Those who struggled for clarity in the great problems of world and life conceptions at the end of the eighteenth century looked up to two men of great intellectual-spiritual power, Kant and Goethe. Another person who strove for such a clarity in the most forceful way was Johann Gottlieb Fichte. When he had become acquainted with Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, he wrote:
I am living in a new world. . . . Things I had thought could never be proven to me, for instance, the concept of absolute freedom and duty, now have been proven to me and I feel much happier because of it. It is incomprehensible what a high degree of respect for humanity, what strength this philosophy gives us; what a blessing it is for an age in which morality had been destroyed in its foundation, and in which the concept of duty had been struck from all dictionaries.
And when, on the basis of Kant's conception, he had built his own Groundwork of all Scientific Knowledge, he sent the book to Goethe with the words:
I consider you, and always have considered you, to be the representative of the purest spiritual force of feeling on the level of development that mankind has reached at the present time. To you philosophy rightly turns. Your feeling is its touchstone.
A similar attitude to both representative spirits was taken by Schiller. He writes about Kant on October 28, 1794:
I am not at all frightened by the prospect that the law of change, which shows no mercy to any human or divine work, will also destroy the form of the Kantian as well as every other philosophy. Its foundation, however, will not have to fear this destiny, for since the human race exists, and as long as there has been a reason, this philosophy has been silently acknowledged and mankind as a whole has acted in agreement with its principles.
Schiller describes Goethe's conception in a letter addressed to him on August 23, 1794:
For a long time I have, although from a considerable distance, watched the course of your spirit, and with ever increasing admiration I have observed the path you have marked out for yourself. You are seeking the necessary in nature, but you are seeking it along the most difficult road, which any spirit weaker than yours would be most careful to avoid. You take hold of nature as a whole in order to obtain light in a particular point; in the totality of nature's various types of phenomena, you seek the explanation for the individual. . . . Had you been born a Greek, or even an Italian, and from the cradle been surrounded by an exquisite nature and an idealizing art, your path would have been infinitely shortened; perhaps it would have been made entirely unnecessary. With the first perception of things you would have caught the form of the Necessary, and from your first experiences the grand style would have developed in you. But now, having been born a German, your Greek spirit having thus been cast into a northern world, you had no choice but that of becoming a northern artist yourself, or of supplying your imagination with what it is refused by reality through the help of your power of thought and thus, to produce a second Greece, as it were, from within and by means of reason.
Seen from the present age, Kant and Goethe can be considered spirits in whom the evolution of world conception of modern times reveals itself as in an important moment of its development. These spirits experience intensely the enigmatic problems of existence, which have formerly, in a more preparatory stage, been latent in the substrata of the life of the soul.
To illustrate the effect that Kant exerted on his age, the statements of two men who stood at the full height of their time's culture may be quoted. Jean Paul wrote to a friend in 1788:
For heaven's sake, do buy two books, Kant's Foundation for a Metaphysics of Morals and his Critique of Practical Reason. Kant is not a light of the world but a complete radiating solar system all at once.
Wilhelm von Humboldt makes the statement:
Kant undertook the greatest work that philosophical reason has perhaps ever owed to a single man. . . . Three things remain unmistakably certain if one wants to determine the fame that Kant bestowed on his nation and the benefit that he brought to speculative thinking. Some of the things he destroyed will never be raised again, some of those to which he laid the foundation will never perish; most important of all, he brought about a reform that has no equal in the whole history of human thought.
This shows how Kant's contemporaries saw a revolutionary event in the development of world conception in his achievement. Kant himself considered it so important for this development that he judged its significance equal to that which Copernicus's discovery of the planetary motion holds for natural science.
Various currents of philosophical development of previous times continue their effect in Kant's thinking and are transformed in his thought into questions that determine the character of his world conception. The reader who feels the characteristic traits in those of Kant's writings that are most significant for his view is aware of a special appreciation of Kant for the mathematical mode of thinking as one of these traits. Kant feels that what is known in the way mathematical thinking knows, carries the certainty of its truth in itself. The fact that man is capable of mathematics proves that he is capable of truth. Whatever else one may doubt, the truth of mathematics cannot be doubted.
With this appreciation of mathematics the thought tendency of the modern history of philosophy, which had put the characteristic stamp on Spinoza's realm of thoughts, appears in Kant's mind. Spinoza wants to construct his thought sequences in such a form that they develop strictly from one another as the propositions of mathematical science. Nothing but what is thought in the mode of thought of mathematics supplies the firm foundation on which, according to Spinoza, the human ego feels itself secure in the spirit of the modern age. Descartes had also thought in this way, and Spinoza had derived from him many stimulating suggestions. Out of the state of doubt he had to secure a fulcrum for a world conception for himself. In the mere passive reception of a thought into the soul, Descartes could not recognize such a support-yielding force. This Greek attitude toward the world of thought is no longer possible for the man of the modern age. Within the self-conscious soul something must be found that lends its support to the thought. For Descartes, and again for Spinoza, this is supplied by the fulfillment of the postulate that the soul should deal with thought in general as it does in the mathematical mode of conception. As Descartes proceeded from his state of doubt to his conclusion “I think, therefore I am” and the statements connected with it, he felt secure in these operations because they seemed to him to possess the clarity that is inherent in mathematics. The same general mental conviction leads Spinoza to elaborate a world picture for himself in which everything is unfolding its effect with strict necessity like the laws of mathematics. The one divine substance, which permeates all beings of the world with the determination of mathematical law, admits the human ego only if it surrenders itself completely to this substance, if it allows its self-consciousness to be absorbed by the world consciousness of the divine substance. This mathematical disposition of mind, which is caused by a longing of the ego for the security it needs, leads this ego to a world picture in which, through its striving for security, it has lost itself, its self-dependent, firm stand on a spiritual world ground, its freedom, and its hope for an eternal self-dependent existence.
Leibniz's thoughts tended in the opposite direction. The human soul is, for him, the self-dependent monad, strictly closed off in itself. But this monad experiences only what it contains within itself; the world order, which presents itself “from without, as it were,” is only a delusion. Behind it lies the true world, which consists only of monads, the order of which is the predetermined (pre-established) harmony that does not show itself to the outer observation. This world conception leaves its self-dependence to the human soul, the self-dependent existence in the universe, its freedom and hope for an eternal significance in the world's evolution. If, however, it means to remain consistent with its basic principle, it cannot avoid maintaining that everything known by the soul is only the soul itself, that it is incapable of going outside the self-conscious ego, and that the universe cannot become revealed to the soul in its truth from without.
For Descartes and for Leibniz, the convictions they had acquired in their religious education were still effective enough that they adopted them in their philosophical world pictures, thereby following motivations that were not really derived from the basic principles of their world pictures. Into Descartes' world picture there crept the conception of a spiritual world that he had obtained through religious channels. It unconsciously permeated the rigid mathematical necessity of his world order and thus he did not feel that his world picture tended to extinguish his ego. In Leibniz, religious impulses exerted their influence in a similar way, and it is for this reason that it escaped him that his world picture provided for no possibility to find anything except the content of the soul itself. Leibniz believed, nevertheless, that he could assume the existence of the spiritual world outside the ego. Spinoza, through a certain courageous trait of his personality, actually drew the consequences of his world picture. To obtain the security for this world picture on which his self-consciousness insisted, he renounced the self-dependence of this self-consciousness and found his supreme happiness in feeling himself as a part of the one divine substance.
With regard to Kant we must raise the question of how he was compelled to feel with respect to the currents of world conception, which had produced its prominent representatives in Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. For all soul impulses that had been at work in these three were also active in him, and in his soul these impulses affected each other and caused the riddles of world and mankind with which Kant found himself confronted. A glance at the life of the spirit in the Age of Kant informs us of the general trend of Kant's feeling with respect to these riddles. Significantly, Lessing's (1729 – 1781) attitude toward the questions of world conception is symptomatic of this intellectual life. Lessing sums up his credo in the words: “The transformation of revealed truths into truths of reason is absolutely necessary if the human race is to derive any help from them.” The eighteenth century has been called the century of the Enlightenment. The representative spirits of Germany understood enlightenment in the sense of Lessing's remark. Kant declared the enlightenment to be “man's departure from his self-caused bondage of mind,” and as its motto he chose the words: “Have courage to use your own mind.” Even thinkers as prominent as Lessing, however, at first had succeeded in no more than transforming rationally traditional doctrines of belief derived from the state of the “self-caused bondage of mind.” They did not penetrate to a pure rational view as Spinoza did. It was inevitable that Spinoza's doctrine, when it became known in Germany, should make a deep impression on such spirits.
Spinoza really had undertaken the task of using his own mind, but in the course of this process he had arrived at results that were entirely different from those of the German philosophers of the enlightenment. His influence had to be so much the more significant since the lines of his reasoning, constructed according to mathematical methods, carried a much greater convincing power than the current of Leibniz's philosophy, which affected the spirits of that age in the form “developed” by Wolff. From Goethe's autobiography, Poetry and Truth, we receive an idea of how this school of thought impressed deeper spirits as it reached them through the channels of Wolff's conceptions. Goethe tells of the impressions the lectures of Professor Winckler in Leipzig, given in the spirit of Wolff, had made on him.
At the beginning, I attended my classes industriously and faithfully, but the philosophy offered in no way succeeded in enlightening me. It seemed strange to me that in logic I was to tear apart, isolate, and destroy, as it were, the intellectual operations I had been handling with the greatest ease since the days of my childhood, in order to gain an insight into their correct use. I thought I knew just about as much as the lecturer about the nature of things, the world and God, and on more than one occasion it seemed to me that there was a considerable hitch in the matter.
About his occupation with Spinoza's writings, however, the poet tells us: “I surrendered to this reading and, inspecting myself, I believed never to have seen the world so distinctly.”
There were, however, only a few people who could surrender to Spinoza's mode of thought as frankly as Goethe. Most readers were led into deep conflicts of world conception by this philosophy. Goethe's friend F. H. Jacobi is typical of them. He believed that he had to admit that reason, left to its own resources, would not lead to the doctrines of belief, but to the view at which Spinoza had arrived — that the world is ruled by eternal, necessary laws. Thus, Jacobi found himself confronted with an important decision: Either to trust his reason and abandon the doctrines of his creed, or to deny reason the possibility to lead to the highest insights in order to be able to retain his belief. He chose the latter. He maintained that man possessed a direct certainty in his innermost soul, a secure belief by virtue of which he was capable of feeling the truth of the conception of a personal God, of the freedom of will and of immortality, so that these convictions were entirely independent of the insights of reason that were leaning on logical conclusions, and had no reference to these things but only to the external things of nature. In this way Jacobi deposed the knowledge of reason to make room for a belief that satisfied the needs of the heart. Goethe, who was not at all pleased by this dethronement of reason, wrote to his friend: “God has punished you with metaphysics and placed a thorn in your flesh; he has blessed me with physics. I cling to the atheist's (Spinoza's) worship of God and leave everything to you that you call, and may continue to call, religion. Your trust rests in belief in God; mine in seeing.” The philosophy of the enlightenment ended by confronting the spirits with the alternative either to supplant the revealed truths by truths of reason in the sense of Spinoza, or to declare war on the knowledge of reason itself.
Kant also found himself confronted with this choice. The attitude he took and how he made his decision is apparent from the clear account in the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason.
Now let us assume that morality necessarily presupposes freedom (in its strictest sense) as a property of our will, pleading practical principles inherent in our reason that would be positively impossible without the presupposition of freedom. Speculative reason, however, having proven that this is not even thinkable, the former assumption, made on behalf of morality, would have to give way to the latter, whose opposite contains an obvious self-contradiction and therefore freedom, and with it morality, would have to give way to the mechanism of nature. But since, as the case lies, for the possibility of morality nothing more is required than that the idea of freedom be not contradictory in itself, and may at least be considered as thinkable without the future necessity of being understood, such that granting the freedom of a given action would not place any obstacle into the attempt of considering the same action (seen in other relation) as a mechanism of nature. In this way, the doctrine of morality maintains its place . . . which could, however, not have happened if our critical philosophy had not previously enlightened us about our inevitable ignorance with respect to things in themselves, restricting all that we can know theoretically to mere phenomena. In the same way, the positive value of the critical principles of pure reason can be brought to light with regard to the concepts of God and of the simple nature of our soul, which I do, however, leave undiscussed here for the sake of brevity. I cannot even assume God, freedom, and immortality for the use of practical reason if I do not at the same time deprive speculative reason of its pretensions to excessive insight. . . . I, therefore, had to suspend knowledge in order to make room for belief. . . .
We see here how Kant stands on a similar ground as Jacobi in regard to knowledge and belief.
The way in which Kant had arrived at his results had led through the thought world of Hume. In Hume he had found the view that the things and events of the world in no way reveal connections of thought to the human soul, that the human mind imagined such connections only through habit while it is perceiving the things and events of the world simultaneously in space and successively in time. Kant was impressed by Hume's opinion, according to which the human mind does not receive from the world what appears to it as knowledge. For Kant, the thought emerged as a possibility: What is knowledge for the human mind does not come from the reality of the world.
Through Hume's arguments, Kant was, according to his own confession, awakened out of the slumber into which he had fallen in following Wolff's train of ideas. How can reason produce judgments about God, freedom, and immortality if its statement about the simplest events rests on such insecure foundation? The attack that Kant now had to undertake against the knowledge of reason was much more far-reaching than that of Jacobi. He had at least left to knowledge the possibility of comprehending nature in its necessary connection. Now, Kant had produced an important accomplishment in the field of natural science with his General Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, which had appeared in 1755. He was satisfied to have shown that our whole planetary system could be thought to have developed out of a ball of gas, rotating around its axis. Through strictly necessary mathematically measurable physical forces, he thought the sun and planets to have consolidated, and to have assumed the motions in which they proceed according to the teachings of Copernicus and Kepler. Kant thus believed he had proven, through a great discovery of his own, the fruitfulness of Spinoza's mode of thought, according to which everything happens with strict, mathematical necessity. He was so convinced of this fruitfulness that in the above-mentioned work he went so far as to exclaim: “Give me matter, and I will build you a universe!” The absolute certainty of all mathematical truths was so firmly established for him that he maintains in his Basic Principles of Natural Science that a science in the proper sense of the word is only one in which the application of mathematics is possible. If Hume were right, it would be out of the question to assume such a certainty for the knowledge of mathematical natural science, for, in that case, this knowledge would consist of nothing but thought habits that man had developed because he had seen the course of the world along certain lines. But there would not be the slightest guarantee that these thought habits had anything to do with the law-ordered connection of the things of the world. From his presupposition Hume draws the conclusion:
The scenes of the universe are continually shifting, and one object follows another in an uninterrupted succession, but the power of force which actuates the whole machine is entirely concealed from us and never discovers itself in any of the sensible qualities of body. . . . . (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sec. VII, part 1.)
If we then place the world conception of Spinoza into the light of Hume's view, we must say: “In accordance with the perceived course of the processes of the world, man has formed the habit of thinking these processes in a necessary, law-ordered connection, but he is not entitled to maintain that this connection is anything but a mere thought habit.” Now if this were the case, then it would be a mere deception of the human reason to imagine that it could, through itself, gain any insight into the nature of the world, and Hume could not be contradicted when he says about every world conception that is gained out of pure reason: “Throw it into the fire, for it is nothing but deception and illusion.”
Kant could not possibly adopt this conclusion of Hume as his own. For him, the certainty of the knowledge of mathematical natural science was irrevocably established. He would not allow this certainty to be touched, but was unable to deny that Hume was justified in saying that we gain all knowledge about real things only by observing them and by forming for ourselves thoughts about their connection that are based on this observation. If a law-ordered connection is inherent in things, then we must also extract this connection out of them, but what we really derive from the things is such that we know no more about it than that it has been so up to the present time. We do not know, however, whether such a connection is really so linked up with the nature of things that it cannot change in any moment. If we form for ourselves today a world conception based on our observations, events can happen tomorrow that compel us to form an entirely different one. If we received all our knowledge from things, there would be no certainty. Mathematics and natural sciences are a proof of this. That the world does not give its knowledge to the human mind was a view Kant was ready to adopt from Hume. That this knowledge does not contain certainty and truth, however, is a conclusion he was not willing to draw. Thus, Kant was confronted with the question that disturbed him deeply: How is it possible that man is in possession of true and certain knowledge and that he is, nevertheless, incapable of knowing anything of the reality of the world in itself?
Kant found an answer that saved the truth and certainty of human knowledge by sacrificing human insight into the grounds of the world. Our reason could never claim certainty about anything in a world lying spread out around us so that we would be affected by it through observation only. Therefore, our world can only be one that is constructed by ourselves: a world that lies within the limits of our minds. What is going on outside myself as a stone falls and causes a hole in the ground, I do not know. The law of this entire process is enacted within me, and it can proceed within me only in accordance with demands of my own mental organization. The nature of my mind requires that every effect should have a cause and that two times two is four. It is in accordance with this nature that the mind constructs a world for itself. No matter how the world outside ourselves might be constructed, today's world may not coincide in even a single trait with that of yesterday. This can never concern us, for our mind produces its own world according to its own laws. As long as the human mind remains unchanged, it will proceed in the same way in the construction of the world. Mathematics and natural science do not contain the laws of the external world but those of our mental organization. It is, therefore, only necessary to investigate this organization if we want to know what is unconditionally true. “Reason does not derive its laws from nature but prescribes them to nature.” Kant sums up his conviction in this sentence — but the mind does not produce its inner world without an impetus or impression from without. When I perceive the color red, the perception “red” is, to be sure, a state, a process within me, but it is necessary for me to have an occasion to perceive “red.” There are, therefore, “things in themselves,” but we know nothing about them but the fact that they exist. Everything we observe belongs to the appearances within us. Therefore, in order to save the certainty of the mathematical and natural scientific truths, Kant has taken the whole world of observation in the human mind. In doing so, however, he has raised insurmountable barriers to the faculty of knowledge, for everything that we can know refers merely to processes within ourselves, to appearances or phenomena, not to things in themselves, as Kant expresses it. But the objects of the highest questions of reason — God, Freedom, and Immortality — can never become phenomena. We see the appearances within ourselves; whether or not these have their origin in a divine being we cannot know. We can observe our own psychic conditions, but these are also only phenomena. Whether or not there is a free immortal soul behind them remains concealed to our knowledge. About the “things in themselves” our knowledge cannot produce any statement. It cannot determine whether the ideas concerning these “things in themselves” are true or false. If they are announced to us from another direction, there is no objection to assume their existence, but a knowledge concerning them is impossible for us. There is only one access to these highest truths. This access is given in the voice of duty, which speaks within us emphatically and distinctly “You are morally obliged to do this and that.” This “Categorical Imperative” imposes on us an obligation we are incapable of avoiding. But how could we comply with this obligation if we were not in the possession of a free will? We are, to be sure, incapable of knowledge concerning this quality of our soul, but we must believe that it is free in order to be capable of following its inner voice of duty. Concerning this freedom, we have, therefore, no certainty of knowledge as we possess it with respect to the objects of mathematics and natural science, but we have moral certainty for it instead. The observance of the categorical imperative leads to virtue. It is only through virtue that man can arrive at his destination. He becomes worthy of happiness. Without this possibility his virtue would be void of meaning and significance. In order that virtue may result from happiness, it is mandatory that a being exists who secures this happiness as an effect of virtue. This can only be an intelligent being, determining the highest value of things: God. Through the existence of virtue, its effect is guaranteed, and through this guarantee, in turn, the existence of God. Because man is a sensual being and cannot obtain perfect happiness in this imperfect world, his existence must transcend this sensual existence; that is to say, the soul must be immortal. The very thing about which we are denied possible knowledge is, therefore, magically produced by Kant out of the moral belief in the voice of duty. It was respect for the feeling of duty that restored a real world for Kant when, under the influence of Hume, the observable world withered away into a mere inner world. This respect for duty is beautifully expressed in his Critique of Practical Reason:
Duty! Thou sublime, great name that containest nothing pleasurable to bid for our favor, but demandest submission, . . . proclaiming a law in the presence of which all inclinations are silenced although they may secretly offer resistance. . . .
That the highest truths are not truths of knowledge but moral truths is what Kant considered as his discovery. Man has to renounce all insight into a supersensible world, but from his moral nature springs a compensation for this knowledge. No wonder Kant sees the highest demand on man in the unconditional surrender to duty. If it were not for duty to open a vista for him beyond the sensual world, man would be enclosed for his whole life in the world of the senses. No matter, therefore, what the sensual world demands — it has to give way before the peremptory claims of duty, and the sensual world cannot, out of its own initiative, agree with duty. Its own inclination is directed toward the agreeable, toward pleasure. These aims have to be opposed by duty in order to enable man to reach his destination. What man does for his pleasure is not virtuous; virtue is only what he does in selfless devotion to duty. Submit your desires to duty: this is the rigorous task that is taught by Kant's moral philosophy. Do not allow your will to be directed toward what satisfies you in your egotism, but so act that the principles of your action can become those of all men. In surrendering to the moral law, man attains his perfection. The belief that this moral law has its being above all other events of the world and is made real within the world by a divine being is, in Kant's opinion, true religion. It springs from the moral life. Man is to be good not because of his belief in a God whose will demands the good; he is to be good only because of his feeling for duty. He is to believe in God, however, because duty without God would be meaningless. This is religion within the Limits of Mere Reason. It is thus that Kant entitles his book on religious world conception.
The course that the development of the natural sciences took since they began to flourish has produced in many people the feeling that every element that does not carry the character of strict necessity should be eliminated from our thought picture of nature. Kant had this feeling also. In his Natural History of the Heavens, he had even outlined such a picture for a certain realm of nature that was in accordance with this feeling. In a thought picture of this kind there is no place for the conception of the self-conscious ego that the man of the eighteenth century felt necessary. The Platonic and the Aristotelian thought could be considered as the revelation of nature in the form in which that idea was accepted in the earlier age, and as that of the human soul as well. In thought life, nature and the soul met. From the picture of nature as it seems to be demanded by modern science, nothing leads to the conception of the self-conscious soul. Kant had the feeling that the conception of nature offered nothing to him on which he could base the certainty of self-consciousness. This certainty had to be created, for the modern age had presented the self-conscious ego as a fact. The possibility had to be created to acknowledge this fact, but everything that can be recognized as knowledge by our understanding is devoured by the conception of nature. Thus, Kant feels himself compelled to provide for the self-conscious ego, as well as for the spiritual world connected with it, something that is not knowledge but nevertheless supplies certainty.
Kant established selfless devotion to the voice of the spirit as the foundation of moral life. In the realm of virtuous action, such a devotion is not compatible with a surrender to the sensual world. There is, however, a field in which the sensual is elevated in such a way that it appears as the immediate expression of the spirit. That is the field of beauty and art. In our ordinary life we want the sensual because it excites our desire, our self-seeking interest. We desire what gives us pleasure — but it is also possible to take a selfless interest in an object. We can look at it in admiration, filled by a heavenly delight, and this delight can be quite independent of the possession of the thing. Whether or not I should like to own a beautiful house that I pass has nothing to do with the “disinterested pleasure” that I may take in its beauty. If I eliminate all desire from my feeling, there may still be found as a remaining element a pleasure that is clearly and exclusively linked to the beautiful work of art. A pleasure of this kind is an “esthetic pleasure.” The beautiful is to be distinguished from the agreeable and the good. The agreeable excites my interest because it arouses my desire; the good interests me because it is to be made real by me. In confronting the beautiful I have no such interest that is connected with my person. What is it then, by means of which my selfless delight is attracted? I can be pleased by a thing only when its purpose is fulfilled, when it is so organized that it serves an end. Fitness to purpose pleases, incongruity displeases; but as I have no interest in the reality of the beautiful thing, as the mere sight of it satisfies me, it is also not necessary that the beautiful object really serves a purpose. The purpose is of no importance to me; what I demand is only the appropriateness. For this reason, Kant calls an object “beautiful” in which we perceive fitness to purpose without thinking at the same time of a definite purpose.
What Kant gives in this exposition is not merely an explanation but also a justification of art. This is best seen if one remembers Kant's feeling in regard to his world conception. He expresses his feeling in profound, beautiful words:
Two things fill the heart with ever new and always increasing admiration and awe: the starred heaven above me and the moral law within me. At first, the sight of an innumerable world quantity annihilates, as it were, my importance as a living creature, which must give back to the planet that is a mere dot in the universe the matter out of which it became what it is, after having been for a short while (one does not know how) provided with the energy of life. On second consideration, however, this spectacle infinitely raises my value as an intelligent being, through my (conscious and free) personality in which the moral law reveals to me a life that is independent of the whole world of the senses, at least insofar as this can be concluded from the purpose-directed destination of my existence, which is not hemmed in by the conditions and limitations of this life but extends into the infinite.
The artist now transplants this purpose-directed destination, which, in reality, rules in the realm of the moral world, into the world of the senses. Thus, the world of art stands between the realm of the world of observation that is dominated by the eternal stern laws of necessity, which the human mind itself has previously laid into this world, and the realm of free morality in which commands of duty, as the result of a wise, divine world-order, set out direction and aim. Between both realms the artist enters with his works. Out of the realm of the real he takes his material, but he reshapes this material at the same time in such a fashion that it becomes the bearer of a purpose-directed harmony as it is found in the realm of freedom. That is to say, the human spirit feels dissatisfied both with the realms of external reality, which Kant has in mind when he speaks of the starred heaven and the innumerable things of the world, and also with the realm of moral law. Man, therefore, creates a beautiful realm of “semblance,” which combines the rigid necessity of nature with the element of a free purpose. The beautiful now is not only found in human works of art, but also in nature. There is nature-beauty as well as art-beauty. This beauty of nature is there without man's activity. It seems, therefore, as if there were observable in the world of reality not merely the rigid law-ordered necessity, but a free wisdom-revealing activity as well. The phenomenon of the beautiful, nevertheless, does not force us to accept a conception of this kind, for what it offers is the form of a purpose-directed activity without implying also the thought of a real purpose. Furthermore, there is not only the phenomenon of integrated beauty but also that of integrated ugliness. It is, therefore, possible to assume that in the multitude of natural events, which are interconnected according to necessary laws, some happen to occur — accidentally, as it were — in which the human mind observes an analogy with man's own works of art. As it is not necessary to assume a real purpose, this element of free purpose, which appears as it were by accident, is quite sufficient for the esthetic contemplation of nature.
The situation is different when we meet the entities in nature to which the purpose concept is not merely to be attributed as accidental but that carry this purpose really within themselves. There are also entities of this kind according to Kant's opinion. They are the organic beings. The necessary law-determined connections are insufficient to explain them; these, in Spinoza's world conception are considered not only necessary but sufficient, and by Kant are considered as those of the human mind itself. For an “organism is a product of nature in which everything is, at the same time, purpose, just as it is cause and also effect.” An organism, therefore, cannot be explained merely through rigid laws that operate with necessity, as is the case with inorganic nature. It is for this reason that, although Kant himself had, in his General Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, undertaken the attempt to “discuss the constitution and the mechanical origin of the entire world structure according to Newtonian principles,” he is of the opinion that a similar attempt applied to the world of organic beings would necessarily fail. In his Critique of Judgment, he advances the following statement:
It is, namely, absolutely certain that in following merely mechanical principles of nature we cannot even become sufficiently acquainted with organisms and their inner possibility, much less explain them. This is so certain that one can boldly say that it would be absurd for man to set out on any such attempt or to hope that at some future time a Newton could arise who would explain as much as the production of a blade of grass according to natural laws into which no purpose had brought order and direction. Such a knowledge must, on the contrary, be altogether denied to man.
Kant's view that it is the human mind itself that first projects the laws into nature that it then finds in it, is also irreconcilable with another opinion concerning a purpose-directed entity, for a purpose points to its originator through whom it was laid into such an entity, that is, to the rational originator of the world. If the human mind could explain a teleological being in the same way as an entity that is merely constituted according to natural necessity, it would also have to be capable of projecting laws of purpose out of itself into the things. Not merely would the human mind have to provide laws for the things that would be valid with regard to them insofar as they are appearances of his inner world, but it would have to be capable of prescribing their own destination to the things that are completely independent of the mind. The human mind would, therefore, have to be not merely a cognitive, but a creative, spirit; its reason would, like that of God, have to create the things.
Whoever calls to mind the structure of the Kantian world conception as it has been outlined here will understand its strong effect on Kant's contemporaries and also on the time after him, for he leaves intact all of the conceptions that had formed and impressed themselves on the human mind in the course of the development of Western culture. This world conception leaves God, freedom, and immortality to the religious spirit. It satisfies the need for knowledge in delineating a territory for it inside the limits of which it recognizes unconditionally certain truths. It even allows for the opinion that the human reason is justified to employ not merely the eternal rigorous natural laws for the explanation of living beings, but the purpose concept that suggests a designed order in the world.
But at what price did Kant obtain all this! He transferred all of nature into the human mind and transformed its laws into laws of this mind. He ejected the higher world order entirely from nature and placed this order on a purely moral foundation. He drew a sharp line of demarcation between the realm of the inorganic and that of the organic, explaining the former according to mechanical laws of natural necessity and the latter according to teleological ideas. Finally, he tore the realm of beauty and art completely out of its connection with the rest of reality, for the teleological form that is to be observed in the beautiful has nothing to do with real purposes. How a beautiful object comes into the world is of no importance; it is sufficient that it stimulates in us the conception of the purposeful and thereby produces our delight.
Kant not only presents the view that man's knowledge is possible so far as the law-structure of this knowledge has its origin in the self-conscious soul — and the certainty concerning this soul comes out of a source that is different from the one out of which our knowledge of nature springs — he also points out that our human knowledge has to resign before nature, where it meets the living organism in which thought itself seems to reign in nature. In taking this position, Kant confesses by implication that he cannot imagine thoughts that are conceived as active in the entities of nature themselves. The recognition of such thoughts presupposes that the human soul not merely thinks, but in thinking shares the life of nature in its inner experience. If somebody discovered that thoughts are capable not merely of being received as perceptions, as is the case with the Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, but that it is possible to experience thoughts by penetrating into the entities of nature, then this would mean that again a new element had been found that could enter the picture of nature as well as the conception of the self-conscious ego. The self-conscious ego by itself does not find a place in the nature picture of modern times. If the self-conscious ego, in filling itself with thought, is not merely aware that it forms this thought, but recognizes in thought a life of which it can know “This life can realize itself also outside myself,” then this self-conscious ego can arrive at the insight: “I hold within myself something that can also be found without.” The evolution of modern world conception thus urges man on to the step: To find the thought in the self-conscious ego that is felt to be alive. This step Kant did not take; Goethe did.
* * *
In all essential points, Goethe arrived at the opposite to Kant's conception of the world. Approximately at the same time that Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason, Goethe laid down his creed in his prose hymn Nature, in which he placed man completely into nature and in which he presented nature as bearing absolute sway, independent of man: Her own and man's lawgiver as well. Kant drew all nature into the human mind. Goethe considered everything as belonging to this nature; he fitted the human spirit into the natural world order:
Nature! We are surrounded and enveloped by her, incapable of leaving her domain, incapable of penetrating deeper into her. She draws us into the rounds of her dance, neither asking nor warning, and whirls away with us until we fall exhausted from her arms. . . . All men are in her and she is in them. . . . Even the most unnatural is Nature; even the clumsiest pedantry has something of her genius. . . .We obey her laws even when we resist them; we are working with her even when we mean to work against her. . . . Nature is everything. . . . She rewards and punishes, delights and tortures herself. . . . She has placed me into life, she will also lead me out of it. I trust myself into her care. She may hold sway over me. She will not hate her work. It was not I who spoke of her. Nay, it was Nature who spoke it all, true and false. Nature is the blame for all things; hers is the merit.
This is the polar opposite to Kant's world conception. According to Kant, nature is entirely in the human spirit; according to Goethe, the human spirit is entirely in nature because nature itself is spirit. It is, therefore, easily understandable when Goethe tells us in his essay The Influence of Modern Philosophy:
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason was completely outside my world. I attended many conversations concerning this book, and with some attention I could observe that the old main question of how much our own self contributed to our spiritual existence, and how much the outside world did, was renewed. I never separated them, and when I philosophized in my own way about objects, I did so with an unconscious naiveté, really believing that I saw my opinion before my very eyes.
We need not waver in this estimate of Goethe's attitude toward Kant, in spite of the fact that Goethe uttered many a favorable judgment about the philosopher of Koenigsberg. This opposition between Kant and himself would only then have become quite clear to him if he had engaged himself in a thorough study of Kant, but this he did not do. In the above-mentioned essay he says “It was the introductory passages that I liked; into the labyrinth itself, however, I could not venture to go; I was kept from it now by my poetic imagination, now by my common sense, and nowhere did I feel myself furthered.”
Goethe has, nevertheless, expressed his opposition distinctly on one occasion in a passage that has been published only from the papers of the residuary estate in the Weimar Goethe Edition (Weimarische Ausgabe, 2; Abteilung, Band XI, page 377). The fundamental error of Kant was, as here expressed by Goethe, that he “considers the subjective faculty of knowledge as an object and discriminates the point where the subjective and the objective meet with great penetration but not quite correctly.” Goethe just happens to be convinced that it is not only the spirit as such that speaks in the subjective human faculty of cognition, but that it is the spirit of nature that has created for itself an organ in man through which it reveals its secrets. It is not man at all who speaks about nature, but it is nature who speaks in man about itself. This is Goethe's conviction. Thus, he could say that whenever the controversy concerning Kant's worldview “was brought up, I liked to take the side that gave most honor to man, and I completely agreed with all those friends who maintained with Kant that, although all our knowledge begins with experience, it nevertheless does not originate from experience.” For Goethe believed that the eternal laws according to which nature proceeds are revealed in the human spirit, but for this reason, they were not merely the subjective laws of the spirit for him, but the objective laws of the order of nature itself.
It is for this reason also that Goethe could not agree when Schiller, under the influence of Kant, erected a forbidding wall of separation between the realms of natural necessity and of freedom. Goethe expressed himself on this point in his essay First Acquaintance with Schiller:
Schiller and some friends had absorbed the Kantian philosophy, which elevates the subject to such height while apparently narrowing it. It developed the extraordinary traits that nature had laid into his character and he, in his highest feeling of freedom and self-determination, tended to be ungrateful to the great mother who had certainly not treated him stingily. Instead of considering nature as self-supporting, alive, and productively spreading order and law from the lowest to the highest point, Schiller took notice of it only in the shape of a few empirical human natural inclinations.
In his essay The Influence of Modern Philosophy, Goethe points to his difference with Schiller in these words: “He preached the gospel of freedom; I was unwilling to see the rights of nature infringed upon.” There was, indeed, an element of Kant's mode of conception in Schiller, but so far as Goethe is concerned, we are right in accepting what he himself said with regard to some conversations he had with the followers of Kant: “They heard what I had to say but they could not answer me or further me in any way. More than once it happened that one or the other of them admitted to me with a surprised smile that my conception was, to be sure, analogous to that of Kant, but in a curious fashion indeed.”
Goethe did not consider art and beauty as a realm that was torn out of the interconnection of reality, but as a higher stage of nature's order. At the sight of artistic creations that especially interested him during his Italian journey he wrote: “Like the highest works of nature, the lofty works of art have been produced by men according to true and natural laws. Everything that is arbitrary and merely imagined fades away before them. Here is necessity; here is God.” When the artist proceeds as the Greeks did, namely, “according to the laws that Nature herself follows,” then his works contain the same godly element that is to be found in nature itself. For Goethe, art is “a manifestation of secret natural laws.” What the artist creates are works of nature on a higher level of perfection. Art is the continuation and human completion of nature, for “as man finds himself placed at the highest point of nature, he again considers himself a whole nature and as such has again to produce a peak in himself. For this purpose he raises his own existence by penetrating himself with all perfections and virtues, produces choice, order, harmony, and meaning, and finally lifts himself as far as to the production of the work of art.” Everything is nature, from the inorganic stone to the highest of man's works of art, and everything in this nature is ruled by the same “eternal, necessary, and thereby divine laws,” such that “the godhead itself could not change anything about it” (Poetry and Truth, Book XVI).
When, in 1811, Goethe read Jacobi's book On Things Divine, it made him “uneasy.”
How could the book of a so warmly beloved friend, in which I was to see the thesis developed that nature conceals God, be welcome to me! My mode of world conception — purely felt, deeply seated, inborn, and practiced daily as it was — had taught me inviolably to see God in Nature, Nature in God, and this to such an extent that this worldview formed the basis of my entire existence. Under these circumstances, was not such a strange, one-sided, and narrow-minded thesis to estrange me in spirit from this most noble man for whose heart I felt love and veneration? I did not, however, allow my painful vexation to linger with me but took refuge in my old asylum, finding my daily entertainment for several weeks in Spinoza's Ethics, and as my inner education had progressed in the meantime, to my astonishment I became aware of many things that revealed themselves to me in a new and different light and affected me with a peculiar freshness.
The realm of necessity in Spinoza's sense is a realm of inner necessity for Kant. For Goethe, it is the universe itself, and man with all his thinking, feeling, willing, and actions is a link in this chain of necessities. In this realm there is only one order of law, of which the natural and the moral represent only the two sides of its essence. “The sun sheds its light over those good and evil, and to the guilty as to the best, the moon and the stars shine brightly.” Out of one root, out of the eternal springs of nature, Goethe has everything pour forth: the inorganic and the organic beings, and man with all the fruits of his spirit, his knowledge, his moral order, and his art.
What God would just push the world from without,
And let it run in circles on his finger?
Him it behooves to move it in its core,
Be close to nature, hug her to her breast
So that what lives and weaves in him and is,
Will never lack his power and his spirit.
And let it run in circles on his finger?
Him it behooves to move it in its core,
Be close to nature, hug her to her breast
So that what lives and weaves in him and is,
Will never lack his power and his spirit.
In these words Goethe summed up his credo. Against Hailer, who had written the lines “Into nature's sacred center, no created spirits enter,” Goethe turns with his sharpest words:
“Into nature's sacred center,”
O, Philistine past compare
“No created spirits enter”
Wished you never would remind
Me and all those of my kind
Of this shallow verbal banter.
We think we are everywhere
With every step in Nature's care.
“Happy he to whom she just
Shows her dry external crust.”
I hear that repeated these sixty years
Curse under my breath so no one hears,
And to myself I a thousand times tell:
Nature has neither core nor shell,
Everything yields she gladly and well.
Nature is at our beck and call
Nature herself is one and all.
Better search yourself once more
Whether you be crust or core.
In following this world conception Goethe could also not recognize the difference between inorganic and organic nature that Kant had ascertained in his Critique of Judgment. Goethe tended to explain living organisms according to the laws by which lifeless nature is explained. Concerning the various species in the plant world, the leading botanist of that time, Linné, states that there were as many species as there “have been created fundamentally different forms.” A botanist who holds such an opinion can only attempt to study the quality of the individual forms and to differentiate them carefully from one another. Goethe could not consent to such a view of nature. “What Linnaeus wanted with might and main to separate, I felt in the very roots of my being as striving into union.” Goethe searched for an entity that was common to all species of plants. On his Italian journey this general archetype in all plant forms becomes clearer to him step by step.
The many plants I have heretofore been used to see only in buckets and pots, here grow merrily and vigorously under the open sky, and while they thus fulfill their destination, they become clearer to us. At the sight of such a variety of new and renewed forms, my curious and favorite idea again occurred to me. Could I not discover in this crowd the archetypal plant (Urpflanze)? There really must be such a thing. How should I otherwise know that this or that given form is a plant if they had not all been designed after one model?
On another occasion Goethe expresses himself concerning this archetypal plant by saying: “It is going to become the strangest creature of the world, for which nature herself shall envy me. With this model and the corresponding key, one is then capable of inventing plants to infinity, but they must be consistent in themselves, that is to say, plants that, even if they do not exist, at least could exist, and that are not merely shadows and schemes of a picturesque or poetic imagination, but have an inner truth and necessity.” As Kant, in his Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, exclaims “Give me matter and I will build you a world out of it,” because he has gained insight into the law-determined interconnection of this world, so Goethe pronounces here that with the aid of the archetypal plant one could invent plants indefinitely that would be capable of existence because one would be in possession of the law of their origin and their development. What Kant was ready to acknowledge only for inorganic nature — that is, that its phenomena can be understood according to necessary laws — Goethe extends also to the world of organisms. In the letter in which he tells Herder about his discovery of the archetypal plant, he adds: “The same law will be applicable to all other living beings,” and Goethe applies it, indeed. In 1795, his persevering studies of the animal world led him to “feel free to maintain boldly that all perfect organic beings, among which we see fishes, amphibia, birds, mammals, and at the top of the ladder, man, were formed after one model, which in its constant parts only varies in one or another direction and still develops and transforms daily through propagation.”
In his conception of nature as well, therefore, Goethe stands in full opposition to Kant. Kant had called it a risky “adventure of reason” should reason attempt to explain the living with regard to its origin. He considered the human faculty of cognition as unfit for such an explanation.
It is of infinite importance for reason not to eliminate the mechanism of nature in its productions, and not to pass by this idea in their explanation, because without it no insight into the nature of things can be obtained. Even if it is admitted to us that the highest architect has created the forms of nature as they have been forever, or predetermined those that form according to the same model in the course of their development, our knowledge of nature would thereby nevertheless not be furthered in the slightest degree because we do not know at all the mode of action and the ideas of this being that are to contain the principles of the possibility of the natural beings and therefore cannot explain nature by means of them from above.
Against Kantian arguments of this kind Goethe answers:
If, in the moral realm through faith in God, virtue, and immortality, we are to lift ourselves into the higher region and to approach the first Being, we should be in the same situation in the intellectual field, so that we, through the contemplation of an ever creative nature, should make ourselves worthy of a spiritual participation in its productions. As I had at first unconsciously and, following an inner instinct, insisted upon and relentlessly striven toward the archetypal, the typical, as I had even succeeded in constructing an appropriate picture, there was now nothing to keep me from courageously risking the adventure of reason, as the old man from Koenigsberg himself calls it.
In his archetypal plant, Goethe had seized upon an idea “with which one can . . . invent plants to infinity, but they must be consistent, that is to say, even if they do not exist, nevertheless they could exist and are not merely shadows and schemes of a picturesque or poetic imagination but have an inner truth and necessity.” Thus Goethe shows that he is about to find not merely the perceptible idea, the idea that is thought, in the self-conscious ego, but the living idea. The self-conscious ego experiences a realm in itself that manifests itself as both self-contained and at the same time appertaining to the external world, because the forms of the latter prove to be moulded after the models of the creative powers. With this step the self-conscious ego can appear as a real being. Goethe has developed a conception through which the self-conscious ego can feel itself enlivened because it feels itself in union with the creative entities of nature. The world conception of modern times attempted to master the riddle of the self-conscious ego; Goethe plants the living idea into this ego, and with this force of life pulsating in it, it proves to be a life-saturated reality. The Greek idea is akin to the picture; it is contemplated like a picture. The idea of modern times must be akin to life, to the living being; it is inwardly experienced. Goethe was aware of the fact that there is such an inward experience of the idea. In the self-conscious ego he perceived the breath of the living idea.
Goethe says of Kant's Critique of Judgment that he “owed a most happy period of his life to this book.” “The great leading thoughts of this work were quite analogous to my previous creations, actions, and thinking. The inner life of art and nature, the unfolding of the activity in both cases from within, was distinctly expressed in this book.” Yet this statement of Goethe must not deceive us concerning his opposition to Kant, for in the essay in which it occurs we also read: “Passionately stimulated, I proceeded on my own paths so much the quicker because I, myself, did not know where they led, and because I found little resonance with the Kantians for what I had conquered for myself and for the methods in which I had arrived at my results. For I expressed what had been stirred up in me and not what I had read.”
A strictly unitary (monastic) world conception is peculiar to Goethe. He sets out to gain one viewpoint from which the whole universe reveals its law structure — “from the brick that falls from the roof to the brilliant flash of inspiration that dawns on you and that you convey.” For “all effects, of whatever kind they may be, that we observe in experience are interconnected in the most continuous fashion and flow into one another.”
A brick is loosened from a roof. We ordinarily call this accidental. It hits the shoulder of a passerby, one would say mechanically, but not completely mechanically; it follows the laws of gravity and so its effect is physical. The torn vessels of living tissue immediately cease to function; at the same moment, the fluids act chemically: their elementary qualities emerge. But the disturbed organic life resists just as quickly and tries to restore itself. In the meantime, the whole human being is more or less unconscious and psychically shattered. Upon regaining consciousness the person feels ethically deeply hurt, deploring the interrupted activity of whatever kind it might have been, for man will only reluctantly yield to patience. Religiously, however, it will be easy for him to ascribe this incident to Providence, to consider it a prevention against a greater evil, as a preparation for a good of a higher order. This may be sufficient for the patient, but the recovered man arises genially, trusts in God and in himself and feels himself saved. He may well seize upon the accidental and turn it to his own advantage, thus beginning a new and eternally fresh cycle of life.
Thus, with the example of a fallen brick Goethe illustrates the interconnection of all kinds of natural effects. It would be an explanation in Goethe's sense if one could also derive their strictly law-determined interconnection out of one root.
Kant and Goethe appear as two spiritual antipodes at the most significant moment in the history of modern world conception, and the attitude of those who were interested in the highest questions was fundamentally different toward them. Kant constructed his world conception with all the technical means of a strict school philosophy; Goethe philosophized naively, depending trustfully on his healthy nature. For this reason Fichte, as mentioned above, believed that in Goethe he could only turn “to the representative of the purest spirituality of Feeling as it appears on the stage of humanity that has been reached at the present time.” But he had the opinion of Kant “that no human mind can advance further than to the limit at which Kant had stood, especially in his Critique of Judgment.” Whoever penetrates into the world conception of Goethe, however, which is presented in the cloak of naiveté, will, nevertheless, find a firm foundation that can be expressed in the form of clear ideas. Goethe himself did not raise this foundation into the full light of consciousness. For this reason, his mode of conception finds entrance only slowly into the evolution of philosophy, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century it is Kant's position with which the spirits first attempt to come to clarity and with whom they begin to settle their account.
No matter how great Kant's influence was, his contemporaries could not help feeling that their deeper need for knowledge could not become satisfied by him. Such a demand for enlightenment urgently seeks after a unitary world conception as it is given in Goethe's case. With Kant, the individual realms of existence are standing side by side without transition. For this reason Fichte, in spite of his unconditional veneration for Kant, could not conceal from himself the fact “that Kant had only hinted at the truth, but had neither presented nor proved it.” And further:
This wonderful, unique man had either a divination for the truth without being aware of the reasons for it, or he estimated his contemporaries as insufficient to have these reasons conveyed to them, or, again, he was reluctant during his lifetime to attract the superhuman veneration that sooner or later would have been bestowed upon him. No one has understood him as yet, and nobody will succeed in doing so who does not arrive at Kant's results in following his own ways; when it does happen, the world really will be astonished.
But I know just as certainly that Kant had such a system in mind, that all statements that he actually did express are fragments and results of this system, and have meaning and consistency only under this presupposition.
For if this were not the case, Fichte would “be more inclined to consider the Critique of Pure Reason the product of the strangest accident than as the work of a mind.”
Other contemporaries also judged Kant's world of ideas to be insufficient. Lichtenberg, one of the most brilliant and at the same time most independent minds of the second half of the eighteenth century, who appreciated Kant, nevertheless could not suppress significant objections to his philosophy. On the one hand he says: “What does it mean to think in Kant's spirit? I believe it means to find the relation of our being, whatever that may be, toward the things we call external, that is to say, to define the relation of the subjective to the objective. This, to be sure, has always been the aim of all thorough natural scientists, but it is questionable if they ever proceeded so truly philosophically as did Herr Kant. What is and must be subjective was taken as objective.”
On the other hand, however, Lichtenberg observes: “Should it really be an established fact that our reason cannot know anything about the supersensible? Should it not be possible for us to weave our ideas of God and immortality to as much purpose as the spider weaves his net to catch flies? In other words, should there not be beings who admire us because of our ideas of God and immortality just as we admire the spider and silkworm?”
One could, however, raise a much more significant objection. If it is correct that the law of human reason refers only to the inner worlds of the mind, how do we then manage even to speak of things outside ourselves at all? In that case, we should have to be completely caught in the cobweb of our inner world. An objection of this kind is raised by G. E. Schulze (1761 – 1833) in his book Aenesidemus, which appeared anonymously in 1792. In it he maintains that all our knowledge is nothing but mere conceptions and we could in no way go beyond the world of our inner thought pictures. Kant's moral truths are also finally refuted with this step, for if not even the possibility to go beyond the inner world is thinkable, then it is also impossible that a moral voice could lead us into such a world that is impossible to think. In this way a new doubt with regard to all truths develops out of Kant's view, and the philosophy of criticism is turned into scepticism.
One of the most consistent followers of scepticism is S. Maimon (1753 – 1800), who, from 1790 on, wrote several books that were under the influence of Kant and Schulze. In them he defended with complete determination the view that, because of the very nature of our cognitive faculty, we are not permitted to speak of the existence of external objects. Another disciple of Kant, Jacob Sigismund Beck, went even so far as to maintain that Kant himself had really not assumed things outside ourselves and that it was nothing but a misunderstanding if such a conception was ascribed to him.
One thing is certain; Kant offered his contemporaries innumerable points for attack and interpretations. Precisely through his unclarities and contradictions, he became the father of the classical German world conceptions of Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Herbart, and Schleiermacher. His unclarities became new questions for them. No matter how he endeavored to limit knowledge in order to make place for belief, the human spirit can confess to be satisfied in the true sense of the word only through knowledge, through cognition. So it came to pass that Kant's successors strove to restore knowledge to its full rights again, that they attempted to settle through knowledge the highest needs of man.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) seemed to be chosen by nature to continue Kant's work in this direction. Fichte confessed: “The love of knowledge and especially speculative knowledge, when it has laid hold on man, occupies him to such an extent that no other wish is left in him but that to pursue it with complete calm and concentration.” Fichte can be called an enthusiast of world conception. Through this enthusiasm he must have laid a charm on his contemporaries and especially on his students. Forberg, who was one of his disciples, tells us:
In his public addresses his speech rushes powerfully on like a thunderstorm that unloads its fire in individual strokes of lightning; he lifts the soul up; he means to produce not only good men but great men; his eye is stern; his step bold; through his philosophy he intends to lead the spirit of the age; his imagination is not flowery, but strong and powerful; his pictures are not graceful but bold and great. He penetrates into the innermost depths of his object and he moves in the realm of concepts with an ease that betrays that he not only lives in this invisible land, but rules there.
The most outstanding trait in Fichte's personality is the grand, serious style of his life conception. He measures everything by the highest standards. In describing the calling of the writer, for instance, he says:
The idea itself must speak, not the writer. All his arbitrary traits, his whole individuality, all the manner and art peculiar to himself must have died in his utterances so that the manner and art of his idea alone may live, the highest life it can obtain in this language and this age. Since he is free from the obligations of the oral teacher, he is also free to conform to the receptivity of others without their excuses. He has not a given reader in mind but postulates the one who reads him, laying down the law as to how he must do so.
But the work of the writer is a work for eternity. Let future ages swing up to a higher level in the science he has deposited in his work. What he has laid down in his book is not only the science, but the definite and perfect character of an age in regard to this science, and this will retain its interest as long as there are human beings in this world. Independent of all vicissitude, his writing speaks in all ages to all men who are capable of bringing his letters to life and who are stirred by his message, elevated and ennobled until the end of the world.
A man speaks in these words who is aware of his call as a spiritual leader of his age, and who seriously means what he says in the preface to his Doctrine of Science: “My person is of no importance at all, but Truth is of all importance, for ‘I am a priest of Truth’.” We can understand that a man who, like him, lives “in the Kingdom of Truth” does not merely mean to guide others to an understanding, but that he intended to force them to it. Thus he could give one of his writings the title: A Radiantly Clear Report to the Larger Public Concerning the Real Essence of the Newest Philosophy. An Attempt to Force the Readers to Understand. Fichte is a personality who believes that in order to walk life's course, he has no need of the real world and its facts; rather, he keeps his eyes riveted on the world of idea. He holds those in low esteem who do not understand such an idealistic attitude of spirit.
While in the narrow horizon that is given through ordinary experience, people think and judge more objectively and correctly than perhaps ever before, most are, nevertheless, completely confused and dazzled as soon as they are to go even one step further. Where it is impossible to rekindle the once extinguished spark of the higher genius, one has to leave them within the circle of their horizon and, insofar as they are useful and necessary in this circle, one can grant them their value in and for it without curtailment. But when they now demand of us to bring down to their level everything they, themselves, cannot reach up to, when they, for instance, demand that everything printed should be useful as a cookbook, or as a textbook of arithmetic, or as a book of general regulations and orders, and then decry everything that cannot be used in such a fashion, then they are very wrong indeed.
We know as well, and possibly better than they, that ideals cannot be presented in the real world. What we maintain, however, is that the reality has to be judged by them, to be modified through those who feel the necessary strength for it within themselves. Suppose they could not convince themselves of this necessity. Then they would lose very little of what they are by nature anyway, and humanity would lose nothing at all. Their decision would merely make clear that they alone are not counted on in the scheme of providence for mankind's perfection. Providence will doubtless continue to pursue its course; we commend those people, however, to the care of a kind nature, to supply them in due time with rain and sunshine, with wholesome food and an undisturbed circulation of their gastric juices, at the same time endowing them with clever thoughts!
Fichte wrote these words in the preface to the publication of the lectures in which he had spoken to the students of Jena on the Destination of the Scholar. Views like those of Fichte have their origin in a great energy of the soul, giving sureness for knowledge of world and life. Fichte had blunt words for all those who did not feel the strength in themselves for such a sureness. When the philosopher Reinhold ventured the statement that the inner voice of man could also be in error, Fichte replied: “You say the philosopher should entertain the thought that he, as an individual, could also be mistaken and that he, therefore, could and should learn from others. Do you know whose thought mood you are describing with these words? That of a man who has never in his whole life been really convinced of something.” To this vigorous personality, whose eyes were entirely directed to the inner life, it was repugnant to search anywhere else for a world conception, the highest aim man can obtain, except in his inner life. “All culture should be the exercise of all faculties toward the one purpose of complete freedom, that is to say, of the complete independence from everything that is not we, ourselves, our pure Self (reason, moral law), for only this is ours. . . .”
This is Fichte's judgment in his Contributions Toward the Corrections of the Public Judgments Concerning the French Revolution, which appeared in 1793. Should not the most valuable energy in man, his power of knowledge, be directed toward this one purpose of complete independence from everything that is not we, ourselves? Could we ever arrive at a complete independence if we were dependent in our world conception on any kind of being? — if it had been predetermined by such a being outside ourselves of what nature our soul and our duties are, and that we thereby procured a knowledge afterwards out of such an accomplished fact? If we are independent, then we must be independent also with regard to the knowledge of truth. If we receive something that has come into existence without our help, then we are dependent on this something. For this reason, we cannot receive the highest truths. We must create them, they must come into being through us. Thus, Fichte can only place something at the summit of his world conception that obtains its existence through ourselves. When we say about a thing of the external world: “It is,” we are doing so because we perceive it. We know that we are recognizing the existence of another being. What this other being is does not depend on us. We can know its qualities only when we direct our faculty of perception toward it. We should never know what “red,” “warm,” “cold” is, if we did not know it through perception. We cannot add anything to these qualities of the thing, nor can we subtract anything from them. We say: “They are.” What they are is what they tell us. This is entirely different in regard to our own existence. Man does not say to himself “It is,” but “I am.” He says, thereby, not only that he is, but also what he is, namely, an “I.” Only another being could say concerning me: “It is.” This is, in fact, what another being would have to say, for even in the case that this other being should have created me, it could not say concerning my existence: “I am.” The statement “I am” loses all meaning if it is not uttered by the being itself that speaks about its own existence. There is, therefore, nothing in the world that can address me as “I” except myself. This recognition of myself as an “I,” therefore, must be my own original action. No being outside myself can have influence on this.
At this point Fichte found something with respect to which he saw himself completely independent of every “foreign” entity. A God could create me, but he would have to leave it to myself to recognize myself as an “I.” I give my ego-consciousness to myself. In this way, Fichte obtained a firm point for his world conception, something in which there is certainty. How do matters stand now concerning the existence of other beings? l ascribe this existence to them, but to do so I have not the same right as with myself. They must become part of my “I” if I am to recognize an existence in them with the same right, and they do become a part of myself as I perceive them, for as soon as this is the case, they are there for me. What I can say is only: my “self” feels “red,” my “self' feels “warm.” Just as truly as I ascribe to myself an existence, I can also ascribe it to my feeling, to my sensation. Therefore, if I understand myself rightly, I can only say: I am, and I myself ascribe existence also to an external world.
For Fichte, the external world lost its independent existence in this way: It has an existence that is only ascribed to it by the ego, projected by the ego's imagination. In his endeavor to give to his own “self” the highest possible independence, Fichte deprived the outer world of all self-dependence. Now, where such an independent external world is not supposed to exist, it is also quite understandable if the interest in a knowledge concerning this external world ceases. Thereby, the interest in what is properly called knowledge is altogether extinguished, for the ego learns nothing through its knowledge but what it produces for itself. In all such knowledge the human ego holds soliloquies, as it were, with itself. It does not transcend its own being. It can do so only through what can be called living action. When the ego acts, when it accomplishes something in the world, then it is no longer alone by itself, talking to itself. Then its actions flow out into the world. They obtain a self-dependent existence. I accomplish something, and when I have done so, this something will continue to have its effect, even if I no longer participate in its action. What I know has being only through myself; what I do is part and parcel of a moral world order independent of myself. But what does all certainty that we derive from our own ego mean compared to this highest truth of a moral world order, which must surely be independent of ourselves if existence is to have any significance at all? All knowledge is something only for the ego, but this world order must be something outside the ego. It must be, in spite of the fact that we cannot know anything of it. We must, therefore, believe it.
In this manner Fichte also goes beyond knowledge and arrives at a belief. Compared to this belief, all knowledge is as dream to reality. The ego itself has only such a dream existence as long as it contemplates itself. It makes itself a picture of itself, which does not have to be anything but a passing picture; it is action alone that remains. Fichte describes this dream life of the world with significant words in his Vocation of Man:
There is nowhere anything permanent, neither within myself nor outside, but there is only a never-ceasing change. Nowhere do I know of any being, not even of my own being. I, myself, do not know at all, and I am not. Pictures are; they are the only thing that is, and they know of themselves after the fashion of pictures; hovering pictures that pass by, without anything that they pass: interconnected through pictures of pictures, pictures without anything that is depicted in them, without meaning and purpose. I, myself, am one of these pictures; in fact, I am not even that but only a confused picture of pictures. All reality is changed into a strange dream without a life of which to dream, without a spirit to do the dreaming; it changes into a dream which is held together by a dream of itself. Seeing — this is the dream; thinking — the source of all beings, of all reality, which I imagine, of my being, my strength of my purposes: this is the dream of that dream.
In what a different light the moral world order, the world of belief, appears to Fichte:
My will is to exert its effect absolutely through itself, without any tool that would only weaken its expression, in a completely homogeneous sphere, as reason upon reason, as spirit upon what is also spirit; in a sphere to which, however, my will is not to give the law of life, of activity, of progression, but which contains this in itself. My will, then, is to exert itself upon self-active reason — but self-active reason is will. The law of the supersensible world accordingly would be a will. . . . This sublime will, therefore, does not pursue its course separated from the rest of the world of reason in a detached fashion. There is a spiritual bond between the sublime will and all finite rational beings, and the sublime will itself is this spiritual bond within the world of reason. . . . I hide my face before you and I lay my hands on my lips. What you are for yourself and how you appear to yourself, I can never know, as surely as I can never become you. After having lived through a thousand spirit worlds a thousand times, I shall be able to understand you as little as now in this house of clay. What I understand becomes finite merely through my understanding it, and the finite can never be changed into the infinite, not even through an infinite growth and elevation. You are separated from the finite not by a difference in degree but in kind. Through that gradation they will make you into a greater and greater man, but never into God, into the infinite that is capable of no measure.
Because knowledge is a dream and the moral world order is the only true reality for Fichte, he places the life through which man participates in the moral world order higher than knowledge, the contemplation of things. “Nothing,” so Fichte maintains, “has unconditional value and significance except life; everything else — for instance, thinking, poetic imagination, and knowledge — has value only insofar as it refers in some way to the living, insofar as it proceeds from it or means to turn back into it.”
This is the fundamental ethical trait in Fichte's personality, which extinguished or reduced in significance everything in his world conception that does not directly tend toward the moral destination of man. He meant to establish the highest, the purest aims and standards for life, and for this purpose he refused to be distracted by any process of knowledge that might discover contradictions with the natural world order in these aims. Goethe made the statement: “The active person is always without conscience; no one has conscience except the onlooker.” He means to say that the contemplative man estimates everything in its true, real value, understanding and recognizing everything in its own proper place. The active man, however, is, above everything else, bent on seeing his demands fulfilled; he is not concerned with the question of whether or not he thereby encroaches upon the rights of things. Fichte was, above all, concerned with action; he was, however, unwilling to be charged by contemplation with lack of conscience. He, therefore, denied the value of contemplation.
To effect life immediately — this was Fichte's continuous endeavor. He felt most satisfied when he believed that his words could become action in others. It is under the influence of this ardent desire that he composed the following works: Demand to the Princes of Europe to Return the Freedom of Thought, Which They Have Heretofore Suppressed. Heliopolis in the Last Year of the Old Darkness 1792; Contributions Toward the Correction of the Public Judgment Concerning the French Revolution 1793. This ardent desire also caused him to give his powerful speeches: Outline of the Present Age, presented in Lectures in Berlin in 1804–5; Direction Toward the Beatific Life or Doctrine of Religion, lectures given in Berlin in 1806; finally, his Speeches to the German Nation, 1808.
Unconditional surrender to the moral world order, action that springs out of the deepest core of man's nature: these are the demands through which life obtains value and meaning. This view runs through all of Fichte's speeches and writings as the basic theme. In his Outline of the Present Age, he reprimands this age with flaming words for its egotism. He claims that everybody is only following the path prescribed by his lower desires, but these desires lead him away from the great totality that comprises the human community in moral harmony. Such an age must needs lead those who live in its tendency into decline and destruction. What Fichte meant to enliven in the human soul was the sense of duty and obligation.
In this fashion, Fichte attempted to exert a formative influence on the life of his time with his ideas, because he saw these ideas as vigorously enlivened by the consciousness that man derives the highest content of his soul life from a world to which he can obtain access by settling his account with his “ego” all by himself. In so doing man feels himself in his true vocation. From such a conviction, Fichte coins the words: “I, myself, and my necessary purpose are the supersensible.”
To be aware of himself as consciously living in the supersensible is, according to Fichte, an experience of which man is capable. When he arrives at this experience, he then knows the “I” within himself, and it is only through this act that he becomes a philosopher. This experience, to be sure, cannot be “proven” to somebody who is unwilling to undergo it himself. How little Fichte considers such a “proof” possible is documented by expressions such as: “The gift of a philosopher is inborn, furthered through education and then obtained by self-education, but there is no human art to make philosophers. For this reason, philosophy expects few proselytes among those men who are already formed, polished, and perfected. . . .”
Fichte is intent on finding a soul constitution through which the human ego can experience itself. The knowledge of nature seems unsuitable to him to reveal anything of the essence of the ego. From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, thinkers arose who were concerned with the question: What element could be found in the picture of nature by means of which the human being could become explainable in this picture? Goethe did not see the question in this way. He felt a spiritual nature behind the externally manifested one. For him, the human soul is capable of experiences through which it lives not only in the externally manifested, but within the creative forces. Goethe was in quest of the idea, as were the Greeks, but he did not look for it as perceptible idea. He meant to find it in participating in the world processes through inner experience where these can no longer be perceived. Goethe searched in the soul for the life of nature. Fichte also searched in the soul itself, but he did not focus his search where nature lives in the soul but immediately where the soul feels its own life kindled without regard to any other world processes and world entities with which this life might be connected. With Fichte, a world conception arose that exhausted all its endeavor in the attempt to find an inner soul life that compared to the thought life of the Greeks as did their thought life to the picture conception of the age before them. In Fichte, thought becomes an experience of the ego, as the picture had become thought with the Greek thinkers. With Fichte, world conception is ready to experience self-consciousness; with Plato and Aristotle, it had arrived at the point to think soul consciousness.
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Just as Kant dethroned knowledge in order to make place for belief, so Fichte declared knowledge to be mere appearance in order to open the gates for living action, for moral activity. A similar attempt was also made by Schiller — only in his case, the part that was claimed by belief in Kant's philosophy, and by action in that of Fichte, was now occupied by beauty. Schiller's significance in the development of world conception is usually underestimated. Goethe had to complain that he was not recognized as a natural scientist just because people had become accustomed to take him as a poet, and those who penetrate into Schiller's philosophical ideas must regret that he is appreciated so little by the scholars who deal with the history of world conception because Schiller's field is considered to be limited to the realm of poetry.
As a thoroughly self-dependent thinker, Schiller takes his attitude toward Kant, who had been so stimulating and thought-provoking to him. The loftiness of the moral belief to which Kant meant to lift man was highly appreciated by the poet who, in his Robbers, and Cabal and Love, had held a mirror to the corruption of his time. But he asked himself the question: Should it indeed be a necessary truth that man can be lifted to the height of “the categorical imperative” only through the struggle against his desires and urges? Kant wanted to ascribe to the sensual nature of man only the inclination toward the low, the self-seeking, the gratification of the senses, and only he who lifted himself above the sensual nature, who mortified the flesh and who alone allowed the pure spiritual voice of duty to speak within him — only he could be virtuous. Thus, Kant debased the natural man in order to be able to elevate the moral man so much the higher. To Schiller this judgment seemed to contain something that was unworthy of man. Should it not be possible to ennoble the impulses of man to become in themselves inclined toward the life of duty and morality? They would then not have to be suppressed to become morally effective. Schiller, therefore, opposes Kant's rigorous demand of duty in the epigram:
Scruples of Conscience.
Gladly I serve my friends, but, alas, I do so with pleasure
And so I oftentimes grieve that I lack virtue indeed.
And so I oftentimes grieve that I lack virtue indeed.
There is no better advice; you must try to despise them
And with disgust you must do strictly as duty commands.
And with disgust you must do strictly as duty commands.
Schiller attempted to dissolve these “scruples of conscience” in his own fashion. There are actually two impulses ruling in man: the impulses of the sensual desire, and the impulse of reason. If man surrenders to the sensual impulse, he is a plaything of his desires and passions, in short, of his egoism. If he gives himself completely up to the impulses of reason, he is a slave of its rigorous commands, its inexorable logic, its categorical imperative. A man who wants to live exclusively for the sensual impulse must silence reason; a man who wants to serve reason only must mortify sensuality. If the former, nevertheless, listens to the voice of reason, he will yield to it only reluctantly against his own will; if the latter observes the call of his desires, he feels them as a burden on his path of virtue. The physical nature of man and his spiritual character then seem to live in a fateful discord. Is there no state in man in which both the impulses, the sensual and the spiritual, live in harmony? Schiller's answer to this question is positive. There is, indeed, such a state in man. It is the state in which the beautiful is created and enjoyed. He who creates a work of art follows a free impulse of nature. He follows an inclination in doing so, but it is not physical passion that drives him. It is imagination; it is the spirit. This also holds for a man who surrenders to the enjoyment of a work of art. The work of art, while it affects his sensuality, satisfies his spirit at the same time. Man can yield to his desires without observing the higher laws of the spirit; he can comply with his duties without paying attention to sensuality. A beautiful work of art affects his delight without awakening his desires, and it transports him into a world in which he abides by virtue of his own disposition. Man is comparable to a child in this state, following his inclinations in his actions without asking if they run counter to the laws of reason. “The sensual man is led through beauty . . . into thinking; through beauty, the spiritual man is led back to matter, returned to the world of the senses”(Letters on the Esthetic Education of Man; Letter 18).
The lofty freedom and equanimity of the spirit, combined with strength and vigor is the mood in which we should part from a genuine work of art; there is no surer test of its true aesthetic quality. If, after an enjoyment of this kind, we find ourselves inclined to some particular sentiment or course of action, but awkward and ill at ease for another, then this can serve as infallible proof that we have not experienced a pure aesthetic effect; this may be caused by the object or our mode of approach, or (as is almost always the case) by both causes simultaneously. (Letter 22)
As man is, through beauty, neither the slave of sensuality nor of reason, but because through its mediation both factors contribute their effect in a balanced cooperation in man's soul, Schiller compares the instinct for beauty with the child's impulse who, in his play, does not submit his spirit to the laws of reason, but employs it freely according to his inclination. It is for this reason that Schiller calls the impulse for beauty, play-impulse:
In relation to the agreeable, to the good, to the perfect, man is only serious, but he plays with beauty. In this respect, to be sure, we must not think of the games that go on in real life and that ordinarily are concerned with material objects, but in real life we should also search in vain for the beauty that is meant here. The beauty existing in reality is on the same level as the play-impulse in the real world, but through the ideal of beauty, which is upheld by reason, an ideal is also demanded of the play-impulse that man is to consider wherever he plays. (Letter 15)
In the realization of this ideal play-impulse, man finds the reality of freedom. Now he no longer obeys reason, nor does he follow sensual inclinations any longer. He now acts from inclination as if the spring of his action were reason. “Man shall only play with beauty, and it is only with beauty that he shall play. . To state it without further reserve, man plays only when he is human in the full sense of the word, and he is only wholly human when he is playing.” Schiller could also have said: In play man is free; in following the command of duty, and in yielding to sensuality, he is unfree. If man wants to be human in the full meaning of the word, and also with regard to his moral actions — that is to say, if he really wants to be free — then he must live in the same relation to his virtues as he does to beauty. He must ennoble his inclinations into virtues and must be so permeated by his virtues that he feels no other inclination than that of following them. A man who has established this harmony between inclination and duty can, in every moment, count on the morality of his actions as a matter of course.
From this viewpoint, one can also look at man's social life. A man who follows his sensual desires is self-seeking. He would always be bent on his own well-being if the state did not regulate the social intercourse through laws of reason. The free man accomplishes through his own impulse what the state must demand of the self-seeking. In a community of free men no compulsory laws are necessary.
In the midst of the fearful world of forces, and in the awe-demanding sanctuary of laws, the aesthetic formative impulse is imperceptibly building a third delightful realm of play and appearances in which man is released from the fetters of all circumstances and freed from everything that is called compulsion, both in the physical and in the moral world. (Letter 27)
This realm extends upward as far as the region where reason rules with unconditional necessity and where all matter ceases; it stretches below as far as the world in which the force of nature holds sway with blind compulsion.
Thus, Schiller considers a moral realm as an ideal in which the temper of virtue rules with the same ease and freedom as the aesthetic taste governs in the realm of beauty. He makes life in the realm of beauty the model of a perfect moral social order in which man is liberated in every direction. Schiller closes the beautiful essay in which he proclaims this ideal with the question of whether such an order had anywhere been realized. He answers with the words:
As a need, it exists in every delicately attuned soul; as an actuality it can probably only be found, like the pure church and the pure republic, in a few select circles where not the thoughtless imitation of heterogeneous customs but the inherent beautiful nature guides the demeanor, where man goes with undismayed simplicity and undisturbed innocence through the most complicated situations without the need of offending the freedom of others nor of defending his own, without need of offending his dignity in order to show charm and grace.
In this virtue refined into beauty, Schiller found a mediation between the world conceptions of Kant and Goethe. No matter how great the attraction that Schiller had found in Kant when the latter had defended the ideal of a pure humanity against the prevailing moral order, when Schiller became more intimately acquainted with Goethe he became an admirer of Goethe's view of world and life. Schiller's mind, always relentlessly striving for the purest clarity of thought, was not satisfied before he had succeeded in penetrating also conceptually into this wisdom of Goethe. The high satisfaction Goethe derived from his view of beauty and art, and also for his conduct of life, attracted Schiller more and more to the mode of Goethe's conception. In the letter in which Schiller thanks Goethe for sending him his Wilhelm Meister, he says:
I cannot express to you how painfully I am impressed when I turn from a product of this kind to the bustle of philosophy. In the one world everything is so serene, so alive, so harmoniously dissolved, so truly human; in the other, everything is so rigorous, so rigid and abstract, so unnatural, because nature is always nothing but synthesis and philosophy is antithesis. I may claim, to be sure, to have in all my speculations remained as faithful to nature as is compatible with the concept of analysis; I may, indeed, have remained more faithful to her than our Kantians considered permissible and possible. I feel, nevertheless, the infinite distance between life and reflection, and in such a melancholy moment I cannot help considering as a defect in my nature what, in a more cheerful hour, I must regard as merely a trait inherent in the nature of things. In the meantime, I am certain of this at least: The poet is the only true man and, compared to him, the best philosopher is merely a caricature.
This judgment of Schiller can only refer to the Kantian philosophy with which he had had his experiences. In many respects, it estranges man from nature. It approaches nature with no confidence in it but recognizes as valid truth only what is derived from man's own mental organization. Through this trait all judgments of that philosophy seem to lack the lively content and color so characteristic of everything that has its source in the immediate experience of nature's events and things themselves. This philosophy moves in bloodless, gray, and cold abstractions. It has sacrificed the warmth we derive from the immediate touch with things and beings and has exchanged the frigidity of its abstract concepts for it. In the field of morality, also, Kant's world conception presents the same antagonism to nature. The duty-concept of pure reason is regarded as its highest aims. What man loves, what his inclinations tend to, everything in man's being that is immediately rooted in man's nature, must be subordinated to this ideal of duty. Kant goes even as far as the realm of beauty to extinguish the share that man must have in it according to his original sensations and feelings. The beautiful is to produce a delight that is completely “free from interest.” Compare that with how devoted, how really interested Schiller approaches a work in which he admires the highest stage of artistic production. He says concerning Wilhelm Meister:
I can express the feeling that permeates me and takes possession of me as I read this book no better than as a sweet well-being, as a feeling of spiritual and bodily health, and I am firmly convinced that this must be the feeling with all readers in general. . . . I explain this well-being with the quiet clarity, smoothness, and transparency that prevails throughout the book, leaving the reader without the slightest dissatisfaction and disturbance, and producing no more emotion than is necessary to kindle and support a cheerful life in his soul.
These are not the words of somebody who believes in delight without interest, but of a man who is convinced that the pleasure in the beautiful is capable of being so refined that a complete surrender to this pleasure does not involve degradation. Interest is not to be extinguished as we approach the work of art; rather are we to become capable of including in our interest what has its source in the spirit. The “true” man is to develop this kind of interest for the beautiful also with respect to his moral conceptions. Schiller writes in a letter to Goethe: “It is really worth observing that the slackness with regard to aesthetic things appears always to be connected with moral slackness, and that a pure rigorous striving for high beauty with the highest degree of liberality concerning everything that is nature will contain in itself rigorism in moral life.”
The estrangement from nature in the world conception and in all of the culture of the time in which he lived was felt so strongly by Schiller that he made it the subject of his essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry. He compares the life conception of his time with that of the Greeks and raises the question: “How is it that we, who are infinitely surpassed by the ancients in everything that is nature, can render homage to nature to a higher degree, cling to her with fervor, and can embrace even the lifeless world with the warmest sentiments?” He answers this question by saying:
This is caused by the fact that, with us, nature has vanished out of humanity and we therefore find her in reality only outside humanity in the inanimate world. It is not our greater naturalness, but, quite to the contrary, the unnaturalness of our lives, state of affairs, and customs that drives us to give satisfaction in the physical to the awakening sense for truth and simplicity, which, like the moral faculty from which it springs, lies without corruption and inextinguishably in all men's hearts because we no longer can hope to find it in the moral world. It is for this reason that the feeling with which we cling to nature is so closely related to the sentiment with which we lament the loss of the age of childhood and of the child's innocence. Our childhood is the only unspoiled nature that we still find in civilized humanity, and it is, therefore, no wonder that every footstep of nature leads us back to our own childhood.
This was entirely different with the Greeks. They lived their lives within the bounds of the natural. Everything they did sprang from their natural conception, feeling, and sentiment. They were intimately bound to nature. Modern man feels himself in his own being placed in contrast to nature. As the urge toward this primeval mother of being cannot be extinguished, it transforms itself in the modern soul into a yearning for nature, into a search for it. The Greek had nature; modern man searches for nature.
As long as man is still pure nature and, to be sure, not brutal, he acts as an undivided sensual unity and as a harmonizing whole. His senses and his reason, his receptive and his self-active faculties, have not as yet separated in their function and certainly do not act in contradiction to each other. His sentiments are not the formless play of chance; his thoughts, not the empty play of his imagination. These thoughts have their origin in the law of necessity; the sentiments, in reality. As soon as man comes into the state of civilization, and as soon as art enters into his sphere of life, the sensual harmony is dissolved and he can now only act as a moral unity, that is to say, as striving for unity. The agreement between his perception and his thought, which in his former state was actual, is now merely ideal; it is no longer in him, but beyond him; as a thought whose realization is demanded, it is no longer a fact of his life.
The fundamental mood of the Greek spirit was naive, that of modern man is sentimental. The Greeks' world conception could, for this reason, be rightly realistic, for he had not yet separated the spiritual from the natural; for him, nature included the spirit. If he surrendered to nature, it was to a spirit-saturated nature. This is not so with modern man. He has detached the spirit from nature; he has lifted the spirit into the realm of gray abstractions. If he were to surrender to his nature, he would yield to a nature deprived of all spirit. Therefore, his loftiest striving must be directed toward the ideal; through the striving for this goal, spirit and nature are to be reconciled again. In Goethe's mode of spirit, however, Schiller found something that was akin to the Greek spirit. Goethe felt that he saw his ideas and thoughts with his eyes because he felt reality as an undivided unity of spirit and nature. According to Schiller, Goethe had preserved something in himself that will be attained again by the “sentimental man” when he has reached the climax of his striving. Modern man arrives at such a summit in the aesthetic mood as Schiller describes it: in the state of soul in which sensuality and reason are harmonized again.
The nature of the development of modern world conception is significantly characterized in the observation Schiller made to Goethe in his letter of August 23, 1794:
Had you been born a Greek and been surrounded since birth by exquisite nature and idealizing art, your road would have been infinitely shortened; perhaps it would have been made entirely unnecessary. With the very first perception of things, you would have absorbed the form of the necessary, and with your first experience, the grand style would have developed within you. As it is now . . . since your Greek spirit was cast into this nordic creation, you had no other choice than either to become a nordic artist yourself or to supplement your imagination by means of thought for what reality fails to supply, and thus to give birth from within to another Greece.
Schiller, as these sentences show, is aware of the course that the development of soul life has taken from the age of the ancient Greeks until his own time, for the Greek soul life disclosed itself in the life of thought and he could accept this unveiling because thought was for him a perception like the perception of color and sounds. This kind of thought life has faded away for modern man. The powers that weave creatively through the world must be experienced by him as an inner soul experience, and in order to render this imperceptible thought life inwardly visible, it nevertheless must be filled by imagination. This imagination must be such that it is felt as one with the creative powers of nature.
Because soul consciousness has been transformed into self-consciousness in modern man, the question of world conception arises: How can self-consciousness experience itself so vividly that it feels its conscious process as permeating the creative process of the living world forces? Schiller answered this question for himself in his own fashion when he claimed the life in the artistic experience as his ideal. In this experience the human self-consciousness feels its kinship with an element that transcends the mere nature picture. In it, man feels himself seized by the spirit as he surrenders as a natural and sensual being to the world. Leibniz had attempted to understand the human soul as a monad. Fichte had not proceeded from a mere idea to gain clarity of the nature of the human soul; he searched for a form of experience in which this soul lays hold on its own being. Schiller raises the question: Is there a form of experience for the human soul in which it can feel how it has its roots in spiritual reality? Goethe experiences ideas in himself that present themselves to him at the same time as ideas of nature.
In Goethe, Fichte, and Schiller the experienced idea — one could also say, the idea-experience — forces its way into the soul. Such a process had previously happened in the world of the Greeks with the perceived idea, the idea-perception.
The world and life conception that lived in Goethe in a natural (naive) way, and toward which Schiller strove on all detours of his thought development, does not feel the need for the kind of universally valid truth that sees its ideal in the mathematical form. It is satisfied by another truth, which our spirit derives from the immediate intercourse with the real world. The insights Goethe derived from the contemplation of the works of art in Italy were, to be sure, not of the unconditional certainty as are the theorems of mathematics, but they also were less abstract. Goethe approached them with the feeling: “Here is necessity, here is God.” A truth that could not also be revealed in a perfect work of art did not exist for Goethe. What art makes manifest with its technical means of tone, marble, color, rhythm, etc., springs from the same source from which the philosopher also draws who does not avail himself of visual means of presentation but who uses as his means of expression only thought, the idea itself. “Poetry points at the mysteries of nature and attempts to solve them through the picture,” says Goethe. “Philosophy points at the mysteries of reason and attempts to solve them through the word.” In the final analysis, however, reason and nature are, for him, inseparably one; the same truth is the foundation of both. An endeavor for knowledge which lives in detachment from things in an abstract world does not seem to him to be the highest form of cognitive life. “It would be the highest attainment to understand that all factual knowledge is already theory.” The blueness of the sky reveals the fundamental law of color phenomena to us. “One should not search for anything behind the phenomena; they, themselves, are the message.”
The psychologist Heinroth, in his Anthology, called the mode of thinking through which Goethe arrived at his insights into the natural formation of plants and animals an “object-related thinking” (Gegenstaendliches Denken). What he means is that this mode of thinking does not detach itself from its objects, but that the objects of observation are intimately permeated with this thinking, that Goethe's mode of thinking is at the same time a form of observation, and his mode of observation a form of thinking. Schiller becomes a subtle observer as he describes this mode of spirit. He writes on this subject in a letter to Goethe:
Your observing eye, which so calmly and clearly rests on things, keeps you from being ever exposed to the danger of going astray in the direction where speculation and an arbitrary, merely introspective imagination so easily lose their way. Your correct intuition contains everything, and in a far greater completeness, for which an analytical mind searches laboriously; only because everything is at your disposal as a complete whole are you unaware of your own riches, for unfortunately we know only what we dissect. Spirits of your kind, therefore, rarely know how far advanced they are and how little cause they have to borrow from philosophy, which in turn can only learn from them.
For the world conception of Goethe and Schiller, truth is not only contained in science, but also in art. Goethe expresses his opinion as follows: “I think science could be called the knowledge of the general art. Art would be science turned into action. Science would be reason, and art its mechanism, wherefore one could also call it practical science. Thus, finally, science would be the theorem and art the problem.” Goethe describes the interdependence of scientific cognition and artistic expression of knowledge thus:
It is obvious that an. . . . artist must become greater and more erudite if he not only has his talent but is also a well-informed botanist; if he knows, starting from the root, all the influences of the various parts of a plant on its thriving and growth, their function and mutual effect; if he has an insight into the successive development of the leaves, the flowers, the fertilization, the fruit, and the new germ, and if he contemplates this process. Such an artist will not merely show his taste through his power of selection from the realm of appearances, but he will also surprise us with his correct presentation of the characteristic qualities.
Thus, truth rules in the process of artistic creation, for the artistic style depends, according to this view, “. . . on the deepest foundations of knowledge, on the essence of things insofar as it is permissible to know it in visible and touchable forms.” The fact that creative imagination is granted a share in the process of knowledge and that the abstract intellect is no longer considered to be the only cognitive faculty is a consequence of this view concerning truth. The conceptions on which Goethe based his contemplations on plant and animal formations were not gray and abstract thoughts but sensual-supersensual pictures, created by spontaneous imagination. Only observation combined with imagination can really lead into the essence of things, not bloodless abstraction; this is Goethe's conviction. For this reason, Goethe said about Galileo that he made his observations as a genius “for whom one case represents a thousand cases . . . when he developed the doctrine of the pendulum and the fall of bodies from swinging church lamps.” Imagination uses the one case in order to produce a content-saturated picture of what is essential in the appearances; the intellect that operates by means of abstractions can, through combination, comparison, and calculation of the appearances, gain no more than a general rule of their course. This belief in the possible cognitive function of an imagination that rises into a conscious participation in the creative world process is supported by Goethe's entire world conception. Whoever, like him, sees nature's activity in everything, can also see in the spiritual content of the human imagination nothing but higher products of nature. The pictures of fantasy are products of nature, and, as they represent nature, they can only contain truth, for otherwise nature would lie to herself in these afterimages that she creates of herself. Only men with imagination can attain to the highest stages of knowledge. Goethe calls these men the “comprehensive” and the “contemplative,” in contrast to the merely “intellectual-inquisitive,” who have remained on a lower stage of cognitive life.
The intellectual-inquisitive need a calm, unselfish power of observation, the excitement of curiosity, a clear intellect . . . ; they only digest scientifically what they find ready-made.
The contemplative are already creative in their attitude, and knowledge in them, as it reaches a higher level, demands contemplation unconsciously and changes over into that form; much as they may shun the word “imagination,” they will, nevertheless, before they are aware of it, call upon the support of creative imagination. . . The comprehensive thinkers who, with a prouder name, could be called creative thinkers, are, in their attitude, productive in the highest sense, for, as they start from ideas, they express from the outset the unity of the whole. From then on, it is the task of nature, as it were, to submit to these ideas.
It cannot occur to the believer in such a form of cognition to speak of limitations of human knowledge in a Kantian fashion, for he experiences within himself what man needs as his truth. The core of nature is in the inner life of man. The world conception of Goethe and Schiller does not demand of its truth that it should be a repetition of the world phenomena in conceptual form. It does not demand that its conception should literally correspond to something outside man. What appears in man's inner life as an ideal element, as something spiritual, is as such not to be found in any external world; it appears as the climax of the whole development. For this reason it does not, according to this philosophy, have to appear in all human beings in the same shape. It can take on an individual form in any individual. Whoever expects to find the truth in the agreement with something external can acknowledge only one form of it, and he will look for it, with Kant, in the type of metaphysics that alone “will be able to present itself as science.” Whoever sees the element in which, as Goethe states in his essay on Winckelmann, “the universe, if it could feel itself, would rejoice at having arrived at its aim in which it could admire the climax of its own becoming and being,” such a thinker can say with Goethe: “If I know my relation to myself and to the external world, I call this truth; in this way everybody can have his own truth and it is yet the same.” For “man in himself, insofar as he uses his healthy senses, is the greatest and most exact apparatus of physics that is possible. Yet, that the experiments separated, as it were, from man, and that one wants to know nature only according to the indications of artificial instruments, even intending to limit and prove in this way what nature is capable of, is the greatest misfortune of modern physics.” Man, however, “stands so high that in him is represented what cannot be represented otherwise. What is the string and all mechanical division of it compared to the ear of the musician? One can even say: ‘What are all elementary phenomena of nature themselves compared to man, who must master and modify them all in order to be able to assimilate them to himself to a tolerable degree.’ ”
Concerning his world picture, Goethe speaks neither of a mere knowledge of intellectual concepts nor of belief; he speaks of a contemplative perception in the spirit. He writes to Jacobi: “You trust in belief in God; I, in seeing.” This seeing in the spirit as it is meant here thus enters into the development of world conception as the soul force that is appropriate to an age to which thought is no longer what it had been to the Greek thinkers, but in which thought had revealed itself as a product of self-consciousness — a product, however, that is arrived at through the fact that this self-consciousness is aware of itself as having its being within the spiritually creative forces of nature. Goethe is the representative of an epoch of world conception in which the need is felt to make the transition from mere thinking to spiritual seeing. Schiller strives to justify this transition against Kant's position.
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The close alliance that was formed by Goethe, Schiller, and their contemporaries between poetic imagination and world conception has freed this conception from the lifeless expression that it must take on when it exclusively moves in the region of the abstract intellect. This alliance has resulted in the belief that there is a personal element in world conception. It is possible for man to work out an approach to the world for himself that is in accordance with his own specific nature and enter thereby into the world of reality, not merely into a world of fantastic schemes. His ideal no longer needs to be that of Kant, which is formed after the model of mathematics and arrives at a world picture that is once and for all finished and completed. Only from a spiritual atmosphere of such a conviction that has an inspiring effect on the human individuality can a conception like that of Jean Paul (1763 – 1825) arise. “The heart of a genius, to whom all other splendor and help-giving energies are subordinated, has one genuine symptom, namely, a new outlook on world and life.” How could it be the mark of the highest developed man, of genius, to create a new world and life conception if the conceived world consisted only in one form? Jean Paul is, in his own way, a defender of Goethe's view that man experiences inside his own self the ultimate existence. He writes to Jacobi:
Properly speaking, we do not merely believe in divine freedom, God and virtue, but we really see them manifested or in the process of manifestation; this very seeing is a knowing and a higher form of knowing, while the knowledge of intellect merely refers to a seeing of a lower order. One could call reason the consciousness of the only positive, for everything positive experienced by sense perception does finally dissolve into the spiritual, and understanding carries on its bustle only with the relative, which in itself is nothing, so that before God all conditions of “more or less” and all stages of comparison cease to be.
Jean Paul will not allow anything to deprive him of the right to experience truth inwardly and to employ all forces of the soul for this purpose. He will not be restricted to the use of logical intellect.
Transcendental philosophy [Jean Paul has in mind here the world view following Kant] is not to tear the heart, man's living root, out of his breast to replace it with a pure impulse of selfhood; I shall not consent to be liberated from the dependence of Love, to be blessed by pride only.
With these words he rejects the world-estranged moral order of Kant.
I remain firmly with my conviction that there are four last, and four first, things: Beauty, Truth, Morality, and Salvation, and their synthesis is not only necessary but also already a fact, but only in a subtle spiritual-organic unity (and for just this reason it is a unity), without which we could not find any understanding of these four evangelists or world continents, nor any transition between them.
The critical analysis of the intellect, which proceeded with an extreme logical rigor, had, in Kant and Fichte, come to the point of reducing the self-dependent significance of the real life-saturated world to a mere shadow, to a dream picture. This view was unbearable to men gifted with spontaneous imagination, who enriched life by the creation of their imaginative power. These men felt the reality; it was there in their perception, present in their souls, and now it was attempted to prove to them its mere dreamlike quality. “The windows of the philosophical academic halls are too high to allow a view into the alleys of real life” was the answer of Jean Paul.
Fichte strove for the purest, highest, experienced truth. He renounced all knowledge that does not spring from our own inner source. The counter movement to his world conception is formed by the Romantic Movement. Fichte acknowledges only the truth, and the inner life of man only insofar as it reveals the truth; the world conception of the Romanticists acknowledges only the inner life, and it declares as valuable everything that springs from this inner life. The ego is not to be chained by anything external. Whatever it produces is justified.
One may say about the Romantic Movement that it carries Schiller's statement to its extreme consequence: “Man plays only where he is human in the full sense of the word, and he is only wholly human when he is playing.” Romanticism wants to make the whole world into a realm of the artistic. The fully developed man knows no other norms than the laws he creates through his freely ruling imaginative power, in the same way as the artist creates those laws he impresses into his works. He rises above everything that determines him from without and lives entirely through the springs of his own self. The whole world is for him nothing but material for his aesthetic play. The seriousness of man in his everyday life is not rooted in truth. The soul that arrives at true knowledge cannot take seriously the things by themselves; for such a soul they are not in themselves valuable. They are endowed with value only by the soul. The mood of a spirit that is aware of his sovereignty over things is called by the Romanticists, the ironical mood of spirit.
Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand Solger (1780 – 1819) gave the following explanation of the term “romantic irony”: The spirit of the artist must comprise all directions in one sweeping glance, and this glance, hovering above everything, looking down on everything and annihilating it, we call “irony.” Friedrich Schlegel (1772 – 1829), one of the leading spokesmen for the romantic turn of spirit, states concerning this mood of irony that it takes everything in at a glance and rises infinitely above everything that is limited, also above some form of art, virtue, or genius. Whoever lives in this mood feels bound by nothing; nothing determines the direction of his activity for him. He can “at his own pleasure tune himself to be either philosophical or philological, critical or poetical, historical or rhetorical, antique or modern.” The ironical spirit rises above an eternal moral world order, for this spirit is not told what to do by anything except himself. The ironist is to do what he pleases, for his morality can only be an aesthetic morality. The Romanticists are the heirs of Fichte's thought of the uniqueness of the ego. They were, however, unwilling to fill this ego with a moral belief, as Fichte did, but stood above all on the right of fantasy and of the unrestrained power of the soul. With them, thinking was entirely absorbed by poetic imagination. Novalis says: “It is quite bad that poetry has a special name and that the poet represents a special profession. It is not anything special by itself. It is the mode of activity proper to the human spirit. Are not the imaginations of man's heart at work every minute?” The ego, exclusively concerned with itself, can arrive at the highest truth: “It seems to man that he is engaged in a conversation, and some unknown spiritual being causes him to develop the most evident thoughts in a miraculous fashion."
Fundamentally, what the Romanticists aimed at did not differ from what Goethe and Schiller had also made their credo: a conception of man through which he appeared as perfect and as free as possible. Novalis experiences his poems and contemplations in a soul mood that had a relationship toward the world picture similar to that of Fichte. Fichte's spirit, however, works the sharp contours of pure concepts, while that of Novalis springs from a richness of soul, feeling where others think, living in the element of love where others aim to embrace what is and what goes on in the world with ideas. It is the tendency of this age, as can be seen in its representative thinkers, to search for the higher spirit-nature in which the self-conscious soul is rooted because it cannot have its roots in the world of sense reality. Novalis feels and experiences himself as having his being within the higher spirit nature. What he expresses he feels through his innate genius as the revelations of this very spirit nature. He writes:
One man succeeded; he lifted the veil of the goddess at Sardis. What did he see then? He saw — wonder of wonders — himself.
Novalis expresses his own intimate feeling of the spiritual mystery behind the world of the senses and of human self-consciousness as the organ through which this mystery reveals itself, in these words:
The spirit world is indeed already unlocked for us; it is always revealed. If we suddenly became as elastic as we should be, we should see ourselves in the midst of it.
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