Joseph Dietzgen 1887
First published: by Social-Democratic Library, Hottingen-Zurich 1887;
Published in English in Eugene Dietzgen & Joseph Dietzgen Jr. (eds.), Some of the Philosophical Essays by Joseph Dietzgen, Charles H. Kerr, Chicago 1906, pp. 263-362;
Translated: by Max Beer & Theodor Rothstein.
Transcribed: by Einde O’Callaghan.
The subject of the following articles seems to have so little in common with Social-Democracy that their publication as part of the Social-Democratic Library necessitates a few words of explanation.
The theory of cognition with which these Excursions deal has for its subject-matter the question, how is the instrument in our head constituted which everybody has to use in order to gain knowledge of the natural and human conditions which surround him, to distinguish, judge and understand them.
An instrument which everybody possesses and uses may be called a democratic instrument. The intellect is common to all men and, therefore, is a concern of the community or society, a Social-Democratic instrument, a Social-Democratic concern. If Bismarck uses his instrument differently from Social-Democrats we are convinced that he makes a wrong use of his intellect.
Absolute unanimity we can never attain, yet progress in this direction is unmistakable. So also will the theory of cognition never exhaust its subject and render us infallible in the use of our mental powers; still we must not on that account renounce improvement. Social-Democracy, too, is strenuously working with the view of making the minds more unanimous; consequently a well-founded theory of cognition can only be of value to it.
As I say, the theory of cognition deals with the question of how our instrument of thinking is constituted. By learning the nature of it we learn at the same time the use of it. Although the nature and the use of a thing may be regarded as two separate things, it is none the less permissible to coalesce them into one. In my opinion only that person is able to understand the nature of a violin who knows thoroughly how to play it – who knows what there is in it and what is to be done to bring it out of it.
That men, with their instrument of thinking, have judged correctly, thought correctly and discriminated exactly without knowing anything of epistemology is, of course, unquestionable. The farmer knows how to grow potatoes without having attended an agricultural college. Yet one cannot but admit that science makes even the farmer more intelligent in his work. It teaches him how to predetermine the results of his work. If he still remains, in spite of his predetermination, at the mercy of wind and weather, yet it cannot be denied that science gives him the means to control Nature to a certain extent. Absolutely free he will never be; science and reflection cannot help him to sovereign power, still they help him. If we cease to be slaves of Nature we shall nevertheless ever remain her servants. Knowledge can only give the possible freedom which is at the same time the only rational one.
And so the instrument which is analysed in the following pages is used by everyone at every opportunity. Nothing is so general and universal in the world of man as perception, discrimination, judgment, knowledge, etc. The theory of cognition must, therefore, be regarded as an elementary study, as the Alphabet, but in a higher sense. A trained intellect goes farther than the art of reading and writing. The celebrated Spinoza already left us an opuscule on the Improvement of Understanding and it is to be regretted that his work has been left incomplete. And it is nothing less than the improvement of this instrument that we aim at in the present Excursions into the domain of the theory of cognition.
Whoever desires to be an intelligent Social-Democrat must improve his method of thinking. It was mainly the study of the improved method of thinking which helped the well-known founders of Social-Democracy, Marx and Engels, in raising Social-Democracy to a scientific standpoint on which it finds itself now. The improvement of the method of thinking is like every other improvement, a limitless problem, the solution of which must always remain unachieved. This, however, must in nowise keep us from striving after it. The only and natural way consists in increasing our general knowledge by mastering the special branches of science. Although the theory of cognition, by setting out to illuminate the lamp from which all light emanates, touches the desired enlightment of the human mind at its very source, we are nevertheless modest enough to acknowledge that such a theory, be it ever so perfect, is not sufficient. Though all special branches of science are conducive to that end, yet none of them is able to form the generalisation which could entirely illuminate the mind. This can only be achieved gradually, wherefore we shall be con tent if these Excursions will have contributed some thing to the general aim of science.
CHICAGO, December 15, 1886
These words of von Holler are singularly apt to demonstrate on them, how even the “eternal truths” have succumbed to the corroding influence of time. This so often quoted line of the poet has even now numerous admirers who repeat it. The more reason have we to show those who believe in the old wisdom, what progress is being made by the ever-revolutionary criticism.
The “created mind” is the special subject-matter of a special science calling itself “Philosophy.” The meaning of this term has undergone many changes. In the times of the ancient Greeks a philosopher was a general lover of wisdom, whilst nowadays the growth of general culture has proceeded so far as to make people understand that with the general love no great results can be achieved. Whoever seeks wisdom must turn to science, which grows its fruit not in the hazy generality, but in concrete special fields. Philosophy, too, has become a special branch and has a special subject of study which is that of the “created mind.”
To speak precisely: since Kant’s time Philosophy has begun to recognise that its former efforts had been more or less of a youthful dream, and that it must, like all other scientific branches, set before itself a definite aim if it is at all to arrive at some sort of result. Philosophy has since then become gradually modernised and has now finally settled down to a critique of cognition.
The created mind or the mental organ which has been implanted by Nature in the head of man, has always puzzled him as a mystery. The solution of this mystery has been effected by the observation that all things, all natural phenomena are mysterious as long as they are not understood, not investigated. The more intimately man gets acquainted with them, the more they lose their mysterious character. The mind is no exception to this rule. Since Philosophy has consciously, clearly and definitely occupied itself with it, the mysterious unknown has become more known and has acquired quite a different complexion.
Just as the fetishists deify the commonest things – stones and pieces of wood – so has the “created mind,” too, been deified and wrapt in mystery – first by religion and afterwards by Philosophy. What religion used to call belief and supernatural world, was called by Philosophy metaphysics. Still we must acknowledge that the latter had for its laudable object to make of its study a science, – an aim which, indeed, it has finally achieved in a physical manner. Behind its own back there has arisen out of the metaphysical world-wisdom the special science of a modest theory of cognition.
Nevertheless we do not wish to give the philosophers too much credit for that. The mind saw scientific light not merely through philosophical heads; investigators of natural science, too, have at least indirectly, contributed something towards its elucidation. By enlightening the human mind in respect to other subjects science prepared the ground for, and provided the possibility of, an epistemological enlightenment. Before Philosophy could enter the innermost of the mind-function, it had to be shown by the practical achievements of natural science how the mental instrument of man possesses the hitherto doubted faculty of illuminating the innermost of Nature. The physicists do not close their eyes to the fact that there are many unknown worlds. Still some of them have yet to learn that the Unknown, too, is not so totally unknown and mysterious. Even the most unknown world and the most mysterious things are together with the known places and objects of one and the same category, namely, of the universal union of Nature. Owing to the conception of the Universe virtually existing, as a kind of an innate idea, in the human mind, the latter knows a priori that all things, the heavenly bodies included, exist in the Universe and are of universal, common nature. The “created mind” proves no exception to this scientific law.
The old religious world of ideas renders difficult the recognition of the truth that Nature is not only a nominal but an actual monas which has neither above it, nor in it, nor alongside of it anything else, – not an uncreated mind, either. The belief in an uncreated, monstrous, religious mind impedes the conception that the human mind itself has been created and produced by Nature – consequently is her own child towards which she knows no reserve. And yet Nature is reserved, – she never discloses her secrets all at a time or completely. She cannot give herself away entirely because she is inexhaustible in her treasures. Still the created mind, the child of Nature, is a lamp which illuminates not only the outer most, but also the innermost of Nature. In view of the physically endless and inexhaustible and all-embracing Nature such expressions as Innermost and Outermost must be regarded as antiquated conceptions. The same holds true of the term “created mind” insofar as this expression suggests an uncreated great, monstrous, metaphysical spirit which has its seat beyond the clouds.
The “great spirit” of religion is the cause of the disparagement of the human mind of which the poet is guilty when he denies to it the capacity of penetrating into the “Innermost of Nature.” And at the same time the uncreated monstrous spirit is but a fantastical reflex of the naturally produced human mind.
The theory of cognition in its most developed stage is able to prove this proposition up to the hilt. It has shown to us that the created mind derives all its ideas, conceptions and thoughts from the monistic world which science calls the “physical world.” The created mind is the definite child of the world. Good mother Nature gave to it something of her inexhaustibility. Mind is as limitless and inexhaustible in gaining knowledge as Nature is in her readiness to open her breast. The child is only limited by the limitless wealth of its mother’s love, – it cannot exhaust the inexhaustible. The created mind penetrates with its science into the innermost of Nature, – but it cannot penetrate beyond that, not because it is a narrowly limited mind, but because its mother is Infinite-Nature, a natural infinity having nothing besides it.
The wonderful mother gave its child consciousness as an inheritance. The created mind comes into the world with the faculty of becoming conscious that it is the child of its good mother Nature which created for it the ability to form excellent images of all other children of its mother, of all its brothers and sisters. Thus the “created mind” possesses images, ideas, notions of air, water, earth, fire, etc., and at the same time the consciousness that these pictures which it had formed, are each true and adequate images. No doubt, the mind finds by experience that the children of Nature are changeable, that, for instance, water consists of various kinds of Waters of which no drop is absolutely like the other; but that much it has inherited from its mother: to know by its own nature and a priori that water cannot alter its general nature without ceasing to be water and without losing all sense; it therefore knows, so to speak, prophetically that however much things may change, their general nature, their general essence cannot change. The created mind can never know all the possibilities and impossibilities of its uncreated mother; but that water is under all circumstances wet, or that mind, be it even met with beyond the clouds, cannot change its general nature, – this the created mind knows apodictically and of its own innate nature. The created mind, child of nature that it is, possesses the innate faculty of knowing that reason must be rational, that nature must be natural, that water must be liquid and that the uncreated spirit must be a monstrous absurdity.
The above may seem to be a mere assertion without proof. Yet, since every reader carries about with him the proof of these facts in his head, I may be spared the trouble to bring proofs from other quarters. One need only ask his own head whether it does not know prophetically that if there be a reason on the moon that reason may be smaller or greater than that of Peter or Paul, but must, in spite of all possible variations, remain as regards its magnitude and power within certain reasonable limits.
The knowledge of the “created mind,” accumulated in the course of centuries by Philosophy and Science, culminates in the doctrine that this mind is a force, a force of nature, like that of gravitation, like heat, light, electricity, etc., and that alongside of its general nature, it possesses, like all other forces, a special nature of its own which distinguishes it from all other forces and makes it knowable. If we closely examine this special nature of the “created mind,” we find that it possesses an innate, and, if you like, “wonderful” faculty of knowing with perfect sureness and without further inquiries that two mountains must have a valley between them, that a part is smaller than the whole, that circles are not square and that bears are not elephants. This wonderful faculty of the mind deserves every notice, since from it follows the further positive knowledge that the idea of another mind, besides the familiar human mind, – the idea of a mind which is above all known minds, is an extravagant idea, an ideological extravagance.
The created mind has inherited from its mother Nature the faculty, developed by experience, to classify the other creatures of nature, to distinguish and to name them. Thus it distinguishes the beech from the oak, the bears from the elephants; it classifies the world and is convinced that such classification is justified, and true, clear, and distinct. That this classification is subject to development and, consequently, to certain modifications, to limited changes, does not alter, and is no contradiction of, the fact that on the whole the classification made by the human mind is a well-defined, stable and durable one. From this it follows that what is called in New York bread may be called in Paris du pain, that is, bread may change its name, but it always and everywhere remains bread. It may also be of various kinds, forms and tints and be made of various kinds of flour, but these forms cannot alter its essence. The oak may be of different varieties, but it cannot vary beyond the limits of its species. The same with bears: there are large and small, brown and black, but there can be none which drop out of their species entirely.
Such knowledge is supplied to us through the objective research of the “creative mind.”
We refer to these facts in order to make it clear that we are as sure in this respect with regard to the mind as we are with regard to bread, oak or bear. There may be on other planets many minds which we do not know, but on the whole, according to their species they cannot be constituted differently from those “created minds” which we know, without dropping out not only from the name, but also from the conception. The supernatural mind is a fantastic conception.
Just as fantastical is also the conception of Nature by those who speak of a Nature which shuts her innermost against the “ creative mind.” Nature is the Unlimited. Those who grasp this grasp also that with reference to her there can be no question of beginning and end, of the above and below, of the innermost and outermost. All these terms do not refer to Nature in general, which is the absolute, but merely to her parts, to her products, the single things.
With our hands we only grasp the tangible, with our eyes only the visible, etc., but with our conception we grasp the whole Nature, the Universe. With all that our faculty of conception need not be conceited and look down on the senses as on something quite inferior and limited. That faculty, innate in the human head, would as little be able to form a conception without the aid of the senses as would the eye to see, the ears to hear, the hands to touch without the assistance of the mind. Just as the whole depends on the particulars, so all particulars depend on the Nature as a whole.
If we wish to form a concrete picture of Nature and its created mind we must, above all, infuse the latter with the consciousness that it must not raise itself above the mother as it did when it dreamt of a super- and extra-natural mind. A proper conception of the human mind, a conception which thinks of this piece of Nature neither extravagantly, nor disparagingly, but exactly, – such a conception can only be gained if we become possessed of the clear and distinct consciousness of the universality of Nature. Then we perceive that the mysterious character which was ascribed to her, is a fancy. We see then and learn from experience how frankly universal Nature goes about her work. Our mind is her own product. She endowed it with the faculty and mission to gain knowledge of her and of all her phenomena. I say “of all” and use the term in a reasonable and moderate sense of the word, without failing to consider that Nature is inexhaustible in the production of her phenomena, and that the “ created mind,” so far as it is but a piece of Nature, can, in spite of its universality in conceiving, only be a limited creature of Nature.
Do we not possess a sense of touch which feels everything tangible? Maybe, that there is an animal whose feelers are still more delicate than the nerves of the human skin. Have we on that account cause to complain of our limited sense of touch or of the inadequacy of Nature? Perhaps, we should have, if she had not endowed us with a mind which is inventive enough to acquire instruments by whose means we can discover things inaccessible to the most delicate feelers.
In short, whoever considers the results of natural science cannot accuse Nature of a mysterious reservedness, and whoever at the same time takes stock of the results of Philosophy cannot fail to notice that the human mind is called upon to solve all possible problems. But the Impossible has neither sense nor reason and must not therefore form the object of our observation and attention.
What did we say? The Impossible had neither sense nor reason? Are we to postulate reason in something else besides the human head? Are we not, we human beings, the highest ones to possess a mind, reason, understanding, a faculty of cognition? The latter being the special subject of this chapter, we may as well deal with the question now.
Just as the faculty of seeing is connected organically with light and color, or the subjective sense of touch with tangible objects, so also is the created mind connected with the riddle of Nature. Without comprehensible things in the external world there can really be no understanding inside the head. To have missed this interrelation of things was the fault of those backward epistemologists who have such hazy notions of mind and Nature that they seek for a solution beyond the clouds.
The exaggerated disparagement of the mind which is said not to be able to illuminate the innermost of Nature, just as the exaggerated mystification of Nature whose innermost is said to be impenetrable – both arise out of a method of thinking which for thousands of years has, like a natural growth, dominated mankind. This has now changed; the efforts of philosophy have now succeeded at last in making man the master of his way of thinking, – at least in so far as to be able to solve the problems, which are confronting him, with more skill and method.
Philosophy has discovered the art of thinking. That it has thereby occupied itself so much with the all-perfect Being, with the conception of God, with the “Substance” of Spinoza, with the “thing in itself” of Kant, and with the “Absolute” of Hegel, has its good reason in the fact that the sober conception of the Universe as of the All-One with nothing above or outside or alongside of it, is the first postulate of a skilled and consistent mode of thinking, which knows both of itself and of all possible and impossible objects that they all belong to one eternal and limitless union which is called by us Cosmos, Nature and Universe.
We think to have proved thereby that a higher mind than the human one is not possible. My mind and thine are limited minds because they are only parts and fragments of the human mind in general. The minds of men are connected with one another, one supplements the other, one learns from the other, and this connection forms the progressive, developing process of the mind of the species. “On the tree of mankind blossoms sprout and throng upon blossoms.” How high that tree may grow yet, we do not know; but that it will not grow right into heaven – that we know a priori, positively, apodictically.
We, therefore, on the one hand, assert, we do not know what is possible for Nature to accomplish. She may yet in the long run bring out wonderful things such as no imagination could ever have dreamt of. And yet we assert, on the other hand, that we know apodictically what is impossible.
How, then, does it stand with this contradictory knowledge of the Possible and Impossible?
Quite simply; our undoubted knowledge of the impossibility of a supernatural, uncreated mind rests on the critique of reason which is also called by another name: theory of cognition. This branch of study has selected as its special object of inquiry the empirical mind and has found out that the mind possesses the undoubted conviction of the universality of Nature, that the consciousness of unity, infinity and immensity is innate in it, at least as a predisposition.
The parson was already convinced that his divine omnipotence can do nothing bad. Why should we not be convinced that the natural omnipotence, the creator of the human reason, can not have created anything irrational, illogical? There is, of course, enough irrationality in Nature, that is, enough which is comparatively or secondarily irrational. But of such irrationality as would completely and absolutely overstep the boundaries of its kind, we cannot even conceive, – Nature simply does not permit it to our faculty of thinking. She has endowed our mind with the conviction that she cannot be irrational and illogical to such an extent.
The omnipotent Nature has created Reason and implanted in it the consciousness that her omnipotence is a rational force which cannot be so illogical as to create minds or beings which are still more omnipotent than the natural omnipotence. It is a law of natural logic and logical nature that everything must remain within the natural species, that though species and varieties may change, yet not so extravagantly as to outgrow the general species, the natural. There can, therefore, be no mind which should penetrate so , deeply into the innermost of Nature as to be able to clasp her and pocket her, as it were.
Is this certainty, given to us by Nature, wonderful? Is it inexplicable that the thinking fragment of Nature should possess from its mother the conviction that the omnipotence of Nature is a rational omnipotence? Would it not have been more inexplicable if the child of its mother were compelled to think that the latter is omnipotent and omnipresent in an irrational sense?
Yes, Nature is in every respect wonderful whether we contemplate her in a superficial manner or penetrate into her innermost recesses. But withal, her natural wonderfulness is explicable. Still more wonderful, however, are the people who dream of an intellect wonderful beyond all measure, in comparison with which the wonderfulness of Nature would be trivial.
Was it Goethe or Heine? It is one or the other who said: only the know- and have-nots are modest. I repudiate, accordingly, all such modesty because I believe myself in a position to make a small contribution to the great work of science. I am strengthened in this belief by the May number of the Neue Zeit (1886), where my efforts are honorably mentioned by our highly meritorious Frederic Engels in an article on Ludwig Feuerbach. In such cases the personal and objective elements are so closely bound up with one another that an exaggerated modesty can only hinder the progress of the objective inquiry.
The things which I am going to discuss here were already set forth by me some seventeen years ago in an opuscle which then appeared. Yet what I said at that time is so scanty that in view of the progress since made on the subject I feel justified in returning to it once more. Already Hegel said in his preface to the Phenomenology of Mind quite aptly: “The easiest thing is to judge what has substance and solidity; more difficult is to conceive it; and most difficult of all, because it must contain both judgment and conception, is to reproduce it by description.” In fully endorsing these words I forbear to give an adequate presentation of the case now before me; all I should attempt here is to sketch the essence of the cherished epistemological question, which I have in my mind, in all brevity and with as much precision as I can command. I hope that the task thus defined may justify me in explaining in a few words – by way of elucidating the subject – how I came across it.
The year 1848 with its reactionaries, constitutionalists, democrats and socialists called forth in my then youthful mind an irresistible desire to acquire a critically firm, undoubted standpoint, a positive opinion as to what in all that I had heard and read for and against was absolutely and unmistakably true, good and right. As I had my just doubts about God in heavens, and the church did not inspire me with any confidence at all, I found myself amidst the greatest perplexity, not knowing how to escape from the situation. While on search I came across Ludwig Feuerbach, and the diligent study of his writings gave me a good push forward. Of still greater help in my thirst for knowledge was the Communist Manifesto, which I got to know through the newspapers on the occasion of the trial of the Communists at Cologne (1849). Most of all, however, I owe, after a number of old philosophical volumes had in the meanwhile appeared in my rural life, to the work of Marx which appeared in 1859 under the title: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. There it is stated in the preface that the way – so approximately runs the sentence – in which man earns his daily bread, that the level of civilisation on which a generation physically works, determines the mental standpoint or the way in which it conceives and must conceive the True, the Good and Right, God, Freedom and Immortality, Philosophy, Politics and Law.
Everything that I have studied and read all my life referred to one point which I desired and made mental efforts to grasp, viz.: how to attain a positive, undoubted knowledge, that is, to a criterion of what is true and right. The above passage leads us to the true path which shows how it altogether stands with human knowledge and with the absolute and relative truth.
What I have just related as a personal experience is the experience which mankind, too, has made in the course of centuries. If I had been the first to moot these questions and to exhibit the thirst for the absolute truth, I would have been the fool to wait for an answer in all eternity. The fact, however, that I was not left such a fool, but received a sufficient answer, is due to the historical development of things which made me put the questions at a time when after a long series of preceding generations the best minds had occupied themselves with their solution and could already supply me with such elucidation as I obtained, in point of fact, from Feuerbach and Marx. What I mean to say by this is, the light which those men gave me was not merely the product of these individuals, but it was the common product of culture older than the historical times.
At first sight it seems as if there was little agreement among the predecessors, – who, begining with the Greek Thales and ending with the Prussian Jürgen Bona Meyer at Bonn, have enquired after the absolute truth. A closer examination, however, will reveal the red line which, running from generation to generation, becomes ever more distinct and patent. It is the lack of appreciation of the importance of the historical which even now misleads some people to look in the innermost of their heads for that enlightenment which with a little more historical sense they would have found in the products matured in the gradual development of science through the long period of centuries.
But to the point. By way of reply to the question, what is truth, absolute truth, Pilate shrugged his shoulders as if to say, that is too high for me, – go and ask the High-Priest Caiaphas. The latter then said the same which priests say to this day: God is truth, – it is supernatural, super-earthly. It is not worth while at the close of the nineteenth century to trouble myself with the refutation of such an answer. On the other hand, Pilates are still too numerously represented even among the leaders of science to hinder a rational enlightenment on that point.
To understand more clearly the nature of the absolute truth it is first of all necessary to do away with the old-rooted prejudice which regards it as of a purely mental nature. No, no! Absolute truth can be seen, heard, smelt, touched and, of course, also known; but it cannot be resolved into pure knowledge, – it is not pure mind. Its nature is not either corporeal, or mental, not one or the other, but all embracing, as much corporeal as spiritual. Absolute truth has no nature of its own, but, on the contrary, it has the nature of the general. In other words, to speak without mystification, the general natural nature and general truth are identical. There are no two Natures, one corporeal and another a mental. There is only one Nature which contains all bodies and all minds.
The Universe is identical with Nature, with the world and the absolute truth. Natural science divides Nature into parts, domains, branches of study, but it knows and feels that all such divisions are formal only, that Nature or Universe is in spite of all divisions undivided, – in spite of all variety and manifold natures only one indivisible, general and universal Nature, World and Truth. There is only one Existence, and all forms are modi, varieties or relative truths of one general truth which is absolute, eternal and endless at all times, in all places. Human knowledge is, like anything else, a limited portion of the unlimited, a modus, a variety of Existence or General Truth.
Since the nature of truth has hitherto been regarded as purely mental, and accordingly, truth was looked upon as a thing which is only to be found in knowledge, the inquiry into human knowledge comes within the province of our subject, of our search after the absolute and relative truth and their relation.
The mental world of man, that is, all we know, believe and think, forms a portion of the universal world which only in its absolute inter-relation, in its complete whole possesses an unlimited, perfect, absolute existence, a true one in the highest sense of the word. At the same time it possesses through its component parts, modi, varieties, products or phenomena an infinite number of existences of which every particular one is also true, but is as against the whole a mere relative truth.
Human knowledge, itself a relative truth, is the medium between us and the other phenomena or relativities of the absolute Existence. Still the faculty of cognition, the knowing subject, must be distinguished from the object, the distinction being, however, a limited and relative one, since both the subject and the object are not only distinct, but at the same time alike in that they are parts or phenomena of the same generality called the Universe. We distinguish between Nature and parts, departments or phenomena, though these are inseparably connected with the All-Existence, emerge from it and submerge in it. There is no Nature without phenomena, her manifestations, nor phenomena without Nature, as the Absolute. It is only our knowledge which provides the separation, the mental analysis in order to form an image of the phenomena. Knowledge, conscious of its doings dealings, must know that the mentally separated, differentiated objects are indivisibly bound up with the reality of Nature.
What we learn to know are truths, relative truths or natural phenomena. Nature itself, the absolute truth, cannot be known, – not directly, but only through her manifestations, the phenomena. How then do we know that there is behind the phenomenon an absolute Truth, a general Nature? Is this not a new mysticism?
Well, let us see. As human knowledge is not the absolute truth, but only an artist making pictures of the truth, true, genuine, correct and exact pictures, it is self-evident that the picture does not exhaust the object and that the artist cannot reach the comprehensiveness of the model. Nothing more insipid has ever been said of truth and knowledge than what has been repeated for thousands of years by the commonly accepted logic, namely, that truth is the conformity of our knowledge with its object. How can a picture “conform” with its model? Approximately it can. What picture worth the name does not agree approximately with its object? Every portrait is more or less of a likeness. But to be altogether alike, quite the same as the original – what an abnormal idea!
Thus we can only know Nature and her parts relatively, since even a part, though only a relation of Nature, possesses again the characteristics of the Absolute, the nature of the All-Existence which cannot be exhausted by knowledge.
How, then, do we know that behind the phenomena of Nature, behind the relative truths, there is a universal, unlimited, absolute Nature which does not reveal itself completely to man? Our vision is limited, so are also our hearing, touch, etc., and our knowledge; yet we know of all these things that they are limited parts of the Unlimited. Whence that knowledge?
It is innate; it is given to us with consciousness. The consciousness of man is the knowledge of his personality as part of the human species, of mankind and of the Universe. To know is to form pictures in the conscious ness that they are pictures of things which all, both the pictures and the things, possess a general mother from which they have issued and to which they will return. This mother is the absolute truth; she is perfectly true and yet mystical in a natural way, that is, she is the inexhaustible source of knowledge and consequently never entirely to be comprehended.
All that is known in and of the world is, however true and exact, only a known truth, therefore a modified truth, a modus or part of truth. When I say that the consciousness of the endless, absolute truth is innate in us, is one and the only knowledge a priori, I am confirmed in my statement also by the experience of this innate consciousness. We learn that every beginning and end are only a relative beginning and end, at the bottom of which lies the Inexhaustible by all experience, the Absolute. We learn by experience that each experience is only a part of that which, in the words of Kant, surpasses all experience.
The mystic of a fantastical character will, perhaps, say: then, there is something after all which surpasses the limits of physical experience. We reply, yes and no at the same time. In the sense of the old exaggerating metaphysician, there is nothing of this kind. In the sense of the cognition conscious of its nature, each particle, be it of dust or of stone or of wood, is incomprehensible as to its whole extent, each particle being an inexhaustible material for the human faculty of cognition, consequently something which surpasses all experience.
When I say that the consciousness of the absence of a beginning and end of the physical world is an innate consciousness which is not acquired by experience, – in other words, that it is a consciousness which is given a priori and precedes all experience, I must still add, that originally it is only given as a germ and that it has developed to what it is now through experience in the struggle for existence and through sexual selection.
In so far the knowledge of the Universe as the absolute truth is, too, an empirical knowledge which, just like every other knowledge and like every other thing, is given a priori as a germ and originates in the Endlessness. Hence it follows that the human mind, which has clearly conceived the relation between the universal truth and the natural phenomena, will no longer separate in an exaggerated way the knowledge gained by experience from the innate faculty of knowledge, cognition, etc.
Mysticism of this kind is not of the nebulous, morbid sort such as the one which teaches us that the human faculty of cognition is too narrow to know the absolute truth. The human intellect is too small to exhaust by study the smallest particle as well as the whole of Nature. But since such inexhaustibility or endlessness is a predicate which applies to all things without exception, and consequently, to our faculty of cognition also, it is sheer humbug to make much capital out of it as was the custom until now.
Morbid mysticism separates unscientifically the absolute truth from the relative truth. It makes of the phenomenal thing and of the “thing in itself,” that is, of the phenomenon and truth, two categories which differ completely from each other and are not contained in one united category. This nebulous mysticism turns our knowledge and faculty of cognition into mere substitutes which have to suggest to us a superhuman monstrous mind somewhere in the transcendental heavens.
Humility is always becoming to man. Yet the statement of the inability of man to know the truth has a double sense, – one that is worthy and one that is unworthy of man. Everything which we know, all scientific results, all phenomena are parts of the genuine, the right, the absolute truth. Though the latter is inexhaustible and cannot with full perfection be portrayed in knowledge or pictured in the mind, yet the pictures, which science is able to show of it, are exact pictures in the humanly relative sense of the word. Just so the sentences which I am now writing down here have an exact, rational sense and yet have not, if one likes to pervert or misunderstand them.
Granted that truth cannot be exhausted by knowledge. Still it is not so far removed from our cognition as the fantastical mystics assume who are not satisfied with the human mind, because they carry about in their head the fantasy of a superhuman monstrous mind.
Scientific cognition must not long after absolute truth because that truth is given to us by means of our senses as well as of our mind without further search. It is in reality the phenomena, the special manifestations of the given general truth, which we want to know. Such truth readily yields itself to us in its particular phenomenon. It is exact pictures, genuine knowledge which our cognition has to provide. And the question here deals only with relative exactness or completeness. More must not be wished for by human reason. This is no resignation as the monks recommend. We are able to know the truth – it yields to us readily. But it is quite natural that we cannot jump out of our skin. It may also be natural that there should be metaphysical and religious dreamers who still go about with such an intention. Their quest after another absolute truth is a dream which the history of human knowledge has left far behind it, whilst the modesty which is satisfied with the knowledge of relative truth is called rational enlightenment.
Spinoza says, there is only one substance, – it is universal, endless or absolute. All other finite so-called substances originate in it, emerge from it and submerge in it; they only have a relative, transient, accidental existence. All finite things are to Spinoza, and justly so, mere modi of the endless substance, as confirmed by our modern natural science in its doctrine of the eternity of matter and conservation of force. Only in one thing, and that a very essential one, Spinoza had to be corrected by the subsequent philosophy.
According to Spinoza, the endless, absolute substance possesses two attributes: it is infinitely extended and it thinks infinitely. Thought and extension are the two Spinozist attributes of the absolute substance. This is wrong, especially as there is nothing which could support the proposition of the absolute thinking. And the absolute extension, too, explains very little. The world, or the absolute, or Nature, or the Universe, or whatever else the thing of things, the One and Infinite is called, extend infinitely both in time and space; yet every little space of the Space, and every particle of Time as well as every other thing which is contained in it, is an individual, changeable, transient, limited thing, and thinking forms no exception to this limitation and finity.
Our present knowledge of the nature of thought and thinking far surpasses that of Spinoza in clearness and definiteness. We now know that thinking or conscious ness is no mysterious depository of truth, but rather in its true nature possesses no other nature than the natural one of which all other things participate. It is as much trivial as mysterious, and, though an unlimited object of study, yet no more unlimited than any other particular matter or force.
What is called by Spinoza the endless substance, and what we call the Universe or the absolute truth, is as identical with its finite phenomena, with the relative truths which we meet in the Universe, as the forest is identical with its trees, or in general, as the species with its varieties. The relative and the absolute do not lie so far apart as it is painted to man by that uncultivated sense of infinity which is called Religion. And the branch of study, too, which is called speculative Philosophy was permeated by religion and proceeded from that ignorance which did not perceive the relative position of the human mind to the absolute truth. The branch of study which strove after a clear idea of the mind was from its beginning to the very last classical philosophers biased by inconsistent extravagance. It fails to perceive that everything which is relative, and the faculty of cognition, too, is contained in the Absolute precisely in the same way – I repeat the analogy – as trees are contained in the for est. It misses the essence of all logic, viz., that all specialties without any exception are contained in one species and all species in one general species, the Universe, which is the absolute truth.
Philosophy, like Religion, lived in the belief in a supernatural absolute truth. The solution of the problem lies in the conception that the absolute truth is nothing but the generalized truth, that the latter dwells not in the mind – at least, not more than anywhere else – but in the object contemplated by the mind, which we designate by the general term, the Universe.
The transcendental absolute truth which Religion and Philosophy used to call God, was a mystification of the human mind which in its turn mystified itself with this fantastical picture. The philosopher Kant, who dealt with the critique of the faculty of cognition, found out that man cannot know the transcendental absolute truth. We may add: man cannot know the prosaic, everyday things, either, in a transcendental absolute manner. When, however, he uses his faculty in a sober and relative way as one has to consider all circumstances relatively, as soon as he rids himself of his supernatural bias, then everything is to him open and nothing closed, and he can also grasp and know the general truth.
Just as our eye, be it with the assistance of glasses, can see everything and yet not everything, since it can neither see sounds nor smells, nor, in general, anything invisible, so our faculty of cognition can know everything and yet not everything. It cannot know the unknowable. But this is plainly enough only a fantastical or a transcendental desire.
When we recognize that the absolute truth which was sought by Religion and Philosophy in the region of the transcendental, is close at hand in its full reality as the bodily Universe, and that the human mind is a real, or actual and active part of the general truth, having the mission to form true pictures of the parts of the general truth, then we have the problem of the limited and unlimited completely solved. The Absolute and the Relative are not separated transcendentally, they are connected with each other so that the Unlimited is made up of an infinite number of finite limitations and each limited phenomenon possesses the nature of the Infinite.
How and in what way the things said here bear upon the passage from Marx quoted at the beginning, that is, upon the true, good and right in political and social life, I must leave meanwhile to the reader to find out for himself, as a detailed elucidation of it would take up too much space here. Perhaps, I may yet find the opportunity to return to that reference at another time.
“The insight,” says Frederic Engels, “gained into the utter perversity of the hitherto prevailing German idealism led necessarily to materialism, but, of course, not to the mere metaphysical materialism of the eighteenth century.”
This modern materialism which is here derived from the total perversion of German idealism and of which Engels himself is one of the founders, is little under stood, though it forms the fundamental basis of the theory of German Social-Democracy. We propose, therefore, to make it the subject of a somewhat detailed examination.
This specifically German, or, if you like, Social-Democratic materialism, can best be characterized by comparing it with the “metaphysical, exclusively mechanical materialism of the 18th century;” and when we further confront it with the German idealism from the perversity of which it sprang, the character of the Social-Democratic basis, which, owing to its materialist name, is easily exposed to misrepresentation, must clearly reveal itself.
And first of all, why does Engels call the materialism of the 18th century “metaphysical?” Metaphysicians were people who were not satisfied with the physical or natural world, but always carried about the idea of a supernatural, metaphysical world. Kant in his preface to the Critique of Pure Reason sums up the problem of metaphysics in three words: God, Freedom and Immortality. One knows now that God was a spirit, a supernatural spirit, who created the natural, physical, material world. The celebrated materialists of the 18th century were no friends or worshippers of this biblical story. The problem of God, Freedom and Immortality, so far as it refers to a supernatural world, left those atheists thoroughly indifferent. They stuck to the physical world and were so far no metaphysicians.
It is evident that Engels uses the word in a different sense.
Of the primary great mind beyond the clouds the French and English materialists of the 18th century had disposed completely enough; but they could not help occupying themselves with the secondary human mind. It is the difference in the conception of this mind, its nature, its origin and its constitution which distinguishes the materialists from the idealists. The latter regard the human mind and its ideas as children of a supernatural, metaphysical world. Still they have not been content with the mere belief in such a distant origin, but rather strove, since the very days of Socrates and Plato, to sup ply this belief with a scientific basis, to prove it, to elucidate it, just as one proves and elucidates physical things of the tangible world. In this way the idealist brought the knowledge about the nature of the human mind down from the transcendental, metaphysical world to the real, physical, material world which reveals itself as a dialectical or evolutionary process, where mind and matter, though two, are yet one, that is, twin children springing from one blood, from one mother.
The idealists originally favored the religious notion that the world was created by a spirit. In this they were completely wrong, since it finally, as a result of their efforts, became evident that it is precisely the natural material world which is the original; that this was created by no spirit, but on the contrary, the natural or material world itself is the creator which brought forth and developed man with his intellect out of itself. Thus it was discovered that the supreme uncreated spirit is but a fantastical image of the natural mind which has developed in, and together with, the human nervous system and its brainy skull.
Idealism, which derives its name from the circumstance that it sets the idea and the ideas, those products of the human head, above and before the material world – both in point of time and importance, this idealism has started very extravagantly and metaphysically. In the course of its history, however, this extravagance has toned down and become more and more sober till Kant himself answered the question which he had set out to solve, viz.: “Is Metaphysics at all possible as a science?” in the negative; Metaphysics as a science is not possible; another world, that is, a transcendental world can only be believed and supposed. Thus the perversion of idealism has become already a thing of the past, and modern materialism is the result of the philosophical and also of the general scientific development.
Because the idealist perversity in its last representatives, namely Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, was thoroughly German, its issue, dialectical materialism, is also a pre-eminently German product.
Idealism derives the corporeal world from the mind, quite after the fashion of religion where the great spirit floats over the waters and has only to say: “Let there be,” and it is. Such idealist derivation is metaphysical. Yet, as mentioned already, the last great representatives of German idealism were metaphysicians of a very moderate type. They had already emancipated themselves considerably from the transcendental, supernatural, heavenly mind, – not, however, from the spell-bound worship of the natural mind of the world. The Christians deified the mind, and the philosophers were still permeated to such an extent with this deification, that they were unable to relinquish it – even when the physical human mind had already become the sober object of their study – making this intellect of ours the creator or parent of the material world. They never tire in their efforts to arrive at a clear understanding of the relation between our mental conceptions and the material things which are represented, conceived and thought.
To us, dialectical or Social-Democratic materialists, the mental faculty of thinking is a developed product of material Nature, whilst according to the German idealism the relation is quite the reverse. That is why Engels speaks of the perversity of this mode of thinking. The extravagant worship of the mind was the survival of the old metaphysics.
The English and French materialists of the 18th century were, so to speak, too hasty opponents of this sort of worship. This over-hastiness prevented them from emancipating themselves from it thoroughly. They were extravagantly radical and fell into the opposite perversity. Just as the philosophic idealists were worshipping the mind and the mental, so were the materialists worshipping the body and the corporeal. The idealist over estimated the idea, the materialist matter, both were dreamers and in so far metaphysicians, both distinguished mind and matter in a fantastic, unreal way. Neither of them raised themselves to the consciousness of unity and monism, generality and universality of Nature which is not either material or mental, but is one as well as the other.
The metaphysical materialists of the 18th century and their present followers – for there are still some of them among us – undervalue the human mind and the inquiry into the constitution and its proper use just as much as the idealists overvalue them. They, the materialists, proclaim, for instance, that the forces of Nature are properties of matter, and that especially the mental force, the force of thought, is the property of brain. Matter or the material, i. e., the ponderable and the tangible, is in their eyes the main thing in the world, the primary substance, while the mental energy, like all non-tangible energies, is but a secondary property. In other words, ponderable matter is to the old materialists the exalted subject, and all other things subordinate predicates.
There is in this mode of thinking an exaggeration of the importance of the subject and a disparagement of the predicate. The fact is lost sight of that the relation between the subject and the predicate is a variable one. The human mind may legitimately turn every predicate into a subject, and vice versa, every subject into a predicate. The snow-white color is, if not tangible, at least as substantial as the color-white snow. To think that matter is the substance or the main thing, and its predicates or properties are mere subordinate appendices, is an antiquated, narrow way of thinking which has taken no notice of the work of the German dialecticians. It must now be understood that subjects are composed exclusively of predicates.
The statement that thought is a secretion, a product of the brain, as bile is a secretion of the liver, tells us some thing that is unquestionable. Yet, it must be confessed that the analogy is a very bad, a faulty one. The liver, the subject of this observation, is something tangible and ponderable; likewise the bile which is said to be the predicate or the effect of the liver. In this illustration both the subject and the predicate, both the liver and the bile, are ponderable and tangible, and it is this circumstance which conceals what the materialists wish to convey when they represent the bile as the effect and the liver as the superior cause. We must therefore specially emphasize what in this case is not at all disputed, but what in the relation between the brain and mental energy is entirely lost sight of, – namely, that the bile is not so much the effect of the liver as the effect of the life-process as a whole. In the life-process of human nature as in the cosmic life-process of the natural Universe the liver and the bile are of equal standing and equally subordinate, equally cause and equally effect, equally subject and equally predicate.
By saying that bile is a product of the liver the materialists do not in the least wish to deny that both are of equal value as subjects of scientific research. When, however, it is stated that consciousness, the faculty of cognition, is a property of the brain, the tangible subject appears to them as the sole object worthy of study, while the mental predicate is a mere settled thing as it were.
We call this mode of thinking of mechanical materialism narrow because it makes the tangible and the ponderable the subject, the depositary of all properties, and that to such an extent as to overlook entirely that in the Universe the transcendentally extolled palpability plays precisely the same subordinate predicative part as every other subordinate subject of General Nature.
The relation between subject and predicate explains neither matter nor thought. Still in order to elucidate the connection between the brain and the mental energy it is necessary to elucidate the connection between subject and predicate.
We shall, perhaps, come nearer to the point, if we select another example, an example where the subject is material, but the predicate is such as makes it at least doubtful, whether it is material or mental. If, for in stance, the legs walk, the eyes see, the ears hear, it is questionable whether the subject and its predicate belong together to the domain of the material; whether the light which is seen, the sound which is heard, and the movement which is effected by the legs are something material or immaterial. The eyes, ears, and legs are tangible and ponderable subjects, while the predicates – vision and its light, hearing and its sound, movement and its steps (apart from the legs which do the pacing) can neither be touched nor weighed.
Now, how great or small is the conception of matter? Do colors, light, sound, space, time, heat and electricity belong to it, or must we relegate them to a different category? With the formal distinction between subjects and predicates, things and properties, causes and effects, the question is by no means disposed of. When the eye sees, the palpable eye is, of course, the subject. But one is also justified to reverse the expression and to say, that the imponderable vision, the forces of light and vision are the main things, the subjects, while the material eye is a mere instrument, a secondary thing, attribute or predicate.
So much is evident: matter has no greater importance than the forces, and the forces have no greater importance than matter. Materialism is narrow when it gives matter the preference and waxes in enthusiasm over the material at the expense of the forces. Those who assume the forces to be mere properties or predicates of matter are badly informed of the relativity, or the variability of the difference between substance and property.
The conception of matter and the material has hitherto been very confused. Just as the lawyers cannot agree as to the first day of life of the child in the womb, or as the philologists continually dispute what is to be taken as the beginning of speech, whether the alluring cries and love songs of birds are speech or not, or whether speech by mimics or gestures are of the same category as vocal speech, so also do the materialists of the old school continually dispute as to what is matter, – whether it is merely the tangible and ponderable which ought to be regarded as such, or also the visible, smellable, audible and finally the whole Nature, including even the human mind which is also an object of study, namely, of epistemology.
We see, the distinguishing mark between the mechanical materialists of the 18th century and the Social-Democratic materialists trained in German idealism consists in that the latter have extended the former’s narrow conception of matter as consisting exclusively of the Tangible to all phenomena that occur in the world.
There is nothing to say against the transcendental materialists distinguishing between the tangible and ponderable, on the one hand, and the smellable, audible and visible and even the world of thought, on the other. We only object to their carrying this distinction beyond reasonable bounds, failing thereby to see the common and kindred nature of things or properties, – in other words, we object to their distinction becoming metaphysical, thereby missing the significance of the common category which embraces all opposites and contrasts.
The old materialists dealt in irreconcilable opposites just like the perverted idealists. Both place cognition and its material too far from each other, they magnify the opposition in an unnatural manner, and that is why Engels calls their mode of thinking “metaphysical.” An example to illustrate this is the common way of thinking which forgets that death which concludes life is but an act of life and stands in the same connected relation with life as might be seen in the opposition between word and deed where a little thought will show that word is, after all, deed too – words are ideas embodied by an act of will – thus confirming our view that “metaphysical” distinctions are inadmissible.
Modern science is even to-day still animated by the bias of the materialists of the 18th century. These materialists were the general theoreticians, the philosophers of natural science, so to speak, in so far as the latter confines its study to the mechanical, that is the palpable, the ponderable and tangible. Natural science, of course, has begun long since to overstep these limits. Already Chemistry has led beyond the narrow boundaries of the mechanical, and the same is now being done in Physics by the theory of the conservation and transformation of energy. With all that, however, science is narrow and wanting in penetration, it still lacks a systematic theory of the Universe as an infinite monistic evolutionary process. The study of the human mind and of all those relations which cognition has effected in human history, that is, the things political, judicial, economical, etc., all this natural science excludes from its province, still laboring under the delusion that mind is something metaphysical, is a child of another world and not subject to the laws governing the Universe.
Science deserves that reproach not because it separates the mechanical, chemical, electro-technical and other knowledge from one another and constitutes them special branches; this is quite legitimate; our reproach is only directed against the metaphysical mode of thinking in which science is caught, as it were, in a straightjacket, as is evidenced by its hard and fast distinctions and by its absolute separation of matter from mind. It is only in so far as it does not perceive that Politics, Logic, History, Law, and Economics – in short, all mental relations are natural and scientific relations, that it together with the mechanical materialists and the German idealists still remains in the metaphysical, that is in the transcendental stage.
It is not what one thinks of the stars or animals, plants or stones that distinguishes materialists from idealists; the characteristic point is solely and only the respective view of the relation between body and mind.
The insight into the total perversity of German idealism which would not desist from regarding mind as a metaphysical primus creating all tangible, visible, audible and other phenomena, led necessarily to the Socialist Materialism which is called “Socialist” because it was the Socialists Marx and Engels who first enunciated clearly and distinctly that the material, that is, the economic conditions of human society form the basis from which the entire superstructure of the juridical and political institutions as well as the religious, philosophical and other modes of thought are at each historical epoch in the last instance explained. Instead of explaining, as hitherto, the existence of man out of his consciousness, it is now, on the contrary, the consciousness which is to be explained out of his existence, that is, from the economic position, from the way and manner of bread-winning.
The Socialist materialism understands by matter not only the ponderable and tangible, but the whole real existence. Everything that is contained in the Universe – and in it is contained everything, the All and the Universe being but two names for one thing – everything this Socialist materialism embraces in one conception, one name, one category, whether that category be called the actuality, reality, Nature or matter.
We, modern Socialists, are not of the narrow opinion that the ponderable and tangible matter is matter par excellence. We hold that the scent of flowers, sounds and smells are also material. We do not conceive the forces as mere appendices, mere predicates of matter, and matter, the tangible one as “the thing” which dominates over all properties. Our conception of matter and force is, so to speak, democratic. One is of the same value as the other; everything individual is but the property, appendix, predicate or attribute of the entire Nature as a whole. The brain is not the matador and the mental functions are not the subordinate servants. No, we modern materialists assert that the function is as much and as little an independent thing as the tangible brain-mass or any other materiality. The thoughts, too, their origin and nature, are just as real matters and materials worthy of study as any.
We are materialists because we do not make of mind a metaphysical monstrosity. The force of thinking is to us just as little a “thing in itself” as gravity or a clod. All things are merely links of the great universal connection which alone is durable, true, subsisting and thus more than a phenomenon, indeed, the only “thing in itself” and the absolute truth.
Because we Socialist materialists have only one inter-related conception of matter and mind, the so-called mental relations such as those of politics, religion, morals, etc., are to us also material conditions; and material labor and the bread-and-butter question are only in so far regarded by us as the basis, the perquisite and foundation of all mental development as the animal element is prior in point of time to the human one – which does not prevent us from valuing man and his intellect very highly.
Socialist materialism is distinguished by the fact that it does not undervalue the human mind as the old materialists did, nor over-value it as the German idealists did. It proceeds in its appreciation in a moderate manner and regards both Mechanics and Philosophy from the standpoint of critical dialectics, namely as interrelated phenomena of the inseparable world-process and world-progress.
In his General Morphology Ernst Haeckel says:
“The general and rapid advancement made by Geology and Botany in consequence of the extraordinary services rendered by Linnaeus to the systematic knowledge of animals and plants, led to the erroneous assumption that the systems themselves were the aim of science and that it was only necessary to enrich the system with as many new forms as possible in order to render durable service to the cause of zoological and botanical sciences. It was thus that there arose the great and melancholy host of zoologists of the Museum and botanists of the Herbarium who could distinguish by their names each of the thousands of species, but at the same time had not the slightest knowledge of the rougher and more delicate structural conditions of these species, of their development and life-history, of their physiological and anatomical conditions ... We must, however, point out the singular delusion under which modern Biology labors when it advertises in glowing terms as scientific Zoology and scientific Botany the bare mechanical description of the inner and delicate, especially microscopical, form-relations and compares this, not without pride, with the pure description of the external and rougher form-relations, which was exclusively prevalent in former times and which is the chief occupation of the so-called systematizers. As long as these two schools, which are fond of contrasting themselves so sharply, are aiming at description only (whether of the external or internal, the delicate or the rougher forms, does not matter) the one is worth just as much as the other. Both of them can only rise to the level of science when they try to explain the form and trace the law underlying it. In our firm conviction, the reaction which was sooner or later bound to come against this totally one-sided and narrow empiricism, has in fact already begun. Darwin’s discovery, given to the world in 1859, of the natural selection in the struggle for existence – one of the greatest discoveries of the human mind – has with one stroke turned such a fierce and clear light upon the obscure mass of the gradually accumulated biological facts that even the most obstinate empiricists – if they wish to keep pace with science at all – will in future no longer be able to avoid the new Natural Philosophy which arose as a consequence of it.”
We quote these words of Haeckel, one of the most renowned naturalists of the time, to show what his attitude is to the old question: what is science? What must we do in order to understand, to study, to explain stones, plants, animals, men and human instincts? Man possesses in his head an active faculty which is engaged in this work of elucidation. It is the different ideas, opinions and views on this active faculty – otherwise called mind, intellect, reason, faculty of cognition – which divide the old and new Materialists as well as the Idealists into different camps. These parties all differ between them as to the mind and the way in which this mind arrives at science and how science must be constituted.
In natural science there is comparatively little difference of opinion on this subject, yet, as we have just heard from Haeckel, sufficient to arouse a lively discussion as to what is science and what is not. Classical, however, the controversy becomes only in the so-called “philosophical” branches of knowledge which deal with the doctrines and lives of the teachers of religion, of statesmen, politicians, jurists, sociologists, economists, etc., that is, with the most vital interests of human society. It is there that one is first to perceive to the full extent the import which attaches to what one thinks of the human mind and of the influence which a solid method of thinking, or, in fact, a theory of it has for human society.
No doubt, natural science knows how to use the human mind, – its successes are proof of that. But these same naturalists are also sometimes engaged in discussing politics, religion, socialism, etc., and though they know how to use their brains scientifically in their own province, this habitual use is not sufficient for purposes of solving successfully problems which arise in other do mains. We, therefore, believe to have proved by this fact that we are justified in proceeding with our inquiry into the nature of the faculty of thinking and into the proper and successful mode of its application.
As we don t agree with the old materialists who thought that they had sufficiently explained the intellect by calling it the property of the brain, we cannot hope for a solution of the problem by subjecting the human mind to an anatomical dissection. Nor can the speculative way which expects to find out the nature of the mind by rummaging in the interior of the head, be ours because such idealist speculation has achieved altogether too little. Thus comes opportunely Haeckel with his opinion about the proper method of science. He contemplates the human mind, and how it worked historically, and this appears to us to be the right method.
Every natural product behaves with a peculiarity of its own; the stone remains stationary, and the wind travels from land to land. Nor is the mind a thing that can be got hold of at a certain place; true, we feel its activity in our head, but it does not remain there; it issues forth into the wide world and there it combines, if not chemically, still as a matter of fact with all objects of the universal Nature. As little as the wind can be sepa rated from the air, can our mind be separated from the other natural objects; it only manifests itself as a phenomenon in mental combination with such natural things. Without the natural combination with other material the mind is not to be had. It is probably not a chemical element which can be produced in a pure state. And why should everything be chemical?
And so the mind knows something of plants and animals. Botany and Zoölogy are mental combinations. In natural sciences – generally speaking, in everything which we know positively – the human mind is naturally combined with the respective material things and is only to be conceived and represented in such combinations.
Now, Haeckel tells us of the melancholy host of zoologists of the Museum and botanists of the Herbarium and explains that the method in which they combined their mind with animals and plants was not the right one. And the succeeding scientists, too, who studied the more delicate and inner structures microscopically, but still confined themselves to mere description of the objects, did not know how to bring about the right combination between the subject and the object, mind and matter. It was only the discovery of the natural selection through the struggle for existence, given to the world by Darwin in 1859, which was a proper mental combination – so Haeckel thinks, and we take the liberty to differ.
Let not the reader misunderstand us. We do not dispute that Darwin and Haeckel have correctly and in a scientific way combined their individual minds with the vegetable and animal kingdom and produced clear crystals of knowledge. We merely want to call the attention to modern dialectical materialism which is of opinion that Darwin and Haeckel, however high their merits are, were not the first and not the only ones who produced such crystals. Even the melancholy zoologists of the Museum and the botanists of the Herbarium left us a good slice of science. The arrangement of the vegetable and animal kingdoms in classes, species and varieties according to different characters was a fully justified scientific combination of mind and matter, “bare description” though it was. Without thoughts it could not have been done. Certainly Darwin has done more; but still nothing but more. He added to the old a new light, but his light was by no means a different light from that of Linnaeus. Darwin uses the “ many accumulated biological facts” and adds some new ones; he describes Embryology and how by means of natural selection the changes are inherited and how these inherited changes by means of the struggle for existence become stronger, and so intermediate forms and new varieties arise. By means of observation and accumulation of facts and their description a new light is gained or, rather, the light gained previously is increased. The service rendered by Darwin is great, but not so overwhelming as to justify Haeckel in making this “science” something higher than the everyday combination of the human mind with the objective facts.
We have already pointed out in our first article that the narrow materialism not only considers mind a property of the brain – a proposition which nobody disputes – but infers from that directly or indirectly that the faculty of reasoning or of knowledge predicated of the brain was not a substantive object of study, so that the study of the material brain yielded sufficient information of the mental property and force. As against this, our dialectic materialism proves that the question ought to be considered after the precept of Spinoza from the standpoint of the Universe, sub specie æternitatis. In the endless Universe matter in the sense of the old and antiquated materialists, that is, of tangible matter, does not possess the slightest preferential right to be more substantial, i.e., more immediate, more distinct and more certain than any other phenomenon of Nature.
It is an essential broadening of our sphere of knowledge to conceive the material subject, the brain, together with its mental predicate, that is, both the brain and the mind, as mere properties or phenomena or changes of the absolute subject, the natural Nature which has no other nature besides, or above or outside. This conception restrains the extravagance with which materialists extoll their matter, and idealists their function of the brain to the skies.
Those materialists who make tangible matter the substance and the intangible function of the brain a mere incidence think too little of this function. In order to gain a more adequate and just idea of it, it is above all necessary to go back to the fact that they are children of one mother, that they are two natural phenomena on which we turn a light when we describe them and arrange them in classes, species and sub-species.
When we declare as regards matter – and nobody will dispute it – that it is a phenomenon of Nature and state the same with regard to the mental faculty of man, then, of course, we still know very little of them. Yet so much we do know that they are twin-children, that nobody must separate them to any extravagant extent, that nobody must draw between them a distinction toto genere, toto coelo.
If we wish now, for instance, to know something more of matter, then we must do as the zoologists of the Museum and the botanists of the Herbarium did once upon a time, – we must try to ascertain, to study and to describe its different classes, families and varieties, how they rise, pass away and change into one another. This is the science of matter. Whoever wishes for more wishes something transcendental, and does not understand what knowledge means, does not understand either the organ of knowledge or its use. When the old materialists deal with special matters, they behave quite scientifically; but when they have to deal with abstract matter, with its general conception, then their helpless ness in the science of knowledge stands revealed. It is precisely the merit of the idealists that they at least have advanced the use of abstractions and general ideas to an extent which enabled modern socialist materialism to recognize at last, that matter and conception are ordinary products of Nature and that there is not and cannot be anything which does not wholly belong to the one and only absolute category of the natural world.
Our materialism is distinguished by its special knowledge of the common nature of mind and matter. Wherever this modern materialism takes up the human mind as an object of study, it treats it like any other object of study, consequently like the zoologists of the Museum, the botanists of the Herbarium and the Darwinists treat the knowledge and description of their objects. Unquestionably, the former have by their classification thrown a light upon the thousands of their objects. Perhaps that light was not a very strong light and Darwin strengthened it in a way which made the additional light outshine the original one. Yet, the old “describers” had to “know” before they could classify, and Darwin’s knowledge itself was nothing but a description guided by the conception of evolution and yielding, by a description of the natural proceedings, a more adequate picture of the accumulated facts.
With all that, the old zoologists and botanists were narrow-minded interpreters: they interpreted the varieties of the animal and vegetable kingdoms merely as regards their contiguity, and failed to see their evolutionary process. To have drawn within the limits of his observation the historical transformation constitutes in the main the merit of Darwin. It is impossible to deny the fact that it was Darwin’s science which first illuminated the results gained by the zoologists of the Museum. Still, the same will also happen to modern natural science: future discoveries will enlarge those already made, will consequently make them always more and more valuable. Nothing and nobody can pose as the only true solution, but everything is to be considered from the standpoint of the Universe.
The materialist theory of knowledge amounts, then, to this statement, that the human organ of cognition radiates no metaphysical light, but is a piece of Nature which pictures other pieces of Nature whose essence is explained when we describe it and bring it in connection with the whole Universe as the one Reality and the real Unity. Such a description demands from the epistemologist or philosopher that he should treat his subject in the same precise way as the animal world is treated by the zoologist. Should I be reproached with not following this precept immediately, I would point to Rome which, too, was not built in one day.
It is remarkable how those enlightened naturalists, who know so well that the eternal movement of Nature has through adaptation, selection, struggle for existence, etc., produced elephants and apes out of protoplasma and molluscs, should be reluctant to acknowledge that mind has developed in the same way. Why should not reason be able to accomplish what bone did? But true, bones did not do it, and reason cannot do it. It is the substantial force of the Universe, in which they participate, which has brought about the things that are, and all that the human mind can do is to form a picture of its gradual, consistent and rational working. Why does it wish for more? It only wishes for more because and in so far as it is too exacting and extravagant a taskmaster.
When we say not only of reason, but also of Nature in general that it is rational, we do not wish to convey the idea that this rational Nature and its working are the predetermined and purposeful work of a fantastic mind. Nature, which could develop the human reason, is such an astounding thing that it requires no central organ for its rational development. Wonderful Nature is not robbed of its wonderfulness by our “knowledge,” “cognition,” “interpretation”; it may, however, by a closer description or an adequate picture, well be freed from all transcendentalism, from all mystification, – nay, interpreted and grasped, in so far as one does not form an exaggerated idea of those mental functions, but gains a true conception thereof.
Just as the zoologist of the Museum got to know his animals by description of the class, species and family in which they have been arranged, so is also the human mind to be studied through finding the different varieties of the mind. Every person has an intellect of his own which together with those of all others must be considered as blossoms of the general mind. This general human mind has, like the individual one, its development partly behind, partly before it; it has had and will have to undergo different and manifold metamorphoses, and if we follow those back to the beginning of mankind we arrive at a stage where the divine spark manifests itself but dimly in bestiality. The bestialized human mind forms there the bridge to the animal mind proper, then to the mind of plants, to the spirits of the wood and mountains. In other words: in this manner we arrive at the understanding that between mind and matter as well as between all parts of the universal unity of Nature there are but gradual and hardly perceptible transition-stages, but no metaphysical differences.
It is because the old materialism did not understand this fact; because it was unable to conceive the ideas of matter and mind as but abstract pictures of concrete phenomena; because in spite of its religious free-thought, in spite of its disparagement of the divine mind, it did not know what to do with the natural mind and was on account of such ignorance unable to overcome metaphysics, – it is because of all that that Engels called this materialism metaphysical, and the materialism of Social-Democracy, which has received a better schooling through the preceding German idealism, the dialectical.
In the eyes of this latter kind of materialism the mind is a collective name for the mental phenomena, as matter is a collective name for the material phenomena, and the two together figure under the idea and name of the phenomena of Nature. This is a new epistemological mode of thinking which applies to all special sciences, to all special thoughts, and puts forward the principle that all things in the world are to be considered sub specie æternitatis, from the standpoint of the Universe. This eternal Universe is so combined with its temporal phenomena that all eternity is temporal, all temporality is eternal.
The substantiated mode of thinking of Social-Democracy throws thereby a new light upon the old problem with which idealism was afflicted, namely, how can we think truly, how is the subjective thought to be distinguished from the objective? The answer is: thou shalt not distinguish transcendentally; even the most exact representation, even the truest thought can only give you a picture of the universal varieties which exist within and outside you. It is not at all so difficult to distinguish realistic pictures from the fantastical, and every artist can do it with the utmost precision. The fantastical ideas are borrowed from reality, and the most exact ideas of reality are necessarily animated by a breath of fantasy. Exact representation and ideas render us excellent services precisely because they do not possess an ideal exactness, but only a moderate one.
Our thoughts cannot and must not agree with their objects in an exaggerated, metaphysical sense of the word. What we desire and may and should desire, is to gain an approximate idea of reality. Hence, also reality can only approach our ideals. There can be, outside the idea, no mathematical point, no mathematical straight line. In reality all straight lines contain an admixture of crookedness, just as even the highest justice must still contain a grain of injustice. Truth is of a substantial nature and not of an ideal one; it is materialistic; it is not to be conceived through thoughts alone, but also through the eyes, ears and hands; it is not a product of thought, but on the contrary, the thought is a product of universal life. The living Universe is incarnate truth.
It is well known that philosophers have often thrown out ideas far in advance of their time which subsequently found their verification in the exact sciences. Thus, for instance, Descartes is well known to physicists, Leibnitz to mathematicians, Kant to physical geographers. It may be generally said that philosophers enjoy the reputation of having influenced by their ingenious anticipations the progress of science. We wish to point out thereby that philosophy and natural science do not at all lie inordinately far apart. It is the same human mind which works in the one as in the other science by the same method. The method of natural science is more exact, but only gradually so, not substantially. There is in every sort of knowledge, even in natural science, a certain amount of obscure, mysterious “matter,” a matter of cognition, alongside the luminous and palpable one and even the most ingenious anticipations of our philosophers are, in spite, or rather because of, their mysterious nature, still “natural.” To have worked with success at a certain conciliation between the natural and the mental is the common merit of Darwin and Hegel.
We wish to render the now almost forgotten Hegel what is to due to him as the forerunner of Darwin. Mendelssohn, in a dispute with Lessing, called Spinoza a “dead dog.” Just as dead appears now Hegel, who in his time, in the words of his biographer Haym, achieved in the world of letters a position analogous to that of Napoleon I in the political. Spinoza has long since undergone resurrection from the state of a “dead dog,” and so will Hegel, too, find his merits acknowledged by future generations. If he has lost his influence at the present time, it is merely a temporary eclipse.
Hegel, it is known, once said that of his numerous disciples only one understood him and that one, too, misunderstood him. That such a general misunderstanding is more to be ascribed to the obscurity of the master than to the lack of understanding in the disciples, admits, of course, of no question. Hegel cannot be thoroughly understood because he did not understand himself thoroughly. With all that he is an ingenious anticipator of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and with equal justice and truth one may say the reverse: Darwin is an ingenious interpreter of Hegel’s theory of knowledge. The latter is a doctrine of evolution which embraces not only the origin of species of the entire animal world, but also the origin and development of all things. It is altogether a cosmical theory of evolution. We have as little right to blame Hegel for his obscurity as Darwin for not having exhausted all knowledge with regard to the origin of species.
Truly and surely who explains everything, explains nothing. From such fantastical desire the great philosopher was quite free, though his school was ready enough to worship him. Many Hegelians really believed in their time that the master could furnish them the absolute knowledge, and that it was only necessary to open one’s mouth and swallow it. Still we also had such disciples who proceeded with earnest labors on the inherited soil and brought forth glorious fruit on the tree of knowledge.
Let us be critical towards God and all men, Hegel and Darwin included. Darwin’s theory of evolution has its indestructible merits. Who will deny it? Still a German, who has been brought up under the influence of his great philosophers, must not forget that the great Darwin was much smaller than his doctrine. How anxiously careful is he, not to draw the necessary conclusions! No one can overvalue the worth of exact research; but whoever does not perceive that it must be accompanied, if not by a flight into the Endless, at least by an endless flight, by a continuous soaring, does not understand the full value of exact experimental inquiry.
The theory of evolution which we will not say was solved, but was considerably stimulated and advanced by Hegel, received before all at the hands of Darwin an exceedingly valuable application or specification in relation to zoology. Still we must not lose sight of the fact that the specification was of no greater value than the generalization in which Hegel excels; the one cannot and must not be without the other. The naturalist combines the two, and no philosopher who deserves the name will fail do so, either; it is only the more or the less which is characteristic for the two branches of knowledge. True, the necessity of specialization would sometimes be forgotten by the best philosophers; it may not even come to their consciousness in any clear form at all. But just as often would exact science forget the general aspect of its work, while it was not the worst investigators in the scientific domain who sometimes ventured on too bold a flight to the skies. The sporadic cloud-soaring of natural science and the exact anticipations of philosophers should prove to the reader that the General and the Special harmonize together.
All art is natural art, – despite the usual opinion which places Nature and Art at an over great distance from each other; and likewise all science, philosophy included, is science of Nature. Speculative philosophy, too, has its exact object, namely, “the problem of cognition.” It would, however, be rendering the philosophers too much credit if we were to say that they have solved their problem. Other branches of knowledge, especially those of natural science, have coöperated; for science of all branches, of all nations and of all the times is the general result of a closely connected coöperation. The philosophers have assisted the naturalists, natural science has helped philosophy until the problem of knowledge is now developed, revealed and clearly worked out.
There is no question as to what ought to be the name of the subject-matter which is studied by the physician or astronomer, whilst the subject-matter of philosophy was at first much disputed so that one might say that the philosophers did not know what they wanted. Now at last, after thousands of years of incessant philosophic development, it came to be recognized that the “Problem of Cognition” or “Theory of Science” has been the object and the result of philosophic work.
In order to understand clearly the relation between Hegel and Darwin we are bound to touch upon the deep est and most obscure questions of science. The subject-matter of philosophy is just one of those. Darwin’s subject-matter is undoubted. He knew his object; yet it is to be observed that Darwin who knew his object wanted to investigate it, – consequently did not know it through and through. Darwin investigated his object, “the Origin of Species,” but he did not exhaust it. This means that the subject-matter of every science is endless. Whether one wants to measure the Infinite or merely the smallest atom, one always has to deal with the Immeasurable. Nature, both as a whole and in its parts, is inexhaustible, not knowable to its last particle, – consequently without beginning and end.
The recognition of this everyday Infinitude is the result of science, although the latter started from a transcendental religious or metaphysical Infinitude.
Darwin’s subject-matter is just as endless and unknowable to the very last particle as Hegel’s. The one inquired into the origin of species, the other into the process of human thinking. The result in both cases was the doctrine of evolution.
We have to deal here with two very great men and with a very great thing. We try to show that these men did not work in opposition to each other, but in the same direction, on the same line. They have raised the monistic conception of the world to a height and strengthened it with positive discoveries that up till then were unknown.
Darwin’s doctrine of evolution is confined to the animal species, and removes the rigid lines which the religious conception of the world sets up between the classes and species of living creatures. Darwin emancipates science from the religious class conception and ejects divine creation from science in respect to this special point. In this point he puts in the place of the transcendental creation the matter-of-fact self-development. To prove that Darwin did not fall from the clouds it is but necessary to remember Lamarck who disputes with Darwin the honor of priority. This, however does not diminish the service rendered to science by Darwin; whilst Lamarck can lay claim to the philosophical anticipation, Darwin can claim the specified proofs.
To our Hegel belongs the honor of having placed the self-development of Nature on the broadest basis, of having emancipated knowledge from the class-view in the most general way. Darwin criticises the traditional class-view zoologically, and Hegel universally.
Science makes its way out of the darkness to light. Philosophy, too, which aims at the illumination of the process of human thinking, made its way upwards; that it pursued its object rather instinctively than otherwise became by the time of Hegel tolerably patent to it.
The main works of philosophy move about the “method,” the critical use of reason, the doctrine of science or of truth, the way and manner in which man thinks, in which he should use his head. It was the aim of philosophy to inform itself of the special piece of the universe which serves as an instrument of the illumination of the universe.
We draw special attention to the dualism, to the double problem in this endeavor: the Universe was to be illuminated and at the same time the lamp, by means of which it was to be illuminated. It is pre-eminently this double problem which confuses the work of philosophy. Science starts from the desire of illumination and does not know at first what to take hold of, whether the Cosmos as a whole, or gradually and piecemeal. Many a time it had already entered the practical road without having arrived at any guiding principle. In the time of Hegel the problem was as yet to a large extent obscure, still the way had been considerably cleared. It was Kant who desisted from the direct search after the whole wisdom of the world and took up, at first, specially the piece of the Universe called thinking. This piece, according to tradition, belonged preeminently to the metaphysical class of the transcendental things. Kant by his critique has done enough to emancipate the intellect from this sinister class-character. Had he succeeded in this completely, had he proved to us entirely that Reason is a thing which together with other things belongs to the same natural series, he would have, like Darwin, delivered a crushing blow against the transcendental way of classification as well as against Religion. No doubt, Kant has done so, but he did not cleanly cut off the ear of Malchus and left therefore still some work to his successors.
Hegel was an excellent successor to Kant. When we place those two side by side, the one illustrates the other, and the two illustrate Darwin. Kant chose Reason as his special object of study. In dealing with it he could not help drawing other things within his circle of re search. He studies Reason as it behaves in the active pursuit of other sciences; he studies it in its relation to the rest of the world and tells us a hundred times that it is limited to experience, to one indivisible world which is temporal and at the same time eternal. Hence it ought to be clear to the reader that in the teaching of Kant general knowledge of the world and special critique of Reason are united.
It is clear at a glance that Kant’s discovery of the limitation of human Reason by experience was both philosophic science and scientific philosophy. The same holds good of Darwin’s doctrine of the “Origin of Species.” He proves on that point scientifically that the world develops in itself and not from the heavens above – “transcendentally” as the philosophers say. Darwin is a philosopher, though he makes no claim to that. To have worked for the monistic conception, both by his special demonstrations and general conclusion, he has in common with Kant and Hegel.
Hegel teaches the theory of evolution; he teaches that the world was not made, is not a creation, has not an invariable and fixed existence, but is always in the making by its inherent force. Just as with Darwin the classes of animals are not divided by unbridgeable gulfs from each other, but on the contrary, are linked with each other, so with Hegel all categories and forms of the world, nothing and something, being and becoming, quantity and quality, consciousness and unconsciousness, progress and inertia – all inavoidably flow into each other. He teaches that there are differences everywhere, but nowhere – “exaggerated,” metaphysical, transcendental differences. According to Hegel there are no such things which differ from each other “essentially.” The difference between essential and non-essential is only to be understood as relative and gradual. There is only one absolute thing, and that is Cosmos, and everything which hangs about it are fluid, transient, changeable forms, accidentals or properties of the general being which in Hegel’s terminology bears the name of the Absolute.
Nobody will think of assorting that the philosopher has accomplished his work in the most lucid and complete manner. His teaching made further development as little superfluous as that of Darwin, but it gave an impetus to the entire science and the entire human life, – an impetus of the highest importance. Hegel has anticipated Darwin, but Darwin unfortunately did not know Hegel. This “unfortunately” is not a reproach to the great naturalist, but merely a suggestion to us that we should supplement the work of the specialist Darwin by the work of the great generalizer Hegel and proceed still further to greater clearness.
We have stated that Hegel’s philosophy was so obscure that the master could say of his best disciple that he misunderstood him. It was with the view to illuminating this obscurity that not only the succeeding philosopher Feuerbach and other Hegelians have worked, but also the entire scientific, political and economic development of the world. When we consider Darwin’s discoveries, and the latest theory of the transformation of energy, it must at last become clear to us – what occupied the best minds during three thousand years of civilized life – that the world is not made up of fixed classes, but is a fluid unity, the Absolute incarnate, which develops eternally and is only classified by the human mind for purposes of forming intelligent conceptions.
Ernst Haeckel, the well-known naturalist and disciple of Darwin, says in his preface to a paper read by him at Eisenach on September 18, 1882, and published afterwards at Jena,
“that the present attitude of Virchow towards Darwinism is entirely different from that which he assumed at Munich five years previously. In rising at the above mentioned Congress of Anthropologists immediately after Dr. Lucæ he (Virchow) not only turned against this latter’s assertions and paid Darwin the merited amount of his high admiration, but he expressly acknowledged that his more important propositions are logical postulates, irresistible demands of our reason. ‘Yes,’ said Virchow, ‘I do not for a moment deny that the generatio æquivoca is a sort of general demand of the human mind ... Also the idea that man has evolved through a slow and gradual development from the ranks of lower animals, is a logical postulate.’”
The enlightened knowledge of Nature, proceeds then Haeckel in his speech,
“recognizes only that natural revelation which is open to everyone in the book of Nature and can be learned by every one who is free from pre-conceived notions and is endowed with healthy sense; and a healthy mind. From the study of that book we gain that monistic and purest form of belief which amounts to a conviction in the unity of God and Nature and which found long since its complete expression in the pantheistic professions of our greatest poets and thinkers.”
That our greatest poets and thinkers exhibit the tendency to a monistic and pure form of belief and strive after a physical view of Nature which makes all metaphysics impossible and excludes from the scientific world the supernatural God together with the miracle-rubbish, – that is quite true. But when Haeckel gets carried away by his feelings so as to declare that the tendency “has long since found its most complete expression,” then he is laboring under a very grave delusion, – a delusion as regards even himself and his own profession of faith. Haeckel, too, does not know yet how to think monistically.
We shall presently justify our reproach; but it may be stated at once that it affects not only Haeckel, but the entire school of our modern natural science, because it has neglected the results of two and a half thousand years of philosophic research, which has back of it a long empirical history not less so than experimental science itself.
The above mentioned lecture by Haeckel contains the following passage:
“We should like to emphasize especially the conciliating and soothing effect of our genetic view of Nature, – this the more so as our opponents are continually engaged in trying to ascribe to it destructive and dissolving tendencies. The latter are supposed to work not only against science, but against religion also and in so far against the most important foundation of our civilized life in general. Such serious charges, in so far as they really are based on conviction and not merely on sophistical syllogisms can only be explained by a lamentable lack of knowledge of what constitutes the real essence of true religion. This essence is not based on a special form of faith, of domination, but rather on the critically sound conviction of the ultimate unknowable and common cause of all things. In this acknowledgment that the ultimate cause of all phenomena is with the present organization of our brain unknowable, critical natural philosophy meets with dogmatic religion.”
There are three points in this confession of Haeckel which should be kept separately and prove to us that the “monistic view of the world” has even in its most radical and scientific representative not found as yet its complete expression.
Very well, the old belief has the common cause of all that is in a personal God who is supernaturally, indescribably, inconceivably a spirit or a mystery. The new religion à la Haeckel believes to possess in Nature – also named God – a common cause of all things, and so the two forms of faith possess a common cause. The difference only is that the cause, recognised by natural science, is the every-day Nature which, of course, is mysterious enough, yet its mysteries, its riddles are only such as natural science is engaged in solving. The sort of Nature which Haeckel transforms into a God, which he deifies, is also a mystery, but only a natural, an everyday mystery, whilst the supernaturally revealed God is, according to all that is said of him, of a nature thoroughly inexpressible, undefinable by any words at our command. Or, since one cannot help treating the good religious God with human words, it is easy to understand how in such process all these names and words lose their human sense. Just put the religious God and the natural God of Haeckel side by side: both of them are omnipotent; Nature makes everything which is made, but only in a natural, every-day sense. The good God in Heavens, too, makes everything, but not naturally; he makes it unnaturally in a sense and in a way which does not even admit of being defined, of being expressed. The good God, forsooth, is a spirit, but not such as dwells in old castles, nor such a limited one as man has in his head, but a spirit like no spirit, a monster-spirit, a monster-mind whose constitution cannot even be expressed in words.
Before we pass to the third point of the “purest form of faith,” we must consider a little closer the two already mentioned. It will then be the more easy to dispose of the third and last one as well as of the final combination of all the three in one.
The difference between the everyday natural and the unnatural, between the physical and metaphysical revelation, religion or divinity, is so great that the enlightened view of Nature, as represented by Haeckel the Darwinian, would have been justified to forego the old names and the revealed divine religion and put “destructively” against it the monistic view of the world. By not doing that, Darwinism only manifests the limitation of its theory of evolution. In so far as it wants to remain monistic it ought to have viewed Nature only physically, not metaphysically. It must see in Nature the primary cause of all things, but not a mysterious one, that is, a not yet explored, but never an inexplorable cause, – inexplorable in the metaphysical sense.
That Haeckel, however, the most radical representative of natural science monism, still rides that dualistic horse, is proclaimed openly by the third point which finds the ultimate cause of all phenomena “with the present organization of our brain” unknowable.
What is knowable?
The whole context to which that word belongs shows conclusively that our monistic scientist is still in the mire of metaphysics. Nothing in the world, not an atom of it, is to be known out and out. Everything in the world is inexhaustible in its secrets, no less than it is imperishable and indestructible in its essence. With all that, we learn every day more and more to know the things, and learn that there is nothing which is closed to our mind. Just as the human mind is unlimited in the discovery of mysteries and problems, so, on the other hand, the inexhaustible and the unknowable yield themselves readily and unreservedly to its inquiries and its attempts to solve them.
It is due to the “old belief” that the words, the speech, have acquired a double meaning, – a natural, relative and common-sense one, and a transcendental, metaphysical one. The reader may notice the double effect of natural science when it is compromised by metaphysics; it contains mysteries and propagates, by their solution, the conviction that what was formerly a mystery becomes through research an ordinary, everyday thing in the chain of interrelation. Nature is full of mysteries which reveal themselves to the inquiring mind as ordinary properties. Nature is inexhaustible in scientific problems. We sound them and we can never come to an end with this sounding. The human common-sense is quite right when it finds the world or Nature unfathomable, but it is also right when it repudiates all metaphysical unfathomableness of the world as transcendental folly and superstition. We shall never finish with our exploration of Nature, and yet the more natural science proceeds in its exploration the more strikingly patent it becomes that it need not at all fear the inexhaustible mysteries, that “there is nothing which resists it” (Hegel). Hence it follows that the inexhaustible “primary cause of all things” is being pumped daily with our instrument of knowledge which is no less universal or infinite in its capacity for exploration than Nature in setting problems.
“With the present organisation of our brain!” No doubt. Our brain will yet, through sexual selection and struggle for existence, develop enormously and probe more and more the natural cause of things. If that phrase is meant in this sense, then we perfectly agree. But it is not meant so by the metaphysically prejudiced Darwinian. The human mind is supposed to be too small for the thorough exploration of the world, in order that we may believe in a monster-mind and not combat him “destructively.”
Darwin with all his merits was an exceedingly modest man; he was content with a special branch of inquiry. Everybody should be as modest, but not everybody should limit himself to the same specialty. Science has not only to investigate the morphology of plants and animals; it has to deal also with the problem, as to how the unknowable changes into the knowable, and must not exclude from hi province the ultimate cause of all existence.
Hegel has propounded the doctrine of evolution on a far more universal scale than Darwin. We do not wish on that account to prefer or to subordinate the one to the other, but merely to supplement the one by the other. If Darwin teaches us that amphibia and birds are not eternally separated classes, but emerge from one another and merge into one another, then Hegel teaches us that all classes, that the whole world, is a living being which has nowhere rigid limits so that even the knowable and unknowable, the physical and metaphysical, flow into one another, and the absolutely Inconceivable is a thing which belongs not to the monistic, but to the dualistic, religious view of the world.
“We have to go back twenty-five centuries, to the dawn of classical antiquity in order to find the first germs of a natural philosophy, that pursued with a clear purpose Darwin’s object, viz., to find the natural causes of the phenomena of Nature and thus to dissipate the belief in supernatural causes, in miracles. It was the founders of Greek philosophy in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. who laid this true cornerstone of knowledge and tried to discover a natural common cause of all things” (Haeckel, l.c.).
Now, if our esteemed naturalist drops this “natural” cause and substitutes a mysterious cause which is so wonderful that we cannot possibly know anything of it, he again leaves us a metaphysical ultimate cause to believe in, which brings us in line with religion. – Does he not thereby play false to the common aim of Darwin and his critical natural philosophy?
According to our monism Nature is the ultimate cause of all things; it is also the cause of our faculty of cognition; yet this faculty, according to Haeckel, is too small to know the ultimate cause! How does that fit in? Nature is recognised as the ultimate cause, and yet it is to remain unknowable!
The fear of destructive tendencies has taken hold of even such a determined evolutionist as Haeckel. He abandons his own theory and lands in the belief that the human mind must content itself with the phenomenon of Nature and is unable to reach the true essence of it. The ultimate cause is, according to our naturalist, an object which does not come within the province of natural science.
“The contentedness in receiving and the parsimony in giving are not virtues in the domain of science,” says Hegel in the preface to his Phenomenology of the Mind. He goes on saying: Those who merely seek edification, who desire to envelop in a mist the earthly manifold richness of existence and of thought, and hanker after the vague enjoyment of this indefinite divinity, may look out where to find it; they will easily discover the means to rave about it and to put on mysterious airs. But philosophy must take care not to wish to become edifying.
Darwin’s aim has been represented by his most acknowledged disciple as a philosophic one, – to find out the natural causes and to dispel the belief in supernatural intervention and miracles. And yet the wonderful inconceivableness of the common cause of all things, the wonderful limitation of the human mind must still remain untouched for the sake of edifying conciliation!
Our reproach against Haeckel, the Darwinian, amounts to this: he has not assimilated the results of two and a half thousand years of philosophic evolution and there fore, though he may, perhaps, know very well the nature of “the present organisation of our brain,” he nevertheless sadly tacks the knowledge of the process of cognition which is a thing different from the physiology of the brain. At least, so much do the above quoted passages show that Haeckel’s ideas of the natural and unnatural, of the wonderful and knowable, as well as his ideas of the natural divinity and the divine nature are not monistic, but are still permeated by a very reactionary dualism.
As to the pantheistic professions of our greatest poets and thinkers, – professions which culminate in the conviction of the unity of God and Nature, Hegel has left us a very characteristic doctrine. According to it, we not only know the unity of things, but also their difference. A poodle and a bloodhound are both dogs, but this unity does not prevent differences. Nature has much likeness to God, – it rules from eternity to eternity. As our mind is its instrument, a natural instrument, Nature knows everything that there is to be known. It is omniscient. Yet natural wisdom is sufficiently different from divine wisdom that there are enough scientific reasons for the destructive tendencies to do away entirely with God, religion and metaphysics, – to do away in a rational manner so far as they can be done away with. The confused ideas have been before and will therefore remain as have-beens in all eternity.
The Hegelian, too, assumes towards religion an attitude which is merely scientific, not irreconcilable. We readily recognize religion as a natural phenomenon which in its time and under special circumstances was fully justified, and, like all phenomena, like wood and stone, carries within its transient shell an eternal germ of truth. What Hegel has failed to do, or done imperfectly, was supplemented by his follower Feuerbach. He brought that germ to light and showed that burned wood does not come to nothing, but turns into ashes and undergoes in that process such a change that the use of the former name is no longer permissible. The transformation of wood into ashes is a development; likewise religion develops into science. And when the Darwinian, in spite of that manifests a desire to leave in the ultimate cause of all things something undeveloped and undevelopable, something mysterious and metaphysical he only shows that he has not grasped the doctrine of evolution in its universality and that the great Hegel who developed the doctrine of cognition is for him a “dead dog.”
Let us cast a cursory glance over Darwin’s work. His subject matter is the animal in general, the animality, the animal life in its generic sense. Before Darwin we only knew living individuals, and the general animal was a mere abstraction. Since then, however, we have learned that not only individuals, but also the general animal, is a living being. The animality exists, moves and changes, undergoes a historic development, is a widely ramified organism. Before Darwin the ramifications or divisions of the animal world were marked off by zoologists according to a fixed system. They divided it into classes, fishes, amphibia, insects, birds, and so forth. Darwin has introduced life into this system. He showed us that animality is not a dead abstract entity, but is a moving process of which our knowledge has up till now given us but a scanty picture. And if the old knowledge of the animal world was a scanty picture and the new one is more substantial, more complete and truthful, then the gain from it by our knowledge is not confined to the animal world. We also gain at the same time an insight into our faculty of cognition, viz., that the latter is not a supernatural source of truth, but a mirror-like instrument which reflects the things of the world, or Nature.
Darwin was the negation of a metaphysician. Without, perhaps, knowing it or wishing it, he took metaphysics, the belief in the miraculous, by the throat; he removed in zoology the unnatural class-lines and gave the edifying belief in the metaphysical, wonderful nature of the human organ of cognition a blow which stuck, and substantially illuminated philosophy, the critique of reason or theory of cognition.
If not Darwin himself, at least, his follower Haeckel told us that his master was a glorious fighter against metaphysics. This is the ground on which he meets Hegel and all philosophers as allies. All of them strove after illumination, – especially the illumination of the metaphysical dimness, though they themselves were laboring more or less under it.
Hegel has much in common with the old Heraclitus, nicknamed “the Obscure.” Both of them taught, that the things of the world do not stand still, but flow, that is, develop, and both of them deserve being nicknamed “the Obscure.” To illuminate a little Hegel’s obscurity it is necessary to pass in brief review the development of philosophy.
Science began its career more as philosophy than natural science, that is, it lived at the beginning more in metaphysical speculation than in real Nature. True, mankind had already made some excursions into natural science before, just as our most modern naturalists sometimes land in a backward philosophy; still we must say in all truth that the old cultivators of science were philosophers while the modern were naturalists. Now at last the conciliation is near at hand, or even already concluded. Now the question is of a completely systematic, natural view of the world which has neither before nor behind it anything supernatural, “edifying” or metaphysical. Since the days of the Greek colonies, since Thales, Democritus and Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, philosophy sought to solve the riddle of Nature. But they were continually in doubt and in the darkness as to the ways and means of inquiry, whether the solution of the problem was to be sought in the outer or inner world, in matter or in mind. And in modern times, too, when after a thousand years of darkness a new scientific day dawned, and the philosophers took up again the work of the old predecessors, – at the time of Bacon, Descartes and Leibnitz – the dispute about the “method” and the proper “organon” for the acquirement of truth was still going on. The whole thing appeared doubtful, – especially the nature of truth which was to be investigated and the riddle which was to be solved, whether it be natural or supernatural, – indeed, so doubtful that, as is well known, Descartes made Doubt the primary condition and the cardinal virtue of inquiry.
Yet science could not stop at that point. It had to arrive at Certainty, – particularly on that question which for Descartes and for all other philosophers was the most pressing. It needed certainty about the method, that is, how one must proceed in the inquiry in order to arrive at scientific truth which is identical with certainty. At the same time natural science already began to apply practically the method which the philosophers were still searching for. And the great Descartes was, too, partly a scientist, and proceeded in philosophy so far as to make the above mentioned method the definite, clearly-conceived subject of his main work.
And now the light spreads more and more. The metaphysical, the inconceivable, the mysterious has to go, and must be driven out of science, and its place taken up by certainty, by the undoubted. The process is in full swing. The philosophers develop mightily and the scientists render them mighty assistance.
And here comes the great Kant with his question: “How is metaphysics possible as a science?”
Let us keep in mind what the old Königsberg philosopher means by “metaphysics.” He means by it the miraculous, the mysterious, the inconceivable, that is the traditional, theological subject-matters: “God, Freedom, Immortality.”
You have been talking about it a pretty long time, says Kant. I will now try and see whether it is really possible to know anything about the matter. And he takes as his model Copernicus. After astronomy had for a long time allowed the sun to move round the earth and not much came out of it, Copernicus turned the method upside down and attempted to see whether it would not be better when the sun was fixed and the earth moved round. With the assistance of the faculty of cognition Man has, up to the time of Kant, tried to probe the great metaphysical, the existence of the world-miracle. The famous author of the Critique of Pure Reason turns the thing round and takes the piece of Nature which man feels glowing in his head, – the lamp of illumination of which some empirical information had been gained before – and attempts to find out, whether with this lamp it is possible to illuminate the great sea-serpent which since the Christian era has been known under the name of God, Freedom and Immortality, but in classical antiquity was designated by its wise men as the True, the Good and the Beautiful.
This classical name is very apt to mislead us. True, good and beautiful specialties, as they are daily cultivated by the exact sciences, must clearly be distinguished from the great sea-serpent which floated before the eyes of the ancients when they investigated the abstract ideas. The Christian name with which Kant designates the metaphysical monster is in the present stage of the problem better calculated to bring out the difference between physics and metaphysics, between the perceptible Nature and the senseless Beyond.
On the other hand, we are also apt to miss the true importance of the sea-serpent, if we concentrate our attention exclusively on its religious color. Its belly is yellow and glitters with God, Freedom and Immortality; but its back takes the color of its environment and by this mimicry it is able, like the white hare in the snow, to escape our eye. When, however, we come nearer and inspect the thing closely, we find on its grey back the words “The True, the Good, the Beautiful” imprinted in Greek letters of a dark hue. If we resume in one word the inscriptions which the philosophical-theological-metaphysical sea-serpent bears on its back, the beast will, perhaps, be most aptly characterized by the beautiful name, “Truth.” The double meaning of this word ought not to be missed. The sea-serpent-truth is transcendental. Still ft rests on a natural basis, on the basis of natural truth, which, of course, must be distinguished from the transcendental one. The natural truth is the scientific truth; it is not to be gazed at either with enthusiasm or with “edification,” but it must be contemplated soberly, and it is so general that all things, even the paving stones, belong to it. The sea-serpent-truth is a human delusion of the childish prehistoric times; the sober truth is a collective name which embraces in one conception both true fancies and true paving stones.
Kant asked: How is metaphysics, that is, the belief in the supernatural, possible as a science? And he replied: This belief is not scientific. After having examined the intellect in its various faculties Kant comes to the conclusion that the human mind can only form images of the phenomena of Nature and as far as science goes, does not know and does not wish to know of any other “true” spirit. Though the time for such a radical pronouncement was not ripe yet, nevertheless it is well known that Kant concludes his inquiry with the statement that Reason – meaning thereby the highest measure of our intellectual efforts – can only understand the mere appearances of things.
The inquiry into the nature of the sea-serpent has in the hands of the philosopher Kant changed into the scientific and sober question, what sort of a light is it and what is it to illuminate. Still Kant, too, was unable to extricate himself from the muddle, whether he should combat the metaphysical monster, or criticize Reason, or do the two things at the same time. His successors, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, had to take up the same work and continue it. By the inquiry into the human mind the head of the sea-serpent is to be crushed, – that is certain, so much had the road been cleared by the Königsberg Copernicus. Still we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the enthusiasm for his heroic deed to such an extent as to ignore the fact that neither he nor his followers have completely purged their emotions from the wretched metaphysics, from the belief in a higher truth than the natural one. They rather guess at the monstrous than perceive it, and they only gain their victory step by step.
Kant argues as follows: Even if our Reason be limited to the knowledge of natural appearances, even if we could not know anything beyond that, we still must believe in something mysterious, higher, metaphysical. There must be something behind the appearances, “since where there are appearances there must be something which appears.” So concludes Kant, – only seemingly a correct conclusion. Is it not enough that natural appearances appear? Why should there be anything else behind them, – something transcendental, inconceivable – but their own nature? However, let that pass. Kant expelled – at least formally – metaphysics from scientific pursuits and relegated it to the province of belief.
That was in the eyes of the successors and especially of Hegel too little. The belief which Kant had left, of the limited mind, the limits which he had set to scientific inquiry, were to this giant of thought too narrow; he soared into the Universe and there “ there should be nothing to resist him.” He wants to escape from the metaphysical prison into the fresh physical air; and this is not to be understood in the sense as if Hegel himself were mentally free and wanted to assist others to gain such freedom. No, the philosopher himself is prejudiced and wants to be instructed. His mind, his flame is but a portion of the universal light which glows in every man, which wants to, and can illuminate everything, but can only proceed step by step.
In consequence of the more or less entangled nature of things our discussion, too, cannot be free from entanglement. We wish to elucidate the connection between the old philosophers and their “last knight,” then between Hegel, Darwin and the whole science. Hence our episodical excursions in various directions.
In order to elucidate the teaching of Hegel in relation to that of Darwin it is necessary above all to keep in mind the bewildering double nature of all science. Every scientist – and Darwin, too – illuminates not only his special subject-matter on which he is consciously engaged; but his special contributions at the same time inevitably assist in illuminating the relation of human mind to the world as a whole. This relation originally was a slavish, religious, non-human one. The human mind considered itself and the world as a riddle which it was unable to illuminate with the light of his knowledge, but which could only form fantastical imaginings of the overpowering metaphysical thing. Every contribution which has been made to science since the beginning of human history has weakened the slave chain in which our race was born. Both the philosophers and the scientists were fettered by it, and the emancipating work was done conjointly and has proceeded vigorously to this very day. The scientists, however, have no reason to look down upon their colleagues, the philosophers. They, the scientists, with Darwin at their head, look straight in the face of their selected special subject-matter, and squint at the same time at the general riddle, the riddle of the Universe. Even when Darwin declares explicitly that science has nothing to do with the sea-serpent and thus clears it out of his way or relegates it à la Kant to the province of belief, these are merely subjective limitations or anxieties which may be pardonable as far as the individual is concerned, but must not fetter the universal research of the human race. Now, there cannot be knowledge here and belief there; it is the solution of all doubt that is required, and whosoever s doctrine is opposed to such a demand will be rejected by posterity as a piece of cowardice.
It was said before that the scientists boldly contemplate their specialties while they squint at the monstrous miracle-world. We may now add that the philosophers let the rays of their intellectual light fall direct upon the great sea-serpent and get thereby so dizzy that they squint back at their own light as something metaphysical. The confusion which arises from the bewildering double nature of knowledge is now overcome by the discovery that the human mind, or the light which illuminates the things, is of the same nature, of the same kind as the objects which are illuminated and that is the result of ages of philosophic thinking.
Kant left to posterity the excessively humble opinion that the light of cognition of his race is far too small to illuminate the great, wonderful beast. By showing that it is not too small, that our light is neither smaller nor larger, neither more wonderful nor less, than the object which has to be illuminated, the belief in miracles, in the sea-serpent, i.e., metaphysics, is at once done away with. Simultaneously man loses his excessive humbleness; and it was our Hegel who substantially contributed to that result.
A thorough perception of the situation requires the historical reconstruction of philosophic development, piece by piece in all the details. Still, we may in this respect, too, content ourselves with a brief sketch, since general education is now so widely spread, that the interested reader can easily supply himself the fitting illustrations to the picture presented here.
The labors of Darwin and Hegel, however differing in other respects, have this much in common that both of them combat the metaphysical, the non-perceptible and the nonsensical. While proposing to explain both the difference and community of the two thinkers we can not help drawing within the province of our investigation the great sea-serpent. The sport, however, is rendered difficult by the numerous names which in the course of History have become attached to the monster. What is metaphysics? According to the name it is a branch of study, – or rather, it was, and now it casts its shadow on the present. What is it after? What does it want? Of course, enlightenment! But on what subject? On the subject of God, Freedom and Immortality. This sounds nowadays quite parson-like. And even if we should characterize its subject-matter by the classical names of the True, the Good and the Beautiful, there is still enough occasion left to make it clear, both to ourselves and to the reader, what it is for which the metaphysicians are looking? Without this it is impossible to measure and to explain what Darwin or Hegel accomplished or left undone and what, in consequence, there is still left for posterity to accomplish.
The sea-serpent cannot be at all characterized by an apt name since it has so many. Its origin goes back to the childhood of the human race, and the comparative philology is agreed upon the point that in those prehistoric times the things had many names and the names denoted many things, and this resulted in a great confusion which in modern times has been investigated and recognised as the source of mythology.
One has only to see what, for instance, Max Müller has to say on that point in his Chips from a German Workshop. We are told there that the heathen and Christian fables about God, etc., were no empty nonsense, but natural developments of the store of speech. It was the poetical predilections of the ancient peoples that found vent in the language. Sober as we have become by now we still use such expressions as that of “killing time.” Such pictures, full of sense and intelligence, served the ancients, inclined as they were to poetry and transcendentalism, for the filling out of the metaphysical wonder-world. Names are and have always been images of things. Those who forget this simple fact and ascribe to words a transcendental sense, are engaged in metaphysics. The latter is the general idea underlying all fables. The poet is a conscious fable-spinner, fables are unconscious poetry. Hence it follows that when we speak of the wonder-world it all depends on the consciousness with which we accompany our words. Everything which exists is heavenly, divine, in describable, inconceivable if we only mean to give there by vent to our overpowering emotions caused by the natural wonderfulness of Nature. But nobody may in a sober manner express himself to the effect that every thing which exists is a sea-serpent and is bound up with the unnatural truth or with something which the metaphysical enthusiast calls God, Freedom and Immortality.
It was not to overcome poetry, but to overcome the unconscious, exaggerated poetry that constituted the object of the movement for human enlightenment in which all workers of science have participated, partly deliberately, partly against their will.
Where is light to be got from? Moses brought it down from Mount Sinai; but after his people had been praying for more than three thousand years: Thou shalt not steal, they steal like ravens to this very day. That means that the Revelation proved futile. Then came the philosophers and wanted to extract light from the innermost of their heads, a priori knowledge as they call it. But what had been established by one to-day was upset by the other the next day. Natural science chose a third path, the inductive path, and drew its wisdom from observation. This discipline has finally obtained true, real, durable knowledge which is accepted by everybody and is not disputed – and cannot be disputed by anybody. Hence it clearly and unmistakably follows that we must seek enlightenment along the road entered upon by natural science.
Still there are a good number of people – even among the “higher” circles and equipped with the best of knowledge, who declare themselves not satisfied with this light. They speak of the metaphysical craving, they build up a literature of their own and try incessantly to prove that all interpretation and knowledge of natural science, however fertile in individual branches, is, on the whole, inadequate. “The nature of matter,” they say, “is in the last resort inconceivable; all mechanical interpretation of Nature refers only to changes of the enigmatic substance and leaves our craving for causation in the last instance unsatisfied.”
Julius Frauenstädt says: “The need for metaphysics has been compared by Schopenhauer to the need of a man for further information when finding himself in a totally unknown company whose members are introducing themselves to him one after another as friends and uncles. Where the deuce do I come to such a company of friends? This is the specifically philosophical question. Where natural science ends, there philosophy be gins.” ... “Though the subject of both is the same,” says Frauenstädt further, “the whole world, the Cosmos, nevertheless natural science studies its subject from the point of view of its law-determined manifestation, whilst philosophy studies it in its inner essence.” Only, thus, we must at once add, such philosophical contemplation has not borne any fruit and has not discovered anything of the inner essence of Nature.
Nature, as is known, gives us only phenomena, transformations. Everything flows, everything is in the making, in emerging and submerging. The philosophers, however, want something substantial, essential, what Dühring calls “unchangeable truths.” As nothing of this kind can be found, the majority have desisted from further searching and turned, after the example of Kant, from philosophy to “critical philosophy,” that is, they shift the blame for not finding the substantial, unchangeable spectre, on to the wretchedness of our faculty of cognition which, being incapable of anything higher, creeps about the treasures which rust and moths destroy.
And thus, as thousands of years ago, we hang between heaven and earth. Many have succeeded in extricating themselves from that position; but only in practice. Since religion and metaphysics could not yield anything positive, the materialists of the old school content themselves with jumping over the supernatural snares and tricks and passing over to the scientific order of the day. Stiebeling says:
“A bridge can only be built from that bank where natural science has pitched its camp. It will be a pontoon-bridge. All new facts, observations and discoveries will be joined one with the other in a regular order till they reach the other bank lying in the misty distance. It is only then and not be fore that the true system will be arrived at.”
But now other competent scientists come and show that this method not only postpones the solution of the problem to a far too distant future, but has really no prospect of success whatsoever: all pontoons which natural science successively joins bring us no nearer to the opposite bank. “And even,” says Schopenhauer, “if one were to visit all the planets of all the fixed stars, one would not proceed a single step in metaphysics.” And not only the older generation of philosophers speaks thus, but more or less modern scientists. Dubois-Reymond speaks about the “limits of cognition of Nature,” and shows that there are natural things which we cannot reach with our cognition, conception, interpretation, etc. In the 271 volume of the Collection of Popular Lectures by Virchow and Holzendorf, a Dr. Töpfer declares:
“We, of course, know that with the assumption of atoms the nature of matter is not defined. But the scientist does not consider it his business to define the nature of matter. He adheres to facts and humbly acknowledges that the human mind has limits set to it which it can never overstep.”
One could quote any number of passages from contemporary literature stating what an absolute gulf there is between ordinary cognition of Nature and the metaphysical craving. This means that the confusion on the question: Where is Light to be got from? is endless. But a truly classical piece of confusion is given to us by F.A. Lange in his History of Materialism. Apart from the numerous secondary beauties and excellent qualities of the work, apart also from the democratic kinship of the author with Social-Democracy, – things which we gladly acknowledge – the philosophic standpoint of Lange is the most pitiful exhibition of convulsive struggling in the metaphysical noose that has ever been seen. Indeed, it is precisely that continual swinging to and fro which lends the work its chief importance, since though no problem is solved and nothing is decided, it places the problem in such a clear light as to bring the final solution unavoidably near.
And now come opponents like Dr. Gideon Spieker (On the relation between natural science and philosophy) and point to those convulsions and abuse their justified criticism in order to discredit with Lange at the same time the conception of materialism. Thus, not only the eternal, the metaphysical craving, but the real need of the present day demands that we should advance beyond the practical materialists. These people simply dismiss the question of the nature, the substance and the limits of cognition, and go on with their building of scientific pontoons, not seeing or not wishing to see, that one may, of course, be carried away by the stream, but that it is impossible to arrive at the opposite bank, where the metaphysical infatuation dwells.
Materialism, which has learned to practice the knowledge and interpretation of the most varied scientific matters, has failed up till now to explain the matter of cognition, and therefore, even its sympathetic historian was unable to gain from it a decisive preponderance over the idealistic ruins. The faculty of cognition or interpretation is the only force which is still being defied. It is of the world, and yet must not be worldly, physical, mechanical. What, then, is it? Metaphysical! And none is able to explain what that means. All the definitions which we get are negative. The metaphysical is not physical, not palpable, not conceivable. What else can it be but an emotion which the happy idealists carry about with them without knowing where it is?
Man wants to know everything, and yet there is something which cannot be known, or explained, or conceived. Then one resigns himself to one s fate and points out the limitation of the human understanding.
“There are two points,” says Lange, “where the human mind fails. We are not able to understand the atoms and we cannot explain out of the atoms and their movement even the slightest manifestation of consciousness ... One may turn and twist the idea of matter and its forces as one likes, – one invariably reaches a residuum which is inconceivable ... Not without justification, therefore, Dubois-Reymond ventured to assert that our entire knowledge of Nature is in reality not knowledge, but a substitute of an interpretation ... This is the point which the systematisers and apostles of a mechanical view of the world pass by heedlessly, the question of the limits of the cognition of Nature.” (A. Lange, Geschichte des Materialismus, 2 vol., pp.148-150.)
This, with its exact reference to chapter and verse was, properly speaking, superfluous, since the phrase is thoroughly well known. It is not only Lange who speaks thus, but also Jürgen Bona Meyer and von Sybel. Also Schaffle and Samter would speak in a similar strain were they to render an opinion. In fact, the whole ruling world speaks thus, – so far as it has advanced beyond the Capucines. The Social-Democrats, however, were known to Lange insufficiently, – else he would have known that in regard to this point, too, the mechanical view of the world had been completed by them.
The reader may well stop and consider where it would lead if our knowledge and cognition, if the mental instrument which during the last few centuries has been applied with so much success by science should be a mere “surrogate.” Where is, then, the honest John? And if we were to look through all the big folios of philosophy, we should still not find any positive answer to it, since it were precisely the philosophers who have so far destroyed the belief in a personal ruler of heaven and earth. The unphilosophical, the religious world really had somewhere in excelsis a true fund of Reason which had lent some slight breath to a piece of dirty clay. These people were, therefore, justified in distinguishing the holy mind from the profane, the genuine from its surrogate. But how can such distinctions be upheld by those who had left the great spirit-in-chief way up in the clouds to the ignorant back-woodsmen, passes my comprehension.
“The great step backwards, made by Hegel, as compared with Kant,” says Lange, “consists in that he entirely lost the idea of a more general way of knowing things than the human one.” Thus Lange deplores that Hegel did not speculate about any superhuman knowledge, and we reply to it by saying that the reactionary cry: “Back to Kant!” which at present is heard every where, arises from the monstrous tendency to put back the clock of science and to subordinate the human knowledge to a “more general way of knowing.” One would like to abolish the dominion over Nature which mankind has so far won and to get for the old bogey-man the crown and sceptre out of the lumber-room to re-establish the reign of superstition. The philosophic current of our time is a conscious or unconscious reaction against the visibly growing freedom of the people.
The metaphysical idea of the “limits of cognition,” which runs through all the chapters of Lange’s famous book and which is accepted wholesale by the learned men of the age, need only to be examined a little closer so far as its contents go in order to reveal itself immediately as a conglomerate of empty phrases. “The atoms cannot be understood, nor is consciousness to be explained.” But the whole world consists of atoms and consciousness, of matter and mind. If the two are unintelligible, then what is there left for the human reason to understand and to explain? Lange is right, – properly speaking, nothing. Our ideas are in reality not ideas, but substitutes. Perhaps, the grey beasts, commonly called asses, are mere asinine substitutes and the genuine asininity is to be looked for among the higher organized creatures. I have already characterized elsewhere philosophy as a science which seeks a cracked and crazy sort of truth. When one starts to mistrust the language and charge it with giving things perverted names, then it is a sure sign that something has begun to crack. Listen to the following passage from the History of Materialism:
“Shall we define the idea of the true, the good, the real, etc., in a sense that we call that true, good or real which is so to mankind or shall we imagine that what man regards as such is also and to the same extent valid for all thinking beings that are and may be?”
We reply to this definitely and simply: As truly as that is true folly which language calls folly, so it is a perversion to imagine that the true, good, real or thinking being can elsewhere be constituted differently from the one which our language terms as true, good, real or thinking being. And the metaphysical water, too, must be thoroughly wet, since what is not wet cannot be called water. We certainly do not know how many strange kinds of trees may yet be found in Central Africa, but so much we do know with the apodictical certainty of Kant that the boards which are cut out of trees, may the latter grow on the planet Mars or Jupiter, cannot look, cannot make themselves felt to the touch, cannot taste the same as beef. The reader will forgive the drastic comparison, – but whenever the metaphysical craving begins to confuse the language, patience comes to an end.
Our experiences, observations or “phenomena” are classified by our faculty of cognition and by our language and designated by names. So long as the future changes are not essential, that is, so long as the movement of Nature keeps within the limits as fixed by conception and language, everything remains as before. But if and as soon as the future changes overstep those limits, so that the true, the good, the thinking beings, boards or beef or knowledge appear substantially different, then they have become different things and we require new names for their designation.
The light of knowledge makes man the master of Nature. With its assistance he is able to produce in the summer the ice of winter and in the winter the fruits and flowers of summer. But withal the mastery over Nature remains limited. Everything that is possible to do is only possible with the assistance of natural forces and given material. To desire to rule over Nature in an unlimited way by means of a mere “let there be,” can only be conceived by a dreamer. Just as children and savages wish to rule unlimitedly, so do our childish scientists wish to know unlimitedly. “The system of satisfying oneself with the given world,” says Lange, “ is opposed to the tendencies of unification inherent in Reason, it is also opposed to art, poetry and religion, which are possessed of the impulse to outrun the limits of experience.” Well, art and poetry are known as fancies, though beautiful and adorable ones; and if religion and the metaphysical impulse do not wish to be more than to subsist and to belong to the same category, no reasonable man will object. Man is quite entitled to his metaphysical impulse to outrun all limits if he only recognises that it is not a scientific impulse. The light of Reason has certainly its limits, the same as everything else, like wood and straw, like mechanics and understanding, – that is, rational limits which every part of the Universe must have if it does not want to be a piece of folly.
As man can do everything, so can he know everything – within rational limits. We cannot create like God who made the world out of nothing. We must keep to the given, to the forces and matter extant and reckon with their properties. To direct and to guide them, to shape them – that is what we call creating. To arrange and to order the existing material, to generalise or to classify, to abstract mathematical formulas from the natural phenomena – that is what we call knowing, understanding, explaining.
Our entire mental illumination is accordingly a formal procedure, a mechanical process. Just as in technical production the natural phenomena are bodily transformed, so should in science the transformation be done mentally. Just as production leaves the exaggerated craving for creation unsatisfied, so in the last instance science or “knowledge of Nature” leaves the exaggerated craving for causation unsatisfied. But as little as a reasonable man will deplore the circumstance that we need material in order to produce and that out of nothing and of pious wishes nothing can be made, so little will anybody who has grasped the nature of knowledge wish to outrun the limits of experience. We want material both in order to know and to explain as well as in order to produce. Therefore no cognition can enlighten us as to where the material comes from or begins. That is: material is antecedent to thought. The phenomenal world or the mate rial is the primary thing, the substance which has neither a beginning nor an end, nor an origin. The material exists and the existence is material (in the wider sense of the word), and the human faculty of knowledge or consciousness is a part of that material existence, which like all other parts can only exercise a definite, limited function, the cognition of Nature.
When Schopenhauer wanted to have “introduced” to him the “whole company,” he did not consider that the introduction is merely a ceremony and that every ceremony of introduction presupposes an unknown company. Just as “introduction” can only take place in the world of men, so is cognition only possible in the world of experience. The metaphysical impulse wishes to reverse that order, it wants to proceed with its knowledge beyond the nature of knowledge – to leave its own skin or to pull itself by its own hair out of the mire, like Münchhausen. It is only those whose ears still resound with the eternal music of religious flutes and who have, there fore, no taste for the vicissitudes of the world, that can think of such a desperate undertaking.
Lange has aptly remarked that the relation between names and things, the definitions have caused the philosophers an immense amount of trouble, but he does not notice that he himself is continually struggling in the same noose. Words or names denote always a whole genus of varieties. Blacks and Whites, Russians and Turks, Chinese and Laplanders are all included in the name of men. But as soon as a variety leaves its genus, as soon as it becomes more than formally different, its genus-name ceases. That is why no thing can proceed beyond its general nature, beyond its definition. Why should it be otherwise with the intellect? Does it, or does knowledge no longer belong to the phenomena, to the mundane things? It is only where there are two worlds, one a perceptible world and the other a higher, a religious or metaphysical world, that one can believe in the higher nature or origin of consciousness. But in that case there is no reason why the impulse of the higher nonsense should be limited at all. Why should not tin, board and beef also be deified, along with cognition? It is the business of Socialists to show that also the last and the most subtle metaphysical residuum of “something higher “ is only fit, together with the most antiquated ridiculous superstition, for the lumber-room.
The world offers nothing but forms, changes or transformations. Those to whom that is not sufficient, should seek the eternal beyond the stars, as religion does, or beyond the phenomena, as philosophy does. The “critical” philosophers, however, have faintly felt that what is thus being sought is a crazy notion which instruction has to remove from the head of man. They have, therefore, given up the inquiry after the substance and turned their attention to the organ of inquiry, to the faculty of cognition. There they have worked quite critically. If formerly there dwelt something higher behind every bush and tree, it has now – at least in authoritative circles – been driven to its last privacy, beyond the unknowable atoms, beyond the still less knowable consciousness.
It is there you find “the limits of cognition,” and there is also the crazy notion. To emancipate oneself from it is the more difficult since the demands of the working class have driven our official scientists to pursue a conservative, a reactionary policy. Now they show them selves obdurate, they want to perpetuate the evil and go back beyond Kant. The late Lange might have landed in this company through error; but many of his successors are mere scamps who use the words of their predecessor as a good weapon against the new generation and thus compel us to carry the critique of Reason right to the very roots.
Everything that one perceives, say the Neo-Kantians, can only be perceived through the spectacles of consciousness. Everything which we see, hear or feel, must come to us through the medium of sensation, that is, through our soul. Consequently, we cannot perceive the things in their purity, in their complete truth, but only in so far as they appear to us subjectively. According to Lange, “the sensations are the material from which the real eternal world is being built up ... The point in question can easily be defined. It is, to the successors of Kant, like the apple in the original sin, viz., The relation between the subject and the object in cognition” (Vol.II, p.98.)
Thus they shift their own sin to the shoulders of the post-Kantian philosophy. Let Lange speak for himself:
“According to Kant, he says, our knowledge originates in the interaction of the two (subject and object), – a proposition infinitely simple, and yet invariably misinterpreted. It follows from this view that our phenomenal world is not merely the product of our conception, but a result of objective actions and their subjective formation. It is therefore not what an individual may perceive thus or otherwise according to his accidental mood or faulty organisation, but what mankind as a whole must perceive through its senses and Reason, that Kant calls in a certain sense objective. He called it objective in so far as we only speak of our experience; but it is transcendental, or to use another word, false, if we apply such knowledge to things in themselves, that is, to things which exist absolutely, independently of our knowledge.”
Here we have some of the brew stewed over again. It would still be tasty if it really were as homemade as it is apparently being served. If I did not know that be hind the belief in transcendental objects there is hidden the source of all superstition I would not waste much time in drawing over-nice distinctions between the ordinary subjectivity as “it must be perceived by mankind through its senses and reason,” and the higher objectivity of “things in themselves,” I would simply leave “the things which exist independently of our knowledge” till they become perceptible to it. Now, however, when I know that the above lines conceal the desire to proceed beyond the ordinary objects in order to arrive at the belief in transcendental objects, I smell distinctly that this brew has for its basis the old distinction between sacred and profane truth. At the back of the phenomena of the world there is, forsooth, something higher or mysterious which our reason is too small, our intellect is too low to grasp, which we are unable to know even “formally,” which, therefore, if we are not addicted to religious belief, we must crave at least philosophically, transcendentally.
Of course, the materialists have failed up to now to take account of the subjective element of knowledge and have accepted uncritically the perceptible objects as current coin. This error, forsooth, is now mended.
Let us take the world as it is according to Kant, that is, as a mixture of subject and object; but let us keep to the fact that the whole world is one mixture, i.e., a unity; let us also keep to the fact that this unity is dialectical, i.e., such as is made up of its opposite, of mixture or manifoldness. Well, there are in this manifoldness of the world things such as wood, stones, trees, clods of clay, etc., which are unquestionably called objects – I say “called” without as yet stating that they really are such. There are also things such as colors, odors, heat, light, etc., the objectivity of which is more questionable. Then there are others which recede still further, such as pains in the stomach, love and spring sensations, which are decidedly subjective. Finally there are things still more and by far the most subjective which are such in a super lative degree, like moods, dreams, hallucinations, etc. Here we are at the salient point of the whole matter. Materialism has won its case if it has to be acknowledged that dreaming, though called subjective, is an actual, real thing. We are then ready to grant our critical philosophers that wood and stones, – in short, all things which are decidedly called objects, are likewise perceived through the senses of vision and touch, that, consequently, they are not pure objects, but subjective things. We readily acknowledge that even the idea of a pure object or “thing in itself” is a squint-eyed idea which sees distortedly into another week of another world.
The distinction between subject and object is a relative one. Both are of the same kind. They are two forms of one being, two individuals of one species. The subject of all predicates is called the natural process, actuality, empirical reality or existence. Who is there to deny that his accidental mood has the same true existence as the Mont Blanc, i.e., the quality of the existence of the two is the same, though the existence of the Mont Blanc is more universally accessible than that of the mood which only exists for the individual consciousness. It is enough that it is and that it belongs with all existence to the same category. Whoever wants a more detailed proof of the objective existence of his subjectivity has only to turn to Descartes who, as is well known, ascribed the most solid existence to cogito, to thinking, to consciousness. Idealism, the entire modern philosophy, which makes a special study of the subject-matter of cognition, lives and moves in the opinion that the intellect or the conscious, thinking being is the most evident of all evidences. “Sense of Self, self-consciousness,” says Lazarus in his Life of the Soul, – “that most difficult idea for physiologists, is as a matter of fact for every single individual, through his inner experience, the most certain, the most firm.” Well, whether it is through the inner or external experience, it is sufficient for us, if it has to be admitted that the mind is an object of experience.
“The unification-tendencies of our Reason” require from the theologians and philosophers that they should recognise “something higher” or inconceivable. The same tendencies require from us that we should conceive heaven and earth, body and soul, atoms and consciousness as the manifold manifestations of one entity, as the manifold forms of one species, as the various predicates of one subject. The obscure inconceivableness or the inconceivable obscurity of philosophy finds its complete elucidation in the linguistical relationship between the subject and the predicate. The philologists have long since emphasised the unity of mind and speech. Of every predicate speech makes a subject and vice versa. The color is attached to the leaf, that means, is its predicate, the leaf is attached to the tree, the tree is attached to the earth, the earth to the sun, the sun, to the world and the world finally is the last entity or subject, the only substance which is attached to itself only, is no longer a predicate and has no thing above it. That which in the terminology of the grammar is called subject and predicate is elsewhere called matter and form. Stone is a matter; basalt or flint or marble are forms. But the stone-matter, too, is but a form of the inorganic, and the latter is a form of existence. The world is the entity, the matter, the “thing in itself”; in relation to it everything else, thinking or knowing included, are predicates, phenomena or subjectivities. Thus the conceptions of subject and predicate, of matter and form, of entity and phenomenon interchange up to the largest and down to the smallest. Whatever we grasp with our faculty of cognition we grasp as part of a whole and a whole part. The understanding of this dialectics illuminates and explains to perfection the mystical impulse to seek the truth beyond the outward appearance, that is, the subject behind every predicate. It is only through ignorance of the dialectical working of the mind that this impulse can proceed so far as to crave for a subject outside of the predicates, for a truth outside the phenomenon. A critical epistemology must recognise the instrument of experience itself as experience, in consequence of which any excursion beyond experience cannot even be discussed.
When now the modern philosophers with the historian of Materialism at their head come to us and say that the world offers but phenomena and these are the objects of cognition of Nature and the latter has only to do with transformations, and desire to find a higher knowledge, an eternal, essential object, then it is clear that they are either knaves or fools who do not want to be satisfied with all grains of sand of the sand-heap, but look behind all the grains for an extra sand-heap without grains. Those who have to such an extent fallen out with the vale of tears of our phenomenal world, may with their immortal soul put themselves in a fiery chariot and go up to Heaven. But those who wish to remain in this world and believe in the salvation of the scientific knowledge of Nature, should study the materialist logic. Here it is stated:
But here comes the man with the metaphysical impulse who is not satisfied with the “formal cognition,” and wants to know in a different way which cannot at all be defined by him. It is not enough for him to classify the experienced phenomena with the assistance of the understanding. What natural science calls science is to him but a surrogate, a poor, limited knowledge. He strives after an unlimited spiritualisation so that the things shall be resolved into pure intellect. Why cannot that dear impulse see that it puts forward an exaggerated demand The world does not proceed from the spirit, but quite the reverse. Being is not a variety of intellect, but on the contrary, the intellect is a variety of the empirical existence. Existence is the absolute, which is everywhere and eternal; thinking is merely a special and limited form of it.
If the philosopher perverts this simple fact, then it is no wonder that the world is to him a riddle. After having so perverted the relation between thinking and being that it contradicts reality, he naturally has to rake his brain over this “contradiction of thinking.” But those who regard Reason as one of the natural things, as a phenomenon among and along with, other phenomena, will not require over and above “formal” science yet some higher foolish sort of knowledge; they will make the essence of things not knowledge, but life, the empirical material life of which knowledge constitutes only a part. Science or knowledge must not take the place of life; life must not and cannot dissolve in science, since it is more comprehensive. That is why no single thing can be exhaustively mastered by knowledge or interpretation. No single thing is knowable entirely, a cherry no more than a sensation. Even when I have studied the cherry in accordance with all the demands of science, botanically, chemically, biologically, etc., I only know it truthfully after I have gone through its history, after I have touched it, seen it and swallowed it. The reader must understand that the distinction I draw here between knowledge and true knowledge is quite different from that which the metaphysicians draw. We may very well distinguish between knowledge separated from life, such as is given in school, and the living knowledge which grows with and out of the material of experience. Science pre-supposes life and is conditioned on experience. This is what may be called rational. And if one seeks the rational in a different way, if one wishes to get pure, unconditioned Knowledge, then he may just as well look out for square circles, or iron wood, or other similar nonsense. Whenever a person wishes to proceed beyond the natural limits of things – and the thing termed cognition is no exception – he proceeds beyond the limits of language and reason, and black becomes white and reason unreasonable.
The wretched philosophical criticism which prevails today represents the human mind as a poor beggar which can only explain the superficial phenomena of things. True knowledge is closed to it, the essence of things is considered inscrutable. In reply to that we may ask whether each thing has its special essence, whether there is an endless number of essences, or whether the whole world is but one single unity. Then it will be seen that our mind possesses the faculty to connect all things, to sum up all parts and to divide all sums. All the phenomena are constituted by the intellect as an entity, and all entities are recognised by it as phenomena of the great general entity of Nature. The contradiction between phenomena and entity is not a contradiction, but a logical procedure, a dialectical formality. The essence of the Universe consists of phenomena and its phenomena are essential.
From this point of view the metaphysical craving or the impulse to seek an entity behind every phenomenon may live and flourish so long as it recognizes the “formal cognition of Nature” as the only rational practice of science. The impulse to go beyond the appearance towards Truth and Essence is an excellent and scientific impulse. But it must not exaggerate; it must know its limits. It must look for the sublime and divine amidst the earthly transiency; it must not separate its truth and essences from the phenomenon; it must only search after subjective objects, after relative truth.
On that the old- and neo-Kantians are also agreed; we only disagree with the melancholy resignation, with the sad squint at a higher world with which they accompany their teaching. We do not agree that the “limits of cognition” should again become limitless by sending belief in search of an unlimited Reason. Their reason says: “Where there are phenomena, there must also be something transcendental which appears.” And our critique says, The Something which appears is itself a phenomenon, the subject and the predicate are of the same species.
With the light of cognition man illuminates all things of the world. In order that he may use it properly and avoid jugglery, it is necessary to know that the light of cognition is a thing like other things. Darwin’s theory of the origin of species, which shows the gradual descent of one from the other, must also be applied here. The monistic conception of the world of the naturalists – the latter in the narrower sense of the word – is insufficient. And even if Haeckel should prove the “Perigenesis of the Plastidule” up to the hilt, even if the rise of the organisms from the inorganic should be demonstrated in the most evident manner, there will still remain the metaphysical loophole: the great opposition between mind and Nature. It is only through the dialectic-materialist theory of cognition that our conception becomes monistic. As soon as we only grasp the relation between subject and predicate in general, we cannot fail to see that our intellect is but a variety of form of the empirical reality. Materialism, it is true, has long since put forward that cardinal proposition, but it has remained a mere assertion, a mere anticipation. To establish it on a sure basis it is necessary to gain the general conviction that science altogether does not want and cannot want to accomplish more than the classification of the perceptible things according to species and varieties; its entire desire and ability is confined to the mental reconstruction of the different parts of a differentiated unity.
No doubt, in case of other objects not much is said of them when it is proved that something belongs to the general order of things. One wishes to know something more specific than that, as for instance, whether it is organic or inorganic, whether matter or force, plant or animal, etc.: that it is natural, is here beyond dispute, but in the case of the mind, which for thousands of years has been the object of edification, of which people do not know how transcendentally they should extol it, a great deal is said when it is stated that it is but a variety, a form, a predicate of Nature, that it must be such since the linguistic unity of word and meaning admit of but one Nature. Just as necessarily as water is wet so necessarily has each thing which has a nature – and how can one conceive of anything which has no nature of some kind – the very same natural nature. The word and its meaning allow of no other nature.
The savage makes a fetish of the sun, the moon and other things. The civilized nations have made a God of the mind, a fetish of the faculty of thinking. This must cease in the new society. There the individuals live in dialectical community: the many in unity; and the light of cognition will also have to moderate itself and be content with being a force among other forces, a tool among other tools. At the same time, however, it must claim that it is truly what it is. Human cognition has no cause to feel that disgracefully humble modesty which the Professors Nageli and Virchow wanted to ascribe to it, They have cunningly spoken of the limits of cognition, because the will-o’wisp of a “higher” unlimited cognition has been playing pranks with them in the metaphysical darkness.
1. Find the explanation in the next chapter. EDITOR.