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The Philosophy of Freedom
GA 4


Objections which were made from the philosophical side immediately upon the publication of this book induce me to add the following brief discussion to this new edition.

I can well understand that there are readers who are interested in the rest of the book, but who will look upon what follows as a remote and unnecessary tissue of abstract concepts. They can leave this short statement unread. But in philosophy problems arise which have their origin more in certain prejudices on the thinkers' part than in the natural course of human thinking itself. Otherwise it seems to me that this book deals with a task that concerns everyone who is trying to get clear about the nature of man and his relationship to the world. What follows is rather a problem which certain philosophers insist should be discussed as part of the subject matter of such a book, because, by their whole way of thinking, they have created certain difficulties which do not otherwise occur. If one were to pass by such problems altogether, certain people would be quick to accuse one of dilettantism and the like. And the impression would arise that the author of the views set down in this book has not come to terms with those points of view he has not discussed in the book itself.

The problem to which I refer is this: there are thinkers who believe that a special difficulty arises when one tries to understand how another person's soul life can affect one's own. They say: my conscious world is enclosed within me; in the same way, any other conscious world is enclosed within itself. I cannot see into the world of consciousness of another person. How, then, do I know that he and I are both in the same world? The theory which believes it possible to infer from the conscious world an unconscious world which can never enter consciousness, tries to solve this difficulty in the following way. It says: the world I have in my consciousness is the representative in me of a real world to which I have no conscious access. In this real world lie the unknown causes of my conscious world. In it also lies my own real being, of which I have only a representative in my consciousness. In it also, however, lies the being of my fellow man. Now whatever is experienced in the consciousness of my fellow man corresponds to a reality in his being which is independent of his consciousness. This reality acts, in the realm which cannot become conscious, upon my own real being which is said to be unconscious; and in this way something is created in my consciousness representing what is present in a consciousness that is quite independent of my own conscious experience. It is clear that to the world accessible to my consciousness an inaccessible one is here being added hypothetically, since one believes that otherwise one is forced to the conclusion that the whole external world, which I think is there in front of me, is nothing but the world of my consciousness, and to the further—solipsistic—absurdity that other people, too, exist only within my consciousness.

This problem, which has been created by several recent tendencies in epistemology, can be clarified if one tries to survey the matter from the point of view of the spiritually oriented observation adopted in this book. What is it, in the first instance, that I have before me when I confront another person? The most immediate thing is the bodily appearance of the other person as given to me in sense perception; then, perhaps, the auditory perception of what he is saying, and so on. I do not merely stare at all this, but it sets my thinking activity in motion. Through the thinking with which I confront the other person, the percept of him becomes, as it were, transparent to the mind. I am bound to admit that when I grasp the percept with my thinking, it is not at all the same thing as appeared to the outer senses. In what is a direct appearance to the senses, something else is indirectly revealed. The mere sense appearance extinguishes itself at the same time as it confronts me. But what it reveals through this extinguishing compels me as a thinking being to extinguish my own thinking as long as I am under its influence, and to put its thinking in the place of mine. I then grasp its thinking in my thinking as an experience like my own. I have really perceived another person's thinking. The immediate percept, extinguishing itself as sense appearance, is grasped by my thinking, and this is a process lying wholly within my consciousness and consisting in this, that the other person's thinking takes the place of mine. Through the self-extinction of the sense appearance, the separation between the two spheres of consciousness is actually overcome. This expresses itself in my consciousness through the fact that while experiencing the content of another person's consciousness I experience my own consciousness as little as I experience it in dreamless sleep. Just as in dreamless sleep my waking consciousness is eliminated, so in my perceiving of the content of another person's consciousness the content of my own is eliminated. The illusion that it is not so only comes about because in perceiving the other person, firstly, the extinction of the content of one's own consciousness gives place not to unconsciousness, as it does in sleep, but to the content of the other person's consciousness, and secondly, the alternations between extinguishing and lighting up again of my own self-consciousness follow too rapidly to be generally noticed.

This whole problem is to be solved, not through artificial conceptual structures with inferences from the conscious to things that can never become conscious, but rather through genuine experience of what results from combining thinking with the percept. This applies to a great many problems which appear in philosophical literature. Thinkers should seek the path to open-minded, spiritually oriented observation; instead of which they insert an artificial conceptual structure between themselves and the reality.

In a treatise by Eduard von Hartmann entitled The Ultimate Problems of Epistemology and Metaphysics,1“Die letzten Fragen der Erkenntnistheorie und Metaphysik”, Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik, Vol. 108, p. 55. my Philosophy of Freedom has been classed with the philosophical tendency which would base itself upon an “epistemological monism”. Eduard von Hartmann rejects such a position as untenable. This is explained as follows. According to the way of thinking expressed in his treatise, there are only three possible positions in the theory of knowledge.

Firstly, one remains at the naïve point of view, which regards perceived phenomena as real things existing outside human consciousness. This implies a lack of critical knowledge. One fails to realize that with the content of one's consciousness one remains, after all, only within one's own consciousness. One fails to perceive that one is dealing, not with a “table-in-itself”, but only with an object in one's own consciousness. Whoever remains at this point of view, or for whatever reason returns to it, is a naïve realist. But this whole position is untenable for it fails to recognize that consciousness has no other objects than its own contents.

Secondly, one appreciates this situation and admits it fully to oneself. One would then be a transcendental idealist. But then one would have to deny that anything of a “thing-in-itself” could ever appear in human consciousness. In this way, however, provided one is consistent enough, one will not avoid absolute illusionism. For the world which confronts one now transforms itself into a mere sum of objects of consciousness, and, moreover, only of objects of one's own consciousness. One is then compelled—absurdly enough—to regard other people too as being present solely in the content of one's own consciousness.

The only possible standpoint is the third, transcendental realism. This assumes that there are “things-in-themselves”, but that the consciousness can have no kind of dealings with them in immediate experience. Beyond the sphere of human consciousness, and in a way that does not enter it, they cause the objects of our consciousness to arise in it. One can arrive at these “things-in-themselves” only by inference from the content of consciousness, which is all that is actually experienced but is nevertheless merely pictured in the mind.

Eduard von Hartmann maintains in the article mentioned above that “epistemological monism”—for such he takes my point of view to be—must in reality accept one of these three positions; and it fails to do so only because it does not draw the logical conclusions from its postulates. The article goes on to say:

If one wants to find out which theoretical position a supposed epistemological monist occupies, one need only put certain questions to him and compel him to answer them. For such a person will never willingly commit himself to an expression of opinion on these points, and will, moreover, seek by all means to evade answering direct questions, because every answer would show that epistemological monism cannot claim to be different from one or other of the three positions. These questions are as follows:

(1) Are things continuous or intermittent in their existence? If the answer is “continuous”, then one is dealing with some form of naïve realism. If the answer is “intermittent”, then one has transcendental idealism. But if the answer is that they are, on the one hand, continuous (as contents of the absolute consciousness, or as unconscious mental pictures, or as possibilities of perception), but on the other hand, intermittent (as contents of limited consciousness), then transcendental realism is established.

(2) When three people are sitting at a table, how many distinct tables are there: Whoever answers “one” is a naïve realist; whoever answers “three” is a transcendental idealist; but whoever answers “four” is a transcendental realist. Here, of course, it is assumed that it is legitimate to embrace such different things as the one table as a thing-in-itself and the three tables as perceptual objects in the three consciousnesses under the common designation of “a table”. If this seems too great a liberty to anyone, he will have to answer “one and three” instead of “four”.

(3) When two people are alone together in a room, how many distinct persons are there: Whoever answers “two” is a naïve realist. Whoever answers “four” (namely, one self and one other person in each of the two consciousnesses) is a transcendental idealist. Whoever answers “six” (namely, two persons as “things-in-themselves” and four persons as mentally pictured objects in the two consciousnesses) is a transcendental realist.

If anyone wants to show that epistemological monism is different from any of these three positions, he would have to give a different answer to each of these three questions; but I would not know what this could be.

The answers of the Philosophy of Freedom would have to be:

(1) Whoever grasps only the perceptual contents of things and takes these for reality, is a naïve realist, and he does not realize that, strictly, he ought to regard these perceptual contents as existing only as long as he is looking at the things, so that he ought to think of the things before him as intermittent. As soon, however, as it becomes clear to him that reality is present only in the percepts that are permeated by thought, he will see that the perceptual contents which appear as intermittent reveal themselves as continuous as soon as they are permeated with the results of thinking. Hence we must count as continuous the perceptual content that has been grasped through the experience of thinking, of which only that part that is merely perceived could be regarded as intermittent, if—which is not the case—it were real.

(2) When three people are sitting at a table, how many distinct tables are there? There is only one table present; but as long as the three people went no further than their perceptual images, they would have to say, “These perceptual images are not a reality at all.” As soon as they pass on to the table as grasped by their thinking, the one reality of the table reveals itself to them; then, with their three contents of consciousness, they are united in this reality.

(3) When two people are alone together in a room, how many distinct persons are there? There are most certainly not six—not even in the sense of the transcendental realists—but only two. All one can say is that, at the first moment, each person has nothing but the unreal perceptual image of himself and of the other person. There are four of these images, and through their presence in the thinking activity of the two people, reality is grasped. In this activity of thinking each person transcends his own sphere of consciousness; in it the consciousness of the other person as well as of himself comes to life. In these moments of coming to life the two people are as little enclosed within their own consciousnesses as they are in sleep. But at other moments the awareness of the absorption in the other person appears again, so that the consciousness of each person, in the experience of thinking, apprehends both himself and the other. I know that a transcendental realist describes this as a relapse into naïve realism. But then, I have already pointed out in this book that naïve realism retains its justification for the thinking that is experienced.

The transcendental realist will have nothing whatever to do with the true state of affairs regarding the process of knowledge; he cuts himself off from the facts by a tissue of thoughts and entangles himself in it. Moreover, the monism which appears in The Philosophy of Freedom ought not to be labeled “epistemological”, but, if an epithet is wanted, then a “monism of thought”. All this has been misunderstood by Eduard von Hartmann. He has ignored all that is specific in the argumentation of The Philosophy of Freedom, and has stated that I have attempted to combine Hegel's universalistic panlogism with Hume's individualistic phenomenalism,2Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Vol. 108, p. 71, note. whereas in fact The Philosophy of Freedom has nothing whatever to do with the two positions it is allegedly trying to combine. (This, too, is the reason why I could not feel inclined, for example, to go into the “epistemological monism” of Johannes Rehmke. The point of view of The Philosophy of Freedom is simply quite different from what Eduard von Hartmann and others call epistemological monism.)