Riddles of Philosophy
I. The Struggle Over the Spirit
Hegel felt that with his thought structure he had arrived at the goal for which the evolution of world conception had been striving since man had attempted to conquer the enigmatic problems of existence within the realm of thought experiences. With this feeling he wrote, toward the end of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, the following words. “The concept of philosophy is the idea that thinks itself; it is knowing truth. . . . Philosophical knowledge has in this manner gone back to its beginning, and the content of logic thus becomes its result as the spiritual element that has revealed itself as truth, as it is in itself and for itself.”
The experience of itself in thought, according to Hegel, is to give to the human soul the consciousness of being at its true original source. In drinking from this source, filling itself with thoughts from it, the soul is supposed to live in its own true essence and in that of nature at the same time, for both nature and the soul are manifestations of thought. Through the phenomena of nature the thought world looks at the soul, which seizes in itself the creative power of thought so that it knows itself in union with all world processes. The soul thus sees its own narrow circle of self-consciousness enlarged through the fact that the world observes itself consciously in it. The soul thereby ceases to consider itself merely as something that is aware of itself in the transitory sensual body between birth and death. The imperishable spirit, which is not bound to any sensual existence, knows itself in the soul, and the soul is aware of being bound to this spirit in an inseparable union.
Let us place ourselves in the position of, the soul of a personality who could follow Hegel's trend of ideas to the extent that he believed that he experienced the presence of thought in his consciousness in the same way as Hegel himself. We can then feel how, for such a soul, age-old enigmatic questions appear to be placed in a light that can be highly satisfactory to such an inquirer. Such satisfaction is indeed apparent, for instance, in the numerous writings of the Hegelian thinker, Karl Rosenkranz. As we absorb these writings with concentrated attention (System of Philosophy, 1850; Psychology, 1844; Critical Explanations of the Hegelian Philosophy, 1851), we feel ourselves confronted with a personality who is convinced he has found in Hegel's ideas what can provide a satisfactory cognitive relation to the world for the human soul. Rosenkranz can be mentioned in this respect as a significant example because he is not at all blindly following Hegel every step, but shows that he is a spirit motivated by the consciousness that Hegel's position toward world and man contains the possibility of giving a healthy foundation to a world conception.
What could a thinker like Rosenkranz experience with regard to this foundation? Since the birth of thought in ancient Greece, and during centuries of philosophical investigation of the riddles of existence with which every soul was fundamentally confronted, a number of major problems have crystallized. In modern times the problem of the significance, the value and the limits of knowledge has moved, as the fundamental problem, into the center of philosophical reflection. What relation has man's perception, conception and thought to the real world? Can this process of perception and thinking result in a knowledge that is capable of enlightening man concerning the questions about which he wants to be enlightened? For a person who thinks like Hegel, this question answers itself through the implication in Hegel's thought concept. As he gains hold of thought, he is convinced he experiences the creative spirit of the world. In this union with creative thought he feels the value and true significance of cognition. He cannot ask, “What is the meaning of knowledge?” for he experiences this significance as he is engaged in the act of knowing. Through this fact the Hegelian is directly opposed to all Kantianism. Witness what Hegel himself has to say against the Kantian method of investigating cognition before the act of knowledge has taken place.
A main point of the critical philosophy consists in the fact that before it sets out to develop a knowledge of God, the essence of things, etc., it is demanded that the faculty of knowledge must be investigated as to whether it is capable of doing such things. One must know the instrument before one undertakes the work that is to be achieved by means of it. If this instrument should prove insufficient, all endeavor would be wasted. This thought has appeared so plausible that it aroused the greatest admiration and agreement, and led knowledge, motivated by an interest in the objects of knowledge, back to itself. If, however, one does not want to deceive oneself with words, it is quite easy to see that other instruments can be investigated and judged in some other way than by undertaking the work with them for which they are meant. But knowledge can be investigated in no other way than in the act of knowledge; in the case of this so-called instrument, the process to test it is nothing but knowledge itself. To know before one knows is as absurd as the wise intention of the scholastic thinker who wanted to learn to swim before he dared go into the water.
For Hegel, the main point was that the soul should experience itself as filled with the living world thought. Thus, it grows beyond its ordinary existence; it becomes, as it were, the vessel in which world thought, living in thinking, seizes itself in full consciousness. The soul is not merely felt as a vessel of this world spirit but as an entity conscious of its union with that spirit. Thus it is, according to Hegel, not possible to investigate the essence of knowledge. We must immediately raise ourselves into participation in this essence through its experience and, with that step, we are directly inside the process of knowledge. If one stands inside that process, one is in possession of that knowledge and feels no longer the need to inquire after its significance. If one cannot take this stand, one lacks also the ability to investigate it. The Kantian philosophy is an impossibility for Hegel's world conception because, in order to answer the question, “How is knowledge possible,” the soul would first have to produce knowledge. In that case, the question of its existence could not be raised beforehand.
In a certain sense Hegel's philosophy amounts to this: He allows the soul to lift itself to a certain height at which point it grows into unity with the world. With the birth of thought in Greek philosophy the soul separated from the world. The soul is felt as in solitude as opposed to the world. In this seclusion the soul finds itself holding sway within itself. It is Hegel's intention to bring this experience of thought to its climax. At the same time he finds the creative world principle in the highest thought experience. The soul has thus completed the course of a perfect circle in separating itself at first from the world in order to search for thought. It feels itself separated from the world only as long as it recognizes in thought nothing but thought. It feels united with the world again as it discovers in thought the original source of the world. Thus, the circle is closed. Hegel can say, “In this manner science has returned to its beginning.”
Seen from such a viewpoint, the other main problems of human knowledge are set in such a light that one can believe one sees all existence in one coherent world conception. As a second major problem, one can consider the question of deity as the ground of the world. The elevation of the soul that enables the world thought to awaken to self-knowledge as it lives within the soul is, for Hegel, at the same time the soul's union with the divine world ground. According to him, one therefore cannot ask the question, “What is the divine ground of the world?” or, “What is man's relation toward it?” One can only say, “When the soul really experiences truth in the act of knowledge, it penetrates into this ground of the world.”
A third major question in the above-mentioned sense is the cosmological problem, that is to say, the problem of the inner essence of the outer world. This essence can, according to Hegel, be sought only in thought itself. When the soul arrives at the point of experiencing thought in itself, it also finds in its self-experience the form of thought it can recognize as it observes the processes and entities of the external world. Thus, it can, for instance, find something in its thought experience of which it knows immediately that this is the essence of light. As it then turns its eye to nature, it sees in the external light the manifestation of the thought essence of light.
In this way, for Hegel, the whole world dissolves into thought entity. Nature swims, as it were, as a frozen part in the cosmos of thought, and the human soul becomes thought in the thought world.
The fourth major problem of philosophy, the question of the nature and destiny of the soul, seems to Hegel's mind satisfactorily answered through the true progress of thought experience. At first, the soul finds itself bound to nature. In this connection it does not know itself in its true entity. It divorces itself from this nature existence and finds itself then separated in thought, arriving at last at the insight that it possesses in thought both the true essence of nature and its own true being as that of the living spirit as it lives and weaves as a member of this spirit.
All materialism seems to be overcome with this philosophy. Matter itself appears merely as a manifestation of the spirit. The human soul may feel itself as becoming and having its being in the spiritual universe.
In the treatment of the problem of the soul the Hegelian world conception shows probably most distinctly what is unsatisfactory about it. Looking at this world conception, the human soul must ask, “Can I really find myself in the comprehensive thought construction of the world erected by Hegel?” We have seen that all modern world conception must look for a world picture in which the entity of the human soul finds an adequate place. To Hegel, the whole world is thought; within this thought the soul also has its supersensible thought existence. But can the soul be satisfied to be contained as world thought in the general thought world? This question arises in thinkers who had been stimulated by Hegel's philosophy in the middle of the nineteenth century.
What are really the most urgent riddles of the soul? They are the ones for the answers of which the soul must feel a yearning, expecting from them the feeling of security and a firm hold in life. There is, to begin with, the question, “What is the human soul essentially?” Is the soul identical with the corporeal existence and do its manifestations cease with the decay of the body as the motion of the hands of a clock stop when the clock is taken apart? Or, is the soul an entity independent of the body, possessing life and significance in a world apart from that in which the body comes into being and dissolves into nothing? Connected with these questions is another problem. How does man obtain knowledge of such a world? Only in answering this question can man hope to receive light for the problems of life: Why am I subjected to this or that destiny? What is the source of suffering? What is the origin of morality?
Satisfaction can be given only by a world conception that offers answers to the above-mentioned questions and at the same time proves its right to give such answers.
Hegel offered a world of thoughts. If this world is to be the all inclusive universe, then the soul is forced to regard itself in its inner substance as thought. If one seriously accepts this cosmos of thought, one will find that the individual soul life of man dissolves in it. One must give up the attempt to explain and to understand this individual soul life and is forced to say that the significance of the soul does not rest in its individual experience but in the fact that it is contained in the general thought world. This is what the Hegelian world conception fundamentally does say. One should contrast it with what Lessing had in mind when he conceived the ideas of his Education of the Human Race. He asked the question of the significance for the individual human soul beyond the life that is enclosed between birth and death. In pursuing this thought of Lessing one can say that the soul after physical death goes through a form of existence in a world that lies outside the one in which man lives, perceives and thinks in his body; after an appropriate time, such a purely spiritual form of experience is followed again by a new earth life. In this process a world is implied with which the human soul, as a particular, individual entity, is bound up. Toward this world the soul feels directed in searching for its own true being. As soon as one conceives the soul as separated from the connection with its physical form of existence, one must think of it as belonging to that same world. For Hegel, however, the life of the soul, in shedding all individual traits, is absorbed first into the general thought process of the historical evolution, then into that of the general spiritual-intellectual world processes. In Hegel's sense, one solves the riddle of the soul in leaving all individual traits of that soul out of consideration. The individual is not real, but the historical process. This is illustrated by the passage toward the end of Hegel's Philosophy of History:
We have exclusively considered the progress of the concept and had to renounce the tempting pleasure to depict the fortune, the flourishing periods of the peoples, the greatness and the beauty of the individuals, the interest of their destiny in sorrow and joy. Philosophy has to deal only with the lustre of the idea that is reflected in world history. Weary of the immediate passions in the world of reality, philosophy emancipates into contemplation; it is the interest of philosophy to recognize the course of development of the self-realization of the idea.
Let us look at Hegel's doctrine of the soul. We find here the description of the process of the soul's evolution within the body as “natural soul,” the development of consciousness of self and of reason. We then find the soul realizing the ideas of right, morality and the state in the external world. It is then described how the soul sees in world history, as a continuous life, what it thinks as ideas. It is shown how it lives these ideas as art and religion, and how the soul unites with the truth that thinks itself, seeing itself in the living creative spirit of the universe.
Every thinker who feels like Hegel must be convinced that the world in which he finds himself is entirely spirit, that all material existence is also nothing but a manifestation of the spirit. If such a thinker searches for the spirit, he will find it essentially as active thought, as living, creative idea. This is what the soul is confronted with. It must ask itself if it can really consider itself as a being that is nothing but thought essence. It can be felt as the real greatness, the irrefutable element of Hegel's world conception that the soul, in rising to true thought, feels elevated to the creative principle of existence. To feel man's relation to the world in this way was an experience of deep satisfaction to those personalities who could follow Hegel's thought development.
How can one live with this thought? That was the great riddle confronting modern world conception. It had resulted from the continuation of the process begun in Greek philosophy when thought had emerged and when the soul had thereupon become detached from external existence. Hegel now has attempted to place the whole range of thought experience before the soul, to present to the soul, as it were, everything it can produce as thought out of its depths. In the face of this thought experience Hegel now demands of the soul that it recognize itself according to its deepest nature in this experience, that it feel itself in this element as in its deepest ground.
With this demand of Hegel the human soul has been brought to a decisive point in the attempt to obtain a knowledge of its own being. Where is the soul to turn when it has arrived at the element of pure thought but does not want to remain stationary at this point From the experience of perception, feeling and will, it proceeds to the activity of thinking and asks, “What will result if I think about perception, feeling and will?” Having arrived at thinking, it is at first not possible to proceed any further. The soul's attempt in this direction can only lead to thinking again. Whoever follows the modern development of philosophy as far as the age of Hegel can have the impression that Hegel pursues the impulses of this development to a point beyond which it becomes impossible to go so long as this process retains the general character exhibited up to that time. The observation of this fact can lead to the question: If thinking up to this stage brings philosophy in Hegel's sense to the construction of a world picture that is spread out before the soul, has this energy of thinking then really developed everything that is potentially contained within it? It could be, after all, that thinking contains more possibilities than that of mere thinking. Consider a plant, which develops from the root through its stem and leaves into blossom and fruit. The life of this plant can now be brought to an end by taking the seed from the fruit and using it as human food, for instance. But one can also expose the seed of the plant to the appropriate conditions with the effect that it will develop into a new plant.
In concentrating one's attention on the significance of Hegel's philosophy, one can see how the thought picture that man develops of the world unfolds before him like a plant; one can observe that the development is brought to the point where the seed, thought, is produced. But then this process is brought to an end, just as in the life of the plant whose seed is not developed further in its own organic function, but is used for a purpose that is as extraneous to this life as the purpose of human nutrition is to the seed of the reproductive organs. Indeed, as soon as Hegel has arrived at the point where thought is developed as an element, he does not continue the process that brought him to this point. He proceeds from sense perception and develops everything in the human soul in a process that finally leads to thought. At this stage he stops and shows how this element can provide an explanation of the world processes and world entities. This purpose can indeed be served by thought, just as the seed of a plant may be used as human food. But should it not be possible to develop a living element out of thought? Is it not possible that this element is deprived of its own life through the use that Hegel makes of it, as the seed of a plant is deprived of its life when it is used as human food? In what light would Hegel's philosophy have to appear if it were possibly true that thought can be used for the enlightenment, for the explanation of the world processes, as a plant seed can be used for food but only by sacrificing its continued growth? The seed of a plant, to be sure, can produce only a plant of the same kind. Thought, however, as a seed of knowledge, could, if left to its living development, produce something of an entirely new kind, compared to the world picture from which its evolution would proceed. As the plant life is ruled by the law of repetition, so the life of knowledge could be under the law of enhancement and elevation. It is unthinkable that thought as we employ it for the explanation of external science should be merely a byproduct of evolution, just as the use of plant seeds for food is a sidetrack in the plant's continuous development. One can dismiss ideas of this kind on the ground that they have their origin in an arbitrary imagination and that they represent mere possibilities without any value. It is just as easily understood that the objection can be raised that at the point at which this idea would be developed we would enter the realm of arbitrary fantasy. To the observer of the historical development of the philosophies of the nineteenth century this question can nevertheless appear in a different light. The way in which Hegel conceives the element of thought does indeed lead the evolution of world conception to a dead end. One feels that thought has reached an extreme; yet, if one wants to introduce this thought in the form in which it is conceived in the immediate life of knowledge, it becomes a disappointing failure. There arises a longing for a life that should spring from the world conception that one has accomplished.
Friedrich Theodor Vischer begins to write his Esthetics in Hegel's manner in the middle of the nineteenth century. When finished, it is a work of monumental importance. After its completion he becomes the most penetrating critic of his own work. If one searches for the deeper reason for this strange process, one finds that Vischer has become aware of the fact that, as he had permeated his work with Hegelian thoughts, he had introduced an element that had become dead, since it had been taken out of the ground that had provided its life conditions, just as a plant seed dies when its growth is cut off. A peculiar perspective is opening before us as we see Hegel's world conception in this light. The nature of the thought element could demand to be received as a living seed and, under certain conditions, to be developed in the soul. It could unfold its possibility by leading beyond the world picture of Hegel to a world conception in which the soul could come to a knowledge of its own being with which it could truly hold its own position in the external world. Hegel has brought the soul to the point where it can live with the element of thought; the progress beyond Hegel would lead to the thought's growth in the soul beyond itself and into a spiritual world. Hegel understood how the soul magically produces thought within itself and experiences itself in thought. He left to posterity the task of discovering by means of living thoughts, which are active in a truly spiritual world, the real being of the soul that cannot fully experience itself in the element of mere thought.
It has been shown in the preceding exposition how the development of modern world conception strives from the perception of thought toward the experience of thought. In Hegel's world conception the world seems to stand before the soul as a self-produced thought experience, but the trend of evolution seems to indicate further progress. Thought must not become stationary as thought; it must not be merely thought, not be experienced merely through thinking; it must awaken to a still higher life.
As arbitrary as all this may appear at first, it is nevertheless the view that prevails when a more penetrating observation of the development of modern world conception in the nineteenth century is made. Such an observation shows how the demands of an age exert their effect in the deeper strata of the evolution of history. It shows the aims that men set for themselves as attempts to do justice to these demands. Men of modern times were confronted with the world picture of natural science. It was necessary to find conceptions concerning the life of the soul that could be maintained while this world picture was sustained. The whole development from Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, to Hegel, appears as a struggle for such conceptions. Hegel brings this struggle to a certain conclusion. His mode of thinking, as he presents the world as thought, appears to be latent everywhere with his predecessors. He takes the bold step as a thinker to bring all world conceptions to a climax by uniting them in a comprehensive thought picture. With him the age has, for the time being, exhausted the energy of its advancing impulses. What was formulated above, that is, the demand to experience the life of thought inwardly, is unconsciously felt. This demand is felt as a burden on the souls at the time of the middle of the nineteenth century. People despair of the impossibility of fulfilling this demand, but they are not fully aware of their despair. Thus, a stagnation in the philosophical field sets in. The productivity with respect to philosophical ideas ceases. It would have had to develop in the indicated direction, but first it seems to be necessary to pause in deliberation about the achievement that has been attained. Attempts are made to start from one point or another of the philosophical predecessors, but the force to continue the world picture of Hegel fruitfully is lacking.
Witness Karl Rosenkranz's description of the situation in the preface to his Life of Hegel (1844):
It is not without regret that I part from this work, but it is necessary to proceed at some time from becoming to existence. Does it not seem, however, that we are nowadays only the gravediggers and survivors to set monuments to the philosophers who were born in the second half of the eighteenth century, and who died in the first of the nineteenth century? Kant began this march of death of the German philosophers in 1804. He was followed by Fichte, Jacobi, Solger, Reinhold, Krause, Schleiermacher, William von Humboldt, Friedrich Schlegel, Herbart, Baader, Wagner, Windischmann, Fries, and so many others. . . . Do we see a succeeding generation for this harvest of death? Are we capable also of sending into the second half of our century a venerable group of thinkers? Are there living among our young men those who are inspired to immortal exertion for speculative contemplation, by Platonic enthusiasm and Aristotelian joy of painstaking industry? . . . Strangely enough, in our day the talents seem to be not quite able to hold onto their task. They are quickly used up and after a few promising flowers, they become barren and begin to copy and repeat themselves at the very moment when, after having overcome their still immature, imperfect, one-sided and stormy youthful attempts, periods of forceful and concentrated activity should begin. Some of them, full of exaggerated eagerness, go too far in their quest and must, like Constantin Frantz, take back partly in later books what they said in earlier ones . . .
It can often be seen that, after the middle of the nineteenth century, people found themselves forced to subscribe to such a judgment of the philosophical situation of the time. The excellent thinker, Franz Brentano, made the following statement in the inaugural speech for his professorship, Concerning the Reasons for Discouragement in the Philosophical Field, in 1874:
In the first decades of our century the lecture halls of the German philosophers were overcrowded; in more recent times, this flood has been followed by an ebb tide. One often hears that gifted men accuse the younger generation of lacking the sense for the highest branches of knowledge. That would be a sad but also an incomprehensible fact. How could it be that the entire new generation should be inferior' to the earlier one in spiritual momentum and mobility? It was in reality not a lack of talent but . . . lack of confidence that had the effect of decreasing philosophical studies. If the hope for success had come back, the highest honors in this field would be waiting in vain to be conquered . . .
In Hegel's lifetime, and for a short time after, there already were people who felt that his world picture showed its weakness in the very point that contained its greatness. His world conception leads toward thought but also forces the soul to consider its nature to be exhausted in the thought element. If this world conception would bring thought in the above-mentioned sense to a life of its own, then this could only happen within the individual soul life; the soul would thereby find its relation toward the whole cosmos. This was felt, for instance, by Troxler, but he did not develop the conviction beyond the state of a dim feeling. In lectures that he gave at the University of Bern in 1835 he expressed himself as follows:
Not only now but also twenty years ago, we have been living with the most intimate conviction, and we have tried to show this in writing and speech, that a philosophy and an anthropology that was to embrace man in his entirety, God and the world, can only be founded on the idea and the reality of man's individuality and immortality. For this fact, the whole book, Insight into Man's Nature, which appeared in 1811, is an undeniable proof. It is also borne out in the last chapter of our Anthropology entitled, “The Absolute Personality,” which had a wide circulation in the form of a booklet. We therefore take the liberty to quote from the beginning of that chapter. “The whole inner nature of man has been constructed on divine misproportions, which are dissolved in the glory of a super-terrestrial destination, as all motivating springs have their origin in the spirit and only the weights are from the world. We have now traced these misproportions with their manifestations from their dark earthly root, and have followed the spiral of the heavenly plant, which appears to wind only around a great and noble stem from all sides and in all directions. We approach the top, which continues to rise, unattainable and continuously beyond our grasp, into the upper, brighter realms of another world whose light is only softly dawning on us and the breath of which we may feel . . .”
Such words sound to a man of the present sentimental and not very scientific, but one only needs to observe the goal toward which Troxler steers. He does not want to dissolve the nature of man into a world of ideas but attempts to lay hold on man in man as the individual and immortal personality. Troxler wants to see the nature of man anchored in a world that is not merely thought. For this reason, he calls attention to the fact that one can distinguish something in the human being that binds man to a world beyond the sensual world and that is not merely thought.
Philosophers of earlier times have already distinguished a subtle, noble soul body from the coarser material body, or, in this sense, assumed a kind of sheath of the spirit, a soul that was endowed with the picture of the body they called model (Schema) and that was the inner higher man for them.
Troxler, himself, divided man into material body (Koerper), soul body (Leib), soul (Seele) and spirit (Geist). He thereby distinguished the entity of the soul in a manner that allowed him to see the latter enter the sense world with its material body and soul body, and extend into a supersensible world with its soul and spirit. This entity spreads its individual activity not merely into the sense world but also into the spiritual world. It does not lose its individuality in the mere generality of thought, but Troxler does not arrive at the point of conceiving thought as a living seed of knowledge in the soul. He does not succeed in justifying the individual members of soul and spirit by letting this germ of knowledge live within the soul. He does not suspect that thought could grow into something during his life that could be considered as the individual life of the soul, but he can speak of this individual existence of the soul only from a dimly experienced feeling, as it were. Troxler could not come to more than such a feeling concerning these connections because he was too dependent on positive dogmatic religious conceptions. Since he was in possession of a far-reaching comprehensive knowledge of the evolution of world conception, his rejection of Hegelian philosophy can nevertheless be seen as of greater significance than one that springs from mere personal antipathy. It can be seen as an expression of the objection against Hegel that arises from the intellectual mood of the Hegelian age itself. In this light we have to understand Troxler's verdict:
Hegel has brought speculation to the highest stage of its perfection and in the very act of doing so he has destroyed it. His system has become for this intellectual current the last word; its indirect verdict is: Up to this point and not a step further!
In this form Troxler asks the question, which, if developed from a dim feeling into a clear idea, would probably have to be expressed as follows: How does the philosophical world conception develop beyond the phase of the mere thought experience in Hegel's sense to an inner participation in thought that has come to life?
A book that is characteristic of the relation of Hegel's world conception toward the mood of the time was published by C. H. Weisse in 1834 with the title, The Philosophical Secret Doctrine of the Immortality of the Human Individual. In this book is to be found the following passage:
Whoever has studied Hegel's philosophy in its entire inner connection, is acquainted with the manner in which this philosophy, as it is constructed with perfect consistency in its dialectic method, shows the subjective spirit of the finite individual as absorbed into the objective spirit of law, state and morality. The subjective spirit thus becomes subordinated. It is simultaneously accepted and rejected until it finally changes into a dependent element of this higher spirit. In this fashion, the finite individual, as it has long been noted both in and outside Hegel's school, is made into a transitory phenomenon. . . . What purpose, what significance could there be for the continued existence of such an individual after the world spirit has passed through it . . .?
Weisse attempts to contrast this meaninglessness of the individual soul with his own description of its imperishable existence. That he, too, could not really progress beyond Hegel can be easily understood from his line of thought that has been briefly outlined in an earlier chapter of this book.
The powerlessness of Hegel's thought picture could be felt when it was confronted with the individual entity of the soul, and it showed up again in the rising demand to penetrate deeper into nature than is possible by mere sense perception. That everything presented to the senses in reality represents thought and as such is spirit was seen clearly by Hegel, but whether one had gained an insight into all spirit in nature by knowing this spirit of nature as a new question. If the soul cannot grasp its own being by means of thought, could it not still be the case that with another form of experience of its own being the soul could nevertheless experience deeper forces and entities in nature? Whether such questions are formulated in completely distinct awareness or not is not the point in question. What matters is whether or not they can be asked with regard to a world conception. If this is possible, then such a world conception leaves us with the impression of being unsatisfactory. Because this was the case with Hegel's philosophy, it was not accepted as one that gives the right picture of the world, that is, one to which the highest problems and world riddles could be referred. This must be distinctly observed if the picture that is presented by the development of world conception in the middle of the nineteenth century is to be seen in its proper light. In this time further progress was made with respect to the picture of external nature, which, even more powerfully than before, weighed on the general human outlook on the world. It should be understandable that the philosophical conceptions of this time were engaged in a hard struggle since they had, as described above, arrived at a critical point. To begin with it is noteworthy to observe how Hegel's followers attempted to defend his philosophy.
Carl Ludwig Michelet (1801–93), the editor of Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, wrote in his preface to this work in 1841:
Will people continue to consider it a limitation of philosophy to create only thoughts and not even a leaf of grass? That is to say that it can create only the general, lasting, truly valuable, and not the particular, sensual transitory? But if one should see the limitation of philosophy not only in the fact that philosophy cannot produce the particular, but also in the fact that it does not even know how it is made, then the answer is: This “how” does not stand higher than knowledge but rather lower than knowledge; therefore, knowledge cannot have its limitation in this respect. As the question is asked “how” this change of the idea into the reality takes place, knowledge is lost for the reason that nature is the unconscious idea and the leaf of grass grows without any knowledge. But true creation of general values is the one element of which philosophical inquiry cannot be deprived. . . . And now we maintain that the purest thought development of speculation will be in the most perfect agreement with the results of experience, and its sense for nature will discover nothing in nature but embodied ideas.
In the same preface Michelet also expresses a hope:
Thus Goethe and Hegel are the two geniuses who, in my opinion, are destined to blaze the trail for a speculative physics of the future, as they prepare the reconciliation of speculation and experience … . Especially these Hegelian lectures could best of all have the effect of paving the way for a recognition in this respect, for as they show a comprehensive empirical knowledge, they represent the surest test for Hegel's speculation.
The subsequent time did not lead to such a reconciliation. A certain animosity against Hegel took possession of ever widening circles. The spread of this feeling against him in the course of the fifties of the last century can be seen from the words that Friedrich Albert Lange uses in his History of Materialism in 1865:
His (Hegel's) whole system moves within the realm of our thoughts and fantasies about things that are given high-sounding names with complete disregard as to the validity that the phenomena and the concepts derived from them can have. . . . Through Schelling and Hegel, pantheism became the dominant mode of thinking in natural philosophy, a world conception that with a certain mystical depth implies at the same time, almost as a matter of principle, the danger of fantastic extravagance. Instead of separating experience and the world of the senses strictly from the ideal element, and instead of trying to find the reconciliation of these realms in the nature of man, the pantheist undertakes the unification of spirit and nature through the verdict of poetic reason without any critical intervention.
This view concerning Hegel's mode of thinking is, to be sure, as inadequate to Hegel's world conception as possible. (See Hegel's philosophy as described in the chapter, The Classics of World Conception.) It does dominate numerous spirits as early as the middle of the nineteenth century, however, and it gains progressively more ground. A man who, from 1833 to 1872, was in an influential position with the German intellectual life as a professor of philosophy in Berlin, Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg (1802–72), could be sure of meeting strong public approval when he pronounced the judgment that Hegel wanted “to teach without learning” through his method because he was under the impression “that he was in possession of the divine concept, which is hampered by the process of laborious research work.” It was in vain that Michelet attempted to correct such a judgment by quoting Hegel's own words: “To experience we owe the development of philosophy. The empirical sciences prepare the content of the particular to the point where they can be admitted into the realm of philosophy. They also imply thereby the need of thinking itself to come up with concrete definitions.”
Characteristic of the course of development of the world conceptions of the middle decades of the nineteenth century is an observation made by an important but unfortunately little known thinker, K. Ch. Planck. In the preface of an excellent book published in 1850 and entitled, The World Ages, he says:
To realize consciously that everything is under the condition of a purely natural order of law, and at the same time to produce the full self-conscious freedom of the spirit, the self-dependent inner law of its nature, this twofold tendency, which is the distinguishing fundamental signature of modern history, presents in its most direct and pure form also the task of the present book. The first tendency becomes apparent on all sides since the revival of the sciences in the rebirth of independent and comprehensive natural research and its liberation from the purely religious life. It can be seen in the change of the whole physical world conception caused by this, as well as in the ever increasing matter of factness of the view of things in general. It appears finally, in its highest form, in the philosophical tendency to comprehend the laws of nature according to their inner necessity, but it also shows its practical aspect in the gradual development of this immediate present life with respect to its natural conditions.
The growing influence of the natural sciences is expressed in words like this. The confidence in these sciences was becoming greater. The belief became predominant that through the means and the results of the natural sciences one could obtain a world conception that is free from the unsatisfactory elements of the Hegelian one.
A picture of the total change that took place in this direction can be derived from a book that can be considered as representative of this period in the fullest sense of the word, Alexander von Humboldt's, Cosmos, Sketch of a Physical World Description. The author, who represents the pinnacle of education in the field of physical science of his time, speaks of his confidence in a world conception of natural science:
My confidence is based on the splendid state 'of the natural sciences themselves, whose wealth consists no longer in the abundance of their facts but in the interconnections of the observations. The general results that impress every educated mind as interesting have wonderfully multiplied since the end of the eighteenth century. The individual facts stand less isolated by themselves; the gaps between the formations are closed. What remained for a long time obscure to the inquiring mind when seen in a narrower horizon becomes explained through the observations that have been obtained on an expedition into the most distant regions. Forms of plants and animals, which seemed to be isolated for a long time, are now falling in line through the discovery of connecting links or through forms of transition. A general interconnection, not in a simple linear direction, but in a netlike, woven texture according to a higher development, or the stunted growth of certain organisms, is what gradually unfolds before the eye of the inquiring natural observer. . . . The general study of nature awakens in us, as it were, organs that have long been dormant. We enter into a more intimate relation with the outer world.
In his Cosmos, Humboldt leads the description of nature only to the gateway of a world conception. He does not make the attempt to connect the wealth of the phenomena by means of general ideas of nature, but links the things and facts in a natural way to each other as can be expected from “the entirely objective turn of his mind.”
Soon other thinkers emerged who were bold enough to make combinations and who tried to penetrate into the nature of things on the basis of natural science. What they intended to produce was nothing less than a radical transformation of all former philosophical world and life conceptions by means of modern science and knowledge of nature. In the most forceful way the natural science of the nineteenth century had paved the way for them. What they intended to do is radically expressed by Feuerbach:
To assume God before nature is about the same as to assume the church before you have the stone out of which it is built, or to assume that the art of architecture has put the stones together to make a building before the chemical compounds that make up the stone, in short, before the natural genesis and formation of the stone.
The first half of the century produced many results of natural science that are bricks for the architecture of a new structure of world conception. It is, to be sure, correct that a building cannot be erected if there are no bricks to do it with, but it is no less true that one cannot do anything with these bricks if, independent of them, a picture of the building to be erected does not exist. Just as no structure can come into existence if one puts these bricks together at random, one upon the other and side by side, joining them with mortar as they come, so can no world conception come from the individual known truths of natural science if there is not, independent of these and of physical research, a power in the human soul to form the world conception. This fact was left out of consideration by the antagonists of an independent philosophy.
In examining the personalities who in the eighteen-fifties took part in the erection of a structure of world conception, the features of three men are particularly prominent: Ludwig Buechner (1824 – 99), Carl Vogt (1817–95) and Jacob Moleschott (1822–93). If one wants to characterize the fundamental feeling that inspires these three men, one need only repeat Moleschott's words:
If man has investigated all properties of the materials that make an impression on his developed sense organs, he has thereby grasped the essence of things. With this accomplishment he arrives at his — that is to say, humanity's — absolute knowledge. Another knowledge does not exist for man.
All philosophy that has been so far advanced has, according to these men, yielded only knowledge without lasting meaning. The idealistic philosophers believe, according to Buechner and those who shared his views, that they derive their knowledge from reason. Through this method, however, one cannot, as Buechner maintains, come to a meaningful structure of conceptions. “But truth can only be gained by listening to nature and her rule,” says Moleschott. At that time and during the following years, the protagonists for such a world conception, directly derived from nature, were collectively called materialists. It was emphatically declared that this materialism was an age-old world conception, concerning which enlightened spirits had long recognized how unsatisfactory it was for a higher thinker. Buechner attacked that opinion. He pointed out that:
In the first place materialism, or the whole philosophical current moving in its direction, has never been disproved. It is not only the oldest form of philosophical contemplation in existence but also one that emerged anew with new energies at every revival of philosophy in the course of history. Furthermore, the materialism of our day is no longer the same as it was formerly with Epicurus or the Encyclopedists, but an entirely different thought current or methods, which is supported by the results of the positive sciences. This is a method that is distinguished from its preceding form by the fact that it is no more like the older materialism, a system, but a simple realistic philosophical contemplation of existence that, above all, traces the uniform principle in the world of nature and of the spirit, striving to show everywhere a natural and law-determined connection of all phenomena of that world.
Goethe's attitude toward Holbach, one of the most prominent materialists of the eighteenth century French Encyclopedists, illustrates the position a spirit, who strives in a most pronounced way for a thinking in accordance with nature and does full justice to the mode of conception of natural science, can nevertheless take toward materialism. Paul Heinrich Dietrich von Holbach (1723– 1789) published his Systeme de la Nature in 1770. Goethe, who came across this book in Strassburg, in Poetry and Truth describes the repulsive impression that he received from it.
Matter was to be there from eternity, and it was to have been in motion from eternity. Through this motion, now to the right, now to the left in all directions, it was to have produced without further difficulty all the infinite phenomena of existence. This we might even have accepted as satisfactory if the author had really constructed before our eyes the world out of his matter in motion. But he might have known as little about nature as we did, for after postulating a few general concepts, he again turns away from nature in order to transform what appears higher than nature, or what appears as a higher nature in nature, into the material, heavy nature, to be sure, in motion, but without direction and shape, and he thinks that he gained a great deal in so doing.
Goethe was deeply convinced that “theory in itself and by itself has no value except to make us believe in the connection of the phenomena.” (Sprueche in Prosa, Deutsche Nationalliteratur, Goethe's Werke, Vol. 36, 2, pp. 357.)
The results of natural science gained in the first half of the nineteenth century were, to be sure, as knowledge of facts, well-suited to supply a foundation to the materialists of the fifties for their world conception. Science has penetrated deeper and deeper into the connections of the material processes insofar as they can be reached by sense observation and by the form of thinking that is based on that sense observation. If one now wants to deny to oneself and to others that there is spirit active in matter, one nevertheless unconsciously reveals this spirit. For what Friedrich Theodor Vischer says in the third volume of his essay, On Old and New Things, is in a certain sense quite correct. “That the so-called matter can produce something, the function of which is spirit, is in itself the complete proof against materialism.” In this sense, Buechner unconsciously disproves materialism by attempting to prove that the spiritual processes spring from the depths of the material facts presented to sense observation.
An example that shows how the results of natural science took on forms that could be of a deeply penetrating influence on the conception of the world is given in Woehler's discovery of 1828. This scientist succeeded in producing a substance synthetically outside the living organism that had previously only been known to be formed within. This experiment seemed to supply the proof that the former belief, which assumed that certain material compounds could be formed only under the influence of a special life force contained in the organism, was incorrect. If it was possible to produce such compounds outside the living body, then one could draw the conclusion that the organism was also working only with the forces with which chemistry deals. The thought arose for the materialists that, if the living organism does not need a special life force to produce what formerly had been attributed to such a force, why should this organism then need special spiritual energies in order to produce the processes to which mental experiences are bound? Matter in all its qualities now became for the materialists what generates all things and processes from its core. From the fact that carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen combine in an organic compound, it did not seem far to go to Buechner's statement, “The words soul, spirit, thought, feeling, will, life, do not stand for any real things but only for properties, qualifications, functions of the living substance, or results of entities that have their basis in the material forms of existence.” A divine being or the human soul were no longer called immortal by Buechner, but rather matter and energy. Moleschott expressed the same conviction with the words:
Energy is not a creative God; no essence of things is detachable from the material basis. It is a quality of matter, inseparable from it, eternally inherent in it. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are the powers that split the firmest rock and transform it into fluid processes in which life is generated. Change of matter and form in the individual parts while the fundamental structure remains the same is the mystery of animal life.
The research done in the first half of the nineteenth century in natural science enabled Ludwig Buechner to express the view, "In a way similar to that in which the steam engine produces motion, the intricate organic complication of energy endowed materials in the animal body produces a sum total of certain effects, which, combined in a unity, are called spirit, soul, thought by us.” And Karl Gustav Reuschle declared in his book, Philosophy and Natural Science, in Memory of David Friedrich Strauss (1874), that the results of natural science themselves implied a philosophical element. The affinities that one discovered between the natural forces were thought to lead into the mysteries of existence.
Such an important relation was found by Oersted in 1819 in Copenhagen. He saw that a magnetic needle is deflected by an electric current. Faraday discovered the corresponding phenomenon in 1831, that by moving a magnet toward a spirally twisted copper wire, electricity can be generated in the latter. Electricity and magnetism thereby were shown to be related natural phenomena. Both energies were no longer isolated facts; it was now apparent that they had a common basis in their material existence. Julius Robert Mayer penetrated deeper into the nature of matter and energy in the eighteen-forties when he became aware of the fact that there exists a definite relation that can be expressed numerically between mechanical work and heat. Out of pressure, impact and friction, etc., that is to say, out of work, heat is generated. In the steam engine, heat is again changed into work. The quantity of heat produced by a given amount of work can be calculated from the quantity of this work. If one changes the quantity of heat that is necessary to heat a kilogram of water by one degree centigrade into work, one can with this work lift 424 kilograms to a height of one meter. It cannot be surprising that the discovery of such facts was considered to be a vast progress away from such explanations concerning matter as Hegel had offered: “The transition from ideality to reality, from abstraction to concrete existence, in this case, from space and time to the reality that appears as matter, is incomprehensible for the intellect and therefore appears to it always as something external and merely given.” The significance of a remark of this kind is recognized only if thought as such can be seen as something valuable. This consideration, however, would not occur to the above-mentioned thinkers.
To discoveries such as these concerning the unity of the organic forces of nature, others were added that threw light on the problem of the composition of the world of organisms. In 1838 the botanist, Schleiden, recognized the significance of the simple cell for the plant organism. He showed that every texture of the plant, and therefore the plant itself, is made up of these “elementary organisms.” Schleiden had recognized this “elementary organism” as a little drop of mucilaginous fluid surrounded by a cellular membrane. These cells are so multiplied and joined to one another that they form the structure of the plant. Soon after this, Schwann discovered the same general structure for the world of animal organisms. Then, in 1827, the brilliant naturalist, Karl Ernst van Baer, discovered the human egg. He also described the process of the development of higher animals and of man from the egg.
In this way one had everywhere given up the attempt to look for ideas that could be considered fundamental for the things of nature. Instead, one had observed the facts that show in which way the higher, more complicated processes and entities of nature develop from the simpler and lower ones. The men who were in search of an idealistic interpretation of the phenomena of the world became ever more rare. It was still the spirit of idealistic world conception that in 1837 inspired the anthropologist, Burdach, with the view that life did not have its origin in matter but rather a higher force transformed matter according to its own design. Moleschott had already said, “The force of life, as life itself, is nothing more than the result of the complicated interacting and interweaving physical and chemical forces.”
The consciousness of the time tended to explain the universe through no other phenomena than those that are displayed before the eyes of men. Charles Lyell's work, Principles of Geology, which was published in 1830, brought the whole older geology to an end with this principle of explanation. Up to Lyell's epoch-making work it was believed that the evolution of the earth had taken place in abrupt revolutions. Everything that had come into being on earth was supposed to have been destroyed repeatedly by complete catastrophes. Over the graves of the victims new creations were supposed to have risen. In this manner, one explained the presence of the remnants of plants and animals in the various strata of the earth. Cuvier was the principal representative who believed in such repeated periods of creation. Lyell was convinced that it was unnecessary to assume such interruptions of the steady course of evolution of the earth. If one only presupposed sufficiently long periods of time, one could say that forces today still at work on earth caused the entire development. In Germany, Goethe and Karl von Hoff had already professed such a view. Von Hoff maintained it in his History of the Natural Changes of the Surface of the Earth, Documented by Traditional Sources, which appeared in 1822. With great boldness of thought, enthusiasts Vogt, Buechner and Moleschott set out to explain all phenomena from material processes as they take place before the senses of man.
The situation that arose when the physiologist, Rudolf Wagner, found himself opposed by Carl Vogt was typical of the intellectual warfare that the materialists had to wage. In 1852, in the paper, Allgemeine Zeitung, Wagner had declared himself in favor of accepting an independent soul entity, thereby opposing the view of materialism. He said “that the soul could divide itself because the child inherited much from his father and much also from his mother.” Vogt answered this statement for the first time in his Pictures from Animal Life. His position in this controversy is clearly exposed in the following:
The soul, which is to be the substance, the very essence of the individuality of the individual, indivisible entity, is to be capable of dividing itself. Theologists, be sure you catch this heretic. He has been up to now one of your people! Divided souls! If the soul can be divided in the act of conception as Mr. Rudolf Wagner thinks, then it could also be possible that this soul could be divided in death, the portion that was burdened with sins going into purgatory, while the other part would go directly into paradise. Mr. Wagner also promises at the end of his physiological letters some excursions into the field of the physiology of the divided souls.
The controversy became intense when Wagner, at the assembly of natural scientists in Goettingen in 1854, read a paper against materialism entitled, Man's Creation and the Substance of the Soul. He meant to prove two things. In the first place, he set out to show that the results of modern physical science were not a contradiction of the biblical belief in the descent of the human race from one couple. In the second instance, he wanted to demonstrate that these results did not imply anything concerning the soul. Vogt wrote a polemical treatise, Bigoted Faith and Science (Koehlerglaube und Wissenschaft), against Wagner in 1855, which showed him to be equipped with the full insight of the natural science of his time. At the same time, he appeared to be a sharp thinker who, without reserve, disclosed his opponents' conclusions as illusions. Vogt's contradiction of Wagner's first statement comes to a climax in the passage, “All investigations of history and of natural history lead to the positive proof of the origin of the human races from a plurality of roots. The doctrines of the Scripture concerning Adam and Noah, and the twice occurring descent of man from a single couple are scientifically untenable legends.”
Against Wagner's doctrine of the soul, Vogt maintained that we see the psychical activities of man develop gradually as part of the development of the physical organs. From childhood to the maturity of life we observe that the spiritual activities become more perfect. With the shrinking of the senses and the brain, the “spirit” shrinks proportionally. “A development of this kind is not consistent with the assumption of an immortal soul substance that has been planted into the brain as its organ.”
That the materialists, as they fought their opponents, were not merely confronted with intellectual reasons but also with emotions, becomes perfectly clear in the controversy between Vogt and Wagner. For Wagner had appealed, in a paper at Goettingen, for the moral need that could not endure the thought that “mechanical machines walking about with two arms and legs” should finally be dissolved into indifferent material substances, without leaving us the hope that the good they are doing should be rewarded and the evil punished. Vogt's answer was, “The existence of an immortal soul is, for Mr. Wagner, not the result of investigation and thought. . . . He needs an immortal soul in order to see it tortured and punished after the death of man.”
Heinrich Czolbe (1819–73) attempted to show that there is a point of view from which the moral world order can be in agreement with the views of materialism. In his book, The Limits and Origin of Knowledge Seen in Opposition to Kant and Hegel, which appeared in 1865, he explained that every theology had its origin in a dissatisfaction with this world.
The exclusion of the supersensible, or those incomprehensible things that lead to the assumption of a second world, that is, to naturalism, is in no way forced upon us through the power of the facts of natural science — not even through philosophy that means to know everything — but in the last analysis through morality, namely, through that particular kind of moral behavior in man toward the world that we can call satisfaction with the natural world.
Czolbe considers the longing for a supernatural world actually a. result of an ingratitude against the natural world. The basic causes of a philosophy that looks toward a world beyond this one are, for him, moral shortcomings, sins against the spirit of the natural world order. For these sins distract us “from the striving toward the highest possible happiness of every individual” and from fulfilling the duty that follows from such a striving “against ourselves and others without regard for supernatural reward and punishment.” According to Czolbe, every human being is to be filled with a “grateful acceptance of his share of earthly happiness, which may be possibly small, and with a humble acceptance of its limits and its necessary sorrow.” Here we meet a rejection of a supernatural world order for moral reasons.
In Czolbe's world conception one also sees clearly what qualities made materialism so acceptable to human thinking, for there is no doubt that Buechner, Vogt and Moleschott were not philosophers to a sufficient degree to demonstrate the foundations of their views logically. Without losing their way in heights of idealistic thoughts, in their capacity as naturalists they drew their conclusions more from sense observations. To render an account of their method by justifying it from the nature of human knowledge was no enterprise to their liking. Czolbe, however, did undertake just that. In his New Presentation of Sensualism (1855), we find the reasons given why he considers a knowledge built on the basis of sensual perceptions valuable. Only a knowledge of this kind supplies concepts, judgments and conclusions that can be distinctly conceived and envisaged. Every conclusion that leads to something sensually inconceivable, and every indistinct concept is to be rejected. The soul element is not clearly conceivable, according to Czolbe, but the material on which the spiritual appears as a quality. He therefore attempts to reduce self-consciousness to visible material processes in the essay he published in 1856, The Genesis of Self-consciousness, an Answer to Professor Lotze. Here he assumes a circular movement of the parts of the brain. Through such a motion returning in its own track, the impression that a thing causes in the senses is made into a conscious sensation. It is strange that this physical explanation of consciousness became, at the same time, the occasion for him to abandon his materialism. This is the point where one of the weaknesses inherent in materialism becomes apparent in him. If he had remained faithful to his principle, he would never have gone further than the facts that are accessible to the senses allow. He would speak of no other processes in the brain than those that can positively be asserted through the means of natural science. What Czolbe sets out to establish is, however, an aim in an infinite distance. Spirits like Czolbe are not satisfied with what is investigated, they hypothetically assume facts that have not as yet been investigated. Such an alleged fact is the circular motion of the parts of the brain. A complete investigation of the brain will most likely lead to the discovery of processes of a kind that do not occur anywhere else in the world. From them, one will be able to draw the conclusion that the psychical processes conditioned by brain processes do occur only in connection with a brain. Concerning his hypothetical circular movements, Czolbe could not claim that they were limited to the brain. They could occur also outside the animal organism, but in that case, they would have to lead to psychical phenomena also in inanimate objects. Czolbe, who is so insistent on perceptual clarity, actually does not consider an animation of all nature as impossible. He asks, “Should not my view be a realization of the world soul, which Plato defended in his Timaeus? Should we not be able to find here the point where the Leibnizian idealism, which has the whole world consist of animated entities (monads), unites with modern naturalism?”
On a larger scale the mistake that Czolbe made with circular brain motion occurred again in the brilliant thinker, Carl Christian Planck (1819–80). The writings of this man have been completely forgotten, in spite of the fact that they belong to the most interesting works of modern philosophy. Planck strives as intensely as any materialist for a world conception that is completely derived from perceptible reality. He criticizes the German idealism of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel for seeking the essence of things one-sidedly in the idea. “To explain things really out of themselves is to recognize them in their original conditioned state and in their finiteness.” (Compare Planck, The World Ages.) “There is only the one and truly pure nature, so that mere nature in the narrower sense of the word and spirit are opposites only within the one nature in the higher and more comprehensive sense.”
Now the strange thing happens in Planck's philosophy that he declares the real, the world extending before him, to be the element that the explanation of the world has to seek. He nevertheless does not proceed with the observation of the facts in order to reach this element of the real world extending before him, for he believes that human reason is capable of penetrating through its own power to the real. Hegel had, according to Planck, made the mistake of having reason contemplate its own being so that it saw itself again in all things. Planck, however, intended to have reason no longer withheld within its own limits, but to have it go beyond itself into the element of extension, the truly real. Planck blames Hegel because Hegel had reason spin its own cobweb out of itself, whereas he, himself, is bold enough to have reason spin real objective existence. Hegel maintained that the spirit is capable of comprehending the essence of things because reason is the essence of things and because it comes into being in the human spirit. Planck declares that the essence of things is not reason, but he uses reason merely to represent this essence. A bold world construction, brilliantly conceived, but conceived far from real observation, far from real things, yet constructed in the belief that it was entirely permeated with genuine reality — such is Planck's structure of ideas. He considers the world process a living interplay of expansion and contraction. Gravity is for him the tendency of the bodies, spread in space, to contract. Heat and light are the tendency of a body to bring its contracted matter into activity at a distance, and therefore the tendency of expansion.
Planck's relation toward his contemporaries is most interesting. Feuerbach said of himself, “Hegel maintains the standpoint that he wants to construct the world; my standpoint is to know the world as being; he descends, I ascend. Hegel stands man on his head; I place him on his feet, which are resting on geology.” With these words the materialists could also have characterized their credo, but Planck proceeds in his method exactly like Hegel. He believes, however, that he proceeds like Feuerbach and the materialists. The materialists, if they had interpreted his method in their own way, would have had to say to him, “From your standpoint you attempt to construct the world. Nevertheless, you believe you proceed by recognizing the world as being; you descend, but you take this descent to be an ascent. You stand the world on its head and you are of the opinion that that head is a foot.” The will toward natural, factual reality could probably not be expressed more poignantly than through the world conception of a man who wanted to produce not merely ideas but reality out of reason.
The personality of Planck appears no less interesting when he is compared with his contemporary, Max Stirner. It is significant here to consider Planck's ideas concerning the motivations of human action and community life. As the materialist proceeded from the materials and forces actually presented to the senses to arrive at their explanation of nature, so Stirner started from the real individual personality as a guide line for human behavior. Reason is only with the individual. What reason decides on as a guide line for action can therefore also have validity only for the individual. Life in community will naturally result from the natural interaction of the individual personalities. If everyone acts according to his reason, the most desirable state of affairs will come to pass through the most free cooperation of all. The natural community life comes into being as a matter of course if everyone has reason rule his own individuality since, according to the materialists, the natural view of worldly phenomena comes to pass if one has the things express their nature and if one limits the activity of reason to a mere combination and interpretation of the statements of the senses. As Planck does not explain the world by allowing things to speak for themselves, but decides by his reason what the things allegedly say, so he also does not, in regard to community life, depend on a real interaction of personalities but dreams of an association of peoples with a supreme judicial power serving the general welfare and ordered by reason. Here also, then, he considers it possible that reason should master what lies beyond the personality.
The original general law of right demands necessarily its external existence in a general power of right, for it would itself not be real as a general element in an external form if it were left to the individuals themselves to execute it, as the individuals by themselves are, according to their legal positions, only representatives of their personal right, not as the general right as such.
Planck constructs the general power of right because he can realize the idea of right for himself only in this manner. Five years earlier, Max Stirner had written, “My own master and the creator of my own right — I recognize no other source of right than myself. Neither God, nor state, nor nature, nor man himself with his ‘eternal human rights,’ neither a divine nor a human right.” It is his opinion that the real right of the individual cannot exist within a general right. It is thirst for reality that drives Stirner to take his negative attitude toward an unreal general right. It is the same thirst for reality that, in turn, motivates Planck in his attempt to crystallize out of an idea a real state of right.
In reading Planck's books one feels that he was deeply disturbed by the thought of a twofold world order. He considered the belief in such an interaction of two world orders — a natural order and a purely spiritual one — as something contrary to nature and intolerable.
There have been thinkers before Planck's time, of course, who strove for a purely natural-scientific mode of conception. Leaving aside several other more or less clear attempts in this direction, Lamarck, for instance, in 1809 outlined a picture of the genesis and development of living organisms, which, according to the state of knowledge of his time, should have had a great deal of attraction for a contemporary world conception. He thought of the simplest organisms as having come into existence through inorganic processes under certain conditions. Once an organism is formed in this way, it develops, through adjustment to given conditions of the external world, new formations that serve its life. It grows new organs because it needs them. The organisms then are capable of transformation and thereby also of perfection. Lamarck imagines this transformation in the following way. Consider an animal that gets its food from high trees. It is therefore compelled to stretch its neck. In the course of time its neck then becomes longer under the influence of this need. A short-necked animal is transformed into the giraffe with its long neck. The animals, then, have not come into existence in their variety, but this variety has developed in the course of time under the influence of changing conditions. Lamarck is of the opinion that man is included in this evolution. Man has developed in the course of time out of related forms similar to monkeys into forms that allowed him to satisfy higher physical and spiritual needs. Lamarck in this way linked up the whole world of organisms, including man, to the realm of the inorganic.
Lamarck's attempt at an explanation of the varieties of the forms of life was met with little attention by his contemporaries. Two decades later a controversy arose in the French Academy between Geoffroy St. Hilaire and George Cuvier. Geoffroy St. Hilaire believed he recognized a common structural design in the world of animal organisms in spite of its great variety. Such a general plan was a necessary prerequisite for an explanation of their development from one another. If they had developed from one another, they must have had some fundamental common element in spite of their variety. In the lowest animal something must be recognizable that only needs perfection in order to change this lower form in the course of time into that of a higher animal. Cuvier turned strongly against the consequences of this view. He was a cautious man who pointed out that the facts did not uphold such far-reaching conclusions. As soon as Goethe heard of this conflict, he considered it the most important event of the time. Compared to this controversy, the interest that he took in the July Revolution, a political event that took place at the same time, appears insignificant … . Goethe expressed himself on this point clearly enough in a conversation that he had with Soret in August, 1830. He saw clearly that the adequate conception of the organic world depended on this controversial point. In an essay Goethe supported St. Hilaire with great intensity. (Compare Goethe's writings on natural science, Vol. 36, Goethe Edition, Deutsche National Literatur.) He told Johannes von Mueller that he considered Geoffroy St. Hilaire to be moving in the same direction he himself had taken up fifty years earlier. This shows clearly what Goethe meant to do when he began, shortly after his arrival in Weimar, to take up his studies on animal and plant formations. Even then he had an explanation of the variety of living forms in mind that was more adequate to nature, but he was also a cautious man. He never maintained more than what the facts entitled him to state, and he tells in his introduction to his Metamorphosis of the Plant that the time was then in considerable confusion with respect to these facts. The opinion prevailed, as Goethe expressed it, that it was only necessary for the monkey to stand up and to walk on his hind legs in order to become a human being.
The thinkers of natural science maintained a mode of conception that was completely different from that of the Hegelians. For the Hegelians, it was possible to remain within their ideal world. They could develop their idea of man from their idea of the monkey without being concerned with the question of how nature could manage to bring man into being in the real world side by side with the monkey. Michelet had simply pronounced that it was no concern of the idea to explain the specific “how” of the processes in the real world. The thinker who forms an idealistic world conception is, in this respect, in the same position as the mathematician who only has to say through what thought operation a circle is changed into an ellipse and an ellipse into a parabola or hyperbola. A thinker, however, who strives for an explanation through facts would have to point at the actual processes through which such a transformation can come to pass. He is then forming a realistic world conception. Such a thinker will not take the position that Hegel describes:
It has been a clumsy conception of the older and also of the more recent philosophy of nature to consider the development and transition of one form and realm of nature into a higher one as an external and real production that one has dated back into the darkness of the past for the sake of clarification. It is characteristic of nature to be so external in its structure that its forms fall apart in differentiated manifestations and that these. forms exist indifferently side by side; the idea, which guides the stages in their succession, is the inner nature of these separated manifestations. Such nebulous conceptions, which are really just sensual conceptions, as, for instance, the alleged progression of plants and animals from water, and then again, the evolution of the more developed animal formations from the lower ones, and so forth, must be given up by a thoughtful contemplation. (Hegel's Werke, 1847, Vol. 7, p. 33.)
In opposition to such a statement of an idealistic thinker, we hear that of the realistic Lamarck:
In the primal beginning only the simplest and lowest animals and plants developed, and only lastly those of a highly complicated organization. The course of the evolution of the earth and its organic population was quite gradual and not interrupted by violent revolutions. The simplest animals and the simplest plants that occupy the lowest stages on the scale of organisms have come into existence, and do so even today, through spontaneous generation (generatio spontanea).
There was in Germany also a man of the same conviction as Lamarck. Lorenz Oken (1779–1859) presented a natural evolution of organic beings that was based on “sensual conceptions.” To quote him, “Everything organic has originated from a slimy substance (Urschleim), is merely slime formed in various ways. This original slime has come into being in the ocean in the course of the planetary evolution out of inorganic matter.”
In spite of such deeply provocative turns of thought there had to be, especially with thinkers who were too cautious to leave the thread of factual knowledge, a doubt against a naturalistic mode of thinking of this kind as long as the question of the teleology of living beings had not been cleared. Even Johannes Mueller, who was a pioneer as a thinker and as a research scientist, was, because of his consideration of the idea of teleology, prompted to say:
The organic bodies are distinguished from the inorganic not merely by the composition of elements that they represent, but also by the continuous activity that is at work in living organic matter, which creates also teleologically and in a reason-directed plan, by arranging the parts for the purpose of the whole. It is this that is the distinguishing mark of an organism. (Johannes Mueller, Handbuch der Physiologic des Menschen, 3, 1838; Vol. 1, p. 19.)
With a man like Johannes Mueller, who remained strictly within the limits of natural scientific research, and for whom the thought of purpose-conformity remained as a private conviction in the background of his factual research work, this view was not likely to produce any particular consequences. He investigated the laws of the organisms in strict objectivity regardless of the purpose connection, and became a reformer of modern natural science through his comprehensive mind; he knew how to make use of the physical, chemical, anatomical, zoological, microscopical and embryological knowledge in an unlimited way. His view did not keep him from basing psychological qualities of the objects of his studies on their physical characteristics. It was one of his fundamental convictions that no one could be a psychologist without being a physiologist. But if a thinker went beyond the field of research in natural science and entered the realm of a general world conception, he was not in the fortunate position easily to discard an idea like that of teleological structure. For this reason, it is easy to understand why a thinker of the importance of Gustave Theodor Fechner (1801 – 87) would make the statement in his book, Zend-Avesta, or Concerning the Nature of Heaven and the World Beyond (1852), that it seems strange how anyone can believe that no consciousness would be necessary to create conscious beings as the human beings are, since even unconscious machines can be created only by conscious human beings. Also, Karl Ernst von Baer, who followed the evolution of the animals from their initial state, could not resist the thought that the processes in living organisms were striving toward certain goals and that the full concept of purpose was, indeed, to be applied for all of nature. (Karl Ernst von Baer, Studies from the Field of Natural Science, 1876, pp. 73 & 82.)
Difficulties of this kind, which confront certain thinkers as they intend to build up a world picture, the elements of which are supposed to be taken entirely from the sensually perceptible nature, were not even noticed by materialistic thinkers. They attempted to oppose the idealistic world picture of the first half of the century with one that receives a11 explanation exclusively from the facts of nature. Only in a knowledge that had been gained from these facts did they have any confidence.
There is nothing more enlightening concerning the inner conviction of the materialists than this confidence. They have been accused of taking the soul out of things and thereby depriving them of what speaks to man's heart, his feelings. Does it not seem that they do take all qualities out of nature that lift man's spirit and that they debase nature into a dead object that satisfies only the intellect that looks for causes but deprives us of any inner involvement? Does it not seem that they undermine morality that rises above mere natural appetites and looks for motivations, merely advocating the cause of animal desires, subscribing to the motto: Let us eat and drink and follow our physical instincts for tomorrow we die? Lotze (1817–81) indeed makes the statement with respect to the materialistic thinkers of the time in question that the followers of this movement value the truth of the drab empirical knowledge in proportion to the degree in which it offends everything that man's inner feelings hold sacred.
When one becomes acquainted, however, with Carl Vogt, one finds in him a man who had a deep understanding for the beauty of nature and who attempted to express this as an amateur painter. He was a person who was not at all blind to the creations of human imagination but felt at home with painters and poets. Quite a number of materialists were inspired by the esthetic enjoyment of the wonderful structure of organisms to a point where they felt that the soul must have its origin in the body. The magnificent structure of the human brain impressed them much more than the abstract concepts with which philosophy was concerned. How much more claim to be considered as the causes of the spirit, therefore, did the former seem to present than the latter.
Nor can the reproach that the materialists debased morality be accepted without reserve. Their knowledge of nature was deeply bound up with ethical motivations. Czolbe's endeavor to stress the moral foundation of naturalism was shared by other materialists. They all meant to instill in man the joy of natural existence; they intended to direct him toward his duties and his tasks on earth. They felt that human dignity could be enhanced if man could be conscious of having developed from a lower being to his present state of perfection. They believed that only a man who knows the material necessities that underlie his actions is capable of properly judging them. They argued that only he knows how to judge a man according to his value who is aware that matter is the basis for life in the universe, that with natural necessity life is connected with thought and thought in turn gives rise to good and ill will. To those who see moral freedom endangered by materialism, Moleschott answers:
Everybody is free who is joyfully aware of the natural necessity of his existence, his circumstances, claims and demands, and of the limits and extent of his sphere of activity. A man who understands this natural necessity knows also his right to fight his way through for demands that are in accordance with the needs of the human race. More than that, because only that freedom that is in harmony with the genuinely human will be defended with natural necessity by the species. We can be assured of the final victory over all suppressors in any struggle for human ends.
With attitudes of this kind, with a devotion to the wonders of nature, with moral sentiments as described above, the materialists were ready to receive the man who overcame the great obstacle for a naturalistic world conception. This man appeared to them in Charles Darwin. His work, through which the teleological idea was placed on the solid ground of natural science, was published in 1859 with the title, The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
For an understanding of the impulses that are at work in the evolution of philosophical world conception, the examples of the advances in natural science mentioned (to which many others could be added) are not significant in themselves. What is important is the fact that advances of this kind coincided in time with the development of the Hegelian world picture. The presentation of the course of evolution of philosophy in the previous chapters has shown that the modern world picture, since the days of Copernicus, Galileo, etc., stood under the influence of the mode of conception of natural science. This influence, however, could not be as significant as that of the accomplishment of the natural sciences of the nineteenth century. There were also important advances of natural science at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries. We only need to be reminded of the discovery of oxygen by Lavoisier, and of the findings in the field of electricity by Volta and many others. In spite of these discoveries spirits like Fichte, Schelling and Goethe could, while they fully recognized these advances, nevertheless, arrive at a world picture that started from the spirit. They could not be so powerfully impressed by the mode of conception of natural science as were the materialistic thinkers in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was still possible to recognize on the one side of the world picture the conceptions of natural science, and on the other side of it, certain conceptions that contained more than “mere thought.” Such a conception was, for instance, that of the “force of life,” or of the “teleological structure” of an organism. Conceptions of this kind made it possible to say that there is something at work in the world that does not come under the ordinary natural law, something that is more spiritual. In this fashion one obtained a conception of the spirit that had, as it were, “a factual content.” Hegel had then proceeded to deprive the spirit of all factual elements. He had diluted it into “mere thought.” For those for whom “mere thoughts” could be nothing but pictures of factual elements, this step appeared as the philosophical proof of the unreality of the spirit. These thinkers felt that they had to find something that possessed a real content for them to take the place of Hegel's “mere thought things.” For this reason, they sought the origin of the “spiritual phenomena” in material processes that could be sensually observed “as facts.” The world conception was pressed toward the thought of the material origin of the spirit through the transformation of the spirit that Hegel had brought about.
If one understands that there are deeper forces at work in the historical course of human evolution than those appearing on the surface, one will recognize the significance for the development of world conception that lies in the characteristic attitude that the materialism of the nineteenth century takes toward the formation of the Hegelian philosophy. Goethe's thoughts contained the seeds for a continuation of a philosophy that was taken up by Hegel, but insufficiently. If Goethe attempted to obtain a conception with his “archetypal plant” that allowed him to experience this thought inwardly so that he could intellectually derive from it such a specific plant formation as would be capable of life, he showed thereby that he was striving to bring thought to life within his soul. Goethe had reached the point where thought was about to begin a lifelike evolution, while Hegel did not go beyond thought as such. In communion with a thought that had come to life within the soul, as Goethe attempted, one would have had a spiritual experience that could have recognized the spirit also in matter. In “mere thought” one had no such experience. Thus, the evolution of world conception was put to a hard test. According to the deeper historical impulses, the modern time tended to experience not thought alone, but to find a conception for the self-conscious ego through which one could be aware that this ego is firmly rooted in the structure of the world. In conceiving this ego as a product of material processes, one had pursued this tendency by simply following the trend in a form easily understandable at that time. Even the denial of the spiritual entity of the self-conscious ego by the materialism of the nineteenth century still contains the impulse of the search for this ego. For this reason, the impulse with which natural science affected philosophy in this age was quite different from the influences it had had on previous materialistic currents. These earlier currents had not as yet been so hard pressed by something comparable to Hegel's thought philosophy to seek for a safe ground in the natural sciences. This pressure, to be sure, does not affect the leading personalities to a point where they are clearly aware of it, but as an impulse of the time, it exerts its effect in the subconscious currents of the soul.