The Philosophy of Freedom
5. The Act of Knowing the World
From the foregoing considerations it follows that it is impossible to prove by investigating the content of our observation that our percepts are mental pictures. Such proof is supposed to be established by showing that, if the process of perceiving takes place in the way in which — on the basis of naïve-realistic assumptions about our psychological and physiological constitution — we imagine that it does, then we have to do, not with things in themselves, but only with our mental pictures of things. Now if naïve realism, when consistently thought out, leads to results which directly contradict its presuppositions, then these presuppositions must be discarded as unsuitable for the foundation of a universal philosophy. In any case, it is not permissible to reject the presuppositions and yet accept the consequences, as the critical idealist does when he bases his assertion that the world is my mental picture on the line of argument already described. (Eduard von Hartmann gives a full account of this line of argument in his work, Das Grundproblem der Erkenntnistheorie.)
The truth of critical idealism is one thing, the force of its proof another. How it stands with the former will appear later on in the course of this book, but the force of its proof is exactly nil. If one builds a house, and the ground floor collapses while the first floor is being built, then the first floor collapses also. Naïve realism and critical idealism is related as ground floor to the first floor in this simile.
For someone who believes that the whole perceived world is only an imagined one, a mental picture, and is in fact the effect upon my soul of things unknown to me, the real problem of knowledge is naturally concerned not with the mental pictures present only in the soul but with the things which are independent of us and which lie outside our consciousness. He asks: How much can we learn about these things indirectly, seeing that we cannot observe them directly? From this point of view, he is concerned not with the inner connection of his conscious percepts with one another but with their causes which transcend his consciousness and exist independently of him, since the percepts, in his opinion, disappear as soon as he turns his senses away from things. Our consciousness, on this view, works like a mirror from which the pictures of definite things disappear the moment its reflecting surface is not turned toward them. If, now, we do not see the things themselves but only their reflections, then we must learn indirectly about the nature of things by drawing conclusions from the behavior of the reflections. Modern science takes this attitude in that it uses percepts only as a last resort in obtaining information about the processes of matter which lie behind them, and which alone really “are.” If the philosopher, as critical idealist, admits real existence at all, then his search for knowledge through the medium of mental pictures is directed solely toward this existence. His interest skips over the subjective world of mental pictures and goes straight for what produces these pictures.
The critical idealist can, however, go even further and say: I am confined to the world of my mental pictures and [cannot] escape from it. If I think of a thing as being behind my mental picture, then thought is again nothing but a mental picture. An idealist of this type will either deny the thing-in-itself entirely or at any rate assert that it has no significance for human beings, in other words, that it is as good as non-existent since we can know nothing of it.
To this kind of critical idealist the whole world seems a dream, in the face of which all striving for knowledge is simply meaningless. For him there can be only two sorts of men: victims of the illusion that their own dream structures are real things, and the wise ones who see through the nothingness of this dream world and who must therefore gradually lose all desire to trouble themselves further about it. From this point of view, even one's own personality may become a mere dream phantom. Just as during sleep there appears among my dream images an image of myself, so in waking consciousness the mental picture of my own I is added to the mental picture of the outer world. We have then given to us in consciousness, not our real I, but only our mental picture of our I. Whoever denies that things exist, or at least that we can know anything of them, must also deny the existence, or at least the knowledge, of one's own personality. The critical idealist then comes to the conclusion that “All reality resolves itself into a wonderful dream, without a life which is dreamed about, and without a spirit which is having the dream; into a dream which hangs together in a dream of itself.” 1See Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen.
For the person who believes that he recognizes our immediate life to be a dream, it is immaterial whether he postulates nothing more behind this dream or whether he relates his mental pictures to actual things. In both cases life must lose all academic interest for him. But whereas all learning must be meaningless for those who believe that the whole of the accessible universe is exhausted in dreams, yet for others who feel entitled to argue from mental pictures to things, learning will consist in the investigation of these “things-in-themselves.” The first of these theories may be called absolute illusionism, the second is called transcendental realism by its most rigorously logical exponent, Eduard von Hartmann. 2Knowledge is called transcendental in the sense of this theory when it believes itself to be conscious that nothing can be asserted directly about the thing-in-itself, but makes indirect inferences from the subjective, which is known, to the unknown which lies beyond the subjective (transcendental). The thing-in-itself is, according to this view, beyond the sphere of the directly knowable world; in other words, it is transcendent. Our world can, however, be transcendentally related to the transcendent. Hartmann's theory is called realism because it proceeds from the subjective, the ideal, to the transcendent, the real.
Both these points of views have this in common with naïve realism, that they seek to gain a footing in the world by means of an investigation of perceptions. Within this sphere, however, they are unable to find a firm foundation.
One of the most important questions for an adherent of transcendental realism would have to be: How does the Ego produce the world of mental pictures out of itself? A world of mental pictures which was given to us, and which disappeared as soon as we shut our senses to the external world, might kindle as earnest desire for knowledge, in so far as it was a means of investigating indirectly the world of the I-in-itself. If the things of our experience were “mental pictures”, then our everyday life would be like a dream, and the discovery of the true state of affairs would be like waking. Now our dream images interest us as long as we dream and consequently do not detect their dream character. But as soon as we wake, we no longer look for the inner connections of our dream images among themselves, but rather for the physical, physiological and psychological processes which underlie them. In the same way, a philosopher who holds the world to be his mental picture cannot be interested in the mutual relations of the details within the picture. If he allows for the existence of a real Ego at all, then his question will be, not how one of his mental pictures is linked with another, but what takes place in the independently existing soul while a certain train of mental pictures passes through his consciousness. If I dream that I am drinking wine which makes my throat dry, and then wake up with a cough, 3See Weygandt, Entstehung der Träume, 1893. I cease, the moment I wake, to be interested in progress of the dream for its own sake. My attention is now concerned only with the physiological and psychological processes by means of which the irritation which causes me to cough comes to be symbolically expressed in the dream picture. Similarly, once the philosopher is convinced that the given world consists of nothing but mental pictures, his interest is bound to switch at once from this world to the real soul which lies behind. The matter is more serious, however, for the adherent of illusionism who denies altogether the existence of an Ego-in-itself behind the mental pictures, or at least holds this Ego to be unknowable. We might very easily be led to such a view by the observation that, in contrast to dreaming, there is indeed the waking state in which we have the opportunity of seeing through our dreams and referring them to the real relations of things, but that there is no state of the self which is related similarly to our waking conscious life. Whoever takes this view fails to see that there is, in fact, something which is related to mere perceiving in the way that our waking experience is related to our dreaming. This something is thinking.
The naïve man cannot be charged with the lack of insight referred to here. He accepts life as it is, and regards things as real just as they present themselves to him in experience. The first step, however, which we take beyond this standpoint can be only this, that we ask how thinking is related to percept. It makes no difference whether or no the percept, in the shape given to me, exists continuously before and after my forming a mental picture; if I want to assert anything whatever about it, I can do so only with the help of thinking. If I assert that the world is my mental picture, I have enunciated the result of an act of thinking. and if my thinking is not applicable to the world, then this result is false. Between a percept and every kind of assertion about it there intervenes thinking.
The reason why we generally overlook thinking in our consideration of things has already been given (see Chapter 3). It lies in the fact that our attention is concentrated only on the object we are thinking about, but not at the same time on the thinking itself. The naïve consciousness, therefore, treats thinking as something which has nothing to do with things, but stands altogether aloof from them and contemplates them. The picture which the thinker makes of the phenomena of the world is regarded not as something belonging to the things but as existing only in the human head. The world is complete in itself without this picture. It is finished and complete with all its substances and forces, and of this ready-made world man makes a picture. Whoever thinks thus need only be asked one question. What right have you to declare the world to be complete without thinking? Does not the world produce thinking in the heads of men with the same necessity as it produces the blossom on a plant? Plant a seed in the earth. It puts forth root and stem, it unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Set the plant before yourself. It connects itself, in your mind, with a definite concept. Why should this concept belong any less to the whole plant than leaf and blossom? You say the leaves and blossoms exist quite apart from a perceiving subject, but the concept appears only when a human being confronts the plant. Quite so. But leaves and blossoms also appear on the plant only if there is soil in which the seed can be planted, and light and air in which the leaves and blossoms can unfold. Just so the concept of a plant arises when a thinking consciousness approaches the plant.
It is quite arbitrary to regard the sum of what we experience of a thing through bare perception as a totality, as the whole thing, while that which reveals itself through thoughtful contemplation is regarded as a mere accretion which has nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud today, the picture that offers itself to my perception is complete only for the moment. If I put the bud into water, I shall tomorrow get a very different picture of my object. If I watch the rosebud without interruption, I shall see today's state change continuously into tomorrow's through an infinite number of intermediate stages. The picture which presents itself to me at any one moment is only a chance cross-section of an object which is in a continual process of development. If I do not put the bud into water, a whole series of states which lay as possibilities within the bud will not develop. Similarly I may be prevented tomorrow from observing the blossom further, and will thereby have an incomplete picture of it.
It would be a quite unobjective and fortuitous kind of opinion that declared of the purely momentary appearance of a thing: this is the thing.
Just as little is it legitimate to regard the sum of perceptual characteristics as the thing. It might be quite possible for a spirit to receive the concept at the same time as, and united with, the percept. It would never occur to such a spirit that the concept did not belong to the thing. It would have to ascribe to the concept an existence indivisibly bound up with the thing.
I will make myself clearer by an example. If I throw a stone horizontally through the air, I perceive it in different places one after the other. I connect these places so as to form a line. Mathematics teaches me to know various kinds of lines, one of which is the parabola. I know the parabola to be a line which is produced when a point moves according to a particular law. If I examine the conditions under which the stone thrown by me moves, I find the path traversed is identical with the line I know as a parabola. That the stone moves just in a parabola is a result of the given conditions and follows necessarily from them. The form of the parabola belongs to the whole phenomenon as much as any other feature of it does. The spirit described above who has no need of the detour of thinking would find itself presented not only a sequence of visual percepts at different points but, as part and parcel of these phenomena, also with the parabolic form of the path which we add to the phenomenon only by thinking.
It is not due to the objects that they are given us at first without the corresponding concepts, but to our mental organization. Our whole being functions in such a way that from every real thing the relevant elements come to us from two sides, from perceiving and from thinking.
The way I am organized for apprehending the things has nothing to do with the nature of the things themselves. The gap between perceiving and thinking exists only from the moment that I as spectator confront the things. Which elements do, and which do not, belong to the things cannot depend at all on the manner in which I obtain my knowledge of these elements.
Man is a limited being. First of all, he is a being among other beings. His existence belongs to space and time. Thus, only a limited part of the total universe can be given him at any one time. This limited part, however, is linked up with other parts in all directions both in time and in space. If our existence were so linked up with the things that every occurrence in the world were at the same time also an occurrence in us, the distinction between ourselves and the things would not exist. But then there would be no separate things at all for us. All occurrences would pass continuously one into the other. The cosmos would be a unity and a whole, complete in itself. The stream of events would nowhere be interrupted. It is owing to our limitations that a thing appears to us as single and separate when in truth it is not a separate thing at all. Nowhere, for example, is the single quality “red” to be found by itself in isolation. It is surrounded on all sides by other qualities to which it belongs, and without which it could not subsist. For us, however, it is necessary to isolate certain sections of the world and to consider them by themselves. Our eye can grasp only single colors one after another out of a manifold totality of color, and our understanding, can grasp only single concepts out of a connected conceptual system. This separating off is a subjective act, which is due to the fact that we are not identical with the world process, but are a single being among other beings.
The all important thing now is to determine how the being that we ourselves are is related to the other entities. This determination must be distinguished from merely becoming conscious of ourselves. For this latter self-awareness we depend on perceiving just as we do for our awareness of any other thing. The perception of myself reveals to me a number of qualities which I combine into my personality as a whole, just as I combine the qualities yellow, metallic, hard, etc., in the unity “gold.” The perception of myself does not take me beyond the sphere of what belongs to me. This perceiving of myself must be distinguished from determining myself by means of thinking. Just as, by means of thinking, I fit any single external percept into the whole world context, so by means of thinking I integrate into the world process the percepts I have made of myself. My self-perception confines me within certain limits, but my thinking is not concerned with these limits. In this sense I am a two-sided being. I am enclosed within the sphere which I perceive as that of my personality, but I am also the bearer of an activity which, from a higher sphere, defines my limited existence. Our thinking is not individual like our sensing and feeling; it is universal. It receives an individual stamp in each separate human being only because it comes to be related to his individual feelings and sensations. By means of these particular colorings of the universal thinking, individual men differentiate themselves from one another. There is only one single concept of “triangle”. It is quite immaterial for the content of this concept whether it is grasped in A's consciousness or in B's. It will, however, be grasped by each of the two in his own individual way.
This thought is opposed by a common prejudice very hard to overcome. This prejudice prevents one from seeing that the concept of a triangle that my head grasps is the same as the concept that my neighbor's head grasps. The naïve man believes himself to be the creator of his concepts. Hence he believes that each person has his own concepts. It is a fundamental requirement of philosophic thinking that it should overcome this prejudice. The one uniform concept of “triangle” does not become a multiplicity because it is thought by many persons. For the thinking of the many is itself a unity.
In thinking, we have that element given us which welds our separate individuality into one whole with the cosmos. In so far as we sense and feel (and also perceive), we are single beings; in so far as we think, we are the all-one being that pervades everything. This is the deeper meaning of our two-sided nature: We see coming into being in us a force complete and absolute in itself, a force which is universal but which we learn to know, not as it issues from the center of the world, but rather at a point in the periphery. Were we to know it at its source, we should understand the whole riddle of the universe the moment we became conscious. But since we stand at a point in the periphery, and find that our own existence is bounded by definite limits, we must explore the region which lies outside our own being with the help of thinking, which projects into us from the universal world existence.
The fact that the thinking, in us, reaches out beyond our separate existence and relates itself to the universal world existence, gives rise to the fundamental desire for knowledge in us. Beings without thinking do not have this desire. When they are faced with other things, no questions arise for them. These other things remain external to such beings. But in thinking beings the concept rises up when they confront the external thing. It is that part of the thing which we receive not from outside but from within. To match up, to unite the two elements, inner and outer, is the task of knowledge.
The percept is thus not something finished and self-contained, but one side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of knowing is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only percept and concept together constitute the whole thing.
The foregoing arguments show that it is senseless to look for any common element in the separate entities of the world other than the ideal content that thinking offers us. All attempts to find a unity in the world other than this internally coherent ideal content, which we gain by a thoughtful contemplation of our percepts, are bound to fail. Neither a humanly personal God, nor force, nor matter, nor the blind will (Schopenhauer), can be valid for us as a universal world unity. All these entities belong only to limited spheres of our observation. Humanly limited personality we perceive only in ourselves; force and matter in external things. As far as the will is concerned, it can be regarded only as the expression of the activity of our finite personality. Schopenhauer wants to avoid making “abstract” thinking the bearer of unity in the world, and seeks instead something which presents itself to him immediately as real. This philosopher believes that we can never approach the world so long as we regard it as “external” world.
In point of fact, the sought for meaning of the world which confronts me is nothing more than mental picture, or the passage from the world as mere mental picture of the knowing subject to whatever it may be besides this, could never be found at all if the investigator himself were nothing more than the purely knowing subject (a winged cherub without a body). But he himself is rooted in that world: he finds himself in it as an individual, that is to say, his knowledge, which is the determining factor supporting the whole world as mental picture, is thus always given through the medium of a body, whose affections are, for the intellect, the starting point for the contemplation of that world, as we have shown. For the purely knowing subject as such, this body is a mental picture like any other, an object among objects; its movements and actions are so far known to him in precisely the same way as the changes of all other perceived objects, and would be just as strange and incomprehensible to him if their sense were not made clear for him in an entirely different way. ... To the subject of knowledge, who appears as an individual through his identity with the body, this body is given in two entirely different ways: once as a mental picture for intelligent consideration, as an object among objects and obeying their laws; but at the same time, in quite a different way, namely as the thing immediately known to everyone by the word will. Every true act of his will is at once and without exception also a movement of his body: he cannot will the act without at the same time perceiving that it appears as a movement of the body. The act of will and the action of the body are not two things objectively known to be different, which the bond of causality unites; they do not stand in the relation of cause and effect; they are one and the same, but they are given in two entirely different ways: once quite directly and once in contemplation for the intellect. 4Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Book 2, par. 18.
Schopenhauer considers himself entitled by these arguments to find in the human body the “objectivity” of the will. He believes that in the activities of the body he feels an immediate reality — the thing-in-itself in the concrete. Against these arguments it must be said that the activities of our body come to our consciousness only through percepts of the self, and that, as such, they are in no way superior to other percepts. If we want to know their real nature, we can do so only by a thinking investigation, that is, by fitting them into the ideal system of our concepts and ideas.
Rooted most deeply in the naïve consciousness of mankind is the opinion that thinking is abstract, without any concrete content; it can at most give us an “ideal” counterpart of the unity of the world, but never the unity itself. Whoever judges in this way has never made it clear to himself what a percept without the concept really is. Let us see what this world of percepts is like: a mere juxtaposition in space, a mere succession in time, a mass of unconnected details — that is how it appears. None of the things which come and go on the stage of perception has any direct connection, that can be perceived, with any other. The world is thus a multiplicity of objects of equal value. None plays any greater part in the whole machinery of the world than any other. If it is to become clear to us that this or that fact has greater significance than another, we must consult our thinking. Were thinking not to function, the rudimentary organ of an animal which has no significance in its life would appear equal in value to the most important limb of its body. The separate facts appear in their true significance, both in themselves and for the rest of the world only when thinking spins its threads from one entity to another. This activity of thinking is one full of content. For it is only through a quite definite concrete content that I can know why the snail belongs to a lower level of organization than the lion. The mere appearance, the percept, gives me no content which could inform me as to the degree of perfection of the organization.
Thinking offers this content to the percept, from man's world of concepts and ideas. In contrast to the content of percept which is given to us from without, the content of thinking appears inwardly. The form in which this first makes its appearance we will call intuition. Intuition is for thinking what observation is for percept. Intuition and observation are the sources of our knowledge. An observed object of the world remains unintelligible to us until we have within ourselves the corresponding intuition which adds that part of reality which is lacking in the percept. To anyone who is incapable of finding intuitions corresponding to the things, the full reality remains inaccessible. Just as the color-blind person sees only differences of brightness without any color qualities, so can the person without intuition observe only unconnected perceptual fragments.
To explain a thing, to make it intelligible, means nothing else than to place it into the context from which it has been torn by the peculiar character of our organization as already described. A thing cut off from the world-whole does not exist. All isolating has only subjective validity for our organization. For us the universe divides itself up into above and below, before and after, cause and effect, thing and mental picture, matter and force, object and subject, etc. What appears to us in observation as separate parts becomes combined, bit by bit, through the coherent, unified world of our intuitions. By thinking we fit together again into one piece all that we have taken apart through perceiving.
The enigmatic character of an object consists in its separateness. But this separation is our own making and can, within the world of concepts, be overcome again.
Except through thinking and perceiving nothing is given to us directly. The question now arises: What is the significance of the percept, according to our line of argument? We have learnt that the proof which critical idealism offers of the subjective nature of perceptions collapses. But insight into the falsity of the proof is not alone sufficient to show that the doctrine itself is erroneous. Critical idealism does not base its proof on the absolute nature of thinking, but relies on the argument of naïve realism, which when followed to its logical conclusion, cancels itself out. How does the matter appear when we have recognized the absoluteness of thinking?
Let us assume that a certain perception, for example, red, appears in my consciousness. To continued observation, this percept shows itself to be connected with other percepts, for example, a definite figure and with certain temperature- and touch-percepts. This combination I call an object belonging to the sense-perceptible world. I can now ask myself: Over and above the percepts just mentioned, what else is there in the section of space in which they appear? I shall then find mechanical, chemical and other processes in that section of space. I next go further and study the processes I find on the way from the object to my sense organs. I can find movements in an elastic medium, which by their very nature have not the slightest in common with the percepts from which I started. I get the same result when I go on and examine the transmission from sense organs to brain. In each of these fields I gather new percepts, but the connecting medium which weaves through all these spatially and temporally separated percepts is thinking. The air vibrations which transmit sound are given to me as percepts just like the sound itself. Thinking alone links all these percepts to one another and shows them to us in their mutual relationship. We cannot speak of anything existing beyond what is directly perceived except what can be recognized through the ideal connections of percepts, that is, connections accessible to thinking). The way objects as percepts are related to the subject as percept — a relationship that goes beyond what is merely perceived — is therefore purely ideal, that is, it can be expressed only by means of concepts. Only if I could perceive how the percept object affects the percept subject, or, conversely, could watch the building up of the perceptual pattern by the subject, would it be possible to speak as modern physiology and the critical idealism based on it do. Their view confuses an ideal relation (that of the object to the subject) with a process which we could speak of only if it were possible to perceive it. The proposition, “No color without a color-sensing eye,” cannot be taken to mean that the eye produces the color, but only that an ideal relation, recognizable by thinking, subsists between the percept “color” and the percept “eye”. Empirical science will have to ascertain how the properties of the eye and those of the colors are related to one another, by what means the organ of sight transmits the perception of colors, and so forth. I can trace how one percept succeeds another in time and is related to others in space, and I can formulate these relations in conceptual terms, but I can never perceive how a percept originates out of the non-perceptible. All attempts to seek any relations between percepts other than thought relations must of necessity fail.
What, then is a percept? The question, asked in this general way, is absurd. A percept emerges always as something perfectly definite, as a concrete content. This content is directly given and is completely contained in what is given. The only question one can ask concerning the given content is what it is apart from perception, that is, what it is for thinking? The question concerning the “what” of a percept can, therefore, only refer to the conceptual intuition that corresponds to this percept. From this point of view, the question of the subjectivity of percepts, in the sense of critical idealism, cannot be raised at all. Only what is perceived as belonging to the subject can be termed “subjective.” To form a link between something subjective and something objective is impossible for any process that is “real” in the naïve sense, that is, one that can be perceived; it is possible only for thinking. Therefore what appears for our perception to be external to the percept of myself as subject is for us “objective”. The percept of myself as subject remains perceptible to me after the table which now stands before me has disappeared from my field of observation. The observation of the table has produced in me a modification which likewise persists. I retain the faculty to produce later on an image of the table. This faculty of producing an image remains connected with me. Psychology calls this image a memory-picture. It is in fact the only thing which can justifiably be called the mental picture of the table. For it corresponds to the perceptible modification of my own state through the presence of the table in my visual field. Moreover, it does not mean a modification of some “Ego-in-itself” standing behind the percept of the subject, but the modification of the perceptible subject itself. The mental picture is, therefore, a subjective percept, in contrast with the objective percept which occurs when the object is present in the field of vision. Confusing the subjective percept with the objective percept leads to the misconception contained in idealism — that the world is my mental picture.
Our next task must be to define the concept of “mental picture” more closely. What we have said about it so far does not give us the concept of it but only shows us whereabouts in the perceptual field the mental picture is to be found. The exact concept of mental picture will make it possible for us also to obtain a satisfactory explanation of the way that mental picture and object are related. This will then lead us over the border line where the relationship between the human subject and the object belonging to the world is brought down from the purely conceptual field of cognition into concrete individual life. Once we know what to make of the world, it will be a simple matter to direct ourselves accordingly. We can only act with full energy when we know what it is in the world to which we devote our activity.
Author's addition, 1918
The view I have outlined here may be regarded as one to which man is at first quite naturally driven when he begins to reflect upon his relation to the world. He then finds himself caught in a system of thoughts which dissolves for him as fast as he frames it. The thought formation is such that it requires something more than mere theoretical refutation. We have to live through it in order to understand the aberration into which it leads us and thence to find the way out. It must figure in any discussion of the relation of man to the world, not for the sake of refuting others whom one believes to be holding mistaken views about this relation, but because it is necessary to understand the confusion to which every first effort at reflection about such a relation is apt to lead. One needs to arrive at just that insight which will enable one to refute oneself with respect to these first reflections. This is the point of view from which the arguments of the preceding chapter are put forward.
Whoever tries to work out for himself a view of the relation of man to the world becomes aware of the fact that he creates this relation, at least in part, by forming mental pictures about the things and events in the world. In consequence, his attention is deflected from what exists outside in the world and is directed towards his inner world, the life of his mental pictures. He begins to say to himself: It is impossible for me to have a relationship to any thing or event unless a mental picture appears in me. Once we have noticed this fact, it is but a step to the opinion: After all, I experience only my mental pictures; I know of a world outside me only in so far as it is a mental picture in me. With this opinion, the standpoint of naïve realism, which man takes up prior to all reflection about his relation to the world, is abandoned. So long as he keeps that standpoint, he believes that he is dealing with real things, but reflection about himself drives him away from it. Reflection prevents him from turning his gaze towards a real world such as naïve consciousness believes it has before it. It allows him to gaze only upon his mental picture — these interpose themselves between his own being and a supposedly real world, such as the naïve point of view believes itself entitled to affirm. Man can no longer see such a real world through the intervening world of mental pictures. He must suppose that he is blind to this reality. Thus arises the thought of a “thing-in-itself” which is inaccessible to knowledge.
So long as we consider only the relationship to the world, into which man appears to enter through the life of his mental pictures, we cannot escape from this form of thought. Yet one cannot remain at the standpoint of naïve realism except by closing one's mind artificially to the craving for knowledge. The very existence of this craving for knowledge about the relation of man to the world shows that this naïve point of view must be abandoned. If the naïve point of view yielded anything we could acknowledge as truth, we could never experience this craving.
But we do not arrive at anything else which we could regard as truth if we merely abandon the naïve point of view while unconsciously retaining the type of thought which it necessitates. This is just the mistake made by the man who says to himself: “I experience only my mental pictures, and though I believe that I am dealing with realities, I am actually conscious only of my mental pictures of reality; I must therefore suppose that the true reality, the 'things-in-themselves', exist only beyond the horizon of my consciousness, that I know absolutely nothing of them directly, and that they somehow approach me and influence me so that my world of mental pictures arises in me.” Whoever thinks in this way is merely adding another world in his thoughts to the world already spread out before him. But with regard to this additional world, he ought strictly to begin his thinking activity all over again. For the unknown “thing-in-itself”, in its relation to man's own nature, is conceived in exactly the same way as is the known thing in the sense of naïve realism.
One only avoids the confusion into which one falls through the critical attitude based on this naïve standpoint, if one notices that, inside everything we can experience by means of perceiving, be it within ourselves or outside in the world, there is something which cannot suffer the fate of having a mental picture interpose itself between the process and the person observing it. This something is thinking. With regard to thinking, we can maintain the point of view of naïve realism. If we fail to do so, it is only because we have learnt that we must abandon it in the case of other things, but overlook that what we have found to be true for these other things does not apply to thinking. When we realize this, we open the way to the further insight that in thinking and through thinking man must recognize the very thing to which he has apparently blinded himself by having to interpose his life of mental pictures between the world and himself.
From a source greatly respected by the author of this book comes the objection that this discussion of thinking remains at the level of a naïve realism of thinking, just as one might object if someone held the real world and the world of mental pictures to be one and the same. However, the author believes himself to have shown in this very discussion that the validity of this “naïve realism” for thinking results inevitably from an unprejudiced observation of thinking; and that naïve realism, in so far as it is invalid for other things, is overcome through the recognition of the true nature of thinking.