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Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

V. The Act of Knowing (Cognizing) the World

FROM the foregoing considerations it follows that it is impossible to prove, by analysis of the content of our observation, that our percepts are representations. This is supposed to be proved by showing that, if the process of perceiving takes place in the way in which we conceive it in accordance with the naive-realistic assumptions concerning the psychological and physiological constitution of human individuals, then we have to do, not with things themselves, but merely with our representations of things. Now, if Naive 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 conception of the world. In any case, it is inadmissible to reject the presuppositions and yet accept the consequences, as the Critical Idealist does who bases his assertion that the world is my representation on the line of argument indicated above. (Eduard von Hartmann gives in his work Das Grundproblem der Erkenntnistheorie a full account of this line of argument.)

The truth of Critical Idealism is one thing, the persuasiveness of its proof another. How it stands with the former will appear later in the course of this book, but the persuasiveness of its proof is nil. If one builds a house, and the ground floor collapses while the first floor is being built, then the first floor collapses, too. Naive Realism and Critical Idealism are related just as the ground floor to the first floor in this simile.

For one who holds that the whole perceptual world is only representational, and, moreover, the effect of things unknown to him acting on his soul, the real problem of knowledge is naturally concerned, not with the representations present only in the soul, but with the things which lie outside his consciousness, and which are independent of him. He asks: How much can we learn about them 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, whereas the percepts, on his view, disappear as soon as he turns his senses away from the things. Our consciousness, on this view, works like a mirror from which the pictures of definite things disappear the very moment its reflecting surface is not turned towards them. If, now, we do not see the things themselves, but only their reflections, we must obtain knowledge of the nature of the former indirectly by drawing conclusions from the character of the latter. The whole of modern science adopts this point of view, when it uses percepts only as an ultimate means of 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 sole aim is to gain knowledge of this real existence indirectly by means of his representations. His interest skips over the subjective world of representations and pursues instead that which produces these representations.

The Critical Idealist can, however, go even further and say, I am confined to the world of my representations and cannot escape from it. If I think a thing behind my representations, this thought, once more, is nothing but my representation. 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 minds, i.e., 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: (1) victims of the illusion that the dreams they have themselves woven are real things, and (2) wise men who see through the nothingness of this dream world, and who 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 representation of my own I is added to the representation of the outer world. I have then given to me in consciousness, not my real I, but only my representation of my I. Whoever denies that things exist, or, at least, that we can know anything of them, must also deny the existence, or the knowledge, of one's own personality. This is how the Critical Idealist comes to maintain that “All reality transforms itself into a wonderful dream, without a life which is the object of the dream, and without a spirit which has the dream; into a dream which hangs together in a dream of itself.” (Cf. Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen.)

Whether he who believes that he recognizes immediate life to be a dream, postulates nothing more behind this dream, or whether he relates his representations to actual things, is immaterial. In both cases life itself must lose all scientific interest for him. However, whereas for those who believe that the whole of the accessible universe is exhausted in dreams, all science is an absurdity, yet for those who feel compelled to argue from representations to things, science consists in inquiring into these “things-in-themselves.” The first of these theories of the world may be called Absolute Illusionism, the second is called Transcendental Realism by its most rigorously logical exponent, Eduard von Hartmann. [Cognition is transcendental in the sense of this world conception 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 immediately cognizable 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.]

These two points of view have this in common with Naive Realism, that they seek to gain a footing in the world by means of an analysis of percepts. Within this sphere, however, they are unable to find any stable point.

One of the most important questions for an adherent of Transcendental Realism would have to be, how the Ego produces the world of representations out of itself. A world of representations which was given to us, and which disappeared as soon as we shut our senses to the external world, might provoke an earnest desire for knowledge, in so far as it was a means for investigating indirectly the world of the I existing in itself. If the things of our experience were “representations” then our everyday life would be like a dream, and the discovery of the true facts like waking. Even 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 representation, cannot be interested in the reciprocal relations of the details within it. If he admits the existence of a real Ego at all, then his question will be, not how one of his representations is linked with another, but what takes place in the Soul which is independent of him, while a certain train of representations passes through his consciousness. If I dream that I am drinking wine which makes my throat burn, and then wake up with a tickling sensation in the throat (cp. Weygandt, Entstehung der Träume, 1893) I cease, the moment I wake, to be interested in the dream-drama 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 representations, his interest is bound to switch from them at once to the soul which is the reality lying behind them. The matter is more serious, however, for the Illusionist who denies the existence of an Ego-in-itself behind the representations, 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 to look through our dreams, and to refer 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. Every adherent of this view fails entirely to see that there is, in fact, something which is to mere perception what our waking experience is to our dreams. This something is thinking.

The naive 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 perception. It makes no difference whether or no the percept, in the shape given to me, continues to exist before and after my forming a representation. If I want to assert anything whatever about it, I can do so only with the help of thinking. When I assert that the world is my representation, 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, in our consideration of things, we generally overlook thinking, has already been given above (p. 24). It lies in the fact that our attention is concentrated only on the object about which we think, but not at the same time on the thinking itself. The naive 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 constructs concerning the phenomena of the world is regarded, not as part of the things, but as existing only in men's heads. The world is complete in itself even without this picture. It is all ready-made and finished with all its substances and forces, and of this ready-made world man makes himself 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 roots and stem, it unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Set the plant before yourselves. It connects itself, in your soul, 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, a whole, while that which reveals itself through thinking consideration is regarded as a mere accretion which has nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud to-day, the picture that offers itself to my perception is complete only for the moment. If I put the bud into water, I shall to-morrow get a very different picture of my object. If I watch the rosebud without interruption, I shall see to-day's state gradually change into to-morrow's through an infinite number of intermediate stages. The picture which presents itself to me at any one moment is only a chance segment out of an object which is in a continual process of becoming. If I do not put the bud into water, a whole series of states, the possibility of which lay in the bud, will not be evolved. Similarly I may be prevented to-morrow from observing the blossom further, and thus have an incomplete picture of it.

It would be a quite unobjective opinion clinging to temporal features which declared of any haphazard appearance of a thing, this is the thing.

It is no more 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 together with, the percept. To such a spirit it would never occur 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.

Let me make myself clearer by another 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 by a point moving according to certain well-defined law. If I analyse 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. The spirit described above who has no need of the detour of thinking, would find itself presented, not only with 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 appear to us at first without their 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 sources, viz., from perception and from thinking.

The nature of things has nothing to do with the way I am organized for apprehending them. The breach between perception and thinking exists only from the moment that I as spectator confront the things. Which elements do, and which do not, belong to the object, 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. Hence but a limited portion of the total universe can ever be given to him. This limited portion, however, is linked up with other parts on every side both in time and in space. If our existence were so linked with things that every world occurrence were also an occurrence in us, there would not be the distinction between us and things. Neither would there be any individual objects for us. All occurrences would then 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. But owing to our limitations there appears as a single thing what, in truth, is not a single thing. Nowhere, e.g., is the particular 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 seize only single colours one after another out of a manifold colour-whole, our understanding 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.

It is of the greatest importance for us to determine the relation of the beings which we, ourselves, are to the other beings. The determining of this relation must be distinguished from merely becoming conscious of ourselves. For this self-awareness we depend on perception 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 self does not take me beyond the sphere of what belongs to me. Hence it must be distinguished from the determination of myself by thinking. Just as I link up, by thinking, any single percept of the external world into the whole world system, so I fit by thinking what I perceive in myself into the world-process. My self-perception restricts me within definite limits, but my thinking has nothing to do 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, determines my finite 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 colourings of the universal thinking, individual men are distinguished 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 conflicts with a common prejudice which is very hard to overcome. The victims of this prejudice are unable to see that the concept of a triangle which my head grasps is the same as the concept which my neighbour's head grasps. The naive man believes himself to be the creator of his concepts. Hence he believes that each person has his private concepts. It is a fundamental demand of philosophic thinking to overcome this prejudice. The one uniform concept of “triangle” does not split up into a multiplicity because it is thought by many persons. For the thinking of the many is itself a unity.

In thinking we have the element which welds each man's special 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 which pervades everything. This is the deeper meaning of our two-sided nature: We see a simply absolute force revealing itself in us, which is universal. But we learn to know it, not as it issues from the centre of the world, but rather at a point of the periphery. Were the former the case, we should know, as soon as ever we became conscious, the solution of the whole world problem. But since we stand at a point on the periphery, and find that our own being is confined within definite limits, we must explore the region which lies beyond our own being with the help of thinking, which projects into us out of the general world-existence.

The fact that thinking, in us, reaches out beyond our separate existence and relates itself to the general world-existence, gives rise to the desire for knowledge in us. Beings without thinking do not experience 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 without, but from within. To produce the agreement, the union of the two elements, the inner and the outer, that is the task of knowledge.

The percept, thus, is not something finished and self-contained, but one side only of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of cognition is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only the percept and concept together constitute the whole thing.

The preceding elucidation shows clearly that it is nonsensical to seek for any other common element in the separate beings of the world than the ideal content which thinking supplies. All efforts to look for another unity in the world than this internally coherent ideal content, which we gain by a thinking investigation of our percepts, are bound to fail. Neither a humanly personal God, nor force, nor matter, nor the blind will (Schopenhauer), can be accepted by us as the universal unity in the world. These principles all belong only to a limited sphere of our observation. Humanly limited personality we perceive only in ourselves; force and matter in external things. The will, again, 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 holds that we can never approach the world so long as we regard it as an “external” world. “In fact, the meaning for which we seek of that world which is present to us only as our ‘representation,’ [See footnote on page 55.] or the transition from the world as mere representation of the knowing subject to whatever it may be besides this, would never be found if the investigator himself were nothing more than the pure 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 necessary supporter of the whole world as representation, is yet always given through the medium of a body, whose affections are, as we have shown, the starting-point for the understanding in the perception of that world. This body is, for the pure knowing subject, a representation like every other representation, 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 meaning were not explained for him in an entirely different way ... The body is given in two entirely different ways to the subject of knowledge, who becomes an individual only through his identity with it. It is given as a representation in intelligent perception, as an object among objects and subject to the laws of objects. And it is also given in quite a different way as that which is immediately known to everyone, and is signified by the word ‘will.’ Every true act of his will is also at once and without exception a movement of his body. He cannot will the act without perceiving at the same time that it appears as a movement of the body. The act of will and the movement of the body are not two different things objectively known, 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 — immediately, and again in perception for the understanding.” (The World as Will and Idea, 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 immediately a reality — the thing-in-itself in the concrete. Against these arguments we must urge that the activities of our body come to our consciousness only through self-perception, and that, as such, they are in no way superior to other percepts. If we want to cognize their real nature, we can do so only by a thinking investigation, i.e., by fitting them into the ideal system of our concepts and Ideas.

Rooted most deeply in the naive consciousness is the opinion that thinking is abstract and empty of any concrete content. At best, we are told, it supplies but an “ideal” counterpart of the unity of the world, but never that unity itself. Whoever so judges has never made clear to himself what a percept apart from concepts really is. Let us see what this world of bare percepts is. A mere juxtaposition in space, a mere succession in time, an aggregate of disconnected particulars — that is how it appears. None of the things which come and go on the stage of perception has any perceptible connection with any other. The world is a multiplicity of objects of equal value. None plays any greater part in the nexus of the world than any other. In order to make obvious that this or that fact has a greater importance than another we must go to thinking. Without thinking fulfilling its function, the rudimentary organ of an animal which has no significance in its life appears equal in value to the most important limb. The particular facts reveal their meaning, in themselves and for other parts of the world, only when thinking spins its threads from Being to Being. This activity of thinking is one full of content. For it is only through a perfectly definite concrete content that I can know why the snail belongs to a lower type 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 contributes this content to the percept from the world of concepts and Ideas. In contrast with the content of perception which is given to us from without, the content of thinking appears inwardly. The form in which the latter first appears in consciousness we will call “intuition.” Intuition is for the content of thinking what observation is for the percept. Intuition and observation are the sources of our knowledge. An observed object of the world remains unintelligible to us, until we have the corresponding intuition which adds that part of the reality which is lacking in the percept. To anyone who is incapable of finding the intuitions corresponding to the things, the full reality remains inaccessible. Just as the colour-blind person sees only differences of brightness without any colour qualities, so a person who lacks intuition observes only disconnected fragments of percepts.

To explain a thing, to make it intelligible, means nothing else than to place it in the context from which it has been torn by the peculiar character of our organization described above. A thing cut off from the world-whole does not exist. Hence all isolation of objects has only subjective validity for our organization. For us the universe disrupts itself into above and below, before and after, cause and effect, object and representation, matter and force, object and subject, etc. What appears in observation, as separate parts, becomes combined, bit by bit, through the coherent, unified world of our intuitions. By thinking we fuse again into one whole all that we have separated through perception.

The enigmatic character of an object consists in its separateness. But this separation is our own making and can be remedied again within the world of concepts.

Except through thinking and perception nothing is given to us directly. The question now arises as to the significance of percepts within our line of thought. We have learnt that the proof which Critical Idealism offers for the subjective nature of percepts collapses. But the exhibition of the falsity of the proof is not, by itself, sufficient to show that the doctrine itself is an error. Critical Idealism does not base its proof on the absolute nature of thinking, but relies on the argument that Naive Realism, when followed to its logical conclusion, contradicts itself. How does the matter appear when we have recognized the absoluteness of thinking?

Let us assume that a certain percept, e.g., red, appears in consciousness. To continued observation, the percept shows itself to be connected with other percepts, e.g., a certain figure, temperature, and touch-qualities. This combination I call an object in the world of sense. 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 farther and study the processes which take place in the transition between the object and my sense-organs. I can find movements in an elastic medium, which have not the least in common with the percepts from which I started. I get the same result if I trace farther the transition between sense-organs and brain. In each of these inquiries I gather new percepts, but the connecting medium which binds all these spatially and temporally separated percepts into one whole, is thinking. The air vibrations which carry sound are given to me as percepts just like the sound itself. Thinking alone links all these percepts one to the other and exhibits them in their reciprocal relations. We have no right to say that over and above our immediate percepts there is anything except the ideal nexus of percepts (which thinking has to reveal). The relation of perceptual objects to the perceiving subject, which relation transcends the mere perceptible, is, therefore, purely ideal, i.e., capable of being expressed only through concepts. Only if it were possible to perceive how the object of perception affects the perceiving subject, or, alternatively, only if we could watch the building up of the perceptual complex through the subject, could we speak as modern Physiology, and the Critical Idealism which is based on it, speak. Their view confuses an ideal relation (that of the object to the subject) with a process of which we could speak only if it were possible to perceive it. The proposition, “No colour without a colour-sensing eye,” cannot be taken to mean that the eye produces the colour, but only that an ideal relation, recognizable by thinking, subsists between the percept “colour” and the percept “eye.” Empirical science will have to ascertain how the properties of the eye and those of the colours are related to one another: by means of what structures the organ of sight mediates the perception of colours, etc. I can trace how one percept succeeds another and how one 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? This question, asked in this general way, is absurd. A percept emerges always as a perfectly determinate, concrete content. This content is immediately given and is completely contained in the 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 which corresponds to this percept. From this point of view, the question of the subjectivity of percepts, in the sense in which the Critical Idealists debate it, cannot be raised at all. Only that which is perceived as belonging to the subject can be termed “subjective.” To form a link between that which is subjective and that which is objective is impossible for any real process, in the naive sense of the word “real,” in which it means a process which can be perceived. That is possible only for thinking. For us, then, “objective” means that which, for perception, presents itself as external to the perceiving subject. As subject of perception I remain perceptible to myself after the table which now stands before me has disappeared from my field of observation. The observation of the table has produced a modification in me which likewise persists. I preserve the faculty to produce later on an image of the table. This faculty of producing a picture remains connected with me. Psychology terms this image a “memory-idea.” Now this is the only thing which has any right to be called the representation [See Translator's Preface, p. ix.] 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 in some “Ego-in-itself” standing behind the perceiving subject, but the modification of the perceptible subject itself. The representation is, therefore, a subjective percept, in contrast with the objective percept which occurs when the object is present in the field of vision. The false identification of the subjective with this objective percept leads to the misunderstanding of Idealism: The world is my representation.

Our next task must be to define the concept of “representation” more nearly. What we have said about it so far does not give us the concept, but only shows us where in the perceptual field representations are to be found. The exact concept of “representation” will also make it possible for us to obtain a satisfactory understanding of the relation of representation and object. This will then lead us over the border-line, where the relation of human subject to object in the world is brought down from the purely conceptual field of concepts into concrete individual life. Once we know how to think of the world, it will be an easy task to adapt ourselves to it. We can only be active with full energy when we know the object belonging to the world to which we are to devote our activity.


The view which I have here outlined may be regarded as one to which man is impelled as though by a natural force, as soon as he begins to reflect about 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 the purely theoretical refutation of it does not exhaust our task. We have to live through it, in order to understand the aberration into which it leads us, and 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 gain insight into how to refute oneself with respect to these first reflections. This is the point of view from which the arguments of the preceding chapter are considered.

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 representations about the things and events in the world. In consequence, his attention is deflected from what exists outside in the world and directed towards his inner world, the life of his representations. He begins to say to himself: It is impossible for me to stand in relation to any thing or event, unless a representation appears in me. From this fact, once noticed, it is but a step to the opinion: All that I experience is after all only my representation; of a world outside I know only in so far as it is a representation in me. With this opinion, man abandons the standpoint of naive reality which he occupies prior to all reflection about his relation to the world. So long as he stands there, he believes that he is dealing with real things, but reflection about himself drives him away from this position. Reflection prevents him from turning his gaze towards a real world such as naive consciousness claims to have before it. Reflection turns his gaze only towards his representations; they interpose themselves between his own nature and a supposedly real world, such as the naive point of view believes it should affirm. Man can no longer look through the intervening world of representations upon such a real world. He must suppose that he is blind to such a 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 representations, we can hardly escape from this kind of thought. Yet one cannot remain at the point of view of Naive Realism except at the price of closing one's mind artificially to the desire for knowledge. The existence of this desire for knowledge about the relation of man to the world proves that the naive point of view must be abandoned. If the naive point of view yielded anything which we could acknowledge as truth, we could not experience this desire.

But mere abandonment of the naive point of view does not lead to any other view which we could regard as true, so long as we retain, without noticing it, the kind of thought which the naive point of view imposes on us. This is the mistake made by the man who says: I experience only my representations, and though I believe that I am dealing with real things, I am actually conscious of nothing but my representations of real things; I must, therefore, suppose that genuine realities, “things-in-themselves,” exist only outside the boundary of my consciousness; that they are inaccessible to my immediate knowledge; but that they somehow approach me and influence me so as to make a world of representations arise in me. Whoever thinks thus, duplicates in thought the world before him by adding another. But, strictly he ought to begin his whole thinking activity over again with regard to this second world. 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 of the naively realistic point of view. — There is only one way of escaping from the confusion into which one falls by critical reflection on this naive point of view. This is to observe that, inside everything we can experience through perception, be it within ourselves or outside in the world, there is something which does not share the fate of a representation interposing itself between the real event and the contemplating human being. This something is thinking. With regard to thinking we can maintain the point of view of Naive Realism. If we fail to do so, it is only because we have learnt that we must abandon it for other things, but overlook that, what we have found to be true for other activities, does not apply to thinking. When we realize this, we gain access to the further insight that, in thinking and through thinking, man necessarily comes to cognize the very thing to which he appears to blind himself by interposing between the world and himself the realm of his representations. — A critic highly esteemed by the author of this book has objected that this discussion of thinking stops at a naively realistic theory of thinking, as shown by the fact that the real world and the world of representations are held to be identical. However, the author believes himself to have shown in this very discussion that the validity of “Naive Realism,” as applied to thinking, results inevitably from an unprejudiced study of thinking; and that Naive Realism, in so far as it is invalid for other things, is overcome through the recognition of the true nature of thinking.