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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

VI. The Human Individuality

IN ATTEMPTING to explain representations philosophers have found that the main difficulty lies in the fact that we ourselves are not the external things, and yet our representations must somehow correspond to things. But, on closer inspection, it turns out that this difficulty does not exist at all. We are certainly not the external things, but together with them we belong to one and the same world. That section of the world which I perceive as my subject is permeated by the stream of the universal world process. To my perceiving I appear, in the first instance, enclosed within the boundary of my skin. But all that is contained within the skin belongs to the cosmos as a whole. Hence for a relation to exist between my organism and an external object, it is by no means necessary that something of the object should slip into me or make an impression on my spirit, like a signet ring on wax. A question such as: How do I gain knowledge of the tree ten feet away from me? is wrongly formulated. It springs from the view that the boundaries of my body are absolute barriers, through which information about things filters into me. The forces active within the limit of my body are the same as those which exist outside. Therefore, in reality I am the things; not, however, insofar as I am a perceiving subject, but insofar as I am part of the universal world process. The perception of the tree and my I is within the same whole. There this universal world process calls forth the perception of the tree to the same extent that here it calls forth the perception of my I. Were I world creator instead of world knower, object and subject (perception and I) would originate in one act. For they depend on each other. As world knower I can discover the element they have in common, as entities belonging together, only through thinking which, by means of concepts, relates them to one another.

Most difficult of all to overcome are the so-called physiological proofs of the subjectivity of our perceptions. If I press the skin of my body, I perceive this as a sensation of pressure. Such pressure will be perceived by the eye as light, by the ear as sound. For example, by the eye I perceive an electric shock as light, by the ear as sound, by the nerves of the skin as shock, and by the nose as a phosphoric smell. What follows from these facts? Only this: that when I perceive an electric shock (or a pressure, as the case may be) followed by a light quality or a sound, respectively, or a certain smell, etc., then, if no eye were present, no perception of a light quality would accompany the perception of mechanical vibrations in my environment; without the presence of the ear, no perception of sound, etc. But what right has one to say that in the absence of sense-organs, the whole process would not exist at all? From the fact that an electrical process calls forth light in the eye, those who conclude that outside our organism, what we sense as light is only a mechanical process of motion, forget that they are only passing from one perception to another, and nowhere to something over and above perceptions. Just as we can say that the eye perceives a mechanical process of motion in its surroundings as light, we can also say that a regulated change in an object is perceived by us as a process of motion. If I draw twelve pictures of a horse on the circumference of a rotating disc, reproducing exactly the positions which the horse's body successively assumes in movement, then by rotating the disc I can produce the illusion of movement. I need only look through an opening in such a way that in the proper intervals I see the successive positions of the horse. I see, not twelve separate pictures of a horse, but the picture of a single galloping horse.

The above-mentioned physiological fact cannot, therefore, throw any light on the relation of perception to representation. Therefore, we must find some other way.

The moment a perception appears in my field of observation, thinking also becomes active through me. A member of my thought-system, a definite intuition, a concept, unites itself with the perception. Then when the perception disappears from my field of vision, what do I retain? My intuition, with the reference to the particular perception which formed itself in the moment of perceiving. The degree of vividness with which I can recall this reference later depends on the manner in which my intellectual and bodily organism is working. A representation is nothing but an intuition related to a particular perception; it is a concept that once was connected with a perception and retains the reference to this perception. My concept of a lion is not formed out of my perceptions of lions. But my representation of a lion is indeed formed according to my perception. I can convey to someone who has never seen a lion, the concept of a lion. But I can never bring about in him a vivid representation of a lion, without his perceiving one.

A representation therefore is an individualized concept. And now we have the explanation as to why our representations can represent reality to us. The complete reality of something is submitted to us in the moment of observation through the flowing together of concept and perception. The concept acquires, through a perception, an individual form, a relation to this particular perception. In this individual form which has as a characteristic feature the reference to the perception, the concept lives on in us as the representation of the thing in question. If we come across a second thing with which the same concept connects itself, we recognize the second as belonging to the same kind as the first; if we come across the same thing twice, we find in our conceptual system not only a corresponding concept, but the individualized concept with its characteristic relation to the same object, and thus we recognize the object again.

The representation, therefore, stands between perception and concept. It is the definite concept which points to the perception.

The sum of those things about which I can form representations may be called my practical experience. [40] The man who has the greater number of individualized concepts will be the man of richer practical experience. A man who lacks all power of intuition is not capable of acquiring practical experience. He again loses the objects from his field of vision because he lacks the concepts which should bring him into relation with them. A man whose power of thinking is well developed, but whose ability to perceive functions poorly due to clumsy sense-organs, will be no better able to gather practical experience. It is true that he can acquire concepts by one means and another, but his intuitions lack vivid reference to definite things. The unthinking traveller and the scholar living in abstract conceptual systems are both incapable of acquiring rich practical experience.

Reality appears to us as perception and concept, and the subjective representative of this reality is—representation.

If our personality expressed itself only in cognition, the totality of all that is objective would be given in perception, concept and representation.

However, we are not satisfied merely to refer the perception, by means of thinking, to the concept, but we relate it also to our own subjectivity, to our individual I. The expression of this individual relationship is feeling, which we experience as pleasure or displeasure.

Thinking and feeling correspond to the twofold nature of our being, which we have already considered. Thinking is the element through which we take part in the universal process of the cosmos; feeling, that through which we can withdraw into the narrow confines of our own soul life.

Our thinking unites us with the world; our feeling leads us back into ourselves, and this makes us individuals. If we were merely thinking and perceiving beings, our whole life would flow along in monotonous indifference. If we could only cognize ourself as a self, we would be totally indifferent to ourself. Only because with self-knowledge we experience self-feeling, and with the perception of objects pleasure and pain, do we live as individual beings whose existence is not exhausted by the conceptual relations in which we stand to the rest of the world, but who have a special value for themselves as well.

One might be tempted to see in the life of feeling an element more richly saturated with reality than is our thinking contemplation of the world. But the answer to this is that the life of feeling, after all, has this richer meaning only for my individual self. For the world my life of feeling can attain value only if, as perception of my self, the feeling enters into connection with a concept and, in this roundabout way, links itself to the cosmos.

Our life is a continual oscillation between our living with the universal world process and our own individual existence. The further we ascend into the universal nature of thinking where what is individual ultimately interests us only as example, as instance of the concept, the more the character of the quite definite individual personality is lost within us. The further we descend into the depths of our own soul life and let our feelings resound with the experiences of the outer world, the more we cut ourselves off from universal life. A true individuality will be one who reaches up with his feelings farthest into the region of the ideal. There are people in whom even the most general ideas that enter their heads bear, nevertheless, that particular coloring which shows unmistakably their connection with the individual who thinks them. There are others whose concepts come before us without the least trace of individual coloring, as if they had not been produced by a being of flesh and blood at all.

The act of representing already gives our conceptual life an individual stamp. For each one of us has his special place from which he looks out upon the world. His concepts link themselves to his perceptions. He will think the general concepts in his own particular way. This particular determination comes about through the place we occupy in the world and from the perceptions belonging to our sphere of life.

Distinct from this determination is another, which depends on our particular organization. Our organization is, indeed, a special, definite, individual unity. Each of us combines particular feelings, and these in the most varying degrees of intensity, with his perceptions. This is the individual aspect of our personality. It is what remains over when we have allowed fully for all the determining factors in our milieu.

A life of feeling devoid of all life of thought would gradually lose all connection with the world. But because it is inherent in man to develop his whole nature, his knowledge of things will go hand-in-hand with the education and development of his feeling-life.

Feeling is the means whereby, to begin with, concepts attain concrete life.