In the preceding pages we have determined the direction that is to be taken by the following inquiries. They are to constitute a development of that which became manifest in Goethe as a scientific sense; an interpretation of his way of observing the world.
The objection may be raised that this is not the way in which to present a point of view scientifically. A scientific opinion must never under any circumstances rest upon authority, but must always rest upon principles. Let us at once discuss this objection. An opinion based upon Goethe's world-conception is not accepted by us as truth simply because it can be deduced from this conception, but because we believe that Goethe's view of the world can be supported by tenable basic principles and can be represented as a self-sustaining view. The fact that we take our point of departure from Goethe shall not prevent us from being just as much concerned to show grounds for the opinions maintained by us as are the exponents of any science which claims to be free from presuppositions. We represent Goethe's view of the world, but we shall confirm this according to the requirements of science.
The road that must be taken by such inquiries has already been indicated by Schiller. No one perceived the greatness of Goethe's genius so clearly as did he. In his letters to Goethe he held up before the latter an image of Goethe's own nature; in his letters concerning the aesthetic education of the human race he develops the ideal of the artist as he had recognized this in Goethe; and in his essays on naïve and sentimental poetry he describes the nature of genuine art as he had come to know this in the poetical works of Goethe. This is our justification for designating our discussion as being built upon the foundation of the Goethe-Schiller world-conception. Its purpose is to consider the scientific thought of Goethe according to the method for which Schiller has already provided a model. Goethe's look is directed toward Nature and toward life; and the manner of observation followed by him shall be the subject (the content) of our discussion. Schiller's look is directed toward the mind of Goethe, and the manner of observation which he followed shall be the ideal of our own method.
In this manner we believe the scientific endeavors of Goethe and Schiller are made fruitful for the present age.
According to the customary scientific terminology, our work must be conceived as a theory of knowledge. The questions discussed will, indeed, be of a very different sort from those which are now almost always posed by that branch of philosophy. We have seen why this is so. Where similar inquiries appear nowadays, they almost invariably take Kant as their point of departure. It has been altogether overlooked in scientific circles that, beside the science of knowledge set up by the great thinker of Königsberg, there is at least the possibility of another trend of thought in this field, no less capable than that of Kant of dealing profoundly with the facts.
Otto Liebmann at the beginning of the 'sixties gave expression to the conviction that we must return to Kant if we would attain to a view of the world free of contradictions. This is the reason why we possess to-day a Kant literature almost beyond the possibility of survey. But this road also will fail to afford any assistance to philosophical thinking, which will not again play a role in our cultural life until, instead of returning to Kant, it enters more deeply into the scientific conceptions of Goethe and Schiller.
And now we shall touch upon one of the basic questions of a science of knowledge corresponding to these preliminary remarks.