VARIOUS criticisms on the part of philosophers with which this book met immediately upon its publication, induce me to add to this Revised Edition the following brief statement.
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 tissue of abstract concepts which is unnecessary and makes no appeal to them. They may, if they choose, leave this brief statement unread. But in philosophic world contemplation problems present themselves which have their origin rather in certain prejudices on the thinker's part than in the natural progression of human thinking. With the main body of this book it seems to me to be a task for everyone to concern himself, who is striving for clearness about the essential nature of man and his relation to the world. What follows is rather a problem the discussion of which certain philosophers demand as necessary to a treatment of the topics of this book, because these philosophers, by their whole way of thinking, have created certain difficulties which do not otherwise occur. If I were to pass by these problems entirely, certain people would be quick to accuse me of dilettantism, etc. The impression would thus be created that the author of the views set down in this book has not thought out his position with regard to these problems because he has not discussed them in his book.
The problem to which I refer is this: there are thinkers who find a particular difficulty in understanding how one's own soul can be affected by another's. They say: the world of my consciousness is a closed circle within me; so is the world of another's consciousness within him. I cannot look into the world of another's consciousness. How, then, do I know that he and I are in a common world? The theory according to which we can from the conscious world infer an unconscious world which never can enter consciousness, attempts to solve this difficulty as follows. The world, it says, which I have in my consciousness is a representative image in me of a real world to which I have no conscious access. In this transcendent world exist the unknown agents which cause the world in my consciousness. In it, too, exists my own real being, of which likewise I have only a representative image in my consciousness. In it, lastly, exists the essential being of the fellow-man who confronts me. Whatever passes in the consciousness of my fellow-man corresponds to a reality in his transcendent essence which is independent of his consciousness. This reality acts on my own unconscious being in the realm which cannot become conscious; and in this way in my consciousness a representative element is created which represents there what is present in another consciousness wholly beyond the reach of my conscious experience. Clearly the point of this theory is to imagine in addition to the world accessible to my consciousness an hypothetical world which is to my immediate experience inaccessible. This is done to avoid the supposed alternative of having to say that the external world, which I regard as existing before me, is nothing but the world of my consciousness, with the absurd — solipsistic — corollary that other persons likewise exist only within my consciousness.
Several epistemological tendencies in recent speculation have joined in creating this problem. But it is possible to attain to clearness about it by surveying the situation from the point of view of spiritual perception which underlies the exposition of this book. What is it that, in the first instance, I have before me when I confront another person? To begin with, there is the sensuous appearance of the other's body, as given in perception. To this we might add the auditory perception of what he is saying, and so forth. All this I do not merely gaze at but it sets in motion my thinking activity. Through the thinking with which I now confront the other person, the percept of him becomes, as it were, psychically transparent. As my thinking apprehends the percept, I am compelled to judge that what I perceive is really quite other than it appears to the outer senses. The sensuous appearance, it being what it immediately is, reveals something else which it is mediately. In presenting itself to me, it at the same time extinguishes itself as a mere sensuous appearance. But in thus extinguishing itself it reveals something which 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. Its thinking is then apprehended by my thinking as an experience like my own. Thus I have really perceived another's thinking. For the immediate percept, in extinguishing itself as sensuous appearance, is apprehended by my thinking. It is a process which passes wholly in my consciousness and consists in this, that the other's thinking takes the place of my thinking. Through the self-extinction of the sensuous appearance the separation between the spheres of the two consciousnesses is actually abolished. In my own consciousness this fusion manifests itself in that, so long as I experience the contents of the other's consciousness, I am aware of my own consciousness as little as I am aware of it in dreamless sleep. Just as my waking consciousness is eliminated from the latter, so are the contents of my own consciousness eliminated from my experience of the contents of another's consciousness. Two things tend to deceive us about the true facts. The first is that, in perceiving another person, the extinction of the contents of one's own consciousness is replaced not, as in sleep, by unconsciousness, but by the contents of the other's consciousness. The other is that my consciousness of my own self oscillates so rapidly between extinction and recurrence, that these alternations usually escape observation. The whole problem is to be solved, not through artificial construction of concepts, involving an inference from what is in consciousness to what can never become conscious, but through genuine experience of what results from the co-operation of thinking and perceiving. This applies to many other problems which appear in philosophical literature. Thinkers should seek the road to unprejudiced spiritual observation, instead of putting an artificial structure of concepts in front of reality.
In a monograph by Eduard von Hartmann on The Ultimate Problems of Epistemology and Metaphysics (in the Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Philosophische Kritik, Vol. 108, p. 55), my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity has been classed with the philosophical tendency which seeks to build upon an “epistemological Monism.” Eduard von Hartmann rejects this position as untenable. This is explained as follows. According to the point of view maintained in his monograph, there are only three possible positions in the theory of knowledge. The first consists in remaining at the naive point of view, which regards perceived phenomena as real things existing outside the human consciousness. This, urges von Hartmann, implies a lack of critical reflection. I fail to realize that with all my contents of consciousness I remain imprisoned in my own consciousness. I fail to perceive that I am dealing, not with the “table-in-itself,” but only with an object in my own consciousness. If I stop at this point of view, or if for whatever reasons I return to it, I am a Naive Realist. But this whole position is untenable, for it ignores that consciousness has no other objects than its own contents. The second position consists in appreciating this situation and confessing it to oneself. As a result, I become a Transcendental Idealist. As such, says von Hartmann, I am obliged to deny that a “thing-in-itself” can ever appear in any way within the human consciousness. But, if developed with unflinching consistency, this view ends in Absolute Illusionism. For the world which confronts me is now transformed into a mere sum of objects of consciousness, and, moreover, of objects of my private consciousness. The objects of other human minds, too, I am then compelled to conceive — absurdly enough — as present solely in my own consciousness. Hence, the only tenable position, according to von Hartmann, is the third, viz., Transcendental Realism. On this view, there are “things-in-themselves,” but consciousness can have no dealings with them by way of immediate experience. Existing beyond the sphere of human consciousness, they cause, in a way of which we remain unconscious, the appearance of objects in consciousness. These “things-in-themselves” can be only inferred from the contents of consciousness, which are immediately experienced but for that very reason, purely representational. Eduard von Hartmann maintains in the monograph cited above, that “epistemological Monism” — for such he takes my point of view to be — is bound to declare itself identical with one or other of the above three positions; and that its failure to do so is due only to its inconsistency in not drawing the actual consequences of its presuppositions. The monograph goes on to say: “If we want to find out which epistemological position a so-called Epistemological Monist occupies, all we have to do is to put to him certain questions and compel him to answer them. For, out of his own initiative, no Monist will condescend to state his views on these points, and likewise he will seek to dodge in every way giving an answer to our direct questions, because every answer he may give will betray that Epistemological Monism does not differ from one or other of the three positions. Our questions are the following: (1) Are things continuous or intermittent in their existence? If the answer is ‘continuous,’ we have before us some or other form of Naive Realism. If the answer is ‘intermittent,’ we have Transcendental Idealism. But if the answer is: ‘They are, on the one hand, continuous, viz., as contents of the Absolute Mind, or as unconscious representations, or as possibilities of perception, but, on the other hand, intermittent, viz., as contents of finite consciousness,’ we recognize Transcendental Realism. (2) When three persons are sitting at a table, how many distinct tables are there? The Naive Realist answers ‘one’; the Transcendental Idealist answers ‘three’; but the Transcendental Idealist answers ‘four.’ This last answer does, indeed, presuppose that it is legitimate to group together in the single question, ‘How many tables?’ things so unlike each other as the one table which is the ‘thing-in-itself’ and the three tables which are the perceptual objects in the three consciousnesses. If this seems too great a license to anyone, he will have to answer ‘one and three,’ instead of ‘four.’ (3) When two persons are alone together in a room, how many distinct persons are there? If you answer ‘two’ — you are a Naive Realist. If you answer ‘four,’ viz., in each of the two minds one ‘I’ and one ‘Other,’ you are a Transcendental Idealist. If you answer ‘six,’ viz., two persons as ‘things-in-themselves’ and four persons as representational objects in the two consciousnesses, you are a Transcendental Realist. In order to show that Epistemological Monism is not one of these three positions, we should have to give another answer than the above to each of these three questions. But I cannot imagine what answer this could be.” The answers of the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity would have to be: (1) Whoever apprehends only perceptual contents of a thing and takes them for the reality of the thing, is a Naive Realist. He does not realize that, strictly, he ought to regard these perceptual contents as existing only so long as he is looking at the things, so that he ought to conceive the things before him as intermittent. As soon, however, as it becomes clear to him that reality is to be met with only in the percepts which are permeated by thinking, he attains to the insight that the percepts which appear as intermittent events, reveal themselves as continuously in existence as soon as they are permeated by the results of thinking. Hence continuity of existence must be predicated of the contents of perception which living thinking has grasped. Only that part which is merely perceived would have to be regarded as intermittent, if — which is not the case — it were real. (2) When three persons are sitting at a table, how many distinct tables are there? There is only one table. But so long as the three persons stop short at their perceptual images, they ought to say: “These percepts are not a reality at all.” As soon as they pass on to the table as apprehended by thinking, there is revealed to them the one reality of the table. They are then united with their three contents of consciousness in this one reality. (3) When two persons are alone together in a room, how many distinct persons are there? Most assuredly there are not six — not even in the sense of the Transcendental Realist's theory — but only two. Only, at first, each person has nothing but the unreal perceptual image of himself and of the other person. There are four such images, the presence of which is the stimulus for the apprehension, by the two persons, of reality by their thinking. In this activity of thinking each of the two persons transcends the sphere of his own consciousness. A living awareness of the consciousness of the other person as well as of his own arises in each. In these moments of living awareness the persons are as little imprisoned within their consciousness as they are in sleep. But at other moments consciousness of this identification with the other returns, so that the consciousness of each person, in the experience of thinking, apprehends both himself and the other person. I know that a Transcendental Realist describes this view as a relapse into Naive Realism. But, then, I have already pointed out in this book that Naive Realism retains its justification for our experienced thinking. The Transcendental Realist completely ignores the true situation in the process of cognition. 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 Spiritual Activity 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. Ignoring all that is specific in the argumentation of the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, he has charged me with having attempted to combine Hegel's Universalistic Panlogism with Hume's Individualistic Phenomenalism (Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Vol. 108, p. 71, note). But, in truth, the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity has nothing whatever to do with the two positions which it is accused of trying to combine. (This, too, is the reason why I could not feel inclined to deal, e.g., with the Epistemological Monism of Johannes Rehmke. The point of view of the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is simply quite different from what Eduard von .Hartmann and others call “Epistemological Monism.”)