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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Goethean Science
GA 1

16. Goethe as Thinker and Investigator

1. Goethe and Modern Natural Science

If it were not a person's duty to state the truth without reserve once he believes he has come to know it, the following exposition would certainly have remained unwritten. I have no doubts about the judgment that the specialists will pass on it, given the dominant trend in natural science today. One will regard it as someone's dilettantish attempt to speak for something upon which judgment has long since been passed by all “discerning” people. When I picture to myself the scorn of all those who consider themselves the only ones qualified today to speak on natural-scientific questions, I must admit to myself that there is nothing tempting, in any ordinary sense, about this undertaking. But I could not let myself be deterred by these anticipated objections. For I can raise all these objections myself and know therefore how poorly they stand up. It is not difficult, indeed, to think “scientifically” in the sense of modern natural science. Not too long ago, in fact, we experienced an interesting case in point. Eduard von Hartmann appeared with his Philosophy of the Unconscious. The gifted author of this book himself would be the last one today to deny its imperfections. But the direction of thought we encounter there is a penetrating one, which gets to the bottom of things. It therefore made a powerful impression on all those minds that had a need for deeper knowledge. But it ran counter to the paths of the natural scientists who were feeling their way along on the surface of things. They were all against the book. After various attacks from their side had proven rather ineffective, a book appeared by an anonymous author, The Unconscious from the Standpoint of Darwinism and the Theory of Evolution,71Das Unbewusste vom Standpunkte des Darwinismus und der Deszendenztheorie (1872) which brought forward with the greatest possible critical acuity everything against the newly founded philosophy that could be said against it from the standpoint of modern natural science. This book caused a stir. The adherents of the current trend were satisfied by it to the highest degree. They publicly acknowledged that the author was one of them and proclaimed his views as their own. What a disillusionment they had to suffer! When the author actually revealed himself, it was Eduard v. Hartmann. This proved one thing convincingly, however: Ignorance about the findings of natural science, dilettantism, is not the reason why it is impossible for certain minds, who are striving for a deeper insight, to join that school of thought which wants to establish itself today as the dominant one. The reason, however, is their knowledge that this school is not on the right path. It is not difficult for philosophy hypothetically to take the standpoint of the present-day view of nature. In what he did, Eduard v. Hartmann showed this irrefutably to anyone who wants to see. I bring this as confirmation of my above assertion that it is also not difficult for me to raise the objections myself that someone else can make against what I bring.

Indeed, anyone is considered a dilettante today who takes philosophical reflection about the essential being of things at all seriously. Having a world view is regarded as an idealistic quirk by our contemporaries of a “mechanical,” or even by those of a “positivistic,” persuasion. This view becomes understandable, to be sure, when one sees the helpless ignorance in which these positivistic thinkers find themselves when they make themselves heard on the subject of the “being of matter,” of “the limits of our knowing,” of “the nature of the atom,” or of other such things. In connection with these examples, one can make real studies of dilettantish treatment of decisive questions of science.

One must have the courage to admit all this to oneself with respect to the natural science of the present day, in spite of the tremendous and remarkable achievements that this same natural science has to show in the realm of technology. For, these achievements have nothing to do with our real need for knowledge of nature. We have indeed experienced—precisely in those contemporaries to whom we owe inventions whose significance for the future we cannot for a long time even begin to imagine—that they lack a deeper scientific need. It is something entirely different to observe the processes of nature in order to place its forces in the service of technology, than to seek, with the help of these processes, to look more deeply into the being of natural science. True science is present only where the human spirit seeks to satisfy its needs, without any external purpose.

True science, in the higher sense of the word, has to do only with ideal objects; it can only be idealism. For, it has its ultimate foundation in needs that stem from the human spirit. Nature awakens questions in us, problems that strive for solution. But nature cannot itself provide this solution. Through our capacity for knowledge a higher world confronts nature; and this fact creates higher demands. For a being who did not possess this higher nature, these problems would simply not arise. These questions can therefore also not receive an answer from any authority other than precisely this higher nature. Scientific questions are therefore essentially a matter that the human spirit has to settle with itself. They do not lead the human spirit out of its element. The realm, however, in which the human spirit lives and weaves as though within its primally own, is the idea, is the world of thoughts. To solve thought-questions with thought-answers is the scientific activity in the highest sense of the word. And all other scientific procedures are there, ultimately, only in order to serve this highest purpose. Take scientific observation, for example. It is supposed to lead us to knowledge of a law of nature. The law itself is purely ideal. The need to find a lawfulness holding sway behind the phenomena already stems from the human spirit. An unspiritual being would not have this need. Now let us proceed to the observation! What do we actually want to achieve by it? In response to the question created in our spirit, is something supposed to be provided from outside, by sense observation, that could be the answer to that question? Never. For why should we feel ourselves more satisfied by a second observation than by the first? If the human spirit were satisfied at all by an observed object, then it would have to be satisfied right away by the first. But the actual question is not at all one about any second observation, but rather about the ideal foundation of the observations. What does this observation admit as an ideal explanation; how must I think it so that it appears possible to me? Those are the questions that come to us with respect to the sense world. I must seek, out of the depths of my spirit itself, what I lack when confronted by the sense world. If I cannot create for myself the higher nature for which my spirit strives when confronted by sense-perceptible nature, then no power in the external world will create it for me. The results of science therefore can come only from the human spirit; thus they can only be ideas. No objections can be raised against this necessary reflection. The ideal character of all science, however, is established thereby.

Modern natural science, in accordance with its whole being, cannot believe in the ideal character of knowledge. For, it does not regard the idea as that which is primary, most original, and creative, but rather as the final product of material processes. But in doing so, it is not at all aware of the fact that these material processes belong only to the sense-perceptible, observable world that, however, grasped more deeply, dissolves completely into idea. The process under consideration presents itself to observation, namely, in the following way: We perceive facts with our senses, facts that run their course according to the laws of mechanics, then phenomena of warmth, of light, of magnetism, of electricity, and finally of life processes, etc. At the highest level of life, we find that life raises itself up to the forming of concepts and ideas, whose bearer, in fact, is the human brain. We find our own “I” springing from just such a sphere of thoughts. The “I” seems to be the highest product of a complicated process that is mediated by a long series of physical, chemical, and organic occurrences. But if we investigate the ideal world of which the content of that “I” consists, we find in that world essentially more than merely the end product of that process. We find that the individual parts of that world are connected to each other in a completely different way than the parts of that merely observed process are. As one thought arises in us, which then demands a second, we find that there is an ideal connection between these two objects in an entirely different way than if I observe the colour of a substance, for example, as the result of a chemical agent. It is of course entirely obvious that the successive stages of the brain process have their source in organic metabolism, even though the brain process itself is the bearer of those thought-configurations. But the reason as to why the second thought follows from the first: this I do not find within this metabolism, but do indeed find within the logical thought-connection. Thus, in the world of thoughts, there holds sway, besides organic necessity, a higher ideal necessity. But this necessity, which the human spirit finds within its world of ideas, this it also seeks in the rest of the universe. For this necessity arises for us, indeed, only through the fact that we not only observe, but also think. Or in other words, the things no longer appear in a merely factual connection, but rather as joined by an inner, ideal necessity, if we grasp them not merely through observation but rather through thoughts.

With respect to this, one cannot say: What good is it to grasp the phenomenal world in thoughts, when the things of this world perhaps do not, according to their nature, allow of any such grasp? Only someone who has not grasped the core of this whole matter can ask such a question. The world of thoughts rises up within our inner being; it confronts the objects observable to the senses; and then asks: What relationship does the world confronting me there have to myself? What is it with respect to me? I am here with all my ideal necessity, which hovers above everything transitory; I have the power within me to explain myself. But how do I explain what confronts me?

It is here that a significant question is answered for us that Friedrich Theodore Vischer, for example, has raised repeatedly and declared to be the pivotal point of all philosophical reflection: the question as to the connection between the human spirit and nature. What kind of a relationship exists between these two things, which to us always appear separated from each other? If one asks this question correctly, then its answer is not as difficult as it appears to be. What meaning can this question actually have then? The question is not in fact asked by some being that stands above nature and human spirit as a third entity and which investigates that connection from this standpoint, but rather it is asked by one of the two beings themselves, by the human spirit. The latter asks: What connection exists between me and nature? But that again means nothing other than: How can I bring myself into a relationship with the nature confronting me? How can I express this relationship in accordance with the needs living in me? I live in ideas; what kind of an idea corresponds to nature; how can I express, as idea, that which I behold as nature? It is as though we have often obstructed our own path to a satisfactory answer by putting the question wrongly. A correct question, however, is already half an answer.

The human spirit seeks everywhere to go beyond the succession of facts, as mere observation provides him with them, and to penetrate to the ideas of the things. Science, indeed, begins at the place where thinking begins. In the findings of science there lies, in the form of ideal necessity, that which appears to the senses only as a succession of facts. These findings only seem to be the final product of the process described above; the truth is that they are that which we must regard, in the whole universe, as the foundation of everything. Where these findings then appear for observation is a matter of indifference; for, as we have seen, their significance does not in fact depend upon that. They spread the net of their ideal necessity out over the whole universe.

No matter where we take our start, if we have enough spiritual power, we will finally meet up with the idea.

Through the fact that modern physics completely fails to recognize this, it is led into a whole series of errors. I want to point to only one such error here, as an example.

Let us take the definition of inertia, which in physics is usually included among the “general characteristics of bodies.” This is usually defined in the following way: Without an external cause, no body can change the state of motion in which it finds itself. This definition gives rise to the picture that the concept of a body, inert in itself, is abstracted from the world of phenomena. And John Stuart Mill, who nowhere goes into the matter itself, but who, for the sake of an arbitrary theory, stands everything on its head, would not hesitate for a moment also to explain the matter in this way. But this is after all completely incorrect. The concept of an inert body arises purely through a conceptual construction. In designating as “body” what has extension in space, I can picture to myself a kind of body whose changes stem from external influences, and a kind whose changes occur out of its own impulse. If I now find something in the outer world that corresponds to the concept I have formed of a “body which cannot change itself without an outer influence,” I then call this body inert or subject to the law of inertia. My concepts are not abstracted from the sense world, but rather are constructed freely out of the idea, and with their help I only first find my way rightly in the sense world. The above definition could only take this form: A body that out of itself cannot alter its state of motion is called an inert body. And when I have recognized a body to be of this kind, I can then apply to it everything that is connected with an inert body.

2. The “Archetypal Phenomenon”

If we could follow the whole series of processes that occur with respect to some sense perception or other from the peripheral nerve endings of the sense organs all the way into the brain, we would in fact nowhere arrive at a point where the mechanical, chemical, and organic—in short, the temporal-spatial processes—end and that appears which we actually call sense perception; for example, the sensation of warmth, of light, of sound, etc. One cannot find a place where the causal motion supposedly goes over into its effect, the perception. But can we then speak at all of the two things as standing in a relationship of cause and effect?

Let us just examine the facts, quite objectively. Let us assume that a particular sensation appears within our consciousness. It appears at the same time in such a way that it directs us to some object or other from which it stems. When I have the sensation “red,” I generally associate with it, by virtue of the content of this mental picture, a particular place, i.e., a location in space, or the surface of a thing, to which I ascribe what this sensation expresses. This is not the case only where, through an external influence, the sense organ itself responds in its own characteristic way, as when I have a sensation of light from a blow to the eye. Let us disregard such cases in which, what is more, the sensations never arise with their usual definiteness. As exceptions, they cannot in fact teach us about the nature of things. If I have the sensation “red” along with a particular location, then I am at first directed to something or other in the outer world as the bearer of this sensation. I can very well ask myself now what spatial-temporal processes are taking place in this thing while it is appearing to me as though possessed of the colour red. I shall then discover that mechanical, chemical, or other processes offer themselves as an answer to my question. I can go further now and investigate the processes that have occurred on the way from that thing to my sense organ to mediate the sensation of the colour “red” for me. There again, in fact, nothing other than processes of motion or electrical currents or chemical changes can present themselves to me as such mediators. The result would be the same for me if I could investigate the further mediation from the sense organ to the center of the brain. What is mediated on this whole path is the perception “red” that we are discussing. How this perception manifests in a particular thing lying on the path from the stimulus to the perception depends solely upon the nature of this thing. The sensation is present at every point, from the stimulator to the brain, but not as such, not explicitly, but rather in a way corresponding to the nature of the object existing at each point.

A truth results from this, however, that is qualified to shed light upon the entire theoretical foundation of physics and physiology. What do I experience from the investigation of a thing caught up in a process that appears in my consciousness as sensation? I experience no more than the way that thing responds to the action which issues from the sensation, or, in other words the way a sensation expresses itself in some object or other of the spatial-temporal world. It is far from the truth to regard such a spatial-temporal process as the cause, as that which causes the sensation in me; something quite different is the correct view: The spatial-temporal process is the effect of the sensation within a thing that has extension in space and time. I could insert as many things as I wanted into the path from the stimulator to the organ of perception: only that will occur in each one of them that can occur in it by virtue of its nature. But it is still the sensation, therefore, that expresses itself in all these processes.

One should therefore regard the longitudinal vibrations of the air in the mediating of sound or the hypothetical oscillation of the ether in the mediating of light to be nothing other than the way the sensations in question can appear in a medium that, in accordance with its nature, is capable only of rarification and densification or of oscillating motion, as the case may be. I cannot find the sensation as such in this world, because it simply cannot be there. But in those processes I am absolutely not given what is objective about the processes of sensation, but rather a form of their manifestation.

And now let us ask ourselves: What is the nature of those mediating processes themselves? Do we then investigate them by any means other than with the help of our senses? Can I in fact investigate my senses? Is the peripheral nerve ending, are the convolutions of the brain given to me by anything other than by sense perception? All this is both subjective and objective at the same time, if this distinction can be considered to be justified at all. Now we can grasp the matter still more exactly. By following the perception from its stimulus to the organ of perception, we are investigating nothing other than the continuous transition from one perception to the other. The “red” is present before us as that for whose sake we are undertaking the whole investigation at all. It directs us to its stimulator. In the latter we observe other sensations as connected with this “red.” These are processes of motion. The latter then appear as further processes of motion between the stimulator and the sense organ, and so on. But all of these are likewise perceived sensations. And they represent nothing more than a metamorphosis of processes that, insofar as they come into consideration at all for sense observation, break down entirely into perceptions.

The perceived world is therefore nothing other than a sum total of metamorphosed perceptions.

For the sake of convenience, we had to use an expression that cannot be brought into complete harmony with our present conclusions. We said that each thing which is inserted into the space between the stimulator and the organ of perception brings a sensation to expression in a way which is in accordance with the nature of that thing. But strictly speaking the thing is nothing more than the sum total of those processes as which it appears.

The objection might now be raised that this kind of conclusion eliminates any enduring element in the ongoing world process, that we, like Heraclitus, are making the flux of things, in which nothing is abiding, the one and only world principle. Behind the phenomena, there must be a “thing-in-itself”; behind the changing world there must be an “enduring matter.” But let us in fact investigate more exactly what the case really is with this “enduring matter,” with what “endures amidst change.”

When I confront my eye with a red surface, the sensation “red” arises in my consciousness. In connection with this sensation, we must now distinguish beginning, duration, and end. Over against the transitory sensation there supposedly now stands an enduring objective process that as such is itself objectively limited in time i.e.. has beginning, duration, and end. This process, however is supposedly occurring in connection with a matter that is without beginning or end, that is therefore indestructible, eternal. This matter is supposedly what actually endures within the changing processes. This conclusion would perhaps have some justification if the concept of time had been correctly applied to the sensation in the above manner. But must we not then distinguish strictly between the content of the sensation and the appearing of the sensation? In my perception, to be sure, they are one and the same. For, the content of the sensation must after all be present in the perception or the sensation would otherwise not come into consideration for me at all. But is it not a matter of complete indifference for this content, taken purely as such, that it enters my consciousness now at this particular moment and then, after so and so many seconds, leaves it again? That which constitutes the content of the sensation, i.e., that which alone comes objectively into consideration, does not depend at all upon that. But now that which is a matter of complete indifference to the content of something cannot, after all, be regarded as an essential determining factor for the existence of that something.

But our application of the time-concept is also not correct for an objective process that has a beginning and an end. When a new characteristic arises in a particular thing, maintains itself for a time in different states of development, and then disappears again, there also we must regard the content of this characteristic as what is essential. And what is essential has absolutely nothing as such to do with the concepts of beginning, duration, and end. By “essential” we mean that by which a thing actually is precisely what it presents itself to be. What matters is not the fact that something arises at a certain moment in time, but rather what arises. The sum total of all the traits expressed by this “what” makes up the content of the world. But this “what” exists in the most manifold traits, in the most diverse forms. All these forms are in a relationship to each other; they determine each other reciprocally. Through this, they enter into a relationship of separation according to space and time. But it is only to a completely mistaken understanding of the concept of time that the concept of matter owes its existence. One believes that one would rarefy the world into a semblance without being, if one did not picture, as underlying the changeable sum total of occurrences, something that endures in time, something unchangeable, that abides while its traits are varying. But time is not after all a container within which the changes occur; it is not there before the things are, nor outside of them. Time is the sense-perceptible expression of the situation that the facts, in their content, are mutually dependent upon each other sequentially. Let us imagine we have to do with the perceivable complex of facts a1, b1, c1, dl, and el. Another complex, a2, b2, c2, d2, and e2, depends with inner necessity upon the first complex; I understand the content of the second complex when I derive it ideally from the first one. Now let us imagine that both complexes make their appearance. For, what we discussed earlier is the entirely non-temporal and non-spatial essential being (Wesen) of these complexes. If a2, b2, c2, d2, and e2 is to come to outer manifestation, then al, b1, c1, dl, and e1 must likewise be outer phenomena, in such a way, in fact, that a2, b2, c2, d2, and e2 also appear in their dependency upon the first complex. This means that the phenomenon al, b1, c1, d1, and e1 must be there and make room for the phenomenon a2, b2, c2, d2, and e2 to appear. We see here that time first arises where the essential being of something comes to outer manifestation (Erscheinung). Time belongs to the phenomenal world. It does not yet have anything to do with the essential being itself. This essential being can only be grasped ideally. Only someone who cannot manage, in his train of thought, to go back from the phenomenon to the essential being will hypothesize time as something preceding the facts. Then, however, he needs a form of existence that endures beyond the changes. He conceives indestructible matter to be just such an existence. He has thereby created for himself a thing to which time supposedly can do nothing, something that abides amidst all change. Actually, however, he has only shown his inability to press forward, from the temporal phenomenon of the facts, to their essential being, which has nothing to do with time. Can I therefore say of the essential being of a fact that it arises or passes away? I can only say that one fact's content determines another and that this determining influence then appears as a sequence in time. The essential being of a thing cannot be destroyed; for, it is outside of all time and itself determines time. With this, we have shed light upon two concepts at the same time for which but little understanding is still to be found: upon essential being (Wesen) and outer manifestation (Erscheinung). Whoever grasps the matter correctly in our way cannot look for proof of the indestructibility of the essential being of something, because destruction includes within itself the time-concept, which has nothing to do with essential being.

In the light of these discussions, we can say: The sense-perceptible world picture is the sum total of metamorphosing perceptual contents without an underlying matter.

But our considerations have also shown us something else. We have seen that we cannot speak of a subjective character of perceptions. When we have a perception, we can follow the processes from the stimulator to our central organ: nowhere is there a point to be found where the jump can be demonstrated from the objectivity of the non-perceived to the subjectivity of the perception. This refutes the subjective character of the world of perception. The world of perception stands there as a content founded upon itself, which, for the moment, still has absolutely nothing to do with subject and object.

Our discussion, of course, applies only to that concept of matter upon which physics bases its observations and which it identifies with the old, equally incorrect substance-concept of metaphysics. Matter, as the actually real element underlying phenomena, is one thing; matter, as phenomenon, as outer manifestation, is something else. Our exposition applies solely to the first concept. The second one remains untouched by it. For if I call what fills space “matter,” that is merely a word for a phenomenon to which no higher reality is ascribed than to other phenomena. I must only keep this character of matter always in mind.

The world of what presents itself to us as perceptions—i.e., extension, motion, state of rest, force, light, warmth, colour, sound, electricity, etc.—this is the object of all science.

If now the perceived world picture were of such a kind that, in the way it arises before us for our senses, it could express itself in accordance with its nature, unobscured; or in other words, if everything that arises in outer manifestation were a complete, undisturbed image of the inner being of things, then science would be the most unnecessary thing in the world. For, the task of knowledge would already be fully and totally fulfilled in the perception. Indeed, we would not then be able to differentiate at all between essential being and outer manifestation. The two would completely coincide as identical.

This, however, is not the case. Let us imagine that element A, contained in the factual world, stands in a certain relationship to element B. Both elements, of course, according to our expositions, are nothing more than phenomena. Their relationship also comes to manifestation as a phenomenon. Let us call this phenomenon C. What we can now determine within the factual world is the relationship of A, B, and C. But now, besides A, B, and C, there also exist infinitely many other such elements in the perceptible world. Let us take some fourth element or other D; it enters in, and at once everything presents itself in a modified form. Instead of A, in conjunction with B, resulting in C, an essentially different phenomenon, E, will arise from the entering of D.

That is the important point. When we confront a phenomenon, we see it determined by many factors. We must seek out all the interrelationships if we are to understand the phenomenon. But these relationships differ from each other; some are more intimate, some more distant. The fact that a phenomenon E confronts me is due to other phenomena that are more intimately or more distantly related. Some are absolutely necessary if such a phenomenon is to arise at all; other phenomena, by their absence, would not at all keep such a phenomenon from arising, but do cause it to arise in precisely this or that way. We see from this that we must differentiate between necessary and coincidental determining factors of a phenomenon. Phenomena that arise in such a way that only the necessary determining factors bring them about can be called primary, and the others derivative. When, from their determining factors, we understand the primary phenomena, we can then also understand the derivative ones by adding new determining factors.

Here the task of science becomes clear to us. It has to penetrate far enough through the phenomenal world to seek out the phenomena that are dependent only upon necessary determining factors. And the verbal-conceptual expression for such necessary relationships is laws of nature.

When a person is confronting a sphere of phenomena, then, as soon as he has gone beyond mere description and registering of these, he must therefore first of all ascertain those elements which determine each other necessarily, and present them as archetypal phenomena. One must then add those determining factors which stand in a more distant relationship to those elements, in order to see how they modify those primary phenomena.

This is the relationship of science to the phenomenal world: within the latter, the phenomena absolutely do arise as derivative ones and are therefore incomprehensible from the very beginning; in science, the archetypal phenomena arise in the forefront with the derivative ones following, whereby the whole connection becomes comprehensible. The system of science differentiates itself from the system of nature through the fact that in the system of science the interrelationships of the phenomena are ascertained by the intellect and are rendered comprehensible thereby. Science never has to bring something in addition to the phenomenal world, but rather has only to disclose the hidden interrelationships of this world. All use of the intellect must be limited only to this latter work. By taking recourse to something that does not manifest in order to explain the phenomena, the intellect and any scientific activity are exceeding their powers.

Only someone who sees the absolute correctness of our findings can understand Goethe's colour theory. Any reflection about what a perception like light or colour might be in addition to the entity as which it manifests was completely foreign to Goethe's nature. For he knew what the powers of intellectual thinking were. Light was given to him as sensation. When he then wanted to explain the connection between light and colour, that could not occur through speculation, but only through an archetypal phenomenon, by his seeking out the necessary determining factor that must join light in order for colour to arise. Newton also saw colour arise in connection with light, but he then only thought speculatively about how colour arises out of light. It lay in his speculative way of thinking to do so; but not in Goethe's way of thinking, which was objective and rightly understood itself. Therefore, Newton's assumption that “light is composed of colored lights” had to appear to Goethe as the result of unrightful speculation. He considered himself justified only in expressing something about the connection between light and colour when some determining factor joins in, and not in expressing something about the light itself by bringing in a speculative concept. Therefore his statement: “Light is the simplest, most undivided, most homogeneous being that we know. It is not a composite.” Any statements about the composition of light are, indeed, only statements of the intellect about one phenomenon. The powers of the intellect, however, extend only to statements about the connection of phenomena.

This reveals the deeper reason why Goethe, as he looked through the prism, could not accept Newton's theory. The prism would have had to be the first determining factor for the coming about of colour. But another determining factor, the presence of something dark, proved to be more primary to its coming about; the prism proved to be only the second determining factor.

With this exposition, I believe I have removed any hindrances that might lie in the way of readers of Goethe's colour theory.

If this difference between the two colour theories had not always been sought in two mutually contradictory forms of explanation that one then wanted simply to examine as to their validity, then the value of the Goethean colour theory, in all its great scientific significance, would have been recognized long ago. Only someone who is filled with such fundamentally wrong mental pictures—such as that, through intellectual thinking, one must go from the perceptions back to the cause of the perceptions—can still raise the question in the way present-day physics does. But someone who has really become clear about the fact that explaining the phenomena means nothing other than observing them in a connection established by the intellect must accept the Goethean colour theory in principle. For, it is the result of a correct way of looking at the relationship of our thinking to nature. Newton did not have this way of looking at things. Of course, it would not occur to me to want to defend every detail of the Goethean colour theory. It is only the principle that I want to uphold. But it can also not be my task here to derive from his principle the phenomena of colour theory that were still unknown in his day. If I should ever have the good fortune to possess the time and means for writing a colour theory in Goethe's sense that is entirely on the high level of modern achievements in natural science, that would be the only way to accomplish such a task. I would consider that as belonging to my finest life tasks. This introduction could extend only to the scientifically strict validation of Goethe's way of thinking in his colour theory. In what follows, light is also still to be shed upon the inner structure of this theory.

3. The System of Natural Science

It could easily seem as though, in our investigations that attribute to thinking only a power whose goal is to connect perceptions, we ourselves were now calling into question the independent significance of concepts and ideas for which we stood so energetically at first.

Only an inadequate interpretation of this investigation can lead to this view.

What does thinking accomplish when it carries out the connecting of perceptions?

Let us look at two perceptions A and B. These are given to us at first as entities without concepts. I cannot, through any conceptual reflection, transform into something else the qualities given to my sense perception. I can also find no thought-quality by which I could construct what is given in sense-perceptible reality if I lacked the perception. I can never create a mental picture of the quality “red” for someone blind to red, even though I paraphrase it conceptually for him by every conceivable means. The sense-perception therefore has a something that never enters into the concept, that must be perceived if it is to become an object of our knowledge at all. What kind of a role does the concept play, therefore, that we connect with some sense perception or other? The concept must obviously bring to the perception a completely independent element, something new, which does belong to the sense perception, to be sure, but which does not come into view in the sense perception.

But it is now certain, indeed, that this new “something” which the concept brings to the sense perception is that which first expresses what can meet our need for explanation. We are first able to understand some element or other in the sense world when we have a concept of it. We can always simply point to what sense-perceptible reality offers us, and anyone who has the possibility of perceiving precisely this element to which we are referring knows what it is all about. Through the concept, we are able to say something about the sense world that cannot be perceived.

From this, however, the following immediately becomes clear. If the essential being of the sense perception consisted only in its sense-perceptible qualities, then something completely new, in the form of the concept, could not join it. The sense perception is therefore not a totality at all, but rather only one side of a totality. And it is that side, in fact, which can be merely looked upon. Through the concept it first becomes clear to us what we are looking at.

What we developed methodologically in the previous chapter can now be expressed in terms of the significance of its content. Through our conceptual grasp of something given in the sense world, the “what” of that which is given to our view first comes to manifestation. We cannot express the content of what we look at, because this content consists only in the “how” of what we look at, i.e., in the form of its manifestation. Thus, in the concept, we find the “what,” the other content of that which is given in the sense world in an observed form.

The world first gains its full content, therefore, in the concept. But now we have discovered that the concept points us beyond the individual phenomenon to the interrelationship of things. Thus that which appears in the sense world as separated, isolated, presents itself to the concept as a unified whole. And so our natural-scientific methodology gives rise to a monistic natural science as its final goal; but it is not an abstract monism that already presupposes the unity and then forcibly includes in it the individual facts of concrete existence, but rather it is a concrete monism that, piece by piece, shows that the seeming manifoldness of sense existence proves ultimately to be only an ideal unity. The multiplicity is only a form in which the unified world content expresses itself. The senses, which are not in a position to grasp this unified content, hold fast to the multiplicity; they are born pluralists. Thinking, however, overcomes the multiplicity and thus, through a long labour, returns to the unified world principle.

The manner, now, in which the concept (the idea) expresses itself within the sense world constitutes the differences among the realms of nature. If a sense-perceptibly real entity attains only a kind of existence in which it stands totally outside the concept and is only governed in its transformations by the concept as by a law, then we call this entity inorganic. Everything that occurs with such an entity is to be traced back to the influences of another entity; and how the two act upon each other can be explained by a law standing outside them. In this sphere we have to do with phenomena and laws which, if they are primary, can be called archetypal phenomena. In this case, therefore, the conceptual element that is to be perceived stands outside of a perceived manifoldness.

But a sense-perceptible unity itself, in fact, can point beyond itself; it can compel us, if we want to grasp it, to go on to further determining factors than to those perceptible to us. Then, what is conceptually graspable appears as a sense-perceptible unity. The two, concept and perception, are, indeed, not identical, but the concept does not appear outside the sense-perceptible manifoldness as a law, but rather within the manifoldness as a principle. The concept underlies the manifoldness as something that permeates it, as something that is no longer sense-perceptible, as something that we call typus. Organic natural science has to do with this.

But here also the concept does not yet appear in the form particular to it as concept, but still only as typus. Where, now, the concept appears, not merely as typus, as permeating principle, but rather in its own conceptual form, there it appears as consciousness, there, there finally comes to manifestation that which is present at the lower stages only in essence. There the concept becomes a perception. We have to do with the self-conscious human being.

Natural law, typus, and concept are the three forms in which the ideal element expresses itself. The natural law is abstract, standing over the sense-perceptible manifoldness; it governs inorganic natural science. Here idea and reality separate from each other completely. The typus already unites the two within one entity. The spiritual becomes an active entity, but does not yet act as such; it is not there as such, but rather, if it wants to be viewed in accordance with its existence, it must be looked at as something sense-perceptible. This is the situation in the realm of organic nature. The concept is present in a perceptible way. In human consciousness, it is the concept itself that is perceptible. The observed and the idea coincide. It is precisely the ideal element that is observed. Therefore, at this level, the ideal cores of existence of nature's lower levels can also come to manifestation. With human consciousness the possibility is given that what, at the lower levels of existence, merely is, but does not manifest, now becomes also manifesting reality.

4. The System of the Colour Theory

Goethe worked at a time when human spirits were filled by a powerful striving for an absolute knowledge that would find its satisfaction within itself. Man's activity of knowing once again dared, with holy fervor, to investigate every means of knowledge in order to draw nearer to a solution of the highest questions. The period of oriental theosophy, the period of Plato and Aristotle, and then the period of Descartes and Spinoza are the representatives, in previous epochs of world history, of a similar inner deepening. Goethe is not thinkable without Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. If these thinkers possessed above all a vision into the depths and an eye for the highest, his gaze rested upon the things of immediate reality. But in his gaze there lies something of that depth itself. Goethe exercised this vision in looking at nature. The spirit of that time is poured out like a fluid over his contemplations of nature. Hence their power, which, in contemplating the details, always maintains the broad outlines. Goethe's science always goes after what is central.

We can see this in Goethe's colour theory more than anywhere else. It alone, besides his attempts relative to the metamorphosis of the plant, was brought to a completed whole. And what a strictly complete system it does represent, such as is demanded by the nature of the thing itself!

Let us now consider this edifice according to its inner structure.

In order that something founded in the being of nature may come to manifestation, the necessary prerequisite is that a causal opportunity, an organ, be present in which this something can present itself. The eternal, iron laws of nature would, in fact, hold sway even if they never presented themselves within a human spirit, but their manifestation as such would not then be possible. They would then be present merely in essence and not in manifestation. This would also be the case with the world of light and colour if no perceiving eye confronted them. Colour, in its essential being, cannot be traced back in Schopenhauer's manner to the eye; but the possibility for colour to manifest must very definitely be shown to lie within the eye. The colour is not conditional upon the eye, but the eye is the cause of its manifestation.

Here is where colour theory must therefore take its start. It must investigate the eye, must disclose its nature. This is why Goethe places physiological colour theory at the beginning. But even there his conception is essentially different from what one usually understands this part of optics to be. He does not want to explain the functions of the eye by its structure, but wants rather to observe the eye under various conditions in order to arrive at a knowledge of its capacities and abilities. Here also his procedure is essentially an observational one. What happens when light and darkness act upon the eye; what happens when defined images enter into relationship with it, etc.? He does not ask, to begin with, what processes occur within the eye when one or another perception comes about, but rather he seeks to fathom what can come about through the eye in the living act of seeing. For his purpose, that is to begin with the only important question. That other question does not belong, strictly speaking, to the realm of physiological colour theory, but rather to the science of the human organism, i.e., to general physiology. Goethe has to do with the eye only insofar as it sees, and not with the explanation of seeing that comes from the perceptions we can have of the dead eye.

From there, he then goes over to the objective processes that bring about the phenomena of colors. And here it is important to bear in mind that Goethe, with these objective processes, is by no means thinking of hypothetical processes of matter or of motion that are no longer perceptible, but rather that he absolutely remains within the perceivable world. His physical colour theory, which constitutes the second part, seeks the conditions that are independent of the eye and are connected to the arising of the colors. But these conditions are still always perceptions. Here, with the help of the prism, of lenses, etc., he investigates how colors arise in connection with light. But for the time being, he does not go beyond tracing colour as such in its development and observing how, in itself, separated from objects, it arises.

Only in a separate chapter on chemical colour theory does he go on to colors that are fixed, that are connected with objects. If, in the physiological colour theory, the question is answered as to how colors can come to manifestation at all, and, in the physical colour theory, the question as to how the colors come about under external conditions, so Goethe responds here to the problem of how the corporeal world manifests as colored.

In this way, Goethe advances from contemplation of colour as an attribute of the phenomenal world to this world itself as manifesting with that attribute. He does not stop there, but goes on finally to contemplate the higher relationship of the colored corporeal world to the human soul in that chapter on “The sense-perceptible and moral Effect of Colour.” (“Sinnlichsittliche Wirkung der Farbe”)

This is the strict, complete path of a science: from the subject as determining factor, back again to the subject as the being who satisfies himself in and with his world.

Who will not recognize here again the impulse of the time—from subject to object and back into the subject again—that led Hegel to the architectonics of his whole system.

In this sense then, the Sketch of a Colour Theory,72Entwurf einer Farbenlehre appears as the actual optical main work of Goethe. The two essays, Contributions to Optics73Beiträge zur Optik and The Elements of Colour Theory74Elemente der Farbenlehre must be considered as preliminary studies. The Exposure of Newton's Theory75Enthüllungen der Theorie Newtons is only a polemical addition to his work.

5. The Goethean Concept of Space

Since a complete understanding of Goethe's work in physics is possible only for someone with a view of space that is entirely consonant with his, let us describe this view here. Whoever wants to arrive at this view must have gained the following convictions from our considerations until now: 1. The things that confront us in experience as separate have an inner relationship to each other. They are, in truth, held together by a unified world bond. There lives in them all one common principle. 2. When our spirit approaches the things and strives to encompass what is separate with a spiritual bond, then the conceptual unity that our spirit establishes is not outside of the objects but rather is drawn from the inner being of nature itself. Human knowledge is not a process taking place outside of the things, not a process springing from mere subjective arbitrariness, but rather: what arises there in our spirit as a law of nature, what expresses itself within our soul, that is the heartbeat of the universe itself.

For our present purposes, let us take under consideration the most external of all relationships that our spirit can establish between the objects of experience. Let us consider the simplest case in which experience summons us to a spiritual activity. Let us assume that two simple elements of the phenomenal world are given. In order not to complicate our investigation, let us take something as simple as possible—two luminous points, for example. Let us completely disregard the fact that in each of these luminous points themselves we perhaps have before us something that is already immensely complicated, that sets our spirit a task. Let us also disregard the quality of the concrete elements of the sense world we have before us, and take into consideration purely and simply the fact that we have before us two separate elements, i.e., two elements that appear to the senses as separated. Two factors, each of which is able to make an impression upon our senses—that is all we presuppose. Let us assume further that the existence of one of these factors does not exclude that of the other. One organ of perception can perceive both.

If we assume, namely, that the existence of the one element is in any way dependent upon that of the other, we are then facing a different problem than our present one. If the existence of B is of such a kind that it excludes the existence of A and yet, in its being, is dependent upon it, then A and B must stand in a temporal relationship. For the dependency of B upon A requires—if one pictures to oneself at the same time that the existence of B excludes that of A—that A precedes B. But that is a separate matter.

For our present purposes, let us not assume any such relationship. Our presupposition is that the things with which we are dealing are not mutually exclusive in their existence, but rather are co-existing entities. When we disregard every relationship that their inner natures demand, then there remains only the fact that a relationship exists between the two separate qualities, that I can go from the one over to the other. I can move from the one element of experience over to the second one. No one can have any doubts about what kind of a relationship it is that I establish between things when I disregard their character and nature themselves. Whoever asks himself what transition can be found from one thing to another, if the thing itself remains a matter of indifference thereby, must absolutely give the answer: space. Every other connection must be based upon the qualitative character of that which appears as separate in world existence. Only space takes absolutely nothing else into consideration except the fact that the things are indeed separated. When I reflect that A is above and B is below, it is a matter of complete indifference to me what A and B are. I join no other mental picture to them at all other than that they are, indeed, separate factors of the world I grasp with my senses.

What our spirit wants to do when it confronts experience is this: it wants to overcome the separateness; it wants to show that, within the particular thing, the power of the whole is to be seen. In its spatial view, the human spirit does not want to overcome anything else except the separateness as such. It wants to establish the most general relationship of all. What the spatial way of looking at things states is that A and B are not each a world in itself, but rather belong to something in common. That is what being beside one another (Nebeneinander) means. If each thing were an entity in itself, then there would be no being beside one another. I could not establish any relationship at all between one entity and another.

Let us now investigate what else follows from this establishing of an outer relationship between two separate entities. I can think of two elements in only one way in this kind of relationship. I think of A as beside B. I can now do the same thing with two other elements of the sense world, C and D. I have thereby determined a concrete relationship between A and B, and the same one between C and D. Let us now entirely disregard the elements A, B, C, and D and only relate the two concrete relationships to each other again. It is clear that I can relate these, as two particular entities, to each other in exactly the same way as I did with A and B themselves. What I am here relating to each other are concrete relationships. I can call them a and b. If I now go a step further, I can again relate a and b. But now I have already lost all particularity. When I look at a, I no longer find any particular A and B that are being related to each other; and just as little when I look at b. In both, I find nothing else at all except that a relationship was made. But this conclusion is exactly the same for a and for b. What made it possible for me still to keep a and b apart was the fact that they pointed to A, B, C, and D. If I leave out its remaining elements of particularity and then relate only a and b to each other—i.e., relate together only the facts that relationships were being made at all (not the fact that something specific was being related)—then I have again arrived quite generally at the spatial relationship from which I took my start. I can go no further. I have achieved what I was striving for previously: space itself stands before my soul.

Herein lies the secret of the three dimensions. In the first dimension I relate two concrete phenomenal elements of the sense world to each other; in the second dimension I relate these spatial relationships themselves to each other. I have established a relationship between relationships. I have stripped away the concrete phenomena; the concrete relationships remain for me. I now relate these themselves spatially to each other. This means: I entirely disregard the fact that these are concrete relationships; then, however, I must find exactly the same thing again in the second relationship that I found in the first. I establish relationships between similar entities. Now the possibility of relating ceases because the difference ceases.

What I earlier took as the point of view for my considerations—the completely external relationship—I have now achieved again myself as a sense picture; from my spatial consideration, after I have carried out the operation three times, I have arrived at space, i.e., at my starting point.

Therefore space can have only three dimensions. What we have undertaken here with respect to the mental picture of space is actually only a specific case of the method always employed by us when we confront things in observation. We regard concrete objects from one general point of view. Through this, we gain concepts about the particulars; we then regard these concepts themselves again from the same point of view, so that we then have before us any longer only the concepts of the concepts; if we still join these also, then they fuse into that ideal unity which cannot any longer be brought under one point of view with anything other than itself. Let us take a specific example. I become acquainted with two people, A and B. I look at them from the point of view of friendship. In this case I will arrive at a quite specific concept, a, of the friendship between the two people. I now look at two other people, C and D, from the same point of view. I arrive at another concept, b, of this friendship. Now I can go further and relate these two concepts of friendship to each other. What remains for me, when I disregard the concrete element I have gained, is the concept of friendship in general. But I can arrive at this in an even more real way, when I look at two other people, E and F, from the same point of view, and likewise two people G and H. In this, as in innumerable other cases, I can obtain the concept of friendship in general. But all these concepts, in their essential nature, are identical to each other; and when I look at them from the same point of view, it then turns out that I have found a unity. I have returned again to where I took my start.

Space, therefore, is a view about things, a way in which our spirit draws them together into a unity. The three dimensions relate to each other thereby in the following way. The first dimension establishes a relationship between two sense perceptions. It is therefore a concrete mental picture. The second dimension relates two concrete mental pictures to each other and thus passes over into the region of abstraction. The third dimension, finally, establishes in addition only the ideal unity between the abstractions. It is therefore completely incorrect to take the three dimensions of space as though they were altogether of equal significance. The nature of the first dimension depends, of course, upon the perceived elements. But then the other two have a quite definite and different significance than this first one. Kant was quite wrong in his assumption when he conceived of space as the whole (totum), instead of as an entity conceptually determinable in itself.

Now we have hitherto spoken of space as a relationship, a connection. But the question now arises: Is there then only this relationship of “being beside one another”? Or is there an absolute place-determination for every thing? This last question is of course not touched upon at all by our above explanations. But let us consider whether there is, indeed, any such place-relationship, any quite specific “there.” What am I actually indicating when I speak of such a “there”? Nothing else, in fact, than that I am referring to an object that is in immediate proximity to the actual object under consideration. “There” means in proximity to some object indicated by me. With this, however, the absolute place-indication is brought back to a space relationship. Our investigation is thus cancelled.

Let us now raise the question quite definitely: According to the preceding investigations, what is space? Nothing more than a necessity, lying within the things, of overcoming their separateness in an entirely outer way and without entering into their nature, and of joining them into a unity, even though of just such an outer kind. Space is therefore a way of grasping the world as a unity. Space is an idea. Not, as Kant believed, an observation (Anschauung).

6. Goethe, Newton, and the Physicists

As Goethe began his consideration of the being of colors, it was essentially an interest in art that brought him to it. His intuitive spirit soon recognized that the use of colour in painting is subject to a deep lawfulness. Wherein this lawfulness consisted he could not discover as long as he only moved about theoretically in the realm of painting, nor could trained painters give him any satisfactory information about this. These painters knew very well, in a practical sense, how to mix and apply the colors, but could not express themselves in concepts about the matter. When Goethe, then, was confronted in Italy not only by the most sublime works of art of this kind, but also by the most magnificent colors of nature, the urge awoke in him with special force to know the natural laws of the being of colour.

Goethe himself, in the History of Colour Theory76Geschichte der Farbenlehre, gives a detailed account of the historical aspect. Let us deal here only with the psychological and factual aspects.

Goethe's study of colour began right after his return from Italy. This study became particularly intensive in the years 1790 and 1791, and then occupied the poet continuously until the end of his life.

We must picture to ourselves where the Goethean world view stood at this time, at the beginning of his study of colour. By this time he had already grasped his magnificent thoughts about the metamorphosis of organic entities. Through his discovery of the intermaxillary bone, a view had already arisen in him of the unity of all natural existence. Each individual thing appeared to him as a particular modification of the ideal principle that holds sway in the whole of nature. In his letters from Italy he had already stated that a plant is only a plant through the fact that it bears within itself the “idea of the plant.” This idea was something concrete for him; it was the unity, filled with spiritual content, in all particular plants. It could not be grasped by the bodily eyes, to be sure, but could very well be grasped by the eye of the spirit. Whoever can see it, sees it in every plant.

Thus the whole realm of the plants and, with the further elaboration of this view, the whole realm of nature, in fact, appears as a unity that the human spirit can grasp.

But no one is able to construct, from the idea alone, the manifoldness that arises before the outer senses. The intuitive spirit is able to know the idea. The particular configurations are accessible to him only when he directs his senses outward, when he observes, looks. The reason why a modification of the idea arises in sense-perceptible reality in precisely this and not in another way cannot be thought up, but rather must be sought in the realm of reality.

This is Goethe's individual way of looking at things and can best be designated as empirical idealism. It can be summarized with the words: Underlying the things of a sense-perceptible manifoldness, insofar as they are of a similar kind, there is a spiritual unity that brings about their similar nature and relatedness.

Taking his start from this point, Goethe was confronted by the question: What spiritual unity underlies the manifoldness of colour perceptions? What do I perceive in every modification of colour? And there it soon became clear to him that light is the necessary basis for every colour. No colour without light. But the colors are the modifications of light. And now he had to seek that element within reality that modifies, specializes the light. He found that this element is lightless matter, active darkness—in short, that which is the opposite of light. Thus each colour became for him light that is modified by darkness. It is completely incorrect to believe that with light Goethe meant the concrete sunlight that is usually called “white light.” Understanding of the Goethean colour theory is hindered only by the fact that one cannot free oneself from this picture of light and regards this sunlight, which is composed (zusammengesetzt) in such a complicated way, as the representative of light in itself. Light, as Goethe apprehends it, and as he contrasts it to darkness as its opposite, is a purely spiritual entity, is simply what all colour sensations have in common. Even though Goethe has nowhere clearly expressed this, still his whole colour theory is applied in such a way that it can only be interpreted thus. If he did experiment with sunlight in order to develop his theory, his only reason for doing so was that sunlight, in spite of its being the result of such complicated processes as those that occur in the body of the sun, does after all present itself to us as a unity that holds its parts within itself only in a state of abeyance. What we achieve for colour theory with the help of sunlight is after all only an approximation of reality, however. One cannot apprehend Goethe's theory to mean that, according to it, light and darkness are contained in an outwardly real way in every colour. No, it is rather that the outwardly real that confronts our eye is only a particular nuance of colour. Only the human spirit is able to take this sense-perceptible fact apart into two spiritual entities: light and non-light.

The outer arrangements by which this occurs, the material processes in matter, are not affected in the least by this. That is a completely different matter. I am not disputing that a process of oscillation occurs in the ether while “red” arises before me. But what brings about a perception in an outwardly real way, has, as we have already shown, nothing at all to do with the essential nature of its content.

Someone may object: But it can be proven that everything about the sensation is subjective and only the process of motion that underlies it really exists outside of our brain. Then one could not speak at all about a physical theory of perceptions, but only about a physical theory of the underlying processes of motion. The state of affairs with respect to this proof is about as follows: If someone in location A sends a telegram to me in location B, then everything given into my hands as this telegram, without exception, has come into existence in B. The telegraph operator is in B; he writes on paper that has never been in A, with ink that has never been in A; he himself does not know location A at all, and so on; in short, it can be proven that absolutely nothing from A has entered into what I now have before me. Accordingly, everything that comes from B is a matter of no significance for the content, for the essential nature, of the telegram; what matters to me is only communicated by B. If I want to explain the essential nature of the content of the telegram, I must entirely disregard what comes from B.

The state of affairs is the same with respect to the world of the eye. Thinking consideration must encompass what is perceptible to the eye and must seek the interrelationships within this area. The material, spatial-temporal processes might be very important for the coming about of the perceptions; but they have nothing to do with the essential nature of perceptions.

The state of affairs is the same with respect to the question often discussed today as to whether or not one and the same form of motion in the ether underlies the various phenomena of nature such as light, heat, electricity, etc. Hertz, for example, has shown recently that the transmission of electrical effects in space is subject to the same laws as the transmission of light effects. One can infer from this that waves, such as those that are the bearers of light, also underlie electricity. One has also already assumed before now, indeed, that within the solar spectrum only one kind of wave motion is active which, according to whether it falls upon reagents sensitive to heat, light, or chemicals, produces heat, light or chemical effects.

But this is, in fact, clear from the very beginning. If one investigates what is occurring in that which has extension in space, while the entities we are discussing are being communicated, then one must arrive at a homogeneous motion. For, a medium in which only motion is possible, must react to everything with motion. And all the communicating that it must take over, it will also accomplish with motion. If I then investigate the forms of this motion, I do not then experience what the communicated element is, but rather how it was brought to me. It is simply nonsense to say that heat or light are motion. Motion is only the reaction to light of a matter that is capable of motion.

Goethe himself had already heard of the wave theory and had seen nothing in it that could not be brought into harmony with his convictions about the essential nature of colour.

One must only free oneself of the picture that, for Goethe, light and darkness are real entities, and regard them, rather, as mere principles, as spiritual entities; then one will gain a completely different view of his colour theory than one usually forms of it. If, as Newton does, one understands light to be only a mixture of all the colors, then any concept of the concrete entity “light” disappears. “Light” then evaporates completely into an empty general mental picture, to which nothing in reality corresponds. Such abstractions were foreign to the Goethean world view. For him every mental picture had to have a concrete content. But for him, the “concrete” did not cease with the “physical.”

Modern physics actually has no concept at all for “light.” It knows only specific lights, colors, that in particular mixtures evoke the impression “white.” But even this “white” cannot be identified with light in itself. “White” is actually also nothing other than a mixed colour. Modern physics does not know “light” in the Goethean sense, any more than it knows “darkness.” Thus Goethe's colour theory moves in a realm that makes no contact at all with what the physicists determine conceptually. Physics simply does not know any of the basic concepts of the Goethean colour theory. Therefore, from its standpoint, it cannot judge this theory at all. Goethe, in fact, begins where physics ends.

It demonstrates a completely superficial grasp of the matter when one speaks continuously of the relationship of Goethe to Newton and to modern physics, and in doing so is completely unaware of the fact that two entirely different ways of looking at the world are being indicated.

We are convinced that someone who has grasped our expositions on the nature of sense impressions in the right sense can gain no other impression of the Goethean colour theory than the one described. To be sure, someone who does not accept these considerations of ours that prepare the ground will remain at the standpoint of physical optics and will therefore also reject Goethe's colour theory.