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The Philosophy of Freedom
GA 4

Ultimate Questions: The Consequences of Monism

The uniform explanation of the world, that is, the monism we have described, derives the principles that it needs for the explanation of the world from human experience. In the same way, it looks for the sources of action within the world of observation, that is, in that part of human nature which is accessible to our self-knowledge, more particularly in moral imagination. Monism refuses to infer in an abstract way that the ultimate causes of the world that is presented to our perceiving and thinking are to be found in a region outside this world. For monism, the unity that thoughtful observation—which we can experience—brings to the manifold multiplicity of percepts is the same unity that man's need for knowledge demands, and through which it seeks entry into the physical and spiritual regions of the world. Whoever seeks another unity behind this one only proves that he does not recognize the identity of what is discovered by thinking and what is demanded by the urge for knowledge. The single human individual is not actually cut off from the universe. He is a part of it, and between this part and the totality of the cosmos there exists a real connection which is broken only for our perception. At first we take this part of the universe as something existing on its own, because we do not see the belts and ropes by which the fundamental forces of the cosmos keep the wheel of our life revolving.

Whoever remains at this standpoint sees a part of the whole as if it were actually an independently existing thing, a monad which receives information about the rest of the world in some way from without. Monism, as here described, shows that we can believe in this independence only so long as the things we perceive are not woven by our thinking into the network of the conceptual world. As soon as this happens, all separate existence turns out to be mere illusion due to perceiving. Man can find his full and complete existence in the totality of the universe only through the experience of intuitive thinking. Thinking destroys the illusion due to perceiving and integrates our individual existence into the life of the cosmos. The unity of the conceptual world, which contains all objective percepts, also embraces the content of our subjective personality. Thinking gives us reality in its true form as a self-contained unity, whereas the multiplicity of percepts is but a semblance due to the way we are organized (see page 67). To recognize true reality, as against the illusion due to perceiving, has at all times been the goal of human thinking. Scientific thought has made great efforts to recognize reality in percepts by discovering the systematic connections between them. Where, however, it was believed that the connections ascertained by human thinking had only subjective validity, the true basis of unity was sought in some entity lying beyond our world of experience (an inferred God, will, absolute spirit, etc.). On the strength of this belief, the attempt was made to obtain, in addition to the knowledge accessible to experience, a second kind of knowledge which transcends experience and shows how the world that can be experienced is connected with the entities that cannot (a metaphysics arrived at by inference, and not by experience). It was thought that the reason why we can grasp the connections of things in the world through disciplined thinking was that a primordial being had built the world upon logical laws, and, similarly, that the grounds for our actions lay in the will of such a being. What was not realized was that thinking embraces both the subjective and the objective in one grasp, and that through the union of percept with concept the full reality is conveyed. Only as long as we think of the law and order that permeates and determines the percept as having the abstract form of a concept, are we in fact dealing with something purely subjective. But the content of a concept, which is added to the percept by means of thinking, is not subjective. This content is not taken from the subject, but from reality. It is that part of the reality that cannot be reached by the act of perceiving. It is experience, but not experience gained through perceiving. If someone cannot see that the concept is something real, he is thinking of it only in the abstract form in which he holds it in his mind. But only through our organization is it present in such isolation, just as in the case of the percept. After all, the tree that one perceives has no existence by itself, in isolation. It exists only as a part of the immense machinery of nature, and can only exist in real connection with nature. An abstract concept taken by itself has as little reality as a percept taken by itself. The percept is the part of reality that is given objectively, the concept the part that is given subjectively (through intuition—see page 73 ff.). Our mental organization tears the reality apart into these two factors. One factor presents itself to perception, the other to intuition. Only the union of the two, that is, the percept fitting systematically into the universe, constitutes the full reality. If we take mere percepts by themselves, we have no reality but rather a disconnected chaos; if we take by itself the law and order connecting the percepts, then we have nothing but abstract concepts. Reality is not contained in the abstract concept; it is, however, contained in thoughtful observation, which does not one-sidedly consider either concept or percept alone, but rather the union of the two.

That we live in reality (that we are rooted in it with our real existence) will not be denied by even the most orthodox of subjective idealists. He will only deny that we reach the same reality with our knowing, with our ideas, as the one we actually live in. Monism, on the other hand, shows that thinking is neither subjective nor objective, but is a principle that embraces both sides of reality. When we observe with our thinking, we carry out a process which itself belongs to the order of real events. By means of thinking, within the experience itself, we overcome the one-sidedness of mere perceiving. We cannot argue out the essence of reality by means of abstract conceptual hypotheses (through pure conceptual reflection), but in so far as we find the ideas that belong to the percepts, we are living in the reality. Monism does not seek to add to experience something non-experienceable (transcendental), but finds the full reality in concept and percept. It does not spin a system of metaphysics out of mere abstract concepts, because it sees in the concept by itself only one side of the reality, namely, the side that remains hidden from perception, and only makes sense in connection with the percept. Monism does, however, give man the conviction that he lives in the world of reality and has no need to look beyond this world for a higher reality that can never be experienced. It refrains from seeking absolute reality anywhere else but in experience, because it is just in the content of experience that it recognizes reality. Monism is satisfied by this reality, because it knows that thinking has the power to guarantee it. What dualism seeks only beyond the observed world, monism finds in this world itself. Monism shows that with our act of knowing we grasp reality in its true form, and not as a subjective image that inserts itself between man and reality. For monism, the conceptual content of the world is the same for all human individuals (see page 68). According to monistic principles, one human individual regards another as akin to himself because the same world content expresses itself in him. In the unitary world of concepts there are not as many concepts of the lion as there are individuals who think of a lion, but only one. And the concept that A fits to his percept of the lion is the same that B fits to his, only apprehended by a different perceiving subject (see page 69). Thinking leads all perceiving subjects to the same ideal unity in all multiplicity. The unitary world of ideas expresses itself in them as in a multiplicity of individuals. As long as a man apprehends himself merely by means of self-perception, he sees himself as this particular man; as soon as he looks at the world of ideas that lights up within him, embracing all that is separate, he sees within himself the absolute reality living and shining forth. Dualism defines the divine primordial Being as that which pervades and lives in all men. Monism finds this divine life, common to all, in reality itself. The ideas of another human being are in substance mine also, and I regard them as different only as long as I perceive, but no longer when I think. Every man embraces in his thinking only a part of the total world of ideas, and to that extent individuals differ even in the actual content of their thinking. But all these contents are within a self-contained whole, which embraces the thought contents of all men. Hence every man, in his thinking, lays hold of the universal primordial Being which pervades all men. To live in reality, filled with the content of thought, is at the same time to live in God. A world beyond, that is merely inferred and cannot be experienced, arises from a misconception on the part of those who believe that this world cannot have the foundation of its existence within itself. They do not realize that through thinking they find just what they require for the explanation of the percept. This is the reason why no speculation has ever brought to light any content that was not borrowed from the reality given to us. The God that is assumed through abstract inference is nothing but a human being transplanted into the Beyond; Schopenhauer's Will is human will-power made absolute; Hartmann's Unconscious, a primordial Being made up of idea and will, is but a compound of two abstractions drawn from experience. Exactly the same is true of all other transcendental principles based on thought that has not been experienced.

The truth is that the human spirit never transcends the reality in which we live, nor has it any need to do so, seeing that this world contains everything the human spirit requires in order to explain it. If philosophers eventually declare themselves satisfied with the deduction of the world from principles they borrow from experience and transplant into an hypothetical Beyond, then it should be just as possible to be satisfied when the same content is allowed to remain in this world, where for our thinking as experienced it does belong. All attempts to transcend the world are purely illusory, and the principles transplanted from this world into the Beyond do not explain the world any better than those which remain within it. If thinking understands itself it will not ask for any such transcendence at all, since every content of thought must look within the world and not outside it for a perceptual content, together with which it forms something real. The objects of imagination, too, are no more than contents which become justified only when transformed into mental pictures that refer to a perceptual content. Through this perceptual content they become an integral part of reality. A concept that is supposed to be filled with a content lying beyond our given world is an abstraction to which no reality corresponds. We can think out only the concepts of reality; in order to find reality itself, we must also have perception. A primordial world being for which we invent a content is an impossible assumption for any thinking that understands itself. Monism does not deny ideal elements, in fact, it considers a perceptual content without an ideal counterpart as not fully real; but in the whole realm of thinking it finds nothing that could require us to step outside the realm of our thinking's experience by denying the objective spiritual reality of thinking itself. Monism regards a science that limits itself to a description of percepts without penetrating to their ideal complements as incomplete. But it regards as equally incomplete all abstract concepts that do not find their complements in percepts, and that fit nowhere into the conceptual network that embraces the whole observable world. Hence it knows no ideas that refer to objective factors lying beyond our experience and which are supposed to form the content of a purely hypothetical system of metaphysics. All that mankind has produced in the way of such ideas monism regards as abstractions borrowed from experience, the fact of borrowing having been overlooked by the originators.

Just as little, according to monistic principles, can the aims of our action be derived from an extra-human Beyond. In so far as we think them, they must stem from human intuition. Man does not take the purposes of an objective (transcendental) primordial Being and make them his own, but he pursues his own individual purposes given him by his moral imagination. The idea that realizes itself in an action is detached by man from the unitary world of ideas and made the basis of his will. Therefore it is not the commandments injected into this world from the Beyond that live in his action, but human intuitions belonging to this world itself. Monism knows no such world-dictator who sets our aims and directs our actions from outside. Man finds no such primal ground of existence whose counsels he might investigate in order to learn from it the aims to which he has to direct his actions. He is thrown back upon himself. It is he himself who must give content to his action. If he looks outside the world in which he lives for the grounds determining his will, he will look in vain. If he is to go beyond merely satisfying his natural instincts, for which Mother Nature has provided, then he must seek these grounds in his own moral imagination, unless he finds it more convenient to let himself be determined by the moral imaginations of others; in other words, either he must give up action altogether, or else he must act for reasons that he gives himself out of his world of ideas or that others select for him out of theirs. If he advances beyond merely following his life of sensuous instincts or carrying out the commands of others, then he will be determined by nothing but himself. He must act out of an impulse given by himself and determined by nothing else. It is true that this impulse is determined ideally in the unitary world of ideas; but in practice it is only by man that it can be taken from that world and translated into reality. The grounds for the actual translation of an idea into reality by man, monism can find only in man himself. If an idea is to become action, man must first want it, before it can happen. Such an act of will therefore has its grounds only in man himself. Man is then the ultimate determinant of his action. He is free.

Author's additions, 1918

In the second part of this book the attempt has been made to demonstrate that freedom is to be found in the reality of human action. For this purpose it was necessary to single out from the whole sphere of human conduct those actions in which, on the basis of unprejudiced self-observation, one can speak of freedom. These are actions that represent the realization of ideal intuitions. No other actions will be called free by an unprejudiced observer. Yet just by observing himself in an unprejudiced way, man will have to see that it is in his nature to progress along the road towards ethical intuitions and their realization. But this unprejudiced observation of the ethical nature of man cannot, by itself, arrive at a final conclusion about freedom. For were intuitive thinking to originate in anything other than itself, were its essence not self-sustaining, then the consciousness of freedom that flows from morality would prove to be a mere illusion. But the second part of this book finds its natural support in the first part. This presents intuitive thinking as man's inwardly experienced spiritual activity. To understand this nature of thinking by experiencing it amounts to a knowledge of the freedom of intuitive thinking. And once we know that this thinking is free, we can also see to what region of the will freedom may be ascribed. We shall regard man as a free agent if, on the basis of inner experience, we may attribute a self-sustaining essence to the life of intuitive thinking. Whoever cannot do this will never be able to discover a path to the acceptance of freedom that cannot be challenged in any way. This experience, to which we have attached such importance, discovers intuitive thinking within consciousness, although the reality of this thinking is not confined to consciousness. And with this it discovers freedom as the distinguishing feature of all actions proceeding from the intuitions of consciousness.

The argument of this book is built upon intuitive thinking which may be experienced in a purely spiritual way and through which, in the act of knowing, every percept is placed in the world of reality. This book aims at presenting no more than can be surveyed through the experience of intuitive thinking. But we must also emphasize what kind of thought formation this experience of thinking demands. It demands that we shall not deny that intuitive thinking is a self-sustaining experience within the process of knowledge. It demands that we acknowledge that this thinking, in conjunction with the percept, is able to experience reality instead of having to seek it in an inferred world lying beyond experience, compared to which the activity of human thinking would be something purely subjective.

Thus thinking is characterized as that factor through which man works his way spiritually into reality. (And, actually, no one should confuse this world conception that is based on the direct experience of thinking with mere rationalism.) On the other hand, it should be evident from the whole spirit of this argument that for human knowledge the perceptual element only becomes a guarantee of reality when it is taken hold of in thinking. Outside thinking there is nothing to characterize reality for what it is. Hence we must not imagine that the kind of reality guaranteed by sense perception is the only one. Whatever comes to us by way of percept is something that, on our journey through life, we simply have to await. The only question is, would it be right to expect, from the point of view that this purely intuitively experienced thinking gives us, that man could perceive spiritual things as well as those perceived with the senses? It would be right to expect this. For although, on the one hand, intuitively experienced thinking is an active process taking place in the human spirit, on the other hand it is also a spiritual percept grasped without a physical sense organ. It is a percept in which the perceiver is himself active, and a self-activity which is at the same time perceived. In intuitively experienced thinking man is carried into a spiritual world also as perceiver. Within this spiritual world, whatever confronts him as percept in the same way that the spiritual world of his own thinking does will be recognized by him as a world of spiritual perception. This world of spiritual perception could be seen as having the same relationship to thinking that the world of sense perception has on the side of the senses. Once experienced, the world of spiritual perception cannot appear to man as something foreign to him, because in his intuitive thinking he already has an experience which is purely spiritual in character. Such a world of spiritual perception is discussed in a number of writings which I have published since this book first appeared. The Philosophy of Freedom forms the philosophical foundation for these later writings. For it tries to show that the experience of thinking, when rightly understood, is in fact an experience of spirit. Therefore it appears to the author that no one who can in all seriousness adopt the point of view of The Philosophy of Freedom will stop short before entering the world of spiritual perception. It is certainly not possible to deduce what is described in the author's later books by logical inference from the contents of this one. But a living comprehension of what is meant in this book by intuitive thinking will lead quite naturally to a living entry into the world of spiritual perception.