Sub specie Absolutus - Under the aspect of Absolute






§ 76. In the ontological discussion we have spoken of the ‘Being and States of the Existent,’ without ability to specify precisely in what both consist. In the cosmological, we have taken it for granted that the world of phenomena as it appears to our intuition proceeds from these unknown reciprocal actions of ‘Things.’ Finally, at the conclusion of the Cosmology, demands of the mind were stirred that are to be prospectively satisfied only by means of an insight into that actual nature of things which constitutes what corresponds to the formal conditions of Ontology and Cosmology.

Now all inner states of all other things are unattainable by us; of only our own souls, which we hold to be one of these real beings, have we an immediate experience. Hence there arises the hope of learning from this example just what positively constitutes, in other things as well, their essential ‘Being.’ On this account the last Division of the Metaphysic could perhaps be called—as of old—‘Psychology.’ But in this connection the soul is of essential interest to us only so far as it is the subject of cognition.

We therefore at this point resume the inquiry previously announced; after we have developed those conceptions concerning the coherency of all Things which are necessary to our thinking,—How must we now think concerning the nature and meaning of our own cognition, in so far as it, too, is subject to one of those same conceptions, namely, to that of the reciprocal action of different elements (in this case, Subject and Object)? On this account, this conclusion of the matter may be called ‘Phenomenology.’

§ 77. From all the foregoing with reference to our cognition it follows, that—

(1) We recognize by means of no sensible quality an objective attribute of ‘Things’; no such quality can be a copy of the Things themselves, but each can simply be a result of their influence. This result, however, like every effect, does not depend in a one-sided way upon the nature of the being which exercises the influence, but just as much upon the nature of the being which receives the influence. Every sensation—as for example, color—is therefore only the subjective form in which an excitation of our peculiar Being, sustained through the instrumentality of external influence, comes to consciousness in us,

(2) Although no single sensation is a copy of the reality, yet definite relations with one another of the single real ‘Things’ seem to come to our perception in the very forms of combination in which different sensations are brought to us in juxtaposition or succession; and this happens in such a way that, while we could not, of course, cognize the single things, yet we could cognize the changeable relations between them. But the Cosmology has shown that the universal forms of Space and Time, within whose confines all the aforesaid special forms assumed in combination by the manifold impressions become specifically marked off, are themselves likewise only forms of our intuition; and it is only we who perceive in these forms the graduated reciprocal conditions of Things that are not in themselves subjects of intuition, but are only apprehensible as abstract conceptions. The World of Space and Time is, therefore, ‘phenomenon’; the ‘real Being,’ which answers to it and produces it within us, is dissimilar to it.

(3) There, consequently, remained nothing left for us but to maintain that only a formal cognition is possible of the ‘Being’ of those ‘Things’ which we proceeded to assume; that is to say, we were able to define those forms of our thoughts by means of which we defined the modes of relation belonging to the unknown Existent, in such a manner that our ideas of it accorded both with the general logical laws of our thinking, and also with those more significant suppositions which our reason makes concerning the same necessary coherency of things.

Now the aforesaid logical laws, as well as these metaphysical suppositions of our reason, are nothing further than definite species and forms of its activity, which is excited by the content of the ideas that are present within us. That is, to wit: If, in consciousness, different ideas, a, b, c, d, . . ., are given in all manner of relations, x, y, z, . . ., to one another, then the soul is so framed by nature that this very fact of a multiplicity of ideas serves as a stimulus for it to interpret an interior connection into these ideas;—that is to say, to regard the content of one, for example, as the ‘cause’ of the content of the others.

From this peculiar nature of the soul, in order to explain the throng of ideas that are present within ourselves, there ensues—as would easily be found from carrying out the above considerations—the entire habit of assuming an external World of ‘Things’: and it is from the influence of these ‘Things’ upon us, that the aforesaid ideas are held to originate in us; while from their interchangeable proportions originate the given reciprocal relations of the ideas.

That is to say: It becomes at this point a matter for inquiry, whether simply the aforesaid most abstract and fundamental conceptions which we frame of ‘things’ and ‘events’ contain any truth whatever; and whether they, too, are not merely subjective habits of our own activity, by means of which a non-existent external world is mirrored before us.

§ 78. The above considerations lead at once to the view of ‘subjective Idealism’;—to the view, namely, that all which we call ‘cognition’ is only a play of our own activity. The perception of the world is then a product of our creative faculty of imagination; the elaboration of perception by means of theoretical conceptions, and its interpretation by reference to a Kingdom of ‘Things,’ only a further carrying out of this activity, which still further articulates its product after it has constructed it. The same view holds, on the contrary, that outside of the cognitive spirit this world of ‘Things’ has no existence; and, finally, that, so long as cognition consists in an agreement of the idea with its object, we cannot speak of ‘a truth of cognition’ in anything like the ordinary sense, or even of an ‘act of cognition’ in general (considered as somewhat accommodated to its external object), but only of an ‘act of representation’ which is productive of its own subject-object (Fichte).

§ 79. In opposition to the above view the following remarks hold good:

(1) The demonstration of the ‘thorough-going subjectivity of all the elements of our cognition,’—sensations, pure intuitions, and pure notions of the understanding,—is in no respect decisive against the assumption of the existence of ‘a world of Things outside ourselves.’ For it is clear that this ‘subjectivity of cognition’ must in any case be true, whether ‘Things’ do, or do not exist. For even if ‘Things’ exist, still our cognition of them cannot consist in their actually finding an entrance into us, but only in their exerting an action upon us. But the products of this action, as affections of our being, can receive their form from our nature alone. And, as it is easy to persuade ourselves, even in case ‘Things’ do actually exist, all parts of our cognition will have the very same ‘subjectivity’ as that from which it might be hastily concluded that ‘Things’ do not exist.

§ 80. (2) The assertion that the World is the creation of his own faculty of imagination could not possibly be accomplished with complete freedom from obscurity by anyone except some lone individual indulging in philosophic speculation. Since it is quite too absurd that this one person deem the remaining spirits, too, in whose society he is conscious of living, as merely products of his own fantasy; and since rather the same kind of reality for all spirits, at least, must be credited; therefore the question arises: How do these individual spirits A, B, C, D, . . ., come to produce, by means of their faculties of imagination, four (or, if the case requires, n) pictures of the world, which have as a whole the same content, but which so vary in their particular features that the other spirits, B, C, D, . . ., appear to A at definite places, and they, in turn, to A at another place;—in brief, that all appear to each other in such manner as to make it possible for one to seek for and to meet with the other, for the sake of a mutual action in this non-existent phantom-world?

Obviously, the reason for such a noteworthy correspondence between the imaginations of the individual beings cannot lie in them as individuals, but must lie in some one individual and yet universal Power which is equally effective in all the individuals; and this Power—instead of first creating actual ‘Things’ outside these beings, in order afterward to produce in them the ‘appearance of Things’ by the circuitous way of an influence from these ‘Things’ upon the aforesaid beings—directly causes this same ‘appearance’ to arise in every one of them.

Idealism, therefore, would accord with the common view in this respect, that our perception of the World must have some reason outside ourselves; but not in this respect, that such reason must be sought in a multiplicity of ‘Things’ acting upon us.

§ 81. With the modifications made above, subjective Idealism does, in fact, succeed in explaining the course of the world. Things would, of course, be no longer ‘things,’ but only particular actions which the ‘Absolute Being’ exercises in all finite spirits in conformable fashion. But these ‘particular actions,’ k, l, m, n, . . ., since they are deeds of one and the same Being, would naturally so cohere, in accordance with the law governing them, that always, when k is exercised, the exercising of another act m also follows; and always, if the act k is altered to χ, then m also passes over into μ. That is to say, the entire coherency of natural phenomena according to law, for which we are wont to believe the existence of certain unalterable individual elements or atoms to be necessary as subjects of the events, is also possible, in case the ‘actions of an individual Absolute,’ constantly maintained or interchanged in accordance with fixed law, are regarded as substituted for such ‘Things’; and as constituting a system of reasons—with manifold members and effective simply in us, but not extant outside us—that determine the content and vicissitudes of our perceptions.

§ 82. The above-mentioned Idealism, nevertheless, has failed to get rooted, not barely in the common mode of conception,—for which it is quite too much of a foreign growth,—but also in philosophy. It has been objected to it, that its so-called ‘actions of the Absolute’ could serve as a substitute for ‘Things,’ but still are not actual Things. That there must be Things, however, is firmly adhered to, from a motive very obscure and little analyzed. We want to possess in that Nature which we immediately perceive, something really self-existent and not barely a somewhat apparent to us.

If now the question is raised, precisely in what does that good consist which would be actualized by means of such a reality to ‘Things,’ and which the world would lack, in case only actions of the Absolute existed in its stead?—then it would easily be discovered that the bare objective existence, maintenance, and actual self-motion of ‘Things,’ and their actual but blind action on each other, would not have, of itself, in the least degree more value than the perfectly corresponding relations between the actions of the Absolute.

Precisely what we want is this,—that the ‘Things’ really enjoy these states of their own, and not merely be thought of by us as existing in them. That is to say, ‘Reality’ is ‘Being for self’;—an expression, by which we designate that most general characteristic of self-apprehension, which is common to all forms of spiritual life, to feeling, to representation, to effort, and to volition.

§ 83. Now if such is the exact motive for our preference for the assumption of real Things, it is further necessary merely to be persuaded that there can by no means be—as has thus far been tacitly assumed—a certain species of existence called ‘Reality,’ which, wherever it is extant, has there made possible the ‘Being for self’ or spiritual life of what is thus existent. Quite the reverse, however, must we admit that to be spirit is the only conceivable reality: that is to say, only in the idea of spiritual life do we understand with a perfect clearness what ‘real Being’ means; and, on the contrary, every as yet non-spiritual but ‘Thing-like’ reality is conceived of by us only through the instrumentality of a collection of abstract conceptions that make upon us the demand for somewhat more, of which we do not know precisely in what way it is to be fulfilled.

For example: In the Metaphysic we have hitherto considered ‘Thing’ as the ‘subject of its own predicates,’ or as the ‘support of its own properties,’ as ‘substratum of its own states.’ If now that one of these expressions, which is perhaps the best, is analyzed, and the question is raised: In what precisely does the relation, which the expression designs to designate, consist?—then it will be discovered that only the Spirit or the Ego, which has learned in a living experience to feel itself to be the independent and sole personality in contrast with all its own particular excitations, has any knowledge of what it means to be the ‘subject of states,’ or to suffer and to experience certain states.’ In what way, on the contrary, a distinction of its own genuine being from its temporary states can be conceived of in a blind ‘Thing’ devoid of self-enjoyment, is quite impossible to see.

We have further required of every ‘Thing,’—a requirement connected with the foregoing,—‘unity in the midst of change.’ But how this requisition could be satisfied, and precisely where besides the series of its successive states this ‘unity’ might subsist, we do not know. It is the spirit that first solves this riddle by means of the miraculous phenomenon of Memory, which through a living coherence in one consciousness, of what is really successive, first reveals to us the only possible meaning for the aforesaid ‘unity.’

We have, finally, spoken of the ‘affection and action’ of ‘Things.’ But these names, too, have a real significance only in case the ‘affection’ is actually suffered,—that is, consists in some feeling or other; and in case the ‘action’ is an effort or volition, and not a bare procedure of a result from a cause which thereat neither does nor suffers anything, or else is altered without any experience of it.

All endeavors are vain, on the one hand, to avoid assuming this character of spiritual life in Things, and yet, none the less, still try to say, precisely in what their ‘Being,’ their ‘Unity,’ their ‘States,’ in brief their whole ‘Reality,’ consists. None of these words signify anything which, in its universality, were clear and comprehensible, and of which the spiritual life might form only a special example with other examples existing besides; but they are all abstractions which, from the spirit as their sole subject, abstract a formal mode of behavior that, in fact, is possible for its nature alone. Thus they induce in the unreflecting mind the semblance of an ability to signify something of themselves, and come to be assumed of all manner of subjects.

§ 84. The foregoing considerations lead to the opinion that there can be no ‘Things’ which are merely things in the ordinary sense of a non-self-existent, unconscious, blindly acting reality. Nothing but the following alternative remains: Either we ascribe to all ‘Things,’ as soon as they are assumed to ‘be’ realiter outside ourselves, the most common characteristic of spiritual life,—to wit, some form or other of ‘Being for self’; or else, if we do not want to concede such an ‘animating of all Things,’ we must deny that they can be realiter outside ourselves. For the conception of whatever has not Being for self does not admit of being distinguished in any tenable fashion from the conception of a bare action, or a bare state of that ‘Infinite Substance,’ which we in the Ontology, and in this connection afresh, have discovered to be the foundation of all finite Being.



§ 85. After we have comprehended the unavoidable and thorough-going subjectivity of our cognition, and have conceded that we always see ‘Things’ merely as they look when they come before our sight, and never as they look when nobody sees them; and after we have finally reflected that this fact is no limitation whatever of our human cognition, but must happen just the same in the case of every superior being, in so far as its cognition depends upon its reciprocal action with other beings,—then the inquiry arises: What kind of significance, ultimately, has such a cognition as this, which uniformly misses of its object?
We answer: The name ‘Cognition’ is the expression of a prejudice,—to wit, the assumption that the course of mental representation which originates from external stimuli within the spirit has the problem of reproducing in copy these ‘stimuli’ from which it springs. In science our act of representation naturally serves, in every case, the purpose of ascertaining a matter of fact; but in the totality of the World it has another position. It is a prejudice, that the World exists, without the kingdom of spirits, ready-made and completed in effective consistence of its own; and that the life of mental representation which spirits lead is simply a kind of half-idle appendage, by means of which the content of the World is not increased, but only its ready-made content once more copied in miniature. The rather is the fact, that a world of ideas is awakened within these spirits by means of the influence of Things upon them, in itself one of the most significant events in the entire course of the world;—an event, without which the content of the world would not simply be imperfect, but would straightway lack what is most essential to its completion.
In brief: The mental representation of spiritual beings is not designed to copy Things, which, because they have no such power of representation, are inferior to spirit; but ‘Things’ (so far as this name has now any meaning left at all) exist besides, in order to produce by their influences that course of mental representation belonging to the spiritual beings, which, accordingly, has its value in itself considered, and in its own peculiar content, and not in its accord with an objective matter of fact.

§ 86. To give an example: We object to the faculty of sense that it shows us colors and tones which exist nowhere outside ourselves, but are only affections of ourselves: it is therefore constantly deceiving us; for the waves of light and sound which constitute what is truly objective, it does not permit us to see.
We answer: Such is undoubtedly the state of the case; but color and sound are no worse, because they are simply our sensations. The rather do they constitute the precise purpose which external nature meant to reach with its waves of ether and of air. It could not accomplish this, however, of itself alone; but for its fulfilment had rather an absolute need of spirit, in order that the latter might realize in its own state of sensation the beauty of shimmering light and ringing sound.

§ 87. ‘The doctrine of the Identity of Thought and Being’ (Schelling, Hegel) asserts, what is apparently the same as the foregoing view, and yet is really different from it, in more general form. The true Being of non-spiritual Actuality (the modus existendi of which is here left pretty obscure) consists simply in an ‘Idea,’ for the actualization of which it is intended. Only the thinking of spiritual beings, however, apprehends ideas as ideas. In thinking, accordingly, does that first become actualized which Things only in themselves—that is to say, in this connection, Things according to their plan—really are. It is not our cognition, therefore, that is unsuitable to reproduce the nature of Things; but Things are unsuitable to produce their own nature, that is to say, that for which they are intended. It is thought which first makes them ready, as it were.

§ 88. The above doctrine admits of a threefold signification:
(1) If by the ‘Being of Things’ we designate that by means of which the Thing is distinguished from our idea of the thing, then it is quite certain that this ‘Being’ is not identical with being thought. Or, conversely, thought is in no condition to comprehend precisely wherein the ‘Being’ consists with whose manifold formal relations it is itself employed.
(2) If again we use ‘Being’ in the same sense, and therefore as synonymous with ‘being affected and producing effects,’ then the before-mentioned proposition means as follows: The thinking ‘Being’ of Spirit is not one species of this Being, and the blind ‘Being’ of Things another species; but the latter, too, is a thought. That is to say: All that we are wont to apprehend as the unconscious activity of Things, is only an unrecognized process of thought within them.
(3) If we call that the ‘true Being’ of a Thing, by means of which it is distinguished from some other Thing, then this doctrine would assert that such essentia of Things does not consist in any Reality which is of quite foreign species and inaccessible to all the means belonging to the spirit; but it is rather perfectly exhaustible by means of our thoughts, or, at least, by means of thought in general.

§ 89. Herein lies the truth, that the essence and Being of Things cannot be opposed to the essence and Being of Spirit, as though the former were a second principal division of the world and a perfect stranger to the latter. So long, however, as the word ‘thinking’ retains the special meaning by which it distinguishes one definite mode of the spirit’s activity from other modes, the Being and essence of things certainly is not identical with such ‘thinking.’
In order to pass judgment on this matter one must reflect upon the exact share which thinking is wont to have even in the sum-total of what we really know. And on this point there is manifestly a very general illusion. To wit: as often as we in speech have designated anything with a name, the semblance of having constructed or penetrated the so-named content by means of an operation of ‘thinking’ arises in our minds, although very often this ‘thinking’ makes a very small contribution to what we mean by the name.—For example:
(1) If we say, ‘sweet,’ ‘blue,’ ‘warm,’ then the entire work performed by thinking consists in designating by the adjective form of the name, as though it were an independent property inhering in another subject, a content which is wholly and merely an experience in the form of immediate sensation, but which can be neither produced nor imparted by the medium of thinking. That is to say: Thinking reflects upon the formal relation of this content to others; it does not exhaust the content itself.
(2) Only by experience can ‘weal’ be distinguished from ‘woe,’ ‘pleasure’ from ‘pain’; and no operation of thinking makes it comprehensible to a subject possessed of the greatest intelligence, but of no feeling, what both names signify. They, therefore, designate a content which is known only if it is experienced.
(3) The same thing is true of our metaphysical conceptions. What ‘Being’ signifies, no ‘thinking’ makes obvious to one who does not from self-feeling understand his own being. ‘Action and affection’ only that being comprehends who has in itself had experience of both. Even the abstract conception of conditionating were without significance for us, if we did not know from our own experience, from our own volition and effort, what it means for one element to have, or to have desired, a power over some other.
In pursuance of these examples we learn that all our ‘thinking’ by no means altogether comprehends, or in the least degree exhausts, what we could regard as the ‘actual constitution’ and ‘inner Being’ of Things; and that it rather merely combines with one another in formal relations the ideas which designate the subject-matter of experience, whether in the form of sensation, of feeling, or otherwise.

§ 90. ‘Being’ could be posited as identical with such ‘Thinking,’ only in case the significance of the ‘Existent’ were so far degraded as to make the entire content of thought, which the actuality were called on to express, consist still in simply those formal relations of the manifold that logical thinking comprehends and judges of.
In fact, such is the meaning of Hegel, who not without significance calls that Logic which is elsewhere styled Metaphysic. If, therefore, things exist and events happen simply in order that the formal relations of Identity and Opposition, Unity and Multiplicity, Indifference and Polarity, of Universal, Particular and Singular, etc., may be actualized in the most manifold manner possible, and set forth in Phenomenon;—then, of course, the essence of ‘Things’ is so pitiful and insignificant that our thinking succeeds perfectly well in adequately comprehending it.
§ 91. The teaching of Fichte had been different. The problem of the spirit, he held, does not lie in the cognition of a blind ‘Being’ (the conception of which appeared to him as impossible as it appears to us), but in action. The aforesaid world external is not, but appears to us in order to serve as material of our duty, as inducement or object of our action. Of course, the world cosmographically and historically determined, with which we see ourselves surrounded, is not to be deduced for human cognition as somewhat necessary to this final purpose, but must be barely assumed as a given matter of fact. Of those metaphysical principles, on the other hand, in accordance with which we trace out an inner coherency within this phenomenal world, it can be shown that they are natural to our spirit on account of this,—and only on account of this,—because the spirit is intended for action. For ‘Things’ considered as fixed points in the course of phenomena, alteration of these things according to law, and reciprocal determinateness of them by causality, and so forth,—all these are forms of the inner coherency which a spirit, that wills to act, must inevitably assume in that world on which its action is directed.
§ 92. The above-mentioned thought is not quite satisfactory, because it makes all actuality exist merely in the service of human action; this action itself however is only considered from its formal side, as activity and self-determination, while that content whose actualization were alone worth the trouble of action is, on the contrary, neglected.
For the aforesaid ‘action’ of Fichte we substitute the morally Good, for which the action is simply the indispensable form of actualization; we besides conceive of the ‘beautiful,’ too, and the ‘happy’ or ‘blessedness,’ as united with this Good into one complex of all that has Value. And now we affirm: Genuine Reality in the world (to wit, in the sense that all else is, in relation to It, subordinate, deduced, mere semblance or means to an end) consists alone in this Highest-Good personal, which is at the same time the highest-good Thing. But since all the Value of what is valuable has existence only in the spirit that enjoys it, therefore all apparent actuality is only a system of contrivances, by means of which this determinate world of phenomena, as well as these determinate metaphysical habitudes for considering the world of phenomena, are called forth, in order that the aforesaid Highest Good may become for the spirit an object of enjoyment in all the multiplicity of forms possible to it.
The objectivity of our cognition consists, therefore, in this, that it is not a meaningless play of mere seeming; but it brings before us a World whose coherency is ordered in pursuance of the injunction of the Sole Reality in the world,—to wit, of the Good. Our cognition thus possesses more of truth than if it copied exactly a world of objects that has no value in itself. Although it does not comprehend in what manner all that is phenomenon is presented to its view, still it understands what is the meaning of it all; and is like to a spectator who comprehends the aesthetic significance of that which takes place on the stage of a theatre, and would gain nothing essential if he were to see besides the machinery by means of which the changes are effected on that stage.


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