Chapter 3 Thinking as the Instrument of Knowledge (18 - 32)


Chapter 3 Thinking
        as the Instrument
            of Knowledge

 Paragraph 18 - 32


[18] For everyone,
       however,
          who has
             the ability
          to observe
         thinking
       -- and
          with good will
             every normal man
                has this ability --
             this observation
                is
                   the most important one
                      he can possibly make.

    For
         he observes
            something
         of which
            he himself
               is the creator;
       he finds himself
          confronted,
       not by
           an apparently foreign object,
       but
          by his own activity.

    He knows how
         the thing he is observing
            comes into being.

    He sees
        into its connections
            and relationships.

    A firm point
        has now been reached
           from which one can,
       with some
          hope of success,
       seek an explanation
           of all other phenomena
               of the world.
 
    [19] The feeling
         that he
            had found
               such
                  a firm point led
                     the father
                   of modern philosophy,
                      Descartes,
                   to base
          the whole
             of human knowledge
                on the principle:
       I think,
          therefore I am.

    All other things,
       all other events,
          are there
             independently of me.

    Whether
         they be truth,
            or illusion,
           or dream,
       I know not.

    There is only one thing
         of which
             I am absolutely certain,
       for I
          myself give it
             its certain existence;
       and that is my thinking.

    Whatever
          other origin it
             may ultimately have,
       may it come
           from God or from elsewhere,
       of one thing
          I am certain:
       that it exists
           in the sense
         that I myself bring it
            forth.

    Descartes had,
       to begin with,
          no justification
             for giving
                his statement more meaning
            than this.

    All that he
         had any right to assert
            was
         that
            within the whole world content
          I apprehend myself
             in my thinking
         as in that activity
             which is most uniquely my own.

    What the attached
        "therefore
             I am"
           is supposed
               to mean
                  has been much debated.

    It can have
        a meaning
           on one condition
       only.

    The simplest assertion
          I can make
             of a thing
            is
         that it is,
       that it exists.

    How this existence
          can be further defined
             in the case
                of any particular thing
         that appears
            on the horizon
               of my experience,
       is at first sight impossible
          to say.

    Each
         object
        must first be studied
           in its relation
               to others
                   before we
                      can determine
                         in what
                            sense
                      it can be said
                          to exist.

    An experienced event
        may be a set
           of percepts
               or
                  it may be a dream,
                     an hallucination,
                   or something else.

    In short,
       I am unable
          to say in what
         sense it exists.

    I cannot gather
        this
           from the event
              in itself,
      but
         I shall find it
            out
               when
                  I consider the event
                     in its relation
                        to other things.

    But here
          again
              I cannot know more than just
                 how
                    it stands
               in relation
                   to these other things.

    My investigation
        touches
           firm
        ground only
           when
              I find an object
         which
            exists
           in a sense
         which
             I can derive
           from the object
               itself.

    But
         I am myself such
             an object in that
                 I think,
       for
          I give to my existence
             the definite,
       self-determined content
           of the thinking activity.

    From here
         I can go on
            to ask
          whether
             other things
                  exist
               in the same
                   or in some other sense.

    [20] When
         we make
            thinking
          an object
             of observation,
       we add
          to the other
             observed contents of the world something
         which usually escapes our attention,
       But the way
          we stand
             in relation
                to the other things
          is in no way altered.

    We add to the number
        of objects
            of observation,
      but
         not to the number
            of methods.

    While we
          are observing the other things,
       there enters
           among the processes
               of the world
       -- among
          which I
             now include observation --
                one process
                   which is overlooked.

    Something is present which
        is different
           from all other processes,
       something
          which
             is not taken
           into account.

    But
         when
             I observe
                my own thinking,
       no such neglected element
          is present.

    For
         what
            now
               hovers
                  in the background
                is once more just thinking itself.

    The object of observation
        is qualitatively identical
           with the activity
              directed
                 upon it.

    This is
         another characteristic feature
            of thinking.

    When
         we make it
             an object
                of observation,
       we are not compelled
          to do so
             with the help
                of something
                   qualitatively different,
       but can remain
           within the same element.
 
    [21] When I
          weave an independently given
        object
           into my thinking,
       I transcend my observation,
          and
         the question arises:
       What
          right
             have
         I to do this?

    Why do
          I not simply let
              the object
                  impress itself upon me?

    How is it possible
        for my thinking
       to be related
          to the object?

    These are
        questions
           which everyone
              must put to himself
             who reflects
           on his own thought
              processes.

    But all these questions
        cease to exist
           when
              we think
           about thinking itself.

    We
         then add
            nothing
           to our thinking
              that is foreign
           to it,
       and therefore have
          no need to
             justify any such addition.
 
    [22] Schelling says,
        "To know
           Nature
              means
           to create Nature."

    If
         we take
            these words
           of this
               bold Nature-philosopher literally,
       we shall have
          to renounce
             for ever all hope
           of gaining knowledge
               of Nature.

    For Nature
        is
           there already,
       and
          in order to create it
             a second time,
       we must first know
           the principles
          according to
              which it
                 has originated.

    From the Nature
          that already exists
         we should have
            to borrow
           or
              crib
                 the fundamental principles
                    for the Nature
                       we want to begin
           by creating.

    This borrowing,
       which
          would have
             to precede the creating,
       would
          however
              mean
            knowing Nature,
       and
          this would still be so even
         if after the borrowing no creation
            were
               to take place.

    The only kind
        of Nature
       we could create
         without first having
       knowledge
          of it would be
             a Nature
                that does not yet exist.
 
    [23] What
        is impossible
           for us with regard to Nature,
              namely,
           creating
         before knowing,
       we achieve
           in the case of thinking.

    Were
         we to refrain
            from thinking until
               we had first gained knowledge
           of it,
       we would never come
           to it
              at all.

    We must resolutely plunge
          right
             into the activity
                of thinking,
               so that afterwards,
                  by observing
         what we
              have done,
       we may gain knowledge
           of it.

    For the observation
        of thinking,
       we ourselves first
          create an object;
       the presence
           of all other
              objects
        is taken care of
           without any activity
               on our part.
 
    [24] My contention
          that
             we must think before we
         can examine
            thinking
               might easily be countered
           by the apparently equally
              valid contention that
                 we cannot wait
               with digesting until
              we have first observed
                 the process
               of digestion.

    This objection
        would be similar
           to
              that brought
                 by Pascal
                    against Descartes,
       when
          he asserted that
         we might also say,
        "I walk,
           therefore
              I am."

    Certainly
         I must go straight
            ahead with
               digesting and
            not wait until
               I have studied
                  the physiological process
               of digestion.

    But
         I could only compare
            this
         with the study
            of thinking if,
           after digestion,
              I set myself not
          to study
              it
           by thinking,
       but
          to eat
              and digest it.

    It is
        after all
            not without reason
      that,
      whereas digestion cannot become
          the object
             of digestion,
      thinking
         can very well become
            the object of thinking.
 
    [25] This
         then is indisputable,
       that
          in thinking
             we have
                got hold
           of one corner
               of the whole world process
         which
            requires
           our presence
         if anything
            is to happen.

    And
         this is just
            the point
               upon which everything turns.

    The very
          reason
             why things
                confront me
               in such a puzzling way
            is just
               that
                  I play no
        part
           in their production.

    They are simply given
        to me,
       whereas
           in the case
               of thinking
              I know how
                  it is done.

    Hence for the study
        of all
       that happens
          in the world
         there can be
       no more fundamental starting
           point
              than
         thinking itself.
 
    [26] I should now like
        to mention
           a widely current error
      which
         prevails
        with regard to thinking.

    It is often said
          that thinking,
       as it is in itself,
          is nowhere given
             to us:
       the thinking that connects
           our observations
              and weaves
          a network
             of concepts
                about them
                   is not
           at all the same
         as
             that
                 which
                     we subsequently extract
                   from the objects
                       of observation
                           in order to make it
                              the object
                                 of our study.

    What we
        first weave unconsciously
           into the things
         is said
            to be quite
               different
            from what
               we consciously extract
            from them again.
 
    [27] Those
         who
            hold
         this view do not see
            that it
               is impossible
           in this way
          to escape from thinking.

    I cannot get
        outside thinking
           when
              I want
           to study it.

    If
         we want
            to distinguish
           between thinking
         before we
              have become conscious
           of it,
       and thinking
          of which
             we have subsequently become aware,
       we should not forget
          that this distinction
              is a purely external one
         which has nothing
            to do
           with the thing
               itself.

    I do not
        in any way alter
           a thing
              by thinking
                 about it.

    I can well imagine that
        a being
           with quite differently constructed
              sense organs
        and
           with a differently functioning intelligence,
      would have
          a very different mental picture
             of a horse
                from mine,
      but
         I cannot imagine
            that my own thinking
           becomes
              something different
          through the fact
             that I observe it.

    I myself observe
         what
             I myself produce.

    Here
         we are not talking
            of how my thinking looks
               to an intelligence other
              than mine,
       but of
          how
             it looks
           to me.

    In any case the picture
        of my thinking which
            another
          intelligence
             might have
                 cannot be
              a truer one than my own.

    Only
         if
             I were not myself
                 the being doing the thinking,
       but
          if the thinking
             were
                to confront me
           as the activity
               of a being quite foreign
                  to me,
       might I
          then say that
         although
            my own picture
               of the thinking
            may arise
           in a particular way,
       what the thinking
           of
         that being
            may be like
               in itself,
       I am quite unable
          to know.

    [28] So far,
       there is not
           the slightest reason
         why
             I should regard
                my own thinking
           from any point of view other
          than my own.

    After all,
       I contemplate
           the rest
              of the world
                 by means of thinking.

    Why should
         I make
            my thinking an exception?
 
    [29] I believe
         I have
              give sufficient reasons
           for making
              thinking
          the starting
              point
           for my study
               of the world.

    When Archimedes
          had discovered the lever,
       he thought
          he could lift
             the whole cosmos
           from its hinges,
       if only
          he could find
             a point
           of support
               for his instrument.

    He needed something
         that was supported
            by itself
               and by nothing else.

    In thinking
          we have a principle
              which subsists through itself.

    Let us try,
       therefore,
          to understand
             the world
        starting
           from this basis.

    We can grasp
        thinking
           by means
              of itself.

    The question is,
       whether
          we can also grasp anything else
             through it.
 
    [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.
 
    [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.