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Riddles of the Soul
GA 21

7. Brentano's Separation of the Soul Element from What Is External to the Soul

Through his different presentations Brentano shows how strongly he strove for a clear separating of the soul element from what is external to the soul. His concept of the soul, which we have described in this book, compels him to do this. In order to see this, let us look at the way he tries to define the soul experience we have in forming a conviction about a truth. He asks himself: What is the source of what the soul experiences as a conviction when it relates this conviction to a content of mental pictures? Some thinkers believe that, with respect to a given truth, the degree of conviction is determined by the intensity of feeling with which one experiences the corresponding content of mental pictures. Brentano says about this:

It is wrong—but it is an error embraced by almost everyone, and one from which I also had not yet freed myself when I wrote the first volume of my Psychology—to believe that the degree of conviction is a level of intensity in judging that could be analogous to the intensity of pleasure and pain. If Windelband had reproached me with this error, I would consider him to be completely right. But now he criticizes me for wanting to accept intensity only in an analogous sense (not in the same sense) in the case of a conviction, and for declaring that in terms of magnitude one cannot compare the supposed intensity of conviction with the actual intensity of feeling. There we have the results of his improved grasp of what a judgment is.

If the degree of conviction in my belief that 2+1=3 were an intensity, how powerful this intensity would have to be! And if now, as Windelband would have it, this belief were made into a feeling—not just something that could be thought of as analogous to a feeling—how destructive for our nervous system the vehemence of a stirred feeling would be! Every doctor would have to warn against the study of mathematics as something shattering to one's health.

If Brentano could have lived more deeply into what worked in him in his striving to discover the nature of conviction, he would have seen the separation that exists between the mentally picturing soul element—which does not experience any intensity within itself when a conviction is being formed—and what is external to the soul—which enters the content of the soul element and which in the intensity of the degree of conviction, also remains something external to the soul while in the soul, in such a way that our inner life does indeed observe the degree of conviction, but does not live in it.

What Brentano presents in his essay “The Individuation, Multiple Quality, and Intensity of Sense-perceptible Phenomena” (in his book Investigations into a Psychology of the Senses) belongs in a similar sphere of strict separation between the soul element and what is external to the soul. He endeavors to show there that intensity is not inherent to the actual soul element, and that the degree of intensity of soul sensation represents a life of what is felt outside the soul and is now present upon the stage of the soul element. Brentano senses that one absolutely does not need to enter into the "mystical darkness" of nonscience when one is endeavoring to develop further in cognition the seeds planted in such elementary insights. Therefore, he writes at the end of the essay just mentioned:

It is easy to see what the wider significance of this is.

Look how much Herbart's psychology and also psychophysics were founded upon this dogma (he is referring to the dogma of the intensity of the soul element)! All that will be tom down also in its fall. And so we'll see how the correction of a small point in the science of soul sensation will exert a far-reaching reformatory influence.

Even the hypotheses that one has set up relative to the world-all will not remain untouched by it.

To a large extent one has declared that a common analogy prevails between the psychic and the physical realms, without any proof being offered, to be sure, or even seriously attempted. One kept entirely to generalities and so an assigned role sufficed for the thought of intensity as a kind of magnitude belonging to every soul entity just as a spatial magnitude belongs to every physical entity.

But if one declares a common analogy to prevail between the soul element and the physical element, why not go all the way and declare them to be identical or simply substitute one for the other?

In everything analogous to the physical and vouched for in itself only through the evidence of perception, the soul element must render superfluous any hypothetical assumption that anything physical exists.

So, among others, Wundt's psychology also ends up with the thought that, after heuristically attributing an existence to the physical world for a time, one could finally let this assumption of physical existence fall away like scaffolding, in which case the whole genuine truth would reveal itself as a purely psychic world edifice.

This thought, to be sure, until now has had little prospect of ever gaining tangible form or being elaborated in detail. Any hopes in this direction, however, have been completely dashed by the new concept of intensity with its clear proof that nothing could be farther from the truth than calling the magnitude of intensity a universal property of soul activities.

So we will never allow our belief in the true existence of a physical world to be taken away from us, and this belief will always remain for natural science the hypothesis of hypotheses.

The common analogy between the soul element and the physical element, which Brentano rejects, is only sought by someone who does not strive to picture clearly the soul element on the one hand and the physical element on the other, but rather, instead of this—while continuing with his concepts to feel his way along against the physical—attributes to the soul element experiences like that of intensity, whereas, in the purely soul element, nothing of it is to be found. It seems to me that the above thought of Brentano's would have come more clearly into view, if its bearer—in the sense of what was described in this book on page 69f.—had focused his attention upon that characteristic of the physical element which is equal in significance to the intentional element within the soul element.

Nevertheless, it is significant that Brentano dared to extend his view beyond elementary insights out into more far-reaching, cosmic riddles. For, today's way of thinking is disinclined to broaden its views. Here is one example from many. At one place in his Eight Psychological Lectures (Jena, 1869), the eminent psychologist Fortlage shows how close he was with his cognitive inklings to a certain region of seeing consciousness, to the region, namely, of knowledge of the laming power of the soul existence living in our ordinary consciousness. On page 35 he writes:

When we call ourselves “living beings,” and thus ascribe to ourselves a characteristic that we share with animals and plants, we necessarily understand the “living state” to mean something that never leaves us, and continues on in us in sleep and in the waking state. This is the vegetative life of the nutrition of our organism, an unconscious life, a life of sleep. The brain is an exception to this through the fact that this nutritive life, this sleeping life, is outweighed in the brain during the pauses of wakefulness by a consuming life (what I have called “laming down” in this book). During these pauses the brain is given over predominantly to being consumed, and consequently falls into a state that, if extended to the other organs, would bring about the absolute debilitation of the body or death.

And taking this thought to its conclusion, Fortlage says (page 39): “Consciousness is a little, a partial death; death is a large and total consciousness, an awakening of the whole being in its innermost depths.” One can only say that Fortlage stands with his thoughts at the starting point of anthroposophy, even though, like Brentano, he does not enter. Nevertheless, even because of his standing at the starting point, Eduard von Hartmann, who is completely under the spell of today's way of picturing things, finds that a perspective extending out beyond elementary knowledge into the great cosmic riddle of human immortality is scientifically untenable. Eduard von Hartmann writes of Fortlage: “He steps outside the boundaries of psychology when he describes consciousness as a little and partial death, and death as a large and total consciousness, as a clearer, total awakening of the soul in all its depths...” (Please see Eduard von Hartmann, Modern Psychology, Leipzig, 1901)