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The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception

On-line since: 30th November, 2012


Psychological Cognition

(See Exposition on Brief, Chapter 18)

T HE FIRST science in which the human spirit deals with itself is psychology. The mind here stands observing itself.

Fichte assigned an existence to man only to the extent that man ascribes this to himself. In other words, human personality has only those traits, characteristics, capacities which it ascribes to itself through insight into its own being. A human capacity of which a man knew nothing would not be recognized by him as his own but would be attributed to some one alien to him. When Fichte supposed that he could base the whole knowledge of the universe on this truth, he was in error. It is ordained to be the highest principle of psychology. It determines the method of psychology. If the human spirit possesses a characteristic only in so far as it attributes this to itself, then the psychological method consists in the immersion of the mind in its own activity. Here, then, self-apprehension is the method.

It is obvious that in this discussion we do not restrict psychology to being the science of the fortuitous characteristics of any one human individual (this one or that one). We release the single mind from its fortuitous limitations, from its accessory traits, and seek to raise ourselves to a consideration of the human individual in general.

Indeed, what is determinative is not that we consider the wholly fortuitous individuality but that we clarify our minds as to the self-determining individual in general. Whoever should say at this point that we should in that case be dealing with nothing more than the type of humanity confuses the type with the generalized concept. It is essential to the type that it, as the general, confronts its single forms. Not so with the concept of the human individual. Here the general is active immediately in the individual being, except that this activity expresses itself in various ways according to the object toward which it is directed. The type exists in single forms and in these comes into reciprocal activity with the external world. The human spirit has only one form. But in one case certain objects move his feelings; in another this ideal inspires him to actions; etc. It is not a specialized form of the human spirit; it is always the entire and complete man with whom we have to deal. He must be released from his surroundings if he is to be comprehended. If we wish to arrive at the type, we must ascend from the single form to the primal form; if we wish to arrive at the human spirit, we must ignore the expressions in which it manifests itself, the special acts which it performs, and observe it in and of itself. We must discover how it behaves in general, not how it has behaved in this or that situation. In the case of the type we must separate the universal form, by comparison, from the single forms; in psychology we must separate the single forms only from their surroundings.

Here the case is no longer the same as in organics, that in the particular being we recognize the molding of the primal form; but here, in perceiving the single forms, we recognize the primal form itself. The spiritual being of man is notone formation of its Idea, butthe formation thereof. When Jacobi believes that, in becoming aware of our inner entity, we at the same time attain to the conviction that a unitary being lies at the basis of this entity (intuitive self-apprehension) his thought is in error, because we really become aware of this unitary being itself. What is otherwise intuition becomes here self-contemplation. In regard to the highest form of being this is also an objective necessity. What the human spirit can read out of phenomena is the highest form of content which it can attain at all. If the spirit then reflects upon itself, it must recognize itself as the direct manifestation of this highest: as, indeed, its very bearer. What the spirit finds as unity in multiform reality, this it must find in its own singleness as immediate existence. What it contrasts with particularization as the general, — this it must attribute to its own individuality as its very nature.

From all this it becomes clear that a true psychology can be attained only when we enter into the character of the human spirit in its activity. Nowadays in place of this method the effort has been made to set up another in which the subject matter of psychology has been, not the human spirit itself, but the phenomena in which the spirit expresses its existence. It is supposed that the external expressions of the mind can be brought into an external interrelationship, as can be done with the facts of inorganic Nature. In this way the effort is made to found a “theory of the soul without any soul.” From our reflections it becomes evident that, by such a method, we lose sight of the very thing that is important. What ought to be done is to separate the human spirit from its manifestations and return to the spirit itself as the producer of these. Psychologists restrict themselves to the former and lose sight of the latter. Just here they have allowed themselves to be brought to the false standpoint which would apply to all sciences the methods of mechanics, physics, etc.

The unitary soul is given to us in experience just as are its single actions. Every man is conscious of the fact that his thinking, feeling, and willing proceed from his ego. Every activity of our personality is bound up with this center of our being. If, in the case of any action, we ignore this union with the personality, it ceases to be a manifestation of the soul. It belongs under the concept either of inorganic or of organic nature. If two balls lie on the table, and I thrust one against another, all that happens is resolved into physical or physiological occurrence, if my purpose and will are ignored. In all manifestations of the human spirit — thinking, feeling, willing — the important thing is to recognize these in their essential nature as expressions of the personality. It is upon this that psychology rests.

But man does not belong to himself alone; he belongs also to society. What manifests itself in him is not merely his own individuality, but at the same time that of the folk-group to which he belongs. What he performs proceeds from the folk-force of his people as well as from his own force. In his mission he fulfills a part of that of his folk-kindred. The important thing is that his place among his people shall be such that he may bring to complete effectiveness the power of his individuality. This is possible only when the folk-organism is of such sort that the single person can find the place where he may plant his lever. It must not be left to chance whether or not he shall find this place.

The way to inquire how the individual lives within the social group of his people is a matter for the science of peoples and the science of the state. The folk-individuality is the subject of this science. It has to show what form the organism of the state must assume if the folk-individuality is to come to expression within it. The constitution which a people gives to itself must be evolved out of its innermost nature. Here also there are current fallacies of no small importance. The science of the state is held not to be an experiential science. It is held that the constitution of every people can be determined according to a certain stereotyped pattern. [Omitted from the new edition.]

But the constitution of a people is nothing else than its individual character brought into well determined forms of law. Whoever would indicate beforehand the direction in which a definite activity of a people has to move must not impose upon this anything from without: he must simply express what lies unconscious in the character of the people. “It is not the intelligent person who controls, but intelligence; not the rational person, but reason,” says Goethe.

To grasp the folk-individuality as rational is the method in the science of the peoples. Man belongs to a whole whose nature consists in the organization of the reason. Here also we may cite a significant word of Goethe's: “The rational world is to be conceived as a great Immortal Individuality which unceasingly brings to pass what is necessary and thus makes itself master over the fortuitous.” As psychology investigates the nature of the individual, so the science of the peoples must investigate that “immortal individuality.”

Last Modified: 16-Aug-2017
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