Chapter 3 Section 11 & 12

Submitted by Tom Last on Sun, 06/03/2007 - 6:21pm.

The Philosophy of Freedom Study Group
Thinking In The Service Of Knowledge
Impartial Consideration of Thinking and Rightness of Thinking In Itself
3.11 There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood.

[30] I have so far spoken of thinking without taking account of its vehicle, human consciousness. Most present-day philosophers would object that before there can be thinking, there must be consciousness. Hence we ought to start, not from thinking, but from consciousness. There is no thinking, they say, without consciousness. To this I must reply that in order to clear up the relation between thinking and consciousness, I must think about it. Therefore I presuppose thinking. Nevertheless one could still argue that although, when the philosopher tries to understand consciousness he makes use of thinking and to that extent presupposes it, yet in the ordinary course of life thinking does arise within consciousness and therefore presupposes consciousness. Now if this answer were given to the world-creator when he was about to create thinking, it would doubtless be to the point. Naturally it is not possible for thinking to arise before consciousness. The philosopher, however, is not concerned with creating the world but with understanding it. Accordingly he has to seek the starting points not for the creation of the world but for the understanding of it. It seems to me very strange that the philosopher should be reproached for troubling himself first and foremost about the correctness of his principles instead of turning straight to the objects which he seeks to understand. The world creator had above all to know how to find a vehicle for thinking, but the philosopher has to seek a secure foundation for his attempts to understand what already exists. How does it help us to start with consciousness and subject it to our thinking contemplation, if we do not first know whether thinking is in fact able to give us insight into things at all?

[31] We must first consider thinking quite impartially, without reference to a thinking subject or a thought object. For both subject and object are concepts formed by thinking. There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood. Whoever denies this fails to realize that man is not the first link in the chain of creation but the last. Therefore, in order to explain the world by means of concepts, we cannot start from the elements of existence which came first in time, but we must begin with that element which is given to us as the nearest and most intimate. We cannot at one bound transport ourselves back to the beginning of the world in order to begin our studies from there, but we must start from the present moment and see whether we can ascend from the later to the earlier. As long as Geology assumed fantastic catastrophes to explain the present condition of the earth, it groped in darkness. It was only when it began to study the processes at present at work on the earth, and from these to argue back to the past, that it gained a firm foundation. As long as Philosophy goes on assuming all sorts of basic principles, such as atom, motion, matter, will, or the unconscious, it will hang in the air. Only if the philosopher recognizes that which is last in time as his first point of attack, can he reach his goal. This absolutely last thing at which world evolution has arrived is in fact thinking.

Topic: Impartial Consideration Of Thinking
  • It seems very strange that the philosopher should be reproached for troubling themselves before all else with the correctness of their principles rather than turning straight to the objects they want to understand.
  • We must first look at thinking in a completely neutral way, without reference to a thinking subject or thought object.
  • There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood.
Match-up Quiz

[32] There are people who say it is impossible to ascertain with certainty whether our thinking is right or wrong, and thus our starting point is in any case a doubtful one. It would be just as sensible to doubt whether a tree is in itself right or wrong. Thinking is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the truth or falsity of a fact. I can, at most, be in doubt as to whether thinking is correctly applied, just as I can doubt whether a certain tree supplies wood adapted to the making of this or that useful object. To show how far the application of thinking to the world is right or wrong, is precisely the task of this book. I can understand anyone doubting whether, by means of thinking, we can gain knowledge of the world, but it is incomprehensible to me how anyone can doubt the rightness of thinking in itself.

Topic: Rightness Of Thinking In Itself

  • There are people who say we cannot determine with certainty whether our thinking is right or wrong, and therefore our starting point is a doubtful one.
  • Thinking is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the truth or falsehood of a fact. I can, at most, be in doubt as to whether thinking is correctly applied.
  • It is incomprehensible to me how anyone can doubt the rightness of thinking in itself.

Match-up Quiz

">Audio Chapter 3 Addendum

Author's addition, 1918

[1] In the preceding discussion I have pointed out the significant difference between thinking and all other activities of the soul, as a fact which presents itself to genuinely unprejudiced observation. Anyone who does not strive towards this unprejudiced observation will be tempted to bring against my arguments such objections as these: When I think about a rose, this after all only expresses a relation of my “I” to the rose, just as when I feel the beauty of the rose. There is a relation between “I” and object in the case of thinking just as much as in the case of feeling or perceiving. Such an objection leaves out of account the fact that only in the thinking activity does the “I” know itself to be one and the same being with that which is active, right into all the ramifications of this activity. With no other soul activity is this so completely the case. For example, in a feeling of pleasure it is perfectly possible for a more delicate observation to discriminate between the extent to which the “I” knows itself to be one and the same being with what is active, and the extent to which there is something passive in the “I” to which the pleasure merely presents itself. The same applies to the other soul activities. Above all one should not confuse the “having of thought-images” with the elaboration of thought by thinking. Thought-images may appear in the soul after the fashion of dreams, like vague intimations. But this is not thinking. True, someone might now say: If this is what you mean by “thinking”, then your thinking involves willing and you have to do not merely with thinking but also with the will in the thinking. However, this would simply justify us in saying: Genuine thinking must always be willed. But this is quite irrelevant to the characterization of thinking as this has been given in the preceding discussion. Granted that the nature of thinking necessarily implies its being willed, the point that matters is that nothing is willed which, in being carried out, does not appear to the “I” as an activity completely its own and under its own supervision. Indeed, we must say that owing to the very nature of thinking as here defined, it must appear to the observer as willed through and through. If we really make the effort to grasp everything that is relevant to a judgment about the nature of thinking, we cannot fail to see that this soul activity does have the unique character we have here described.

[2] A person whom the author of this book rates very highly as a thinker has objected that it is impossible to speak about thinking as we are doing here, because what one believes oneself to have observed as active thinking is nothing but an illusion. In reality one is observing only the results of an unconscious activity which lies at the basis of thinking. Only because this unconscious activity is not observed does the illusion arise that the observed thinking exists in its own right, just as when in an illumination by means of a rapid succession of electric sparks we believe that we are seeing a continuous movement. This objection, too, rests only on an inaccurate view of the facts. In making it, one forgets that it is the “I” itself which, from its standpoint inside the thinking, observes its own activity. The “I” would have to stand outside the thinking in order to suffer the sort of deception which is caused by an illumination with a rapid succession of electric sparks. It would be much truer to say that precisely in using such an analogy one is forcibly deceiving oneself, just as if someone seeing a moving light were to insist that it is being freshly lit by an unknown hand at every point where it appears. No, whoever is determined to see in thinking anything other than a clearly surveyable activity produced by the “I” itself, must first shut his eyes to the plain facts that are there for the seeing, in order then to invent a hypothetical activity as the basis of thinking. If he does not thus blind himself, he will have to recognize that everything which he “thinks up” in this way as an addition to the thinking only leads him away from its real nature. Unprejudiced observation shows that nothing is to be counted as belonging to the nature of thinking except what is found in thinking itself. One will never arrive at something which is the cause of thinking if one steps outside the realm of thinking itself.

3-11.mp31.44 MB
3-12.mp3373.8 KB
ch3Addendum.mp31.98 MB
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