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Truth and Science
GA 3

V. Knowing and Reality

In concepts and ideas, we have “the given”, and at the same time, that which leads beyond the given. But this offers the possibility of also determining the nature of the remaining cognitive activity. We have separated out and started with a part of the given picture of the world by a postulate, because this specific part lies in what knowing really is. This separation was only done to be able to understand cognition. At the same time, we must also be clear that we have artificially disrupted the unity of the worldview. We must realize that the segment we have separated from the given stands in a necessary connection with the content of the world, irrespective of our postulate. In this way taking the next step in epistemology is set up. It will consist of restoring the unity that was torn apart to make knowing possible. This restoration occurs in thinking about the given world. In the thinking view of the world, the unification of the two parts of the world's content indeed takes place, that which we see as given on the horizon of our experiences, and that which must be produced in the act of knowing which is also given. The act of knowing is the synthesis of these two elements. In each individual act of knowing, one of these appears as something produced in the act itself, added through it to what is merely given. Only at the beginning of epistemology itself does what is otherwise always produced appear as a given.

The given world infused with concepts and ideas therefore is contemplation of things by thinking. Thinking is therefore actually the act through which knowledge is conveyed. Knowledge can only come about when thinking itself organizes the content of the worldview. Thinking itself is an action that brings forth an appropriate content in the moment of knowing. So insofar as the recognized content flows from thinking alone, it presents no difficulty for cognition. Here we just need to observe, and we have the essence given directly. The description of thinking is at the same time the science of thinking. In fact, logic was never anything other than a description of the forms of thinking, never a demonstrable science. Evidence only consists of a synthesis, a union of thoughts with other world content.

Gideon Spicker rightly says in his book Lessing’s Weltanschauung (p. 5), “Whether thinking is correct we can never experience, neither empirically nor logically.” I can add, that with thinking, all evidence stops, because evidence already presupposes thinking. One can certainly prove a single fact, but the evidence cannot prove itself. We can only describe what evidence is. In logic all theory is merely empiricism; in the science of logic there is only observation. But if we want to know something outside of our thinking, we can only do so with the help of thinking.

The essence of thinking is to approach something “given” and bring it out of the chaos into a systematic interconnection with the world picture. Thinking therefore approaches the given content of the world as the forming principle. The process begins with mentally separating certain details from the whole totality of the world, for nothing is initially separate in the given, for everything is in continuous connection. Thinking now relates these separate details to one another in accordance with the forms it produces, and ultimately determines what results from this relationship. Because thinking establishes a connection between two separate parts of the content of the world, it has not determined anything about them of its own accord. We must just wait and see what happens due to establishing the connection. This result is knowing about relevant parts of the world's content. If it were in the nature of the latter to express nothing at all about itself through that reference, well, then the attempt at thinking would fail and a new one would have to take its place. All knowledge is based on the human being’s bringing two or more elements of reality into the correct connection and grasping what results from this.

Through establishing a connection between two separate parts of the content of the world, thinking certainly has not determined anything about them of its own accord. We just must wait and see what happens due to establishing the connection. This result is knowing about the relevant parts of the world's content. If it were in the nature of the latter to express nothing at all about itself through that reference, well, then the attempt at thinking would fail and a new one would have to take its place. All knowledge is due to the human being bringing two or more elements of reality into the correct interconnection and grasping what results from this.

There is no doubt that we make many such forlorn attempts at thinking, not only in the experience of seeing things with rigorous logical clarity (Wissenschaft), as the history of science teaches us sufficiently, but also in ordinary life. In the simple cases of forlorn error that we usually encounter, however, the right attempt takes the place of the wrong one so quickly that we don't become aware of the latter at all, or only rarely.

Kant hovered over (schwebte) our progressive activity of thinking (connected as a hoof is to a cow, zum Behuf) in systematically structuring the world-content in his “synthetic unity of apperception”. But how little he become aware of the actual task of thinking is evident from his believing that the laws of pure natural science independent of any experience (a priori) can be derived from the rules by which this synthesis takes place. He failed to consider that the synthetic activity of thinking only prepares for acquiring the actual laws of nature. Let us imagine that we detach some content “a” from the world picture, and then another content “b”. If a lawful connection between “a” and “b” is to be recognized, thinking must first bring “a” into such a relationship with “b” that it becomes possible for the existing dependency to appear to us as a given. The actual content of a natural law only follows from what is given, and it is only up to thinking to create the opportunity through which the parts of the world picture are brought into such relationships; only then does their lawfulness becomes apparent. No objective laws follow from the mere synthetic activity of thinking.

We must now ask what part thinking plays in establishing our scientific worldview, as opposed to the merely given worldview? From our presentation it follows that thinking attends to, worries about, concerns itself (besorgt) with connecting things lawfully. In our scheme above, let us assume that “a” is the cause and “b” is the effect. The causal connection between “a” and “b” could never become knowledge if thinking were not able to form the concept of causality. But to recognize “a” as a cause and “b” as an effect in an individual case, it is necessary that these two correspond to what is meant by cause and effect. The same applies to other categories of thinking.

It will be useful here to refer to Hume's comments on the concept of causality in a few words. Hume says that the concepts of cause and effect have their origin merely by our habit,63t/n F. H. Jacobi, David Hume über den Glauben oder Idealismus und Realismus; Breslau 1787, and Hume, David (1748) Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1 ed.). London: A. Millar. meaning, that often one event is observed followed by another, and we become accustomed to thinking of the two in causal connection, then when we notice the first, we expect the second to occur. However, this view is based on a completely erroneous idea of the causal relationship. If I meet the same person over a series of days when I step out of the gate of my house, I will gradually get used to expecting the chronological sequence of the two events, but it will not even occur to me to find a causal connection here between my appearance and that of the other person in the same place. I will look at other parts of the world to explain the direct consequence of the facts mentioned. We do not determine the causal connection according to the temporal sequence, but rather according to the meaning of the parts of the world called cause and effect.

Following from this (that thinking only carries out a formal activity in bringing about our scientific picture of the world), the content of any bit of knowledge cannot be fixed a priori before observation (before thinking's engagement with the given), but must emerge completely from the act of thinking. In this sense, all knowing is empirical. But it's hard to understand how it could be any different, as Kant's a priori judgments are basically not insights at all, but only postulates. In Kant's sense, one can only ever say that if a thing is to become the object of a possible experience, then it must conform to these laws. These are specifications that the subject makes to the objects. But one should believe that if we are to gain knowledge of what is given, then it must flow not from subjectivity, but from objectivity.

Thinking says nothing a priori about the given, but it puts in place the forms on which the laws of phenomena come to light based on experience, a posteriori. It is clear, that this view can make no difference a priori about the degree of certainty that an acquired cognitive judgment has. For certainty cannot be gained from anything other than the given itself. It can be objected that observation never says anything other than that some connection between phenomena takes place, but not that it must take place, and in the same case, always will take place. But this assumption is also erroneous. For if I recognize a certain connection between parts of the world picture, then in our sense it is nothing other than what results from these parts themselves. It is not something that I add to these parts, but something that essentially belongs to them, which therefore must always be there when they themselves are there. Only a view that considers all scientific activity to be merely using subjective maxims to link the elements of experience, which lie outside of the maxims, only such a view can believe that “a” and “b” can be linked today according to one law and tomorrow according to a different law (John Stuart Mill 64 t/n John Stuart Mill, System of Logic, 1843, “The most scientific proceeding can be no more than an improved form of that which was primitively pursued by the human understanding while undirected by science. (System, VII: 318-406) (1806–73). But anyone who understands that the laws of nature come from what is given, and are therefore what constitutes and determines the connection between phenomena, will not even think of speaking of a merely comparative universality of the laws obtained from observation. Of course, we do not mean to claim that the natural laws we have once assumed to be correct must necessarily be valid. But if a later case overturns a established law, then this is not due to the fact that the first time it could only be concluded with comparative generality, but rather because the conclusion was not completely correct at that time either. A genuine natural law is nothing other than the expression of a connection in the given picture of the world, and it does not exist without the facts that it regulates, just as these facts do not exist without the connection.

We have characterized the nature of the act of knowing above, that given world thinking will be interfused with concepts and ideas. What follows from this? If the immediately given contained a complete whole, then such processing of it in cognition would be impossible and therefore unnecessary. We would then simply accept what is given as it is and be satisfied with it in this form. Only if there is something hidden in the given, which does not yet appear when we look at it in its immediacy, but only with the help of the order introduced by thinking, then the act of knowing is possible. What lies in the given before mental processing is not its full whole.

This becomes even clearer when we look more closely at the factors that come into consideration in the act of knowing. The first of these is the given. Being given is not a property of the given, but only an expression of its relationship to the second factor of the act of knowing. What the given is according to its own nature remains completely obscure through this determination. The second factor, the content of the given that can be grasped, is found by thinking in the act of knowing as necessarily connected to the given. We now ask ourselves:

• Where is the separation between the given and the concept?
• Where is the union of these?

The answer to these two questions without doubt has been given in our previous examination. The separation exists only in the act of knowing, the connection lies in the given. From this it necessarily follows that the graspable (begriffliche) content is only a part of what is given, and that the act of knowing consists in uniting the components of the world picture that were initially given separately. The given world view therefore only becomes complete through that indirect kind of givenness that is brought about by thinking. Due to the form of immediacy, the world view initially appears in a completely incomplete form.

Within the world-content, if the thought-content were united with the given at the outset, then there would be no knowing. For nowhere could the need arise to go beyond what is given. If we were to produce all the content of the world with our thinking and within it, then there would be just as little thinking. For we don't need to know what we produce ourselves. Cognition is therefore based on the content of the world having been given to us primordially in a form that is incomplete, that does not embody it completely, but that has a second essential side in addition to what it presents directly. This second, originally not-given side of the world's content is unveiled, uncloaked (enthüllt) through knowing. What appears to us separate and sundered (abgesondert) in thinking are therefore not empty forms, but a sum of characterizations (categories), which however are form-giving for the remainder of the world's content. Only the gained-by-knowing world-content gestalt, in which both sides are illustrated, can be called reality.