life could affect one's own (the observer's). They say that my conscious world is enclosed within me; and the other conscious world likewise within itself. I cannot see into the world of consciousness of another. How do I arrive at knowing myself to be in a common world with him? That world view which regards it as possible to infer, from the conscious world, an unconscious one that can never become conscious attempts to solve this difficulty in the following fashion. It says that the world which I have in my consciousness is a representation in me of a world of reality not consciously attainable by me. In this world of reality lie the unknown causes of my world of consciousness. In it lies also my real being, of which I likewise have only a representation in my consciousness. In it lies also my real being, of which I likewise have only a representation in my consciousness. In it lies also, however, the being of the other person who approaches me. Now what is experienced in the consciousness of this other person has its corresponding reality, independent of his consciousness, within his being This reality works in the realm that cannot become conscious upon my essential unconscious being, and through this a representation is created in my consciousness for that which is present in a consciousness that is completely independent of my conscious experience. One can see that here, in addition to the world accessible to my consciousness, a world is hypothetically constructed which cannot be experienced by this consciousness, because otherwise one believes oneself forced to maintain that all the outer word which I believe I have before me is only my word of consciousness, and that would result in the solipsistic absurdity that other people also live only within my consciousness.

Clarity can also be gained on this question, raised by many epistemological tendencies of our day, if one undertakes to look at the matter from the point of view of observation in accordance with the spirit taken in the presentation of this book. What do I have before me then to begin with when I confront another personality? I look at what is most immediate. This is the bodily manifestation of the other person given to me as perception; then in addition perhaps the audible perception of what he says, and so on. I do not merely stare at all this, but rather it sets my thinking activity in motion. Inasmuch as I stand, thinking, before the other personality, the perception reveals to me its characteristic of being in a certain way transparent to the soul. I am obliged, in grasping the perception in thinking, to say to myself that it is not at all that which it appears to be to the outer senses. The physical manifestation reveals, within what it is directly, something else which it is indirectly. Its placing itself before me is at the same time its extinguishing as a merely physical manifestation. But what it brings to manifestation in this extinguishing compels me as a thinking being to extinguish my thinking during the time of its working and to set in the place of my thinking, its thinking. Its thinking, however, I grasp within my thinking as an experience like my own. I have really perceived the thinking of the other person. For the direct perception which extinguishes itself as a physical manifestation is grasped by my thinking, and this is an occurrence lying completely within my consciousness, an occurrence which consists in the fact that the other thinking takes the place of my thinking. Through the physical manifestation's extinguishing itself, the separation between the two spheres of consciousness is actually removed. This represents itself within my consciousness through the fact that, in experiencing the other content of consciousness, I experience my own consciousness just as little as I experience it in dreamless sleep. Just as in dreamless sleep my day consciousness is excluded, so in perceiving the other content of consciousness my own content is excluded. What keeps me from recognizing this is only the fact that, firstly, when I perceive the other person, unconsciousness does not enter the place where the content of my own consciousness is extinguished as in sleep, but rather the other content of consciousness enters, and secondly, that the alternating states of the extinguishing and lighting up again of my consciousness of myself succeed one another too quickly to be usually noticed. — The whole problem lying before us here is not to be solved by artificial constructs of concepts which infer something conscious-in-itself that can never become conscious, but rather by true experiencing of what results from the joining of thinking and perception. This is the case with very many of the questions which appear in philosophical literature. Thinkers should seek the way to unprejudiced observation in accordance with the spirit; instead of this they thrust an artificial construct of concepts in front of reality.

In an essay by Eduard von Hartmann on “The Ultimate Questions of Epistemology and Metaphysics” (in the Journal of Philosophy and Philosophical Criticism, Vol. 108, p. 55ff.)* my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is included in that philosophical discussion of thought which wishes to base itself upon an “epistemological monism.” Such a standpoint is rejected by Eduard von Hartmann as an impossible one. He does this for the following reasons. According to the way of picturing things brought to expression in his essay, there are only three possible epistemological standpoints. Either a person remains at the naive standpoint, which takes the manifestations it perceives to be real things outside of human consciousness. Then one would lack critical knowledge. One would not see that one is, with one's content of consciousness, still only within one's own consciousness. One would not recognize that one does not have to do with a “table-in-itself,” but rather only with an object of one's own consciousness. Whoever remains at this standpoint or returns to it again through some consideration or other, is a naive realist. But this standpoint is impossible, however, for it overlooks the fact that consciousness has only its own objects of consciousness. Or one recognizes this state of affairs and admits it to oneself fully. Then one becomes at first a transcendental idealist. But then one would have to reject the possibility that anything of a “thing-in-itself” could ever appear within human consciousness. Through this, however, one cannot escape absolute illusionism, if one is only consistent enough about it. For the world which one confronts transforms itself for one into a mere sum total of objects of consciousness, and in fact only of objects of one's own consciousness. One is then compelled — and this absurd — to think that even other people as objects are present only in one's own content of consciousness alone. Only the third standpoint, transcendental realism, is a possible one. It assumes that there are “things-in-themselves,” but that consciousness cannot in any way have anything to do with them in immediate experience. Beyond human consciousness, in a way that does not enter consciousness, they bring it about that within consciousness the objects of consciousness appear. One can come to these “things-in-themselves” only through inferences drawn from the content of one's consciousness which alone is experienced but which in fact is merely one's mental pictures. Now Eduard von Hartmann maintains, in the essay mentioned above, that an “epistemological monism,” which he considers my standpoint to be, would have to espouse one of the three standpoints; it does not do so only because it does not draw the actual conclusions lying within its presuppositions. And then in the essay it is said, “If one wants to find out which epistemological standpoint a supposed epistemological monist belongs, then one needs only to lay a few questions before him and to compel him to answer them. For of himself no such monist will ever venture any utterance on these points, and he will even seek in every way to evade answering direct questions, because every answer invalidates the claim of epistemological monism as to its being a different standpoint than the other three. These questions are the following: 1. Are things continuous or intermittent in their existence? If the answer is that they are continuous, then one has to do with naive realism in one form or anther. If the answer is that they are intermittent, then it is a case of transcendental idealism. But if the answer is that they are on the one hand (as content of the absolute consciousness, or as unconscious mental pictures or as perceptual possibilities) continuous, and on the other hand (as content of our limited consciousness) intermittent, then transcendental realism is established. 2. If three people are sitting at a table, how many specimens of the table are present? Whoever answers ‘one,’ is a naive realist; whoever answers ‘three’ is a transcendental idealist, but whoever answers ‘four,’ he is a transcendental realist. It is, to be sure, assumed in this, that one is allowed to draw together into one common appellation ‘specimens of the table,’ such unlike things as the table as thing-in-itself, and the three tables as objects of perception within the three consciousnesses. If this seems too great a liberty to anyone, he will have to give the answer ‘one and three’ instead of ‘four.’ 3. If two people are alone together in a room, how many specimens of these people are present? Whoever answers ‘two’ is a naive realist; whoever answers ‘four’ (namely, in each of the two consciousnesses, one ego and one other), he is a transcendental idealist; but whoever answers ‘six’ (namely, two people as things-in-themselves, and four mental pictures of people within the two consciousnesses), he is a transcendental realist. Whoever wanted to show that epistemological monism is a different standpoint than these three, would have to give to each of these three questions some different answer; I wouldn't know, however, what they could be.” The answers of the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity would have to be: 1. Whoever grasps only the perceptual content of things and considers this to be reality is a naive realist, and he does not make it clear to himself that he should actually regard this perceptual content as existing only for as long as he is looking at the things, that therefore he would have to think of what he has before him as intermittent. As soon as he becomes clear about the fact, however, that reality is present only when the perceptible is permeated with thought, will he attain the insight that the content of perception, appearing as intermittent, if permeated by what is worked out in thinking, reveals itself to be continuous. We must therefore regard as continuous the perceptual content grasped by a thinking which is experienced; the part of this content that is only perceived would have to be thought of as intermittent, if — which is not the case — it were real. — 2. If three people are sitting at a table, how many specimens of the table are present? There is only one table present; but as long as the three people wanted to stop short at their perceptual pictures, they would have to say that these perceptual pictures are definitely no reality. As soon as they proceed to the table grasped in their thinking, the one reality of the table reveals itself to them; they are united with their three contents of consciousness within this reality. — 3. If two people are alone together in a room, how many specimens of these people are present? There are quite certainly not six — not even I the sense of the transcendental realist — specimens present, but only two. Only, each of the persons has at first, both of himself and of the other person, only his unreal perceptual picture. Of these pictures there are four present, through whose presence within the thinking activities of the two persons the grasping of reality takes place. In this thinking activity each of the persons reaches beyond his sphere of consciousness; the sphere of consciousness, the other person's and his own, comes to life in this activity. In the moment this comes to life the two people are enclosed just as little within their consciousness as they are in sleep. But in the other moments, the consciousness of this merging with the other consciousness arises again, in such a way that, in thinking experience the consciousness of each one of the two people grasps himself and the other. I know that the transcendental realist will call this a relapse into naive realism. However, I have already indicated in this book that naive realism still holds good for thinking which is experienced. The transcendental realist does not enter at all into the true state of affairs with respect to the cognitive process; he closes himself off from this through a web of thoughts and entangles himself in it. The monism which appears in Philosophy of Spiritual Activity should also not be called “epistemological,” bur rather, if one wishes a second name, thought-monism. All this was misunderstood by Eduard von Hartmann. He did not enter into that which is particular in what Philosophy of Spiritual Activity presents, but rather asserted that I had made the attempt to combine Hegel's universalistic panlogism with Hume's individualistic phenomenalism (p. 71 of the Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 108, footnote),** whereas in fact Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as such has absolutely nothing to do with these two standpoints which it is supposedly trying to unite. (This is also the reason I could not be concerned about coming to terms, for example, with the “epistemological monism” of Johannes Rehmke. The point of view of Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is, in fact, completely different from what Eduard von Hartmann and others call epistemological monism.)

*Die letzten Fragen der Erkenntnistheorie und Metaphysik,” Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik.

**Zeitschrift fur Philosophie




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