Chapter 05 Audiobook

The Philosophy of Freedom
Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path, Lipson translation
copyright © Anthroposophic Press, 1995
Audio by Dale Brunsvold
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Chapter 05

Knowing The World


(44:38) Whole chapter audio

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[1] It follows from our considerations so far that we cannot prove our percepts are mental pictures by investigating the content of our observations. Such proof is supposedly established by showing that; if the perceptual process occurs as it is believed to do on the basis of naive-realistic assumptions about the psychological and physiological constitution of the individual—we have to do not with things in themselves but only with mental pictures of things. However, if naive realism, consistently pursued, leads to results that represent the exact opposite of its assumptions, then those assumptions must be seen as unsuitable for founding a worldview and dropped. In any case, it is invalid to reject the assumptions and accept the consequences, as the critical idealists do who base their claim that the world is my mental picture on the above line of argument. (Eduard von Hartmann gives a detailed presentation of this line of argument in The Fundamental Problems of Epistemology.)

[2] The correctness of critical idealism is one thing; the power of its proofs to convince us is another. How things stand with the former will emerge later in our discussion. But the power of its proofs to convince is zero. When someone builds a house and the ground floor collapses during construction of the second floor, then the second floor falls along with it. Naive realism is to critical idealism as this ground floor is to the second floor.

[3] For anyone who believes that the whole perceived world is only a mental picture, and in fact is the effect on my soul of things unknown to me, the real epistemological question of course has to do with the things that lie beyond our consciousness, independent of us, and not with the mental pictures that are present only in our souls. Then the question becomes: Since the things, which are independent of us, are inaccessible to our direct observation, how much can we know of them indirectly? Those who hold this point of view are concerned not with the inner connection of their conscious percepts but only with the non-conscious causes of those percepts. For them, these causes exist independently and, according to their belief, the percepts disappear as soon as their senses are turned away from things. From this point of view, consciousness acts as a mirror whose images of specific things also disappear the moment that its mirroring surface is not turned toward them. But whoever does not see the things themselves but only their mirror images must learn to draw conclusions about the nature of the things indirectly, from the behavior of the reflections. Modern natural science takes this position. It uses percepts only as a last resort in gaining information about the material processes standing behind them. For it, only these truly exist. If philosophers as critical idealists acknowledge existence at all, then their search for knowledge, while making use of mental pictures as a means, aims only at this existence. Such philosophers’ interest skips over the subjective world of mental pictures and directs itself to what produces them.

[4] A critical idealist might go so far as to say: “I am enclosed within my world of mental pictures, and I cannot leave it. If I think that there is something behind these mental pictures, then this thought, too, is nothing more than a mental picture.” An idealist of this kind will therefore either deny the thing-in-itself entirely, or at least explain that it has no significance for human beings; that is, since we can know nothing about it, it is as good as non-existent.

[5] To a critical idealist of this kind, the whole world appears like a dream, in the face of which every attempt at knowledge would be simply meaningless. In this view, there can be only two kinds of people: biased ones who take their own dreamy fabrications for real things, and wise ones who see through the nothingness of this dream world and gradually lose all desire to bother themselves further about it. From this vantage point, even one’s own personality can become a mere dream image. Just as one’s own dream image appears among other dream images in sleep, so the mental picture of one’s own I joins the mental pictures of the external world. Therefore our consciousness does not contain our real I, but only the mental picture of our I. For those who deny that there are things, or  that we can know anything of them, must also deny the existence, or at least the knowledge, of their own personality. Critical idealism thus arrives at the statement, “All reality is transformed into a wonderful dream—without there being a life that is dreamed about or a spirit that is doing the dreaming—a dream that coheres in a dream of itself.”

[6] For those who believe they know immediate life is a dream, it does not matter whether they suspect that nothing exists behind it, or whether they refer their mental pictures to real things. For them, life itself loses all scientific interest. Science is an absurdity to those who believe that the accessible universe is exhausted in dreams, while to those who believe themselves equipped to reason from mental pictures to things, it consists in the investigation of “things-in-themselves.” We may call the first view absolute illusionism; transcendental realism is the name given the second view by its most consistent exponent, Eduard von Hartmann.

[7] These two views agree with naive realism in that they seek to gain a footing in the world by an investigation of percepts. But nowhere in this realm can they find a firm base.

[8] One of the main questions for proponents of transcendental realism must be: “How does the I bring the world of mental pictures out of itself?” A world given to us as mental pictures, which disappears as soon as we close our senses to the external world, can still be of interest in the serious search for knowledge, insofar as it is a means for indirectly investigating the world of the self-existent I. If the things we experience were mental pictures, then everyday life would be like a dream, and knowledge of the true state of affairs would be like waking up. Our dream images, too, interest us only as long as we dream and so do not see through their dream nature. The moment we awaken, we no longer ask about the inner connection of our dream images, but about the physical, physiological, and psychological processes that underlie them. In the same way, philosophers who hold the world to be their mental picture cannot interest themselves in the inner connection of its details. If they admit an existent I at all, they will not ask how one of their mental pictures connects with another. Rather, they will ask what is going on in the soul that exists independently from themselves, while their consciousness contains a specific sequence of mental pictures. If I dream that I am drinking wine that causes burning in my throat, and then wake up with a cough, the plot of the dream ceases to be of any interest to me at the moment of awakening. My attention is now directed only to the physiological and psychological processes through which the sore throat expresses itself symbolically in the dream. Similarly, as soon as philosophers are convinced that the given world has the character of a mental picture, they should immediately pass over it to the real soul lying behind it. Of course, the matter is worse if illusionism completely denies an I-in-itself behind the mental pictures, or at least holds it to be unknowable. We can be led to such a view very easily if we observe that, in contrast to dreaming, there is a state of waking, in which we have an opportunity to see through dreams and relate them to real events, but that there is no state that stands in a similar relationship to waking consciousness. Those who profess this view, however, lack the insight that there is, in fact, something that relates to mere perception as experiences in the waking state relate to dreaming. That something is thinking.

[9] This lack of insight cannot be attributed to the naive observer. Such people give themselves over to life and consider things to be as real as they seem in experience. But the first step to be taken beyond this naive standpoint can only be to ask: “How does thinking relate to perception?”
Regardless of whether or not the percept, in the form given to me, persists before and after my mental picturing, it is only with the aid of thinking that I can say anything about it. If I say that the world is my mental picture, then I have spoken the result of a process of thinking, and if my thinking is not applicable to the world, then that result is an error. Between the percept and any kind of statement about it, thinking inserts itself.


[10] I have already indicated the reason why thinking is generally overlooked during the contemplation of things (cf. p. 35). It is because we direct our attention only to the object of our thinking, and not simultaneously to our thinking itself. Naive consciousness therefore treats thinking as something that has nothing to do with things and stands altogether apart from them, making its observations about the world. For naive consciousness, the picture of the phenomena of the world sketched by a thinker does not count as something integral to the things of the world, but as something that exists only in the human head; the world is complete even without this picture. The world is complete and finished with all its substances and forces; and human beings make a picture of this finished world. To those who think like this, we need only ask: “By what right do you declare the world to be finished without thinking? Does not the world bring forth thinking in human heads with the same necessity as it brings forth blossoms on the plant? Plant a seed in the earth. It puts forth roots and stem. It unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Set the plant before you. It links itself to a specific concept in your soul. Why does this concept belong to the plant any less than leaves and blossoms do? You might reply that leaves and blossoms are present without a perceiving subject, while the concept appears only when a human being confronts the plant. Very well. But blossoms and leaves arise in the plant only when there is earth in which the seed can be laid and light and air in which leaves and blossoms can unfold. Just so, the concept of the plant arises when thinking consciousness approaches the plant.”

[11] It is quite arbitrary to consider as a totality, a whole, the sum of what we experience of a thing through perception alone, and to regard what results from a thinking contemplation as something appended, that has nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud today, then the picture that offers itself to my perception is limited to the present moment. But if I put the bud in water, then I will get a completely different picture of my object tomorrow. And if I can keep my eyes turned toward the rosebud, then I shall see today’s state change continuously into tomorrow’s through countless intermediate stages. The picture offering itself to me in a specific moment is but an accidental cross-section of an object that is caught up in a continual process of becoming. If I do not put the bud in water, then it will fail to develop a whole series of states lying within it as possibilities. And tomorrow I might be prevented from observing the blossom further, and so form an incomplete picture of it.

[12] It is completely unrealistic to grasp at accidental elements and to declare, of the picture revealed at a particular time: that is the thing.

[13] It is just as untenable to declare the sum of perceptual characteristics to be the object in question. Certainly it would be possible for a spirit to be able to receive a concept at the same time as, and unseparated from, a percept. Such a spirit would then never think of regarding the concept as something not belonging to the object, but would ascribe it an existence inseparable from the object.

[14] Let me make my point clearer with an example. When I throw a stone through the air horizontally, I see it in different places in succession. I connect these places into a line. In mathematics, I come to know various kinds of line, among them the parabola. I know the parabola to be a line that results when a point moves in a certain lawful way. If I investigate the conditions according to which the thrown stone moves, I find that the line of its movement is identical with what I know as a parabola. That the stone moves precisely in a parabola is a consequence of the given conditions, and follows necessarily from them. The parabolic form belongs to the whole phenomenon, like all its other aspects. The spirit described above, which has no need of the detour of thinking, would take as given not only the sum of visual sensations in various places but also, united with the phenomenon, the parabolic form of the trajectory that we only add to the phenomenon by means of thinking.

[15] It is not due to the objects that they are initially given to us without the corresponding concepts but to our spiritual organization. Our whole being functions in such a way that for everything in reality, the elements flow to us from two sides—from the side of perceiving and from the side of thinking.

[16] How I am organized to comprehend things has nothing to do with their nature. The divide between perceiving and thinking comes into being only at the instant that I, the observer, come over against things. Yet which elements belong to the thing, and which do not, can in no way depend upon how I come to know those elements.

[17] Humans are limited beings. First, they are beings among other beings. Their existence belongs to space and time. Therefore, only a limited part of the whole universe is accessible to them. This limited part, however, is linked on all sides, temporally and spatially, to other things. If our existence were so united with the things that every world event was at the same time our event, then there would be no difference between us and the things. But then, too, there would be no individual things for us. Everything that happens would continually merge with everything else. The cosmos would be a unity, a self-enclosed whole. The stream of events would be interrupted nowhere. Because of our limitedness, what is not really separate appears separate to us. For example, the individual quality of red never exists in isolation. It is surrounded on all sides by other qualities, to which it belongs and without which it could not exist. We, however, must lift out of the world certain cross-sections of it and consider them on their own. From a many-hued whole, our eye can comprehend only a succession of individual colors. From a connected conceptual system, our reason can grasp only individual concepts. This separation is a subjective act: it depends on the fact that we are not identical with the world-process; rather, we are single beings among other beings.

[18] Everything, then, depends upon determining the relationship between other beings and the being that we ourselves are. This determination must be distinguished from merely becoming aware of our self. The latter relies upon perceiving, as does awareness of every other thing. Perceiving myself reveals to me a number of qualities that I combine into the whole of my personality, just as I combine the qualities yellow, metallically gleaming, hard, etc. into the unity “gold.” Self-perception does not lead me outside the realm of what belongs to me. Such self-perceiving must be distinguished from self-definition through thinking. Just as, in thinking, I integrate a single percept from the external world into the context of the world, so, likewise through thinking, I also integrate the percepts of myself into the world process. My self-perceiving encloses me within certain limits; but my thinking has nothing to do with those limits. In this sense, I am a twofold creature. I am enclosed within the realm that I perceive as that of my personality, but I am also the bearer of an activity that determines my limited existence from a higher sphere. Our thinking, unlike our sensing and feeling, is not individual. It is universal. Only because it is related to the individual’s feeling and sensing does it receive an individual stamp in each separate human being. Human beings differentiate themselves from one another through these particular colorations of universal thinking. There is only one concept “triangle.” It makes no difference to the content of this concept whether it is grasped by A or B—by this or that human carrier of consciousness. But each bearer of consciousness will grasp it in an individual way.


[19] A common prejudice that is hard to overcome stands opposed to this thought. This prejudice cannot rise to the insight that the concept of the triangle grasped by me is the same as that grasped by my neighbor. Naive human beings consider themselves the builders of their concepts. Therefore they believe that every person has individual concepts. It is a fundamental requirement of philosophical thinking to overcome this prejudice. The single, unitary concept of the triangle does not become many by being thought by many thinkers. For the thinking of many thinkers is itself a unity.

[20] In thinking, we are given the element that unites our particular individuality with the whole of the cosmos. When we sense, feel (and also perceive) we are separate; when we think, we are the all-one being that penetrates all. This is the deeper basis of our dual nature. Within us, we see an absolute force come into existence, a force that is universal. Yet we do not come to know it as it streams forth from the center of the world, but only at a point on the periphery. If we came to know it as it streamed forth from the center of the world, then we would know the whole riddle of the world at the instant we came to consciousness. Since we stand at a point on the periphery, however, and find our own existence enclosed within certain limits, we must find out about the realm situated outside our own being with the help of thinking that extends into us from universal world existence.

[21] The urge for knowledge arises in us because thinking in us reaches out beyond our separateness and relates itself to universal world existence. Beings without thinking do not have this urge. If other things confront them, no questions arise. Other things remain external to such beings. For thinking beings, a concept arises from the encounter with an external thing. The concept is that part of a thing that we do not receive from without, but from within. Knowledge, cognition is meant to accomplish the balance or union of the two elements, inner and outer.

[22] A percept, then, is not something finished or closed off. It is one side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of knowing (cognition) is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only percept and concept together make up the whole thing.

[23] The preceding discussion demonstrates that it is meaningless to look for any common element among the world’s individual entities other than the conceptual content presented by thinking. Any attempt to find a world unity other than this self-consistent conceptual content— which we gain by thinking contemplation of our percepts— must fail. For us, neither a human, personal God, nor force, nor matter, nor even the idealess will (Schopenhauer) can be considered the universal element of the world. All these entities belong merely to a limited area of our observation. We perceive a humanly limited personality only in ourselves; force and matter only in external things. As for the will, it can be seen only as an expression of our limited personality’s activity. Schopenhauer wants to avoid making “abstract” thinking the bearer of the universal world element, and instead seeks something that presents itself to him immediately as real. This philosopher believes that we misjudge the world if we see it as external:

"Indeed, the sought-after significance of the world confronting me merely as my mental picture, or the transition from it as a mere mental picture of the cognizing subject to what it may be beyond this, would never be discoverable if the investigator himself were nothing other than the purely cognizing subject (a winged cherub without a body). But he too is rooted in that world, finds himself within it as an individual, that is, his cognition, which supports and determines the whole world as mental picture, is mediated throughout by a body whose affections are, as shown above, the intellect’s starting point for contemplation of that world. For the purely cognizing subject as such, this body is a mental picture like any other, an object among objects: its movements, its actions are known to him no differently from the changes in all other observable objects, and would be just as strange and incomprehensible to him, if their meaning were not deciphered for him in a completely different way. . . . For the subject of cognizing, which appears as an individual through its identity with the body, this body is given in two quite distinct ways: first as mental picture for the intellect’s contemplation, as object among objects and subject to their laws; but at the same time in a quite different way, namely as that which is known immediately to everyone by the word will. Every true act of his will is instantly and unfailingly a movement of his body as well: he cannot really will the act without at the same time perceiving that it appears as movement of the body. The act of will and the action of the body are not two different, objectively known states linked by the tie of causality; their relationship is not one of cause and effect; rather, they are one and the same thing, but given in two altogether different ways: once quite immediately and once for the intellect’s contemplation."

With this analysis, Schopenhauer feels justified in locating the “objectivity” of the will in the body. He believes that one can feel a reality—the t hing-in-itself in concreto —immediately in the actions of the body. Against this analysis, we must point out that the actions of our body only come to our awareness through selfpercepts, and as such have no advantage over other percepts. If we wish to know their essence, then we can only do so through thinking observation; that is, by organizing them within the conceptual system of our concepts and ideas.

[24] The view that thinking is abstract, without any concrete content—that it offers at most a “conceptual” mirror image of world unity, but not this unity itself—is very deeply rooted in naive human consciousness. Whoever believes this has never become clear about what a percept without a concept really is. Let us consider the world of percepts by itself. It appears as a mere juxtaposition in space, a mere succession in time, an aggregate of unconnected details. None of the things that enter and exit from the perceptual stage appears to have anything to do with any another. In the world of percepts considered by itself, the world is a multiplicity of uniform objects. None plays a greater role than any other in the hurlyburly of the world. If we are to have the insight that this or that fact has greater significance than another, then we must consult our thinking. Without the function of thinking, a rudimentary organ that is without significance for an animal’s life appears equal in value with the most important limb of its body. The separate facts emerge in all their significance, both in themselves and for everything else, only when thinking weaves its threads from entity to entity. This activity of thinking is full of content. It is only through a very specific, concrete content that I can know why a snail stands at a lower level of development than a lion. The mere sight—the percept—gives me no content that could inform me about any relative perfection in their organization.

[25] Thinking brings this content to the percept out of the human being’s world of concepts and ideas. In contrast to perceptual content, which is given us from without, thought-content appears within. We shall call the form in which thought-content first arises intuition. Intuition is to thinking as observation is to perception. Intuition and observation are the sources of our knowledge. We remain alienated from an object we have observed in the world as long as we do not have within us the corresponding intuition, which supplies us with the piece of reality missing from the percept. Full reality remains closed off to anyone without the ability to find intuitions corresponding to things. Just as a colorblind person sees only shades of brilliance without hue, so a person without intuition observes only unconnected perceptual fragments.

[26] To explain a thing, to make it comprehensible, means nothing other than to place it into the context from which it has been torn by the arrangement of our organization, described above. There is no such thing as an object cut off from the world-as-a-whole. All separation has merely a subjective validity for us, for the way we are organized. For us, the world-whole splits into above and below, before and after, cause and effect, object and mental picture, matter and force, object and subject, and so forth. What meets us in observation as separate details is linked, item by item, through the coherent, unitary world of our intuitions. Through thinking we join together into one everything that we separated through perceiving.

[27] The enigmatic quality of an object lies in its separate existence. But this separate existence is called forth by us and can, within the conceptual world, be dispelled and returned to unity again.


[28] Nothing is given to us directly except through thinking and perceiving. The question now arises: “What is the significance of the percept according to the reasoning here?” We have, to be sure, recognized that critical idealism’s proof of the subjective nature of percepts collapses in itself. But insight into the incorrectness of the proof does not yet confirm that the doctrine itself is based on error. Critical idealism’s proof does not proceed from the absolute nature of thinking; rather, it is based on the fact that naive realism, if followed consistently, cancels itself out. But how do things stand if the absoluteness of thinking is recognized?

[29] Let us suppose that a specific percept—for example, red—appears in my consciousness. On continued investigation, this percept proves to be linked with other percepts— for example, to a specific form and to certain percepts of temperature and touch. I call this combination: “an object in the sense world.” I can now ask myself what else is located in that section of space where these percepts appear to me aside from what has been listed so far. I find mechanical, chemical, and other processes within that part of space. Going further, I investigate the processes that I find on the path from the object to my sense-organs. I find processes of motion in an elastic medium that by their nature have nothing in common with the original percepts. If I investigate the further mediation occurring between the sense organs and the brain, I obtain the same result. I form new percepts in each of these areas, but what weaves through all of these spatially and temporally disparate percepts as the unifying medium—is thinking. The vibrations of the air that mediate sound are given to me as percepts in exactly the same way as the sound itself. Thinking alone links all such percepts to one another and shows them in their mutual relationships. Other than what is immediately perceived, we cannot speak of there being anything except what is known through the conceptual connections between the percepts—connections that are accessible to thinking. Therefore any relationship between perceived objects and perceived subjects that goes beyond what is merely perceived is purely ideal, that is, it is expressible only through concepts. Only if I could perceive how the percept of an object affects the percept of the subject, or—conversely—only if I could observe the construction of a perceptual form by the subject, would it be possible to speak like modern physiology and the critical idealism built upon it. This view confuses an ideal relation (of the object to the subject) with a process that could only be spoken of if it were perceived. Therefore the phrase, “no color without a color-sensing eye” cannot mean that the eye produces color, but only that a conceptual connection, knowable through thinking, exists between the percept “color” and the percept “eye.” Empirical science will have to ascertain how the qualities of the eye and those of color relate to one another and how the organ of sight transmits the perception of colors, etc. I can track how one percept follows another and how it stands in spatial relation to others. I can then bring this to conceptual expression. But I cannot perceive how a percept proceeds out of the unperceivable. All efforts to seek other than conceptual relations between percepts must necessarily fail.

[30] What, then, is a percept? Asked in this general way, the question is absurd. A percept always appears as a quite specific, concrete content. This content is immediately given and is limited to what is given. Of what is given, we can ask only what it is apart from perception—that is, what it is for thinking. Therefore the question of what a percept is can aim only at the conceptual intuition corresponding to it. From this perspective, the question of the subjectivity of the percept, in the sense meant by critical idealism, cannot be raised at all. Only what is perceived as belonging to the subject can be characterized as subjective. The link between the subjective and the objective is not built by any real process (in the naive sense)—that is, by any perceptible event. It is built by thinking alone. For this reason what seems to lie outside the perceived subject is objective for us. The percept of myself as subject remains perceivable for me when the table now before me has vanished from my observational field. But observation of the table has evoked in me an alteration that also remains. I retain the capacity to create an image of the table again later. This capacity to produce an image remains united with me. Psychology calls this image a memory-picture. Yet it is the only thing that can properly be called the mental picture of the table. For it corresponds to the perceptible alteration in my own state through the presence of the table in my field of sight. It does not, in fact, signify a change in some “I-in-itself” standing behind the perceived subject, but rather a change in the perceptible subject itself. The mental picture is thus a subjective percept in contrast to the objective percept of a thing lying within the perceptual horizon. The confusion of subjective percepts with objective percepts leads in idealism to the misunderstanding that the world is my mental picture.

[31] We must now define the concept of mental picture more narrowly. What we have put forward about it so far is not its concept, but merely points the way toward finding the mental picture within our perceptual field. The exact concept of the mental picture will then make it possible for us also to achieve a satisfactory understanding of the relationship between the mental picture and its object. This will also lead us over the boundary where the relationship between the human subject and the object belonging to the world is brought down from the purely conceptual field of cognition into concrete, individual life. Once we know what to make of the world, it will be easy for us to behave accordingly. We can act with our full strength only when we know the object belonging to the world to which we are devoting our activity.



Addendum to the new edition (1918)
[1] The view characterized here can be regarded as one to which at first we are driven quite naturally when we begin to reflect on our relationship to the world. But we then see ourselves entangled in a thought-structure that dissolves itself as we build it. This thought-structure is such that it requires more than merely theoretical refutation. It must be lived through, so as to find a way out through insight into the error to which it leads. It must appear in any discussion of the relationship between human beings and the world, not because we wish to refute others whom we believe have an incorrect view of this relationship, but because we realize what confusion any initial reflection on such a relationship can bring. The insight we must achieve is of how, in such reflections, we can refute ourselves. The preceding discussion was meant from just such a point of view.

[2] Anyone who wishes to work out a view of the relationship of human beings to the world becomes aware that we ourselves produce at least a  part of this relationship through making mental pictures of the things and processes in the world. Our attention is thereby withdrawn from what is outside in the world, and turned toward our inner world. We can begin by reflecting that we cannot have a connection to a thing or person if a mental picture does not arise within us. From this, it is but a step to the realization that, after all, we experience only our mental pictures; we know of a world outside ourselves only to the extent that it is a mental picture within us. And with this, the naive attitude toward reality, taken up before any reflection on our relation to the world, is abandoned. From a naive standpoint, we believe that we are dealing with real things. Self-reflection drives us from this point of view. It does not allow us to look at a reality such as naive consciousness believes it has before it. Such selfreflection allows us to look only at our mental pictures; these insert themselves between our own being and a supposedly real world of the kind that the naive standpoint imagines it can assert. Because of the intervening mental pictures, we can no longer look upon such a reality. We must assume that we are blind for that reality. Thus the thought of a thing-in-itself, that is unattainable to cognition, arises.

Indeed, as long as we continue to focus on the relationship to the world that we enter through the life of mental pictures, we shall never escape this thought-construction. Unless we wish to close off the urge for knowledge artificially, we cannot remain at the viewpoint of naive reality. The very existence of this urge for knowledge of the relation between human beings and the world shows us that this naive standpoint must be abandoned. If the naive standpoint gave us something that could be recognized as truth, then we would not feel this urge.

Yet we do not arrive at something which could be seen as truth merely by abandoning the naive standpoint while at the same time—without noticing it—retaining the style of thought that it requires. We fall into this kind of error when we think that we experience only mental pictures— that though we believe we are dealing with realities, we are in fact conscious only of our mental pictures of realities— and therefore suppose true realities to lie beyond the scope of our consciousness, as “things-in-themselves,” of which we know nothing directly, and which somehow approach and influence us, with the result that a world of mental pictures comes to life within us. Those who think in this way only add another world, in thought, to the world lying before them; but with regard to this world they really have to begin at the beginning again. For they do not think about the unknown “thing-in-itself” any differently, as far as its relationship to the individual human being is concerned, than about the known thing of the naive view of reality.

We avoid the confusion we fall into through critical reflection about this view only when we notice that there is something within what we can experience through perception in ourselves and outside in the world—something that cannot fall prey to the problems that arise when a mental picture interposes itself between the process and the observing human being. This something is thinking. In relation to thinking, a human being can remain with the naive view of reality. If we do not keep to this view, it is only because we notice that we have abandoned this viewpoint for another, but are unaware that the insight we have achieved is inapplicable to thinking. If we do become aware of this, then we allow ourselves entry into the other insight—that in thinking and through thinking we must recognize that to which we apparently blinded ourselves by interposing our life of mental pictures between the world and ourselves.

Someone highly esteemed by the author of this book has raised the objection that during his explication of thinking the author maintains a naive realist view of thinking, as if the real world and the mentally pictured world were one and the same. Yet the author believes that he has proved by the present discussion that the validity of “naive realism” for thinking follows necessarily from an unprejudiced observation of thinking; and that naive realism, which is invalid elsewhere, is overcome through knowledge of thinking's true essence.

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