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Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

VIII. The Factors of Life

LET us recapitulate the results gained in the previous chapters. The world faces man as a multiplicity, as an aggregate of detailed parts. He himself is one of these entities, a being among beings. Of this configuration of the world we say simply that it is given, and inasmuch as we do not evolve it by conscious activity, but simply find it, we say that it consists of percepts. Within this world of percepts we perceive ourselves. This percept of Self would remain merely one among many other percepts, did not something arise from the midst of this percept of Self which proves capable of connecting all percepts one with another and, therefore, the sum of all other; percepts with the percept of Self. This something which emerges is no longer a mere percept; neither is it, like percepts, simply given. It is produced by our activity. It appears, in the first instance, bound up with what each of us perceives as his Self. In its inner significance, however, it transcends the Self. It adds to the separate percepts ideally determined elements, which, however, are related to one another, and which are grounded in a whole. What self-perception yields is ideally determined by this something in the same way as all other percepts, and placed as subject, or “I,” over against the objects. This something is thinking, and the ideally determined elements are the concepts and Ideas. Thinking, therefore, first manifests itself in the percept of Self. But it is not merely subjective, for the Self characterizes itself as subject only with the help of thinking. This relation of the Self to itself by means of thinking is a determination of our personality in life. Through it we lead a purely ideal existence. Through it we feel ourselves to be thinking beings. This determination of our lives would remain a purely conceptual (logical) one, if it were not supplemented by other determinations of our Selves. Our lives would then exhaust themselves in establishing purely ideal connections between percepts themselves, and between them and ourselves. If we call this establishment of an ideal relation an “act of cognition,” and the resulting condition of ourself “knowledge,” then, assuming the above supposition to be true, we should have to consider ourselves as beings who merely cognize or know.

The supposition is, however, untrue. We relate percepts to ourselves not merely ideally, through concepts, but also, as we have already seen, through feeling. We are, therefore, not beings with a merely conceptual content. The Naive Realist holds that the personality actually lives more genuinely in the life of feeling than in the purely ideal element of knowledge. From his point of view he is quite right in interpreting the matter in this way. Feeling signifies on the subjective side exactly the same as percepts signify on the objective side. From the principle of Naive Realism, that everything is real which can be perceived, it follows that feeling is the guarantee of the reality of one's own personality. Monism, however, as here understood, must bestow on feeling the same supplementation which it considers necessary for percepts, if these are to stand before us as complete reality. For this Monism, feeling is an incomplete reality, which, in the form in, which it first appears to us, does not contain as yet its second factor, the concept or Idea. This is why, in actual life, feelings, like percepts, appear prior to knowledge. At first, we have merely a feeling of existence; and it is only in the course of our gradual development, that we attain to the point at which the concept of Self emerges from within the faint feeling of our own existence. However, what for us does not appear until later, is from the first indissolubly bound up with our feeling. This is how the naive man comes to believe that in feeling he grasps existence immediately, in knowledge only mediately. The development of the life of feeling, therefore, appears to him more important than anything else. He will not believe the nexus of the world to have been grasped until he has received it into his feeling. He attempts to make feeling the instrument of knowledge rather than knowing. Now a feeling is entirely individual, something equivalent to a percept. Hence a Philosopher of Feeling makes a world-principle out of something which has significance only within his own personality. He attempts to permeate the whole world with his own Self. What the Monist, in the sense we have described, strives to grasp by means of concepts the Philosopher of Feeling tries to attain through feeling, and he looks on this community of his with the objects as more immediate than knowledge.

The tendency just described, the Philosophy of Feeling, is often called Mysticism. The error in such a mystical conception based upon feeling is that it seeks to experience immediately what must be known, that it tries to elevate feeling, which is individual, into a universal principle.

Feeling is a purely individual activity. It is the relation of the external world to the subject, in so far as this relation finds expression in a purely subjective experience.

There is yet another expression of human personality. The Self, through thinking, takes part in the universal world-life. Through thinking it relates purely ideally (conceptually) the percepts to itself, and itself to the percepts. In feeling, it has immediate experience of the relation of objects to itself as subject. In will, the opposite is the case. In volition, we are concerned once more with a percept, viz., that of the individual relation of the Self to what is objective. Whatever in the act of will is not an ideal factor, is just as much mere object of perception as is any object in the external world.

Nevertheless, the Naive Realist believes here again that he has before him something far more real than can be attained by thinking. He sees in the will an element in which he is immediately aware of an occurrence, a causation, in contrast with thinking which afterwards grasps the event in conceptual form. What the I achieves by its will is, on this view, a process which is experienced immediately. The adherent of this philosophy believes that in the will he has really got hold of one “bit” of reality (cf. Chapter III, p. 30 Ed.). Whereas he can follow other occurrences only from the outside by means of perception, he is confident that in his will he experiences a real process quite immediately. The mode of existence presented to him by the will within the Self becomes for him the principle of reality in the universe. His own will appears to him as a special case of the general world-process; hence the latter is conceived as a universal will. The will becomes the world-principle of reality just as, in Mysticism, feeling becomes the principle of knowledge. This kind of theory is called Voluntarism (Thelism). It makes something which can be experienced only individually the fundamental factor of the world.

Voluntarism can as little be called scientific as can Mysticism. For both assert that the conceptual interpretation of the world is inadequate. Both demand, with a certain amount of justice, in addition to a principle of being which is ideal, also a principle which is real. But as perception is our only means of apprehending these so-called real principles, the assertion of Mysticism and Voluntarism coincides with the view that we have two sources of knowledge, viz., thinking and perception, the latter presenting itself as an individual experience in feeling and will. Since the immediate experiences which flow from the one source cannot be directly absorbed into the experiences of thinking which flow from the other, both experiences—perception and thinking—remain side by side, without any higher form of mediation between them. Besides the conceptual (ideal) principle to which we attain by means of knowledge, there is said to be a real principle which must be experienced. In other words, Mysticism and Voluntarism are both forms of Naive Realism, because they subscribe to the doctrine that the immediately perceived (experienced) is real. Compared with Naive Realism in its primitive form, they are guilty of the yet further inconsistency of accepting one definite form of perception (feeling, will) as the exclusive means of knowing reality. Yet they can do this only so long as they cling to the general principle that everything that is perceived is real. They ought, therefore, to attach an equal value to external perception for purposes of knowledge.

Voluntarism turns into Metaphysical Realism when it asserts the existence of will also in those spheres of reality in which will can no longer, as in the individual subject, be immediately experienced. It assumes hypothetically that a principle holds good outside the subject, for the existence of which, nevertheless, subjective experience is the sole criterion of reality. As a form of Metaphysical Realism, Voluntarism is open to the criticism developed in the preceding chapter, a criticism which makes it necessary to overcome the contradictory element in every form of Metaphysical Realism, and to acknowledge that the will is a universal world-process only in so far as it is ideally related to the rest of the world.


The difficulty of seizing the essential nature of thinking by observation lies in this, that it has eluded the introspecting soul all too easily by the time that the soul tries to bring it into the focus of attention. Nothing but the lifeless abstract, the corpse of living thought, then remains for inspection. When we consider only this abstract, we find it hard, by contrast, to resist entering into the mysticism of feeling, or, again, into the metaphysics of will, both of which are “full of life.” We are tempted to regard it as odd that anyone should want to seize the essence of reality in “mere thoughts.” But if we once succeed in really finding the true life in thinking, we learn to understand that the self-abandonment to feelings, or the intuiting of the will, cannot even be compared with the inward wealth of this life of thinking, which we experience as within itself, ever self-supporting, yet at the same time ever in movement. Still less is it possible to rank will and feeling above thinking. It is owing precisely to this wealth, to this inward abundance of experience, that the counter-image of thinking which presents itself to our ordinary attitude of soul, should appear lifeless and abstract. No other activity of the human soul is so easily misapprehended as thinking. Will and feeling still fill the soul with warmth even when we live through them again in memory. Thinking all too readily leaves us cold in recollection; it is as if the life of the soul had dried out. But this is really nothing but the strongly marked shadow thrown by its luminous warm nature penetrating deeply into the phenomena of the world. This penetration is effected by a power contained in the activity of thinking itself which is the power of love—spiritual love. There is no room here for the objection that thus to perceive love in the activity of thinking is to project into thinking a feeling, viz., love. This objection is, in truth, a confirmation of the view here advocated. If we turn towards the essential nature of thinking, we find in it both feeling and will, and both these in the depth of their reality. If we turn away from thinking towards “mere” feeling and will, these lose for us their genuine reality. If we are willing to make of thinking an intuitive experience, we can do justice, also, to experiences of the type of feeling and will. But the mysticism of feeling and the metaphysics of will are not able to do justice to the penetration of reality by intuitive thinking. They conclude all too readily that they themselves are rooted in reality, but that the intuitive thinker, untouched by feeling, blind to reality, forms out of “abstract thoughts” a shadowy, chilly picture of the world.