Subject Object Cognition. V A Lektorsky 1980
Widespread in pre-Marxian and particularly in modern non-Marxist philosophy are conceptions which endeavour to solve the fundamental problems of epistemology starting from the premise that cognition is determined by the structure of individual consciousness. The latter is treated as a completely autonomous phenomenon, dependent on nothing else and determined by nothing else. Clearly these conceptions express the positions of subjective idealism.
These idealistic conceptions exploit the real problems that cannot be passed over in silence in analysing the cognitive relation. It is a question, first and foremost, of the norms and standards functioning in cognition and permitting to distinguish between knowledge and absence of knowledge. In other words, the reference here is to the problem of substantiating knowledge, which is a pivotal one for the subjectivist idealistic conceptions to be analysed in this chapter. These conceptions do not merely proclaim the need for starting out from the traits of individual consciousness in studying cognition. They propound a system of arguments to prove that only adopting the subjectivist idealistic stand in epistemology can solve the problem of substantiating knowledge, and that any other philosophical interpretation of knowledge and cognition fails to cope with this problem. These conceptions are not only influential in bourgeois philosophy: they also exert a great influence on specialists in the sciences (mathematics, psychology, etc.). All of this compels us to analyse in detail the arguments of the principal adherents of this interpretation of the cognitive relation, to show the untenability of their reasoning and to clearly separate the real problems of epistemology, the true facts of cognition and consciousness (the representatives of the. conceptions criticised here encountered a number of such facts) from their idealistic, false interpretation.
Let us, first, tackle the problem of substantiation of knowledge itself.
If knowledge is a specific formation inherently possessing the property of truth, that is, correspondence to the objectively real state of things, there must obviously exist some norms or standards permitting to judge whether we do indeed deal with knowledge, and to separate knowledge from ignorance.
If we have such standards at our disposal, we shall be able to make judgements concerning the degree of truth of all those specific products of human activity which claim to be knowledge; in other words, we shall evidently be able to show the falseness of the claims of some of them and at the same time to finally confirm others in their status of knowledge. The task, consequently, consists in singling out the normative constituents of any knowledge.
Let us take into account that the very formulation of the problem of substantiating knowledge implies a critical attitude to various existing kinds of knowledge, beginning with the current opinions of “common sense” and ending with theories of the special sciences and philosophical constructions. Not one of the various kinds of knowledge regarded outside of special epistemological analysis can lay claims to absolute truth merely because it is now believed to be true – that is a necessary premise of the approach to the problem discussed here. And that means allowing the possibility that epistemological research will result in recognising the insufficient substantiation not only of certain propositions of “common sense” but also of some propositions and probably whole branches of theoretical knowledge. Indeed, the discussion of the problem of substantiating knowledge in the history of philosophy was necessarily accompanied by rejection of the justifiability of a number of theoretical constructs that for a long time were regarded as generally accepted (consider, e.g., Kant’s rejection of the whole range of the problems of rationalist ontology in the 17th and 18th centuries). The study of the foundations of certain scientific disciplines, which became so vital in the 20th century, also necessarily involves recognising the justifiability of some modes of specifying problems and methods of discourse, and rejecting others (of precisely this nature are the arguments between different trends in the foundations of mathematics and the modern debate concerning the interpretation of quantum mechanics). The theoretical activity in substantiating a given scientific discipline, including as it does analysis of the modes of reasoning and evaluation of knowledge in this area, assumes, as a rule, not only solving special questions pertaining to the given science but also, to some extent or other, investigating some general philosophical problems. It is therefore not accidental that the problems of the foundations of mathematics are often referred to as the “philosophy of mathematics,” while problems in the meaningful interpretation of modern physical theories are included among the “philosophical questions of physics.” At the same time, the general problem of substantiation of knowledge as posed in philosophy has certain features distinguishing it from substantiation of the special sciences.
In philosophy, it is not knowledge of a given type that is substantiated but any knowledge in general regardless of its concrete content, that is, criteria are sought which permit to distinguish between knowledge and ignorance in any given case.
In this connection we would like to draw attention to the fact that, in discussing a very real and fully justifiable problem of substantiation of knowledge, the adherents of the approach to the cognitive relation analysed in this chapter proceed from two premises which appear to them quite natural but actually predetermine the subjectivist nature of their epistemological conceptions. This is, in the first place, the metaphysical notion of the existence of standards which permit once and for all to separate genuine knowledge from error, to draw a sharp boundary between knowledge and absence of knowledge, and to single out “m pure form” some systems of “absolute” knowledge that could be used as the foundation for the entire system of scientific theories. The epistemological conceptions considered here are also based on another assumption: since the problem of substantiation of knowledge implies a critical attitude to certain kinds of it, the problem itself was interpreted as the need to reject the reliance on the results of the special sciences or the propositions of pre-scientific “common sense” in the philosophical analysis of the cognitive relation between subject and object. In other words , since the degree of substantiatedness of scientific knowledge is to be determined through philosophical analysis, a philosophical investigation of knowledge cannot assume certain propositions of the special sciences to be truths substantiated in themselves (it assumes them only as its subject-matter, just as the propositions of “common sense” and philosophical theories ). That means that the field of philosophy which is concerned with this problem, i.e., epistemology, must he understood as a specific sphere of theoretical activity
fundamentally different from all kinds and types of special scientific knowledge, that is, as a field where the data of the special sciences cannot be used. (Thus the approach to the study of cognition analysed here differs in its attitude to the special sciences from the approach considered in the first chapter: the latter, as we remember, presupposed wide use of the data of mechanics, physics, biology, physiology, and other sciences.)
We must agree that the task of cognition consists in overcoming errors and obtaining true knowledge, Epistemological reflection about knowledge indeed plays an important role in the solution of this problem. It is also true that positing the problem of substantiation of knowledge implies a critical attitude to certain areas of existing knowledge. At the same time, the view that “pure” or “absolute” knowledge can be established is false, and so is the assertion that in substantiating knowledge we must ignore all the facts of the special sciences. In the second part of the present work we shall characterise an approach to the substantiation of knowledge which does not accept these false premises, namely, Marxist-Leninist epistemology.
The question of substantiation of knowledge was first formulated, in classical form, by Descartes. The positing of this problem and its acuteness were largely due to the specific traits of the socio-cultural and scientific situation in which Descartes’ theoretical activity took place, a situation which was characterised, on the one hand, by the emergence of the bourgeois mode of production (and thus by a growing acuteness of individual self-consciousness) and, on the other hand, by the emergence of the science of the New Times which set itself in sharp opposition to the scholastic tradition. On the whole, however, Descartes’ theoretical arguments transcend the concrete historical situation, for the mode of analysis which he accepted proved to be archetypal and was many times reproduced with various modifications in western bourgeois philosophy.
The starting point of Descartes’ reasoning is his distrust for the cultural tradition: “I learned not to believe too firmly anything of which I was only persuaded by an example or custom.” “As soon as my age permitted me to be free of the supervision of my tutors, I abandoned the study of letters entirely... resolving not to seek any other science but that which I could find in myself or in the great book of the world...”
For philosophy “had been cultivated by the most excellent minds that ever lived for many centuries, and yet there was not a single thing in it which could not be disputed and consequently which would not be doubtful...”; that was Descartes’ formulation of the proposition which was later repeated by numerous philosophers who tackled the problem of knowledge. And further: “As for the other sciences, since they borrowed their principles from philosophy, I judged that it was impossible to construct anything that would be solid on such infirm foundations. “
Thus the question here is one of a radical attempt to substantiate the entire system of theoretical knowledge.
Where could one look for the solution of this problem?
Descartes starts out from the premise that only that should be taken as true which is cognized as such quite obviously, that is to say, it appears to the mind so clearly and distinctly that there is no reason to call it in question.
But can we trust our sense perceptions? They often deceive us. Thus towers which seem round from a distance prove to be rectangular at close quarters, while giant statues at the top of these towers seem small if looked at from below. Errors may result not only from the evidence of our external senses but also from that of the internal ones . For is there anything more intimate and interior than pain? And still, I have heard on several occasions from persons who had their arms or legs cut off that it sometimes seemed to them that they felt pain in the parts that had been cut off, which gave me reason to believe that I could not be certain that any of my limbs is ailing though I should feel pain in it.”
True, one can believe that there are things with regard to which our senses can hardly deceive us. For instance, it can hardly be doubted that I am sitting here behind this table, informally dressed, holding this paper in my hands, etc. “And how could I negate that these hands and this body are mine? Perhaps, only then when I compare myself to these insensates...” It may very well turn out, however, that all this is merely my dream. “Stopping to consider this idea, I see so clearly that there are no conclusive features or sufficiently unquestionable marks by which it would be possible to distinguish neatly between being awake and sleeping, that I am quite astounded; and my astonishment is such that it can nearly persuade me that I am asleep.”
At the same time, our mind faces such clear and distinct propositions concerning the elementary and universal things studied in arithmetic and geometry (these propositions pertain to the extension of corporeal things, their configuration, magnitude, number, time, etc.), that they cannot be doubted. Arithmetic, geometry, and similar sciences are not concerned about the actual existence in nature of the objects that they study. At the same time, these sciences contain something indubitable and reliable. “For whether I sleep or stay awake, two and three joined together always form the number five, and the square will never have more than four sides.”
But can we not allow, Descartes continues, that God or better say some evil spirit, just as cunning as he is powerful, used all his art to deceive me? In this case, however, the sky, air, earth, colours, sounds, all external objects will be mere illusions and dreams.
“And then, as I judge sometimes that the others err, even in things which they believe to know with the greatest certainty it may be that he wanted that I should be mistaken each time that I add two and three, or count the number of the sides of a square, or judge about things that are even easier, if one can imagine something easier than that.”
Thus, Descartes concludes, one may doubt even mathematical proofs.
But is there anything certain, in general? Descartes believes that the original and basic certainty lies in the idea of myself as something existing. “There is no doubt, however, that I exist, if he deceives me; and let him deceive me as he will, he will never make it so that I shall not exist as long as I think myself to be something... This proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time I pronounce it or conceive it in my mind.”
One can doubt anything, but I cannot doubt that I, the doubter, exist, insists Descartes.
“So, we have so much repugnance to conceiving that that which thinks does not exist at the same time as it thinks, that, notwithstanding all the most extravagant suppositions, we shall not prevent us from believing that this conclusion: I think, therefore I exist, is true, and consequently is the first and the most certain conclusion presenting itself to him who conducts his thinking in an orderly manner.”
Thus, the idea of my existence, self-consciousness, is the most reliable and indubitable truth, asserts Descartes. My essence is thinking, he believes, i.e., “everything that takes place in us in such a way that we perceive it immediately by ourselves.” (Thinking thus includes not only understanding but also desire and imagination, that is, all those psychical processes that are accompanied by self-consciousness.) Descartes believes that I therefore cannot deduce my existence from the facts which are expressed in such representations as “I see,” “I walk,” etc., for the content they render is not absolutely unproblematic: “I may myself believe that I see or walk, although I have not opened my eyes or budged from place: for this sometimes happens when I sleep, and might even happen to me even if I had no body.” It is quite different when I have in mind only the consciousness that is in me, which makes me believe that I see or walk.. In the latter case, “the conclusion is so absolutely true I cannot doubt it.”
Man believes, Descartes continues, that he perceives actually existing objects through his sense organs, but their reality can well be doubted. At the same time, there can be no doubt that it seems to me that I perceive them. “In any case, it is certain at least that it seems to me that I see, that I hear, and that I feel warmth.” “For if I conclude that wax is or exists, from seeing it, it is certainly much more evident that I am, or exist myself, from the fact that I see it. It is quite possible that what I see is not in fact wax; it may also happen that I have no eyes to even see anything: but it cannot so happen that when I see or when I think that I see (which I do not distinguish), I that think am not something.”
It is important to stress that from Descartes’ point of view my existence and my thinking are not just two properties equally belonging to reasonable substance (res cogitans). That Substance itself is a certain unity of the activity of thinking and its product, the reasoning “I,” so that when activity ceases, “I” itself ceases to exist, too, “I am, I exist: that is certain; but how long? As long as I think; for it may so happen that if I should cease to think I would at the same time cease to be or exist.”
Thus, according to Descartes, self consciousness, the idea of one’s own existence, is characterised not only by clarity and distinctness, i.e., immediate obviousness, but also by the greatest certainty, But what, is to be done about recognising the actual existence of the world external to consciousness? Are there any convincing instruments for proving it?
At this point in his arguments Descartes is to invoke God, for his system possesses no other merits for the solution of this question. Descartes endeavours to persuade the reader that present in consciousness is a clear and distinct idea of an all-perfect being, that is, God, whose existence follows from his very essence. This being cannot be a deceiver, Descartes continues. And that means that everything that is conceived clearly and distinctly, must be true, that is, it must pertain to a really existing object.
Now, Descartes concluded: “I no longer think verily that I must admit with temerity all things which the senses seem to teach us, but I do not think either that I must generally doubt them all.” “At least it is to be avowed that all the things which I conceive in them clearly and distinctly, that is to say, al the things, generally speaking, that are comprised in the subject-matter of speculative geometry, as really in them.”
Let us single out certain fundamental points in Descartes’ reasoning that are important for our subsequent analysis.
First of all, Descartes believes that the knowledge by the subject of the states of his own consciousness in their relation to “I” is something different from the knowledge of external objects. From his standpoint this means that the subject has direct access to the subjective sphere, whereas knowledge of external bodies is only something mediated. For this reason, although cognitive activity in ordinary experience is directed, first of all, at external material objects, and although the role of the subjective world and its characteristics usually remain in the background, as it were, Descartes believes that logically it is the cognition of subjective states in connection with the “I” that produces them that is the simplest matter. (Let is note that it is this point of Descartes’ reasoning that served as the starting point for empiricist introspectionist psychology.)
Let us further take into account that Descartes links substantiation of knowledge with the degree to which it is assimilated in reflection. He insists that precisely that knowledge is the genetic and logical starting point of any other which has been most thoroughly reflected upon, that is, contains not only an indication of its object but also a reference to the conditions of its own obviousness and certainty. It is this knowledge, in Descartes’ view, that is contained in the proposition “I think, therefore I exist” which must, in his opinion, he made the foundation of the entire system of knowledge.
An important element of Descartes’ conception is the thesis that the subject, the thinking “I,” does not exist side by side with his activity but is its product and at the same time permanent condition, that is, it exists only insofar as the activity of thinking is realised (and is in a certain sense even implied by that activity).
Finally, let us point out that Descartes’ fundamental distinction between judgment about objective reality and positing the reality itself. Precisely these fundamental elements of the Cartesian conceptions were assimilated by later idealistic philosophy in its attempt to solve the problem of substantiation of knowledge.
Let us critically analyse some of these attempts and also Descartes’ reasoning.
In Descartes’ view, only those propositions fully satisfy the criteria of clarity and distinctness whose content is correlated with the act of subjective reflection. For instance, mathematical propositions are only clear and distinct to the extent to which we do not ascribe an objectively real meaning to them (that is, we consider the properties of a triangle without going into whether triangles exist in reality). In principle, Descartes believes, sense perception can also be clear and distinct but only if we correlate it solely with the states of our consciousness (i.e., include it in the act of self-consciousness) ignoring the question of the objectiveness of its meaning. It is easy in ordinary life to neglect the objective meaning of mathematical propositions; mathematics is therefore, in Descartes’ view, an absolutely reliable science and a model of science in general. It is extremely difficult to apply this operation to sense perceptions, therefore sciences based on the sense organs’ data are far from the ideals of strict science. To be more precise, they can approach these ideals only to the extent to which they can be mathematised. Sense perceptions, Descartes believes, are often clear but they are rarely distinct (“I call clear that which presents and manifests itself to an attentive mind; ... [I call] distinct that which is so precise and different from everything else that it does not contain in itself anything that does not appear manifest to him who properly considers it... For example, when someone feels strong pain, the consciousness that he has of that pain is clear in his view, and yet it is not always distinct, for ordinarily he confuses it with the false judgements which he makes about the nature of that which he believes to take place in the wounded part...”).
These arguments confirm the rationalist nature of Descartes’ epistemological conception.
But can we agree that the act of cognition of the states of one’s own consciousness, that is, the act of subjective reflection, is a means of obtaining the most obvious and indubitable assertions, without departing from the positions of empiricism in epistemology?
This possibility, far from being excluded logically, actually proved to be one of the principal ways of the development of metaphysical empiricism in West European philosophy – a path on which empiricism becomes subjective idealist phenomenalism.
Attempts at cardinal solution of the philosophical problem of substantiation of knowledge through subjectivist interpretation of the sense data took a most sophisticated and technically elaborate form in the doctrine of the “sense data” which was the subject-matter of lively debate in English and American philosophical literature in the first half of the present century.
The adherents of this doctrine (which in different variants developed within the philosophical systems of neo-realism, critical realism, and logical positivism) tried to combine the view that obvious and directly given knowledge expresses, in one way or another, the subject’s reflection about himself, with the assumption that experience contains knowledge about really existing objects, and not merely to combine these propositions but to deduce the latter from the former without invoking God, unlike Descartes. With this aim in view, certain specific objects, “sense data,” the knowledge of which is intuitive and indubitable, were postulated to be the results of reflection about the content of perception.
Here is a typical mode of introducing “sense data” as objects of epistemological study: “When I see a tomato there is much that I can doubt. I can doubt whether it is a tomato that I am seeing, and not a cleverly painted piece of wax. I can doubt whether there is any material thing there at all. Perhaps what I took for a tomato was really a reflection; perhaps I am even the victim of some hallucination. One thing however I cannot doubt: that there exists a red patch of a round and somewhat bulgy shape standing out from a background of other colour-patches, and having a certain visual depth, and that this whole field of colour is directly present to my consciousness.”
It is these colour-patches, sound tones, etc. that are regarded as “sense data.” Importantly, they are not identified with sense perceptions. The “sense data” are ascribed the status of objects of a special kind while sense perceptions are the result of direct, intuitive knowledge of these objects. The elementary process underlying any cognition is regarded as special “sensing,” direct perception of the “sense data” in the act of directly grasping their content. At the same time, the “sense data” are not material things either, for possession of certain “sense data” is no guarantee yet of the actual existence of the material object to which they will prove to pertain. Each cognizing subject has his own private “sense data” different from the “sense data” of another person.
H. H. Price, one of the well-known theoreticians of this conception, thus describes the main characteristics of “sense data”: (1) They are individuals, not universals. (2) They are not substances, for they are created ex nihilo and return in nihilo; they depend for their existence, origin and properties on the state of the person sensing. (3) They may be regarded as events, but they are not phases of material things. (4) They are not phases of the conscious subject, for they are in some respects constituents of the surfaces of extra-cerebral physical objects existing in the sense “at a long distance from the skull.” (5) Hence, unlike other events, they seem to be phases of no substances an inhere in none; they are thus neither mental nor physical.
This description shows the paradoxical nature of the objects postulated. The attempt at reconciling the thesis of immediate, intuitive, unquestionable nature of grasping the “sense data” (a thesis which compels the theoreticians of this conception to emphasise the private character of these specific objects, their dependence on the cognizing subject) with the view that in actual experience we deal with physical, material objects rather than with the subject’s states, induced the theoreticians to ascribe incompatible features to the “sense data.”
Indeed, what is a real material object and how does knowledge of it arise in the opinion of the supporters of this conception?
A material object is nothing but a definite ensemble, class, or family of “sense data,” reply these theoreticians. This family consists both of actual “sense data” existing at a given moment (which, as we have been told already, are created ex nihilo and return in nihilo) and of an infinite number of possible “sense data” which are not actually present in the sense field at the present moment but can become real under definite conditions. There was a debate among the adherents of this conception as to whether the status of real existence should be ascribed to potential “sense data.”
Potential “sense data” are linked with actually existing ones by definite dependences arranged in series. All “sense data,” both actual and potential, pertaining to the given material object, are divided into two subclasses: those which characterise the “real” or “standard” features of the given object vs., those which constitute its distorted form, its “appearance.” A round object will from a certain angle be perceived as an elliptical one, while a red-coloured object in unusual lighting will look black, etc. On these grounds the same “sense data” pertaining to the give material object were divided into “nuclear” and “non-standard.”
Analysing the logic of such reasoning, we observe, first of all, that recognising the dependence of the “sense data” on the subject and his states is apparently incompatible with ascribing these .data” to the material objects themselves which exist objectively and really (“at a long distance from the skull”): we even observe here an attempt at reducing the latter to an ensemble of “sense data.” Indeed, it is well known that the clarity and detail with which my consciousness perceives the various sense qualities of an object depend on the concentration of my attention, on my absorption in the procedure of considering the aspects of the given object. Moreover, a close scrutiny of the object may reveal some properties which have previously been unnoticed. But that means that the act of generation of “sense data,” which are regarded as existing “at a long distance from the skull.” is determined by the subject’s awareness!
It also proves untenable that “sense data” as objects sui generis are discovered by reflection about experiences, about sense perception. Sense perception is always directed. in one way or another, at actually existing material objects. These objects include, among others, mirror images, artificial presentation of some object, etc It is a different matter that the subject may err in the process of perception, taking one object for another, e.g., a mirror image of the given object or its cleverly made lookalike for the object itself. The subject may erroneously assess the conditions of perception of an object, so that numerous illusions arise, which are analysed in detail in the modern psychology of perception, (Hallucinations are different from perception, including illusory perceptions, not only in that there is no real object corresponding to it but also in its own subjective mode.) Errors of perception are thus quite possible and occur not infrequently. It is important to stress, however, that, first, perception is always aimed at real material objects rather than at “sense data,” and second, that ordinary practice always has quite definite methods permitting to separate erroneous perceptions and illusions from those to which real perceptions correspond. Of course, in practical experience tasks have to be solved which involve qualities and sensual aspects of objects (colours, spatial forms, sounds, etc.) regarded as special objects by the theoreticians of modern empiricism. But the point is that a knowledge of these aspects is derivative from the knowledge of real objects as a whole. In other words. in real experience the dependence is the reverse of that assumed in the conception analysed here. “Sense data” as objects sui generis, neither material nor psychical, and the corresponding elementary cognitive process of “sensing” are by no means introduced into the epistemological conception as a result of analysing the structure of genuine sense experience (as claimed by the authors of the doctrine) but postulated as a mode of solving the problem of substantiating knowledge on the basis of accepting the thesis about the existence of immediate and unquestionable knowledge containing a reference to the cognizing subject.
The very task of identifying and reidentifying those aspects of objects which were hypostatised as “sense data” (i.e., the task of defining whether we deal with one and the same single colour shade, the given individual note, etc., rather than simply with two similar individual representatives of one and the same colour or sound as a sense universal), can only be solved if the sense properties referred to are correlated with material objects instead of being regarded as independent essences. Only by solving the task of identification and reidentification of material objects (and that task has a definite mode of solution in experience) can we identify and reidentify the separate sense aspects and qualities of the objects. Thus we can assert that we contemplate precisely the given colour spectrum rather than a similar copy of the same sensual “kind” only if we correlate it with that material object in which it inheres, e.g., the given picture, distinguishing this object from all the others (we distinguish the original from its copy or reproduction or clever imitation). We can assert with certainty that we hear the same performance of a symphony (this question may arise if we are compelled to stop listening for a while) only if we can reidentify the material source of sound and the real objective situation, that is, if we discover that we are hearing the same musicians, see the same conductor, sit in the same concert hall, etc. Thus, if “sense data” existed as independent objects, they could be neither identified nor reidentified. In this case, however, they could not form the foundation of experience.
Let us now analyse the question of whether propositions about material objects can be deduced from the propositions about actual and potential “sense data.” This doctrine in its linguistic version, developed by logical positivists, asserts that an utterance about a material object is equivalent to a set of utterances about “sense data” (actual and potential).
Let us take into account, however, that this set is infinite, for it must include indications of all possible conditions (the point of view, the position, the conditions of lighting, etc.) under which the given object will be observed. Each condition will characterise “sense data” that are somewhat different from all the others. But elements of an infinite set cannot be enumerated in finite time, while the procedure of identification and reidentification of material objects is, in actual experience, carried out rather quickly and, as a rule, without mistakes.
Let us further consider that utterances about material objects are characterised by a specific indeterminateness and openness with regard to the possible sets of “sense data” which are assumed to be relevant to them. Thus, the statement “There is a car in the garage” does not specify anything about the car’s colour, size, shape, style, make and so on. Hence if we start to draw up a “sense-datum” analysis of the content of this utterance we shall quickly come to the conclusion that there are a great many variants of this analysis, and whatever variant we should choose, we have no guarantee that the choice was made correctly (e.g., we may include “red sense data” in our set, and the car may prove to be blue, and so on).
The most essential objection to the analysis of the meaning of utterances in “sense-datum” terms is that this analysis cannot in fact be implemented in pure form even if we accept the task as meaningful. Explicating the content of an utterance about a material object in “sense-datum” terms necessarily includes a reference to both an observer and the conditions of observation. Both assume the concept of material objects (the subject is not, of course, a material object only, but it is this quality that is essential in this case, that is, the fact that he can change his position relative to other objects, move among them, etc.), Thus, from the standpoint of the conception here analysed the utterance “There is a car in the garage” means: “If the observer enters the garage and performs certain actions (e.g., turns his head in a given direction, moves his hands in a given manner, etc.), he will have the following set of ‘sense data’.” It is important to note that this analysis implies a normal functioning of the observer’s sense organs.
Naturally, the concepts of the observer, his sense organs, action, the place of observation, direction of observation, etc., characterise definite material objects, their relations, states, processes in which they participate, etc. Thus an attempt to give an analysis of the meaning of utterance only in terms of “sense data” is unsuccessful, for it is impossible to avoid using terms pertaining to material objects in the analytic sentence. All attempts by the adherents of the “sense-datum” conception to evade this fundamental difficulty have been fruitless.
Let us point out another paradox to which this doctrine leads. Supposing I know that you have a magnet hidden in your pocket. If I stand at your side, compass in hand, the needle of the compass that should point north will deviate affected by the hidden magnet. This fact is easily explainable in terms of material objects and their causal connections. However, if I adhere to the “sense-datum” conception, I must make the strange conclusion that actual events (the actual “data” pertaining to the behaviour of the compass) are conditioned by merely potential ones (the “sense data” pertaining to the hidden compass). 
It thus proved impossible to substantiate the real sensual experiences to which, in the empiricists’ view, all cognition is ultimately reducible, by the doctrine of the “sense data,” essences of a special kind having a private nature and dependent on the subject. The concept of material object independent of the individual observer is a necessary characteristic of experience directed at the external world, the kind of characteristic that can in no way be reduced to some ensemble of “sense data.”
Does recognising the independence of the material object from individual consciousness signify a rejection of the attempt itself of substantiating knowledge through assertion of the self-certainty of knowledge or some subjective structures connected with it? The experiences of philosophy throughout its history show that it is not obligatory. There are epistemological conceptions in bourgeois philosophy which try not to make the mistakes characteristic of subjectivist empiricism, of the “sense-datum” doctrine, and at the same time to substantiate knowledge through fundamental recognition of the specific and autonomous nature of subjectiveness. It is stressed in this case that any cognitive experiences have such constitutive links (stipulating the presence in experience of physical objects with a definite correlation and subordination of the various aspects of these objects, of causal chains, of spatio-temporal arrangement of objects and events, etc.) which cannot be reduced to “sense data,” to some chance empirical filling of experience or mere physical impact of an external object on the cognizant subject’s sense organs. The structure of experience is objective in nature, assert the adherents of this approach, and it does not depend on the individual observer, individual subject, his states and “sense data.”
At the same time a fundamentally important step is taken in the interpretation of the subject himself: the subject is split, as it were, into two distinct constitutive strata, the individual and transcendental subjects. As regards the first, the objective structure of experience is believed to be independent of it. At the same time, this structure, the norms and criteria applied in the cognitive process, are rooted in the properties of the transcendental subject. This approach, which came to be termed transcendentalism, is thus a kind of reformulation of Descartes’ programme of analysing cognition. Various types of transcendentalism differ from each other in their treatment of the possibility itself of discovering the transcendental structure of experience and, consequently, the possibility of solving the problem of substantiation of knowledge.
One of the most influential conceptions of this type in modern bourgeois philosophy is Edmund Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, It should be noted that of all the transcendentalist doctrines, phenomenology is the closest to Descartes in the formulation of tasks and in the search for the methods of epistemological research. Husserl endeavours to analyse transcendental consciousness by applying a specific procedure which he calls a phenomenological description of what is given to consciousness with the greatest obviousness and self-certainty.
Husserl believes that any cognition of reality is founded on direct, intuitive knowledge identified in phenomenology with perception. The latter, however, is not understood at all in the spirit of philosophical empiricism. Sense perception and direct perception are not synonymous in Husserl’s philosophy. First, Husserl singles out various types of direct perception and the corresponding experiences of obviousness, pertaining not only to physical objects but also to states of consciousness, not only to individual objects but also to their essences, “eidoses,” or universals (the so-called immediate insight into essence). Second, Husserl asserts that perception of physical objects, or “external perception,” is by no means reducible to a given ensemble of sensual components, the “sense data,” but a! ways includes certain non-sensual elements or layers characterising the schema of the given kind of objectiveness.
Substantiation of knowledge in transcendental phenomenology is reduced to singling out the acts of cognition whose objects are experienced quite obviously, that is, are actually and immediately given to consciousness. The other aspect of the solution offered is separation of the actually given from that which is not actually given. The point is, Husserl argues, that in ordinary cognition as it factually occurs, the actually given, i.e., immediately grasped, is mixed with what is not actually given, what is added in thinking, assumed or supposed (“imagined,” in Husserl’s terminology). Certainly that which is not given actually but merely assumed is linked in a definite way with what is given quite obviously. However, this link is not of the sort to warrant certain expectation that future experience will ensure the “implementation” of experiential components that are purely “imaginary” at the given stage (i.e., it will provide corresponding data experienced with certainty).
For instance, if I perceive a house, I obviously perceive at the given moment only the givenness to me of the side of the house that directly faces me. At the same time, the very act of my perception includes the assumption of the existence of the house’s other sides and the possibility for me to see these sides provided I move in a certain manner round the house. (That is exactly what the representatives of the empirical conception analysed above called the “possible sense data.”) Without assuming the possibility of obtaining corresponding obvious entities, the act of perception itself would be impossible. It may so happen, however, that in moving round the house I shall discover that its back wall is destroyed by some catastrophe, that consequently it is no longer a house in the proper sense of the word, and that the dwellers have left it. In this case my original perception of the given object as a normal house will prove to be erroneous, and expectations of corresponding obvious entities connected with the given object, unrealised.
Thus, the assumption in the act of perception itself of some individual object being a thing of a given kind, in this case “a house” (its perception “against the horizon” of a definite kind of objectiveness, as Husserl puts it), proved to be unsatisfied by the corresponding individual certainties. The individual object, “this house,” was not given to consciousness with complete certainty. It is, however, important to emphasise, Husserl continues, that the very act of assumption, the act of “opinion” about the given individual object, is given to consciousness with certainty. The perception of the individual object as a house proved to be unrealised, but the very act of such and such orientation of consciousness, in this case orientation at perception of the given object as a house, is fully obvious to the consciousness.
From Husserl’s standpoint, a “material thing always remains incompletely and one-sidedly open. This involves the possibility of disappointment, that is, the possibility that in new ‘perspectives’ the thing will not prove to be identical to itself. A material thing always reveals itself relatively, so that doubt about its actual being is not excluded, and its being thereby manifests itself as accidental. The being of a material thing is never considered other than along with the consideration of the possibility of its non-being. We shall never be able to assert with full certainty, that is, apodictically, that this table actually exists because I actually and directly see this colour and this figure.”
The fact, however, is given to consciousness with full apodictical obviousness that it performs at a given moment the acts of such and such orientation, assuming, “opining” something. One can doubt the being of the external world but one cannot doubt the being of consciousness itself, the being of self, Husserl repeats Descartes’ train of thought.
As we orientate our consciousness at direct perception, at experiencing its acts with apodictical certainty, ignoring the question whether actual objects correspond to these acts (i.e., performing in Husserl’s terms the epoche procedure, that is, refraining from asserting the actual existence of the corresponding objects), we are dealing, from the standpoint of transcendental phenomenology, with a special kind of object – “pure consciousness , and with a special act of direct comprehension, intuitive grasping of this object – transcendental reflection.
Husserl underlines the fact that ordinary experience, with which everyday practice has to do, and the special sciences, proceed from the actual existence of the world of material objects. That is the so-called natural attitude of consciousness. Transcendental reflection, whose task is finding out apodictical certainties (and that is the only way to ‘solving the problem of substantiation of knowledge, Husserl believes), is forced to abandon the “natural” attitude of ordinary consciousness, that is, it has to perform the epoche procedure.
But “transcendental reduction” and epoche are not enough for substantiating knowledge, Husserl believes. To achieve that goal, “eidetic reduction” is also needed.
Knowledge of certain objective givenness always assumes direct grasping not only of individual givenness but also of the substantive, necessary connections, of object structures. Individual certainty itself is given only in the framework of “horizon” of essential (“eidetic”) dependences. Substantiation of knowledge is therefore, first of all, establishment of these dependences which determine the possibility of any concrete experience pertaining to the comprehension of individual real objects. In other words, the answer to the question “How is knowledge possible?” assumes, first of all, the establishment of the essences, the “eidoses” of all the various types of “thingness” with which experience has to deal.
“Eidoses” in transcendental phenomenology are not the same as concepts, although they appear very close at first glance, for concepts, too, characterise the essence of objects. “Eidoses” are not cognitive, logical constructions but rather meanings and essential structures of various types of thingness, which are given, in Husserl’s view, directly, intuitively, within a specific attitude of consciousness. They exist prelingually, although they may be expressed in language, too. However, language is incapable of fully expressing all their shadings, for first, it is the instrument of reasoning rather than of direct contemplation, and second, it is inseparable from the “natural,” ordinary attitude of consciousness. The task of phenomenological description is exceptionally difficult, both because of the difficulty of performing the act itself of intuitively grasping the “eidoses,” an act assuming a rejection of the “natural” attitude of consciousness, and because of the impossibility of describing precisely in language the results of transcendental reflection; it therefore proves necessary to resort to metaphors, hints, allegories, and other modes of oblique rendering of meaning, including the invention of new verbal constructions.
The types and kinds of “eidoses” are assumed to be varied and irreducible to one another in transcendental phenomenology. They include the “eidoses” of separate kinds of physical objects (a “table,” a “chair,” a “house,” etc.); such “eidoses” as “physical object,” “number,” “figure,” “perception,” “reasoning,” etc.; such “eidoses” which phenomenalist empiricists would refer to as “sense universals”: “redness,” “blueness,” “colouredness,” “loudness,” etc.
Thus for Husserl, genuine knowledge essentially coincides with experience, with direct perception of the corresponding objective givenness (it is another matter that perception itself, as we have said, is interpreted very broadly, with various types of perception singled out, etc.).
In Husserl’s view, thinking taken by itself does not give true knowledge but only knowledge in a tentative sense of the term, “figurative” or “symbolic” knowledge, one that is derived from and dependent on genuine, experiential knowledge. Although thinking is necessarily woven into the flow of experience and scientific activity is impossible without it, overestimating the significance of thinking at the expense of underestimating the fundamental role of the intuitions lying at its basis leads cognition into a cul-de-sac, insists Husserl.
Let us pay special attention to this point in transcendental phenomenology, for the view of knowledge as being very close, if not identical, with a certain mode of immediately grasping the object essentially characterises all the varieties of substantiation of knowledge undertaken in the bourgeois philosophy of the New Times. The trend of thinking leading to this understanding of the problem of substantiation is very simple. Indeed, if purely cognitive knowledge is derivative in nature, its premises are obviously different, for they would otherwise be themselves conditioned and substantiated. They cannot therefore fail to be, to some extent or other, given immediately and intuitively.
What are the modes of discovering the “eidoses,” that is, the possibilities of experiential knowledge? They include transcendental eidetic reflection, the experience of consciousness of a special type, inner perception realised without the mediation of the sense organs and directed at “pure consciousness” itself. Husserl believes that “eidoses” are usually not given in consciousness in pure form, being merged, as it were, with certain individual certainties. Transcendental consciousness takes up the “eidetic” attitude, which permits it to separate an “eidos” from its concrete, individual exemplification and grasp it directly as such (“intuitive insight into the essence”). It is in principle enough to have one copy, one individual embodiment of some “eidos” to grasp the “eidos” itself; e.g., transcendental eidetic reflection about the act of perception of the given house is enough to discover the “eidos” of houses in general. In practice, however, this procedure is difficult to realise, if not at all impossible, Husserl has to concede. He therefore suggests a special technique for “eidetic description” which he worked out. Proceeding from an actual instance of assuming the given object to be associated with the given meaning (e.g., the meaning of “house”), we start freely fantasising, varying the exemplifications of the given meaning, the given “eidos.” We discover something invariant in these exemplifications, something that cannot be eliminated as long as we continue to “imagine” objects associated with the given meaning. That invariant will be the “eidos” of the objective givenness. “Eidetic analysis,” in Husserl’s view,
permits to single out the structures of experience, and in the first place, the necessary a priori connections independent of any concrete accumulation of experience. This, in its turn, enables one to construct a priori “regional ontologies” corresponding to various types of objective givenness and specifying the “horizons” of cognitive activity both in the sphere of pre-scientific knowledge and in the diverse scientific disciplines.
Fundamentally important for Husserl is the circumstance established in transcendental reflection that consciousness is always aimed or intentionally directed, as Husserl puts it, at some thing, at some object. This object need not necessarily be a material individual thing, it may also be an ideal “essence,” “eidos,” a universal, or acts of consciousness itself. The object may exist really, and then it may not be real but merely “imagined” in the acts of consciousness. If transcendental reflection reveals “eidoses” that are not related to a certain “material ontology” but characterise the nature of consciousness itself; if, for instance, the object is the “eidos” of “perception in general,” the act of perception in this case may not actually exist as a subject of reflection but be merely “imagined” in the free variation in fantasy of various copies of perception associated with the meaning of perception in general. In this case the act of perception, being an object of intentional analysis, is irreal, while the act of transcendental reflection directed at this object, pertains to the reality of consciousness, continues Husserl. Thus, the possibility of real or irreal existence obtains not only for such objects as material bodies but also for such potential objects of transcendental reflection as acts of consciousness. As for the “eidoses” that are either included among the material bodies, or else are formal (logical and mathematical) “eidoses,” or the “eidoses” of consciousness itself, they have a special ideal existence in transcendental consciousness, for, as distinct from the real events which “happen,” “eidoses” cannot “happen”: their existence is inseparable from the existence of transcendental consciousness itself. It is important, according to Husserl, that consciousness is in any case objective, it is objectively oriented. Each act of consciousness assumes the existence of two poles, the intentional object of some kind and the subject himself implementing the act of consciousness, of “I,” the ego. The object lies outside consciousness, for it is transcendental relative to the intentional act, and at the same time it is in another respect immanent to consciousness, for it is assumed or “imagined” by consciousness, while the question of the existence of reality corresponding to the given intentional object always remains open, Husserl believes.
Thus, the specificity of organisation of consciousness, from the standpoint of transcendental phenomenology, is expressed in its subject-object structure. The subject-object relation is only inherent in consciousness and expresses the links between its different poles. It would be absurd and meaningless to try to model this relation in terms of some physical bodies or systems, Husserl believes, for the components of this relation (the intentional act, the intentional object, the subject implementing these acts) characterise only “pure consciousness” and would be inconceivable without it.
The so-called natural attitude proceeds from the existence of both the “I” and the world of real objects external with regard to me. The “I” in this case refers to a concrete corporeal individual endowed with the psyche, with consciousness. However, since the act of transcendental reduction assumes temporary removal from consideration of the real existence of the world of material objects, Husserl reminds us, the question of the existence of my body also remains open. Transcendental reflection has to do only with “pure consciousness.” The latter is formed of intentional acts with corresponding intentional objects. If I perform, however, not only transcendental but also “eidetic” reduction, setting myself the goal of discovering the “eidoses” of certain material and formal objects as well as the “eidoses” of consciousness itself, Husserl insists, I reveal and directly grasp the essence of “pure consciousness” itself, namely the Transcendental Ego as underlying all these “eidoses” and intentional acts, as constituting the meanings of all the objective givennesses. The object correlative to the Transcendental Ego is the “eidos of the world” as the horizon of all possible types and kinds of objects. It is the Transcendental Ego that implements the acts of transcendental reflection, Husserl believes. Therefore, when the latter is directed at the Transcendental Ego itself, it coincides, as it were, with itself, having itself for an object of its own reflection. In this case, “absolute reflection” is realised, “absolute knowledge” is attained which underlies all knowledge and is the supreme instance of substantiating cognition in general. The whole of transcendental phenomenology can therefore be regarded as “egology,” a doctrine of the Transcendental Ego. It is the knowledge of subjective being that underlies any knowledge, Husserl believes, stressing the need for “looking towards” the subject.
Thus from Husserl’s viewpoint, reflection and self-cognition underlie knowledge and experience. That knowledge is the most adequate which coincides with absolute reflection, absolute self-cognition, that is, the kind of knowledge which knows that it knows, being fully cognizant of both its own object and its own being and those procedures by which it is attained. Let us pay special attention to this important point of transcendental phenomenology.
Let us further single out certain traits of the Transcendental Ego as Husserl understands it. It must not be viewed as a kind of supraindividual essence unifying various concrete consciousnesses and, still less, different corporeal individuals (the way Hegel presents the Absolute Subject). Of course, at the level of transcendental reflection directed at the Transcendental Ego, Husserl believes, there is no question of difference between concrete individual consciousnesses (and in this sense no question of difference between “ me” and “thou”), for in this case it is a matter of finding the “eidos” of consciousness itself. But the main thing, from the standpoint of transcendental phenomenology, is that the Transcendental Ego is grasped as a result of a definite type of my reflection directed at my own consciousness. The Transcendental Ego proves to be the deep formative basis of my consciousness and, consequently, the basis of myself. The ordinary language, which is in the power of the “natural” attitude, Husserl believes, is capable in this case, too, to lead into error, for I can speak of “myself” as of a concrete corporeal individual, with a characteristic figure, gait, facial expression, as of the unique individual life of consciousness with its unique “biography,” a specific attitude to its past and future, and finally as the supreme instance of all cognitive activity and of all intentions, that instance which exists before any individual psychological biography (and in this sense before any individual “I”) and at the same time underlies it. It is this supreme instance that is the Transcendental Ego which, as is clear from the above, is also I myself residing in me, not somewhere else. There is no access to the Transcendental Ego other than through a special type of analysis of my own consciousness.
Let us now go back to the assertion of the subject-object structure of consciousness – a thesis characteristic of phenomenology. The intentional object in Husserl’s interpretation is not something ephemeral and purely individual (as we have indicated already, that is the way phenomenalist empiricists interpret such “special objects” of consciousness as “sense data”), for it is always given “on the horizon” of some “eidos” or other, within the framework of certain essential, necessary object structures (and in the case of transcendental eidetic reflection the object may also be a pure “eidos”). In this connection Husserl criticises empirical introspectionism which prevailed in West European psychology for two centuries. Following a definite interpretation of Descartes’ philosophy and combining this interpretation with empiricist propositions, adherents of introspectionism believed the task of psychology to be, above all, the discovery of empirical dependences between the data of consciousness which are interpreted, first, as purely individual “events” in the consciousness field, and second, as purely subjective data, whose relation to the objects must be completely eliminated for the sake of purity of inquiry. Husserl shows (and he is quite right on this score) that analysis of the subjective, of consciousness, is impossible outside its relation to the object (its intentional orientation at the object, as Husserl puts it). Husserl also, insists that the data of consciousness are not purely individual events but facts included in certain stable and necessary structures. Meanwhile, if one regards the task of psychology to be the description of individual facts in the field of consciousness and establishment of their empirical dependences, it will have to be recognised that the act of self-consciousness, of empirical introspection, interferes in the flow of psychical life, distorting the purity of the object studied (for self-consciousness is also included in the life of consciousness) and thereby preventing the realisation of that very goal that is set before it. This criticism was traditionally levelled at introspectionist empiricist psychology. Husserl believes, however, that psychology must not set itself goals characteristic of introspectionism. The task of psychology indubitably consists in studying subjective reality, consciousness, and in this connection psychology is close to transcendental phenomenology, although in the former the study of consciousness must be carried out from a somewhat different angle than in the latter (the question of the relation of phenomenological psychology and transcendental phenomenology is a special theme which we shall not touch upon here). The study of subjective reality is certainly inconceivable outside of acts of self-consciousness, Husserl believes. But the procedure of self-consciousness, he continues, must be carried out as phenomenological reflection aimed first of all at discovering the “eidoses” of consciousness rather than as empirical introspection. Traditional introspectionist psychology has not attained any considerable results, he thinks, precisely because it followed from the very first a wrong path determined by a false understanding of the subject-matter and methods of research. It was not due to but in spite of its general approach that it did obtain certain results.
Husserl believes that the discovery of the subject-object structure of consciousness also helps to overcome Descartes’ dualism with its characteristic orientation at establishing “purely subjective” structures outside their objective correlation.
As can be seen from the above, Husserl’s phenomenology touches on a number of real problems in the analysis of cognition and consciousness. Let us point to some of them only insofar as they are important for the present study. As we have pointed out already, he stresses quite correctly the impossibility of studying the subjective, consciousness, without taking into account its objective correlation (its “intentional orientation”). Husserl correctly shows some fundamental weaknesses of introspectionist empiricist psychology, of the epistemological conception of subjectivist empiricism. He also states quite rightly that consciousness is an object of a special kind, and that its cognition must differ in some respects from cognition of a material object external with regard to consciousness (for I have “an internal access,” as it were, to my consciousness). It is also true that a definite connection exists between the cognition of an external object and the fact of correlating knowledge to the cognizing subject, that is, the fact of self-accounting, self-consciousness, self-reflection. It should also be pointed out that within the framework of transcendental phenomenology and phenomenological psychology both Husserl and his disciples described a great number of facts pertaining to the work of consciousness. Certainly these facts require critical evaluation, for their description by phenomenologists exists within the framework of a false conception (we shall dwell on this point somewhat later), but at the same time they may be taken into account and re-interpreted in those disciplines which in one way or another deal with the analysis of consciousness: psychology, psychiatry, esthetics, epistemology, etc.
However, with reference to Husserl’s general epistemological conception, to his solution of the problem of substantiation of knowledge, the untenability of transcendental phenomenology must be stated quite definitely. Let us discuss this point in greater detail.
We must recall that Husserl proceeds from the fundamental division into what is and what is not actually given to consciousness. Only the former, he believes, is accompanied by the experience of self-certainty, which is proclaimed in transcendental phenomenology to be an indication of genuine, actual existence of the corresponding objective givenness. We all know, however, that experiencing some fact or event as evident is by no means a guarantee of its actual existence. All illusions of perception show, for instance, that we can perceive something that actually does not exist as evident and indubitable.
Husserl fully realises this fact. He therefore indicates that phenomenological self-certainty is not identical to subjective psychological confidence. The former is, as he says, attained through a special attitude of consciousness, through special procedures of transcendental reflection.
The latter, in Husserl’s view, can also exist when consciousness assumes intentional objects to which no reality corresponds; it is here that perception illusions arise.
Let us ask this question: does transcendental phenomenology offer a method for distinctly separating subjective confidence from the experience of certainty? Husserl sees such a method in transcendental reflection (assuming epoche, “transcendental” and, in some cases, “eidetic” reduction, etc.). But how are we to find out that we have performed all the operations required by transcendental reflection? This can only be ensured by attaining the result of this reflection, Husserl answers, that is, by the emergence of a specific experience of self-certainty. We thus find ourselves in a vicious circle.
Husserl himself has to admit that in the process of phenomenological description it is in practice very difficult to separate “pure” transcendental experience of evidence from subjective psychological phenomena that look like it. The development of his conception was therefore continually accompanied not only by specification of descriptions already carried out but also, in some cases, by essential modifications. As for Husserl’s followers, they often “saw” quite different things as “self-evident.” Let us also add to this the assertion, characteristic of phenomenology, that ordinary language cannot render precisely the data experienced, so that even where the doctrine’s requirements are satisfied, there is no guarantee of adequate expression of the results of analysis. All of this makes it practically impossible to indicate any clear-cut criteria which will permit to state that the necessary purity of phenomenological research has been attained. But if that is the case, there is much room for arbitrariness and subjectivism. Husserl therefore has to concede that a pure description of the data of transcendental consciousness is not so much an actual result of existing phenomenological studies but rather a kind of ideal goal towards which they must strive. That goal, Husserl believes, is conditioned by the very formulation of the problem of substantiation, assuming the existence of such knowledge in which the corresponding object is given immediately, intuitively and self-evidently.
Thus the assertion of experiencing self-certainty as true indication of objective reality is based not so much on factual analysis of cognition and consciousness as on definite assumptions about the nature of the problem of substantiation of knowledge and the possible ways of its solution, those very same assumptions of non-Marxist epistemological conceptions of which we spoke at the beginning of this chapter. But why should we take the assumptions themselves to be justified?
The method, suggested by Husserl, of free variation in imagination of different expressions for the given meaning for determining their invariant, or “eidos,” is an attempt at overcoming subjectivism in phenomenological description. This method was intended to ensure some kind of generally valid technique for analysis of consciousness. It is easy to see, however, that this method is fundamentally the same as ordinary empirical generalisation through comparing individual objects. Why must the results of such generalisation be viewed as a priori entities of consciousness rather than as what they actually are expressions of finite empirical experience?
Generally speaking, the procedure itself to which Husserl refers as transcendental reflection appears doubtful on several significant counts. First of all that applies to epoche, that is, refraining from judgement about the existence of the objects of the material world. Of course, situations sometimes arise in our experience when we cannot say with certainty whether we actually deal with the object which appears to us as really existing or whether that is no more than appearance, an error of perception. It is essential, however, that, first, situations of this kind are not very frequent; second, that there are always means of ascertaining the nature of perception, that is, of establishing whether it is illusory or genuine; and third, that the experiential distinction between illusion and reality is based on a well-founded conviction of the actual existence of at least the overwhelming majority of the objects given us in perception. Thus the “natural” attitude of consciousness taking the existence of the material world for granted is not at all naive; on the contrary, the belief in the universality of the situation of uncertainty about the reality of the object of perception is unfounded. The assertion of phenomenology that the existence of the objects of the material world (of all the material objects in general, rather than of particular objects of this world) is never given with complete certainty, is the result of a false preconception and not of analysis of actual experience. This attitude is closely linked with the desire for establishing the conditions of “absolute knowledge.” The latter is said to be attained when knowledge of the object coincides with reflection about knowledge itself, which, in Husserl’s view, occurs in transcendental reflection.
But can “absolute knowledge” alone be viewed as genuine? What grounds have we for disclaiming the status of real knowledge (and that is what Husserl insists on) for the results of cognitive activity both in the sphere of everyday experience and in the domain of various scientific disciplines studying empirical facts? Would it not be more correct to correlate, on the contrary, our ideal model of knowledge with actual samples of knowledge obtained in the actual cognitive process? Let us state in this connection that those examples of a priori “absolute knowledge” which Husserl cites (the truths of logic and mathematics, the so-called regional ontologies, that is, phenomenological descriptions of “eidoses” that are said to underlie the scientific disciplines) have failed the test of the development of science in the 20th century, as far as their a priori and absolute quality is concerned. That is the point where the fundamental defect is revealed not only of Husserl’s phenomenology but also of all kinds of transcendentalism as a mode for substantiating knowledge. We shall have occasion to return to this question.
Finally, let us consider the assertion of the Transcendental Ego’s existence, the supreme substantiating proposition of phenomenology. This assertion is obtained, as we have seen, as a result of transcendental reflection. But the procedure of transcendental reflection, involving epoche and the singling out of a special object, “pure consciousness,” is very doubtful, as we have said. Therefore the attempts to separate the ego as a unity of consciousness and material corporeality from the ego as “pure” individual consciousness, and the latter, from the Transcendental Ego, appear to be unconvincing. As for the statement that all referential meanings, just as all individual subjects (i.e., I myself and other sentient beings) are constituted by myself as the Transcendental Ego, it cannot but lead to the most odious form of subjective idealism, so completely compromised to solipsism, hard as Husserl might try to dissociate himself from it. Although Husserl insists on the impossibility of analysing the subjective, of analysing consciousness, outside its objective correlation, that is not enough to overcome Cartesian subjectivism, for the intentional object is viewed as existing in the framework of transcendental consciousness and as constituted by the latter, while the existence of real objective givenness corresponding to the intentional object is assumed to be irrelevant to transcendental phenomenology.
But can the basic premises of transcendentalism in substantiating knowledge be retained while such obvious weaknesses of phenomenology are discarded as its appeal to the subjective experiences of self-certainty unsupported by any other procedures that would be more convincing logically? In other words, are there such variants of solving the problem of the possibility of knowledge which endeavour to take a more logical path remaining at the same time in the fundamental framework of transcendentalism?
Let us consider the epistemological conception of Fichte as an attempt to provide this kind of solution.
Fichte starts from propositions which appear to be similar to those of phenomenology. He sets himself the task of transforming transcendental philosophy, the doctrine of the possibility of cognition in general and of scientific cognition in particular, into an “evident science,” pointing out that the theoretical doctrine of science (Wissenschaftslehre) “presupposes the possibility of freedom of inner contemplation.” The foundation of knowledge, Fichte insists, must be found as something absolutely first, something that cannot be either proved or defined.
Starting from the facts of empirical consciousness, and then mentally discarding everything that is accidental, and leaving only that which can no longer be separated from consciousness (that is, performing a procedure which somehow reminds one of Husserl’s transcendental reflection), Fichte arrives at Descartes’ proposition “I am” as the supreme fact underlying all others. This proposition “must probably be assumed without any proof, although the whole doctrine of science is busy proving it.”
Fichte’s train of thought then reveals fundamentally new elements. He asserts that the self-consciousness of the Transcendental Ego, expressed in the proposition “I am,” is not simply the product of direct inner perception of a certain evidence (as Husserl would have said) but the result of the activity of determining the indeterminate. Self-consciousness must be understood not simply as intuitive grasping of the object given, as it were, to the intentional act from the outside, but as mental positing of the object itself and at the same time as reflection about the product of this positing, the reflection (which appears as only one of the moments of a complex procedure of self-consciousness) is by no means reduced to mere contemplation of givenness, constituting the strenuous activity of analytically breaking down the posited givenness. Thus the Transcendental Ego is not simply a given object, as it appears to Husserl, but a kind of unity of activity and its product, or “act-action.” The Pure Ego does not exist outside of the activity of self-consciousness directed at it (let us recall a similar point in Descartes’ reasoning): “The ego posits itself, and it is only thanks to this self-positing; and vice versa: the ego is, and it posits its being, only due to its own being. It is simultaneously the agent and the product of action; the source of activity and that which emerges as the result of activity; act and action are one and the same; and that is why ‘I am’ is the expression of an act-action...”
Fichte insists that the ego outside the activity of self-positing and self-reflection is nothing, it simply does not exist. But it is precisely the active nature of the Absolute Ego, which compels it to strive towards an ever greater degree of self-determinateness (resulting from action upon itself), that further leads to the necessity of opposing to it the non-ego, which, on the one hand, delimits the ego, and on the other, exists in the framework of the Absolute Ego, being posited by the latter. The ego becomes an object in its own right for itself only with the opposition of ego and non-ego, states Fichte, that is, with the appearance of an object external with regard to the ego. It is only through the non-ego that the ego becomes something, i.e., that of which something may be said. That ego which exists in the framework of the opposition to non-ego is no longer an Absolute Subject but an empirical one, for it is restricted by an object external to it. While the pure activity (act-action) of the Absolute Ego does not assume any object, “turning back on itself,” the definition of the ego as an empirical subject (“descending” from the Absolute Subject to the empirical one) reveals the mutual mediation of ego and non-ego as the law of consciousness: “no subject, no object; no object, no subject.” Thus, while the original proposition “I am” appears as something immediately given and certain, the activity of self-consciousness necessarily leads to its self-mediation, to the generation of a whole series of positings and contrapositings which, in Fichte’s view, logically follow one from another. To this mediating activity of self-consciousness corresponds the reflective activity of the theoretical doctrine of science, in which the proposition is formulated that the activity of the ego can only be mediated, and “there can be no unmediated” activity at all. The abstract moments of these positings and contrapositings of the Pure Ego following from each other are logical categories (reality, negation, causality, interaction, etc.) expressing the necessary connections and dependences of experience and making knowledge possible. The reflection of the theoretical doctrine of science singles out the categorial dependences of knowledge.
Attention should be paid to the following traits of the epistemological conception analysed here, which will be of importance in our further inquiry.
According to Fichte, self-consciousness and self-cognition are not just passive immediate grasping of some given object but always an excursion beyond the boundaries of the immediate, an attempt to define, to interpret the latter (any elementary consciousness already contains in it an element of thinking, Fichte believes).
The ego, the pure consciousness, is not a ready-made object from the outset, it becomes such, being objectified as it becomes the object of its own self-cognizing activity.
Hence the ego as my own object is in a certain sense a result of creation, of constructing (positing).
To the extent to which the ego becomes the object of its own activity and reflection, contrapositing itself to the non-ego, it becomes different from what it originally was, dialectically changing and developing itself. In other words, the object of self-cognition is the product of its own activity, not in the sense, however, that it is a certain fabrication of consciousness, an arbitrary fiction, but in the sense that the ego as an object appears as the result of the necessary unfolding and dialectical mediation of what originally emerged as the purely immediate indentity I=I. Self-cognition and reflection assume the exteriorisation and objectification of what was at first purely internal and subjective, directly merging with itself as a “fact of consciousness”: “I am.”
Generally speaking, the definition and unfolding of the essence of what appears to be directly given and evident, reveals a complex system of the activity of consciousness hidden behind it, Fichte affirms.
In these arguments, Fichte grasps in a speculative idealistic form some moments of cognitive activity to which we shall recur in our positive discussion of the problem. It is easy to show, however, that the Fichtean conception does not solve the problem of substantiation of knowledge either.
Fichte correctly states that the necessary condition of cognition is determining the indeterminate, mental mediation of what originally appeared as purely immediate; he also notes correctly that these conditions are relevant not only to the cognition of objects external to the subject but also to the cognition of the subject himself. He cannot prove, however, with any degree of convincingness, that the required determination of the indeterminate, equivalent to the construction of experience, must he realised precisely in those categorial forms of which his Wissenschaftslehre treats. In other words, he cannot deduce a priori the essential dependence of any knowledge on the acts of positing and contrapositing of the Pure Ego, as he claims. In fact, Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre assumes a number of categorial links characterising the available empirical experience, as well as the traditionally accepted laws of formal logic (the laws of identity, contradiction, etc.). Thus the assertion that the self-positing of the Pure Ego (“I am”) underlies all knowledge and its substantive a priori dependences; an assertion central to his conception, remains an assurance without proof or support.
Furthermore, we do not touch here on the fact that acceptance of Fichte’s Absolute Ego as the centre constituting knowledge and objective reality leads to the cul-de-sacs of idealistic subjectivism, just as Husserl’s Transcendental Ego.
However, can one remain in the framework of transcendentalism without claiming to deduce the substantive dependences of knowledge from the fact of self-consciousness “I am I"? In this case the philosopher is forced to set himself the task of establishing the conditions of the possibility of knowledge by logical analysis, by breaking down and making a preparation of knowledge that actually exists and is recorded both in the truths of everyday consciousness and in the propositions of the special sciences. Clearly, in this approach to knowledge, the relation between knowledge and self-consciousness has to be understood in a way different from that of Husserl and Fichte.
This possibility was realised in Immanuel Kant’s “critical” transcendental epistemology.
Kant does not at all discuss the question “Is knowledge possible?,” and in this his philosophy differs significantly from, let us say, that of Descartes. One of the fundamental premises of Kantian epistemology is that knowledge is not only possible but also real, it actually exists. In other words, Kant faces the fact of knowledge, as neo-Kantians later put it. He believes this knowledge to be expressed at any rate in the special scientific disciplines relating to pure mathematics and pure (i.e., theoretical) natural science. The main preoccupation of his epistemology is finding out how mathematics and pure natural science are possible, that is, how knowledge is possible in general. Kant proceeds from the existence of indubitable and recognised product of cognitive activity, of scientific knowledge, endeavouring to reconstruct the logical conditions of its production through analytically breaking it down; that is to say, he proceeds from the study of the result to revealing the possibilities of its generation.
From the Kantian standpoint, this approach is justified by the fact that, while the existence of pure mathematics and pure natural science is beyond doubt, the assertion of the reality of metaphysics as true knowledge is extremely problematic. Finding out the universal conditions of the possibility of knowledge could not only provide an answer to the question of whether or not metaphysics is possible: should the answer prove to be affirmative, the methods of working in this area most fruitfully might be discovered, Kant believes.
Moving towards the realisation of this task, Kant arrives at the conclusion that experience as knowledge of objectively existing things independent of the given empirical individual and the states of his consciousness implies at the same time continual references to the subject. These references are of twofold nature. First, it is the singling out of the objectiveness of experience and the distinguishing of the processes fixed in it from subjective associations, from the accidental flow of representations, etc. that signify constant (actual and potential) correlation of the world of objects and the processes of consciousness. Second, the unity of experience itself implies the unity of consciousness. The latter circumstance is especially important, Kant believes. The unity of objective experience would be impossible, in his view, if the flow of objective experience could not be continually accompanied by a certain act of self-consciousness in the form of recognising the identity of the ego to which experience belongs (this act is, according to Kant, expressed in the assertion “I think”).
The objectiveness of experience is inseparable from the existence in it of various dependences, including necessary ones. The object is an embodiment, as it were, of a certain rule for linking up various sense impressions. The flow of objective experience presents an internally coherent picture of necessary interaction of all its components; there is a certain continuity about this flow, that is, the subsequent state necessarily follows from the previous one. If there were “gaps” in experience, that is, if subsequent events did not follow from the previous ones according to obligatory rules, we would have no grounds to believe experience to be objective, Kant affirms; instead we would be forced to describe it as a subjective connection between associations, that is, as pertaining to individual consciousness rather than the world of material objects. At the same time any experience is my experience, that is, it belongs to me as the person experiencing it; there is no experience that would be nobody’s. Let us now assume, Kant argues, that the ego as the subject of experience retains no identity, that is, that it can entirely disappear as one ego and be reborn as another having nothing in common and no links with the former.
In this case, experience itself must change, for its relevance to the ego is a necessary characteristic of experience, as we have just recognised, and if the ego becomes different, so does experience. But if there is no connection between the first and the second egos, there is no connection between the first and second experience either. That means that there are “gaps” in the flow of experience. In this case, experience itself is therefore subjective and not objective. It follows, Kant concludes, that a necessary condition of the objectiveness of experience is the self-consciousness of the ego as identical to itself in the assertion “I think,” which potentially accompanies the flow of experience (in Kant’s view, the act of self-consciousness “I think” does not have to accompany experience in actuality; the objectiveness of the latter merely implies constant possibility of this self-consciousness).
Individual empirical self-consciousness, enabling us to distinguish between the subjective connection of associations and the objective dependences between the things external with regard to this self-consciousness, Kant calls subjective unity of consciousness. As for the unity of consciousness which makes possible, in his view, the objectiveness of experience itself, it is termed in Kantian philosophy objective unity of self-consciousness or transcendental unity of apperception, and is distinguished from the former in principle.
The subjective unity of self-consciousness has to do with the flow of individual representations, characterising the “internal sense.” The manifold given in the internal sense is also ordered in a certain manner (the rules of this ordering are determined by the a priori form of time), although this ordering is not objective, that is, it is different from types of order in the world of external objects existing in the forms of space and time and given to the subject through the “external sense.” The subjective unity of self-consciousness is extremely specific. As distinct from the unity pertaining to objective (“external”) experience, the former does not characterise any constant substance remaining identical to itself under the various changes of its states. Kant therefore believes that it is impossible to reveal, through the internal sense, the necessary dependences and rules of succession of sense impressions which would permit the construction of an object of cognition in its own right. The objects of external sense given not only in the forms of time but also in those of space (the latter thus appearing in Kant’s epistemology as the necessary condition of objectiveness) assume a priori categorial schemes as their substantive basis, schemes on which to develop theoretical (“pure”) natural science. As for the objects of inner sense, they are not objects in the strict sense of the term, for states of consciousness are unstable, indefinite, and ephemeral. Of course, they are also ordered in a certain manner – in temporal forms. This ordering, however, cannot create the possibility of a theoretical (“pure”) science about the phenomena of individual consciousness. Psychology, in Kant’s view, is only possible as an empirical descriptive science stating accidental links in the subjective flow of representations and, in principle, incapable of using the methods of mathematics (in Kant’s view, true science must speak the language of mathematics).
More than that, inner experience is not only devoid of some essential features of external experience, those that permit the latter to be the basis of theoretical science – it is also impossible without external contemplation. Determination of time, which is a form of ordering internal experience, exists only through implementation of the flow of time in certain spatial processes, that is, in processes involving given material objects . It is possible to perceive a determination of time only by means of a change in external relations (motion) to the permanent in space; (for example, we become aware of the sun’s motion, by observing the changes of its relation to the objects of this earth).
But this is not all. We find that. we possess nothing permanent that can correspond and be submitted to the conception of a substance as intuition, except matter... It follows, that this I has not any predicate of intuition, which, in its character of permanence, could serve as correlate to the determination of time in the internal sense – in the same way as impenetrability is the correlate of matter as an empirical intuition.”
A highly important consequence follows from this, namely, “internal experience is itself possible only mediately and through external experience.”
Kant regards this consequence as a direct refutation of “the problematical idealism of Descartes, who admits the undoubted certainty of only one empirical assertion (assertio), to wit, I am.” Idealism “assumed [writes Kant] that the only immediate experience is internal, and that from this we can only infer the existence of external things. But, as always happens, when we reason from given effects to determined causes, idealism has reasoned with too much haste and uncertainty, for it is quite possible that the cause of our representations may lie in ourselves, and that we ascribe it falsely to external things. But our proof shows that external experience is properly immediate, that only by virtue of it – not, indeed, the consciousness of our own existence, but certainly the determination of our existence in time, that is, internal experience – is possible.”
From Kant’s viewpoint, that means that where it is a question of concrete individual consciousness, of the subjective, we cannot regard it in the spirit of Husserl as “pure consciousness” but must necessarily correlate it with those processes which are implemented by material objects or bodies. True, Husserl also speaks of the need for correlating any subjective act with the object at which this act is directed. But Husserl speaks only of the intentional object, that is, the object which exists in the framework of transcendental consciousness and does not have to be real. In principle, therefore, Husserl does not go beyond the boundaries of the Cartesian position at this point. Kant’s approach to the problem is fundamentally different: the consciousness of self, the “internal sense,” must be mediated by the consciousness of external objects, of real material things. Kant certainly realises that not always does representation of external things signify their actual existence, as the facts of illusions, hallucinations etc. show, that is, precisely those facts which form the starting point of the assertions of Husserl and Descartes on the “certainty” of the givenness of consciousness to itself and the “uncertainty” of the givenness of external objects to consciousness. But Kant writes that the illusions, hallucinations, etc. “are themselves created by the reproduction of previous external perceptions, which ... are possible only through the reality of external objects... Whether this or that supposed experience be purely imaginary, must be discovered from its particular determinations, and by comparing these with the criteria of all real experience.”
Now, what has Kant succeeded in showing? First, that empirical self-consciousness (the “inner sense”) necessarily assumes perception of external objects independent of the given individual consciousness. Second, that the unity and coherence of objective experience also signify the unity and coherence of the cognizing subject (this fact is termed the “objective unity of self-consciousness” in Kantian epistemology). Third, that the cognitive relation to the external object is also necessarily accompanied by a relation to the cognizing subject, that is, by different forms of self-consciousness.
However, Kant makes a further step in propounding a thesis which does not follow from the above assertions but is presented as their logical consequence. He formulates the proposition that objective unity of self-consciousness, or the transcendental unity of apperception, is the basis of the objective unity of experience. The proposition “I think” is declared to be the supreme foundation of any knowledge, and Kant thereby actually reverts to Descartes, and that after criticising him for “problematic idealism.”
True, on this point, too, Kant’s position is essentially different not only from that of Descartes, but also from the position of Husserl and Fichte. For Kant the proposition “I think” (just as the proposition “I exist”), being an expression of a special kind of consciousness, or rather self-consciousness, does not, however, express knowledge. A necessary condition of knowledge, according to Kant, is the givenness of the corresponding object in experience; that is to say, knowledge and experience coincide. True, experience itself is not understood by Kant as something purely immediate at all: his position here is opposed both to empiricism and phenomenology. Nevertheless, synthesising immediate sense components is a condition of experience. Where this does not occur, there is no experience and, consequently, no knowledge.
For this reason, to take an example, the a priori categories of intellect by themselves do not contain knowledge (and no “substantive insight” into their content in the sense of Husserl is possible). They can be thought of, that is, their content may be analytically broken down, but that will not be knowledge, that will not be cognition.
Thus Kant separates thinking from cognition and consciousness from knowledge. The proposition “I think” expresses an act of self-consciousness. But that is not knowledge, for the object corresponding to it, the thinking ego, is not given in any experience. The subject of transcendental apperception cannot become the object of itself. It can only be thought of or somehow symbolically hinted at: “...This unity is nothing more than the unity in thought, by which no object is given; to which therefore the category of substance – which always presupposes a given intuition – cannot be applied. Consequently, the subject cannot be cognized. The subject of the categories cannot, therefore, for the very reason that it cogitates these, frame any conception of itself as an object of the categories.”
It is important to’ note that the Transcendental Ego which, in Kant’s view, underlies the whole experience, cannot be directly grasped in the framework of his system. Kant merely suggests that we logically deduce it as a kind of otherworldly entity of a “thing-in-itself.”
Even if empirical reflection (the subjective unity of self-consciousness) is not, from Kant’s standpoint, knowledge in its own right, since its objects, given in the internal sense, are devoid of a number of traits of real objects with which external experience deals, transcendental reflection (the transcendental unity of self-consciousness) is not regarded as knowledge at all. (Let us recall that for Husserl it is precisely transcendental reflection that is an expression of “absolute knowledge.”) According to Kant, the Transcendental Ego is absolutely outside experience. As for empirical self-consciousness, that is merely the Transcendental Ego appearing to the empirical subject as a “thing-in-itself.”
This means in fact that Kant fails to substantiate knowledge through transcendental self-consciousness. He is himself compelled to admit that there are no instruments for passing on from the latter to the former within the framework of finite, actually existing experience. Husserl’s method for implementing this transition through “direct insight” into some “certainties” is unacceptable to Kant: the Königsberg philosopher believes that “certainty” in no way guarantees the actual existence of the corresponding object.
“Deduction” of a priori forms of any knowledge from the activity of the Transcendental Ego (Fichte’s method) is also impossible for him, for in Kant’s view the ego as the basis of knowledge cannot be the object of experience and of knowledge, being a fundamentally extra-experiential “thing-in-itself.” There can be even less possibility of substantiating knowledge through empirical (subjective) self-consciousness. The latter, as we know, implies the existence of the world of material objects, and a knowledge of them is itself substantiated thereby, far from being the basis of knowledge. Besides, the empirical ego, as Kant emphasises, cannot be a guarantee of the universality and necessity of the characteristics of any knowledge precisely due to the empirical and accidental nature of the processes inherent in it.
That is why Kant’s only way out is to assure his reader that the transition from the transcendental unity of apperception (regarded as the supreme basis of any knowledge) to constituting experience (that is, on the one hand, the world of objects appearing to finite consciousness as “empirically real,” and on the other, the corresponding kinds of knowledge) is realised in certain otherworldly spheres, “behind the back” of empirical consciousness, as it were. This transition, called transcendental synthesis, expresses the self-activity of the Transcendental Ego.
The transcendental unity of apperception therefore appears in two forms, according to Kant. Its profound essence is expressed in its self-activity, that is, in the work of transcendental synthesis. It is the synthetic unity of transcendental apperception that is the supreme foundation of cognition. As for the consciousness of the identity of the cogitating subject, given to each empirical individual as the self-realisation “I think,” it appears only as a reflection of the spontaneous activity of the Transcendental Ego, characterising not so much that activity as its result – the identity of the ego with itself (I=I). Kant suggests that the latter should be called the analytical unity of transcendental apperception.
But, insofar as the finite empirical individual has no direct access to the Transcendental Ego but merely to a chink through which bits of its activity can be grasped in the self-realisation “I think,” the Transcendental Ego itself is given extremely contradictory characteristics in Kantian philosophy. On the one hand, it is considered as a kind of deep force in myself, and here Kant’s views have something in common with Husserl’s and Fichte’s. But the Transcendental Subject is also declared to be a thing-in-itself, a kind of otherworldly entity. Here it appears as something that is not only in me but also outside me, as “consciousness in general,” as an objective structure underlying all individual consciousnesses. The Transcendental Subject should in this aspect be referred to as “We” rather than “I” (and Kant often does so). In other words, Kant’s subjective idealism is not at this point without some traits of objective idealism.
Thus, in substantiating knowledge Kant tried, first of all, to proceed from analysis of the characteristics of the final product of cognitive activity – knowledge – to reconstructing the logical conditions of its generation. Not only certain propositions of “common sense” but, above all, the results of mathematics, of contemporary mathematical natural science (classical mechanics), and the results of formal-logical studies, were chosen as the samples of knowledge that served as the reference points. Theoretically separating and analytically investigating these various kinds and types of knowledge, Kant singles out certain structures and invariants in knowledge that was actually available to him, and which characterised a definite period in the development of consciousness. In this way he obtains some results that are not merely of historical interest. But substantiation of the universality and necessity of these results was only possible, from Kant’s standpoint, through correlating them with the activity of the Transcendental Subject, with the transcendental unity of self-consciousness. It is this task that Kant fails to solve, for his system has no logical instruments for expressing the spontaneous activity of the Transcendental Ego. Therefore Kant’s epistemological conception, being indubitably subjective-idealistic, cannot nonetheless be regarded as “egology,” unlike the transcendentalist systems of Fichte and Husserl. Kant established a number of important moments in the study of cognition and consciousness. But the problem of substantiation of knowledge is not solved in his conception either; nor can it be solved here, for his conception remains idealistic.
Thus we see that the attempts to substantiate knowledge and fathom the nature of cognition relying on the postulate about the existence of a special kind of knowledge, indubitable, certain and directly pertaining to “pure consciousness” prove unavailing. The so-called radical reflection about “pure” consciousness (“turning to look at the subject,” as Husserl puts it) cannot substantiate the objectiveness of experience and, moreover, cannot even guarantee in its framework the actual reality of other cognizing individuals (“other egos”). Neither is the question of the nature of the ego and of the modes of comprehending it solved. The transcendentalist version of the subjective-reflective procedure for substantiating knowledge, postulating the a priori nature of definite structures and norms of everyday and special scientific knowledge, contradicts the development of modern scientific knowledge.
There are other influential variants of the idealistic solution of the problem of substantiating knowledge in modern bourgeois philosophy. The empirical subject, that is, a special kind of unity of consciousness and corporeality, is regarded as the substantiating instance, rather than the Transcendental Subject interpreted in its isolation from the world of real material objects, from the empirical corporeal individual and the community of other such egos. On this path, an attempt is made to establish the necessary dependences of knowledge and experience.
These approaches to understanding cognition. are a departure from transcendentalism. They do not, however, constitute a rejection of the interpretation of cognition as determined by the structure of individual consciousness. Consciousness is merely understood not as the “pure” consciousness of a “pure” individual ego but in its organic links with corporeality and its inclusion in the network of interactions with other subjects. The rejection of the all-too manifest subjectivism of the philosophical conceptions based on “pure” consciousness does not yet signify breaking away from idealism. This last circumstance pre-determines the untenability of those attempts to solve the problem of substantiation of knowledge which we shall here consider.
The interpretation of the subject outlined here is characteristic of the late works of Husserl. Opposing the everyday, pre-scientific and extra-scientific “life world” (Lebens-Welt) to the objectified world of mathematicised science, Husserl endeavours to prove that the scientific-theoretical attitude to life is derivative in its essential dimensions from the immediate, “life-oriented” attitude to the world which is characteristic of the Lebens-Welt.
At the same time, the philosopher believes, science has a tendency (and it is inalienably inherent in the scientific-theoretical form of cognition itself) to separate itself from the “life” sources, to forget about them, as it were, and to undertake constructions that are rooted in the “life world” and not in the pre-theoretical meaningful givennesses. This path, that is, the path of formalistic objectivism, inevitably leads cognition into cul-de-sacs, to paradoxes, to a crisis in its foundations, and this, in Husserl’s view, is characteristic of the whole of contemporary European science (these statements date from the 1930s). The only way towards substantiation of science (and the crisis of its foundations is at the same time the crisis of the whole of European culture), and towards substantiation of cognition in general, is through finding the real sources of science and recovering the thread that binds the latter to scientific-theoretical cognition. The conditional, restricted, and dependent nature of the scientific spirit of “pure objectiveness” will thus be demonstrated, depriving objectivism and scientism closely associated with it of the status of a universal worldview orientation. The immediate “life world” underlying all human modes of relation to reality, including scientific-theoretical cognition, is, in Husserl’s view, marked by a specific unity of the objective and the subjective, the source of unity lying in the subject, the unity itself being “centred” on the individual empirical ego.
Indeed, continues Husserl’s argument, what is given to the empirical subject in the first place is the subject itself as the individual ego with the consciousness and unique body inherent in it.
All the necessary relations of experience are determined precisely through the properties of the individual subject. It is well known, for instance, that objective experience implies the existence of a generally significant network of spatial relations which determines the mutual arrangement of material objects (let us recall that for Kant the forms of spatial dependences, as distinct from temporal ones, are mostly modes of expression of the objective nature of experience). But in what way is the spatial structure of experience formed? – asks Husserl.
The principal spatial meanings are “here” and “there.” “'Here’ is the place where I with my body am, or, to be more precise, it is my body. What is ‘there'? ‘There’ defines itself through ‘here’. If there is no ‘here’, there is no ‘there’. ‘There’ is ‘not-here’ that can become ‘here’. ‘There’ is understood as a potential ‘here’, it is understood in terms of ‘here’. ‘There’ defines itself relative to ‘here’, that is to my body. ‘There’ defines itself depending on the extent and the manner in which it is transformed into ‘here’. ‘There’ is ‘remote’ if it is hard to transform it into ‘here'; it is ‘close’ when it is easily transformed into ‘here’... What is, in concrete terms, the transformation of ‘not-here’ into ‘here’, that is, the attainment of ‘there'? ‘There’ is the place where not-my body is, or rather, it is not-my body. Therefore the transformation of ‘there’ into ‘here’, that is, the attainment of ‘there’, signifies the transformation of not-my body into mine, into a continuation of my body... The transformation of not-my body into a continuation of my body therefore means its transformation into my instrument. But the condition of transforming some body into my instrument is its transformation into a continuation of my body, that is, its attainment in the sense of my body’s simple contact with it. ‘Contact’ is here meant in the broadest sense of the word. Seeing with an eye constitutes a special kind of this contact.”
If we ignore this relation of “here” and “there” to the individual subject, any distinction between them will lose its meaning, states Husserl.
The relations between “in front” and “behind,” “on the right” and “on the left,” “higher” and “lower,” are defined in a similar way, that is, on the basis of the possibility of transformation of “there” into “here,” he believes.
“In front” is that which is before my face, “behind” that which is at my back and to which I must turn in order to attain it; “higher” is that which is above my head, “lower,” that which is under my feet, etc. If we ignore the relation of these differences to different parts of my body and the possibilities of attaining them, the differences themselves will disappear. If there were no differences between the parts of my body, there would be no differences between “in front” and “behind,” “on the right” and “on the left,” etc.
Further Husserl analyses the stages in the “objectification” of spatial relations, that is, the stages of abstracting them from those initial dependences of origin which connect them with the individual subject and the subjects body. One of these stages consists in transferring, as it were, the point of reference, that is, “here,” from my body to some other (which originally emerged as existing “there”), and in defining the spatial relations of other things, starting from the latter (which does not coincide with my own) e.g., we say that the river is not far from the house, that one object is to the right of another, etc. In this case we define the spatial relations between things regardless of our body, as it were, ignoring it. However, it is important to bear in mind, Husserl points out, that it only became possible because we tentatively identified ourselves, our body, with that body which we chose as the starting point of defining spatial relations, putting ourselves in imagination in place of that body, since for the bodies taken as such, that is, outside their relation to the subject with its body, there are no relations like “on the right” or “on the left,” “close” or “far,” etc. But that means, Husserl believes, that “objective” spatial relations between things are ultimately determined through my body, through me as the subject.
Further steps in the “objectification” of space involve the use of certain universal standards for measuring length, that is, of some special objects which are manufactured specifically for expressing the spatial relations between objects. In this case, we can know, through communication, even distances that we cannot observe directly. Using universal standards can consolidate the illusion of independence of the spatial relations of objects from the subject and its body. However, Husserl continues, the standard of measurement is not only chosen as such by the subject but is constituted in its spatial properties only through its relation to the subject’s body, that is, through the “here/there” relation.
The “objectiveness” of space, he explains, “does not lie in the independence of spatial meanings from the subject but in their equal repetitiveness. I can, in principle, repeat the position which I once assumed relative to a definite thing, and then the spatial meaning of the latter will be repeated. I can, in principle, repeat the position occupied by another subject relative to some thing, and then again the spatial meaning of the latter will be repeated. Objectiveness lies precisely in this repetition of meanings; it should be remembered, however, that repetition of meanings depends on the repetition of the positions of the subject.”
As we see, from Husserl’s viewpoint, “objectiveness” of space assumes the existence of other empirical subjects and my definite relation to these subjects. In general, the objectiveness of experience, Husserl indicates, implies its intersubjectivity, that is, its universal significance for all the other subjects.
But what does “another subject” mean?
Another subject, Husserl believes, is constituted in the same way as the spatial dependences of experience are constituted by their relation to me. Among the bodies surrounding me there are those that are similar to mine in the mode of their functioning. If I were at the place where such a body is, it might serve me and my conscious intentions. (Thus the subject is for Husserl not just a body of a special kind but a unity of consciousness and corporeality.) In this way, on the analogy with myself, the meaning of “another subject” is formed which, as distinct from myself, is not given me directly but is only constituted by myself.
The body of another subject, on the one hand, belongs to my world, for it is constituted by myself, while on the other hand it belongs to the world of that other subject. Therefore my world must coincide with his world. This world, common to ourselves and all the other subjects and having a meaning common to all, is the “objective” world. In other words, the objectiveness of the world consists, according to Husserl, in its universal significance, that is, in the universal meaning it has for any subject, rather than in its independence from the subject.
According to Husserl, scientific-theoretical cognition, concerned with finding and analysing invariants of various measurements, and later of invariants of these invariants, abstracts from the determination of the measurements by the nature of the standards chosen which, in their turn, are constituted by their relation to the individual subject with its body. Identifying the invariants established by science with the objective world, this mathematicised science interprets objectiveness as complete independence from any subject whatever. The fundamental fact is forgotten, Husserl believes, that the meaning of the objectiveness of the world is constituted by the subject and is determined relative to it and to its body. (The universal significance of the world, its intersubjectivity itself, ultimately depends on myself as the individual subject, Husserl states, for the other subject is also constituted by myself, in my experience.) Carried away by the ideal of falsely conceived objectivity, mathematicised science succumbs to the sin of scientism, inevitably ending in a crisis of its own foundations. The only way out of this crisis is establishment of the meaning of the individual subject as the centre of the universe – thus ends Husserl his discussion of this theme.
Let us try to analyse these arguments and see if they are well grounded. Husserl starts from the fact (which he regards as primary givenness) that the individual subject is given to itself with its consciousness and body. The primary spatial meaning of “here” is determined, in his view, by its connection with this subject. As for the meaning of “there,” which belongs to something that lies outside the subject and its body, it is, in Husserl’s opinion, constituted or defined depending on the meaning of “here,” namely as something that can become “here,” that can be attained by the subject coming into direct contact with its body. It is easy to show, however, that this analysis is inadequate even by the criteria of phenomenological description. The point is that “here” already subsumes “there,” these meanings being mutually dependent. It is true that “there” can be transformed into “here,” can become “here.” It is also true that “here” is “not-there.” In other words, the meaning of “here” implies the meaning of “there.” It is just as true that “here” is “there” from the standpoint of another subject or, generally speaking, from another reference point. If there is no dependence of this second kind for the subject, there is no meaning of “here” for it either. The “here/there” relation implies equal role of both of its poles.
Of course, the elementary “here/there” spatial relation includes a reference to the individual subject, for the “here” meaning has sense only for that subject. At the same time, the meaning of “here” includes from the beginning the fact that it is “there” from another viewpoint, from another position, while “there” is that which exists outside the subject and its body. Therefore the reference to the individual subject in the “here/there” relation does not mean constituting that relation as depending on the subject and its body but a realisation (with varying degrees of clarity) of the incorporation of the empirical subject in a certain network of objective spatial relations appearing for it at the given point as the meaning of “here.”
Husserl shows the dependence of the relations “above/below,” “in front/behind,” “on the left/on the right,” etc. on my body and differences between its parts. It can be conceded that these meanings have a certain anthropomorphic colouring, implying as they do a reference to the subject and the various parts of the subject’s body. However, the subject’s body itself exists as a special type of object for it only if it appears as included in an objective network of relations, including spatial relations, with other bodies, both material things and the bodies of other subjects. For me to realise the various parts of my body (including those which I do not see under ordinary conditions: face, head, back, etc.) as forming a certain unity, belonging to one and the same object, I must possess the faculty of perceiving my body from the outside, as it were, from the standpoint of another subject, that is to say, as spatially localised and existing in certain relations with other bodies. In other words, constituting the “in front/behind” and other meanings already assumes the existence for the subject of a definite network of elementary objective spatial relations and is merely superimposed on this network, so to speak, far from determining the latter, as Husserl insists.
In other words, the subject may conceive of itself as being in the place of some other object and take this other object. as a reference point for determining distance, e.g., for determining the “close/far” relations, only if it is simultaneously capable of conceiving of its body as replaceable by any other body as the determinant of spatial dependences.
Husserl points to the connection between the objectivity of space and the possibility of repeating the position taken up by the subject relative to a certain thing. But the conception of the possibility of repeating the subject’s spatial position already assumes the existence for the subject of an objective network of spatial relations that lends sense to the taking up of a certain position, just as it implies the objective meaning of the subject’s body and spatial localisation.
It is of course true that the introduction of universal standards or scales for measuring spatial relations and, later, the establishment of invariants of these relations at the stage of scientific-theoretical cognition, mark the discovery of increasingly more general dependences of the objective world, accompanied by abstraction from those connections which include in these dependences a certain empirical subject or group of such subjects (a socio-cultural community). A transition is necessary, however, to the study of more general types of dependences and not stages of “objectification” of the original, purely “subjective,” meanings, as Husserl would have it. Any experience, however direct and “life-like” it might be, always includes a distinction between my subjective stream of consciousness and the objective system of dependences between material objects, if it lays a claim to cognitive significance. Therefore, however great the differences between scientific-theoretical cognition and those forms of pre-theoretical relation to the world which Husserl calls the “life world” (and these differences undoubtedly do exist and are of fundamental significance in certain aspects), all kinds of the cognitive relation are inevitably aimed at the world of objects existing independently from consciousness, that is, they are inevitably guilty of the “sin of objectivism,” as Husserl puts it, which in the philosopher’s view predetermined the crisis of the foundation of modern European science.
The attempt to place the subject in the “centre” of the cosmos and to deduce the objectiveness of the world from the characteristics of the individual subject was not a success, for the subject proves to be included in a certain system of objective dependences from the very outset.
Let us consider yet another element of Husserl’s analysis. We may recall that the objectiveness of the world is, for Husserl, identical with its intersubjectivity, that is, universal significance of its meanings for any subject. The latter implies the existence of another subject, apart from myself. But this other subject is originally constituted by myself, that is, it exists as a definite product of my cognitive experience, it exists in my experience and is understood “on the analogy” of myself. That means that when Husserl takes up the standpoint of the other and starts cogitating about the body of this other subject, along with myself and my body, also existing in the experience of that other, it should be remembered that, in the framework of his philosophy, the other subject cannot in principle be equipollent with myself, being ultimately constituted by myself, whereas I with my body am given to myself directly and am the true starting point of constituting all the dependences of experience. And that means that the thesis of Husserl’s philosophy of the intersubjectivity and universal significance of the world actually proves to be fictitious, and that in the final analysis Husserl cannot escape from the circle of solipsism which he himself drew.
Any attempt to understand the specific features of knowledge is bound to take into account the fundamental facts – that the empirical subject is necessarily included or incorporated in the world of material objects existing independently of it and of its consciousness, and that the other subjects are not less real than myself, and cannot be regarded as products of my experience only.
There is a conception in modern Western philosophy which endeavours to take these fundamental facts into account within the scope of an originally interpreted phenomenology and at the same time to link up the fundamental traits of knowledge and of the cognitive relation with the specific characteristics of the individual empirical, subject. This attempt is undertaken by Jean-Paul Sartre, a prominent modern French phenomenologist and existentialist in his main philosophical work Being and Nothingness.
Let us point out from the beginning that epistemological problems, the question of substantiation of knowledge, are not the focal points of Sartre’s analysis, although he offers his solution of these questions. The relation between subject and object is considered in his works within the framework of a definite conception of consciousness and man. But Sartre’s interpretation of the relation between consciousness and knowledge is of interest for our discussion.
The starting point of his cogitations is recognition of the existence of two realities: of the objective material being which he refers to as Being In-Itself, and consciousness, or Being For-Itself. The former exists by itself and does not need the latter. The latter is, however, impossible without the former, for it has no content at all, is absolutely empty, transparent, open both to the external world and to itself, is, in a word, a “nothingness,” a “hole” in Being In-Itself, a hole which has no density at all and continually needs to be filled. However, precisely because consciousness is a kind of “gap” in material being, it is excluded, as it were, from the action of all the substantive connections and dependences, and is absolutely free. Consciousness is thus not just emptiness filled with content given from the outside but a being of a special kind, a centre of free activity.
The content provided by Being In-Itself does not determine the activity of consciousness but merely serves as a kind of pretext for it, a bridgehead for its unfolding. However, since this activity is not determined by content given from the outside and is at the same time devoid of its own inner content, it is essentially a negation of any sort of dependence. It is in negation that the freedom of consciousness is expressed, according to Sartre.
At the same time Sartre states that consciousness does not exist outside the material world, outside Being In-Itself. In his view, consciousness cannot be similar to Kant’s or Husserl’s Transcendental Subject, first, because it is included, as it were, in the world of material objects, though not being an object itself (Sartre criticises in this connection Husserl’s doctrine of transcendental reduction, of epoche), and second, because it factually, empirically exists in definite concrete situations and is connected with the body of a given empirical subject.
Moreover, in a certain sense consciousness, Being For-Itself, coincides with the body of the empirical subject and is indistinguishable from it. The reference here is to that aspect which, in Sartre’s view, specifically characterises the basic, original perception by the individual of his own body and which is fundamentally different from the way I and my body are perceived by another subject. In the primary, original experience, Sartre argues, I do not perceive myself as an object. The eye does not see itself. I do not see my face. I cannot conceive of myself as an object among other objects. Objects are something that exists outside myself and belongs to the material world, to Being In-Itself. However, I must receive certain sense perceptions from the movements of my own body. At any rate, that is what psychology says. The assertions of scientific psychology, Sartre says, proceed from the existence of my body as a material object among other objects, connecting my definite experiences with processes in my body understood in this way. But the essence of the matter is, according to Sartre, that the individual’s body is not given him in the basic primary experience as an object, and he therefore cannot in principle connect any processes in his consciousness with his body understood as an object (he cannot in principle localise any sense perceptions, e.g., the sensation of pain; he cannot associate his experiences with his own physical state, etc.). At the outset, the individual is given only the world of external material objects and himself as different from these objects, as consciousness, as Being For-Itself. To the extent in which experiences have a certain “density,” they pertain to external objects. For instance, if I sense resistance in acting upon an external object, the resistance itself is not perceived as connected with the action of my hand characterising my subjective experience, one that is “in me,” but as pertaining to the objective properties of the external objects and expressing their traits, in this case the measure of their resistance. Pain is not something localised in me either, but that which expresses the properties of some objects under definite circumstances. As for my body, in its primary and basic sense it, first, determines the factuality of my consciousness, that is, the concrete objective situation in which I find myself (in particular, it determines “where” exactly I am), and second, it functions as the possibility and the mode of the activity of my consciousness, of Being For-Itself, essentially coinciding with the latter.
Thus Sartre has an original conception of consciousness which does not coincide with the widely accepted one. Consciousness or Being For-Itself, writes Sartre, is not the same as the psyche or the subjective world characterised by certain processes, connections, dependences, complicated mechanisms, special types of relations between conscious and unconscious phenomena etc., a world that is the subject-matter of special studies in scientific psychology. Consciousness, Being For-Itself, is in principle apsychological. The emergence of a special subjective world is, according to Sartre, a consequence of objectification of consciousness and expresses a distorted conception of the basic and primary characteristics of Being For-Itself and at the same time the ontological fact of the degradation of consciousness itself.
As we see, far from relying on the assertions of scientific psychology, Sartre endeavours to prove the dubiety of some of its basic abstractions and assumptions. Like Husserl, he insists that phenomenological description does not imply any scientific results, and that it is science that has to reckon with the results of phenomenological analysis rather than vice versa. (Among other things, Sartre’s understanding of the world of material Being In-Itself does not coincide with the natural-scientific doctrine of matter, as we have had occasion to see above.)
Let us now consider the following important point of Sartre’s reasoning. That relation between Being In-Itself and Being For-Itself of which we spoke above is, for him, not only the basic and primary point but also an expression of the true essence of their relations, the essence which is under usual circumstances fenced off, put away, hidden, distorted by various circumstances. For this reason, for instance, when the subject is capable of localising the feeling of pain in some part of his body, when he scrutinises the world of his experiences and correlates them with the past and present events of his life, when he follows the development of his own thought and controls this process, in all these cases, says Sartre, the genuine characteristics of consciousness, of Being For-Itself, are distorted.
Consciousness as “nothingness” does not coincide with the psychical life of the empirical ego but underlies the latter, being hidden in its depth. (It is important to note that from Sartre’s standpoint the situation where consciousness proves to be something lying deeply in the foundation of the individual ego, of his psychical life, reveals the ontological fact of distorted expression of the true nature of consciousness. It is a question of the situation as it is, rather than of our distorted understanding, for consciousness has neither depth nor essence of any kind.) On the one hand, consciousness determines the entire course of the psychical life of the ego, the whole of the individual subjective biography, while on the other hand, it is not only different from that biography but is also distorted by it. At the same time consciousness, according to Sartre, is not the Transcendental Ego in the sense of Husserl, either: first, because it is factual and not transcendental, coinciding as it does with the subject’s body understood in a certain manner; second, any ego, including the Transcendental Ego, has a certain inner definiteness, density, certain content. Consciousness is entirely devoid of such content, it is absolutely empty. Therefore it is not the ego, concludes Sartre.
Ordinary subjective life necessarily assumes reflection. Reflection is only possible on condition that its object exists and catches the subject’s inner eye. True consciousness, Being For-Itself, Sartre believes, is absolutely transparent, it is a complete vacuum which the inner eye pierces without stopping anywhere or being reflected by anything. Therefore self-consciousness, the relation of the subject to itself which is characteristic of consciousness (and this relation is continually realised, Sartre believes, for consciousness clearly distinguishes itself from the outset from the world of things-in-themselves) is not reflection. Consciousness is in principle pre-reflexive, in Sartre’s view.
Reflection emerges together with its object, the ego, and in a certain sense produces the object itself. Sartre points out the important fact which also played a fundamental role in the philosophical system of Fichte and which we shall later analyse on the positive plane. The fact is that individual reflection aimed at consciousness does not simply find before itself a ready-made object in the shape of the ego and its states but, being an activity of a certain kind, acts on its object, changes it, reconstructs and in a certain sense creates it.
For Fichte, this positing of oneself as the Absolute Subject in the form of one’s own object was the kind of determination of the indeterminate which was not only involved in the shaping of the ego and the contrapositing of ego to non-ego but which also revealed the inner essence of the Absolute Subject. For Sartre, the positing of the ego as the object of reflection and the coming of the latter on the scene does not in any way reveal the nature of consciousness. Moreover, Sartre believes that at the stage of reflection the purity of consciousness is distorted and consciousness itself degraded. At the same time, according to Sartre (and here there is another difference between him and Fichte), there is no Transcendental or Absolute Ego, the ego can only be empirical, expressing as it does the unique traits of the given individual person distinguishing him from all the other egos. Let us note that consciousness, Being For-Itself, is, according to Sartre, also individual in a sense, so that different empirical subjects have different consciousnesses. However , if the ego expresses a certain density, a unity of an individual biography, and the subject’s personal traits, consciousness or Being For-Itself is in itself empty and impersonal. Therefore different consciousnesses differ from each other merely as different centres of free activity, as structureless points of activity included in different factual situations. Of course, in our experience we distinguish between consciousnesses on the basis of their connections with different individual egos. But this differentiation does not characterise the metaphysical distinctions between consciousnesses, so to speak.
Thus, according to Sartre, the ego as an expression of the unity of the subject’s psychical life does not express the essence of consciousness and even distorts it, to a certain extent. The ego may be said to be “invented” by the subject – with the essential reservation that this “invention” is realised in constant contacts and communication with other subjects. The positing of the ego is an attempt to introduce determinateness into the fundamentally indeterminate life of consciousness, to lend consciousness density and substantionality, making it its own object.
At the same time, according to Sartre, consciousness is continually inclined towards substantivisation, precisely because it is void and needs to be filled. However, it endeavours to fill itself, to acquire content, in such a way, as not to lose its primary faculty, that of the activity of free negation, the activity of desubstantivisation. In other words, consciousness endeavours to turn itself into a kind of synthesis between Being In-Itself and Being For-Itself, which is impossible because of the mutually exclusive characteristics of the two. Therefore the reification of self by consciousness, acquiring features of a certain ego, is accompanied by continual attempts to sublate that reification. This sublation, however, is not expressed in reverting to the purity and “contentlessness” of true Being For-Itself but in constant positing of ever new definitenesses of consciousness as a succession of the characteristics of the ego inherent in it. Man’s personality is something subject to changes. The ego is not equal to itself, argues Sartre against the formula of Descartes, Kant, and Fichte. Inasmuch as consciousness cannot acquire any final objective image in the shape of a certain ego, one cannot say what it is. Consciousness is that which it is not, and it is not that which it is, asserts Sartre.
Sartre therefore separates in principle the cognitive relation which implies the existence of the object, from the act of self-consciousness pertaining to being that is in principle unobjectifiable, Being For-Itself. We remember that Kant also separates cognition, the relation of the subject to the object, from self-consciousness, the relation of the Transcendental Subject to itself, insisting that the latter is not given in experience and therefore cannot be an object of knowledge. However, for Kant the Transcendental Subject exists as an otherworldly, transcendental entity, as a thing-in-itself, which, although it is not an object of knowledge, can still be conceived of. For Sartre, consciousness, Being For-Itself, does not know itself, cannot be the object of its own cognition precisely for the reason that it has no essence and is devoid of any depth.
For the present, we shall put off the analysis of Sartre’s understanding of the external world, concentrating now on Sartre’s interpretation of the process of self-cognition, of reflection. Reflection is, in Sartre’s view, to some extent fictitious, for it is incapable of grasping the true nature of consciousness. This fictitiousness does not mean, however, that it has no object of its own or that it does not express its specific features. Such an object is always present: that is the individual ego, and reflection is adequate to that object (Sartre criticises in this connection the doctrine of the unconscious in its Freudian version). The point, however, is that the object (the ego and its states) emerges together with reflection, is its result, and does not express the true nature of consciousness. (Sartre critically assesses both introspective psychology and Husserlian phenomenological psychology.)
How does reflection emerge? It appears as a result of a relation to another subject. The given individual consciousness by itself, outside a relation to other consciousnesses, is incapable of generating reflection, insists Sartre in opposition to the philosophical tradition represented by Descartes, Kant, Fichte, and Husserl, and one has to admit that he is much closer to the truth at this point than the tradition.
The other subject, Sartre believes, is just as real as myself, and cannot be regarded as simply the result of my constitutive activity, contrary to what Husserl thought. At the same time, according to Sartre, my conviction in the existence of another consciousness is by no means based on cognition (no cognitive procedures will ever convincingly prove the existence of somebody else’s consciousness, Sartre affirms), but is a kind of primary ontological givenness, of the same type as the givenness of the external objective world to our consciousness. However, what is directly given to me is the existence of somebody else’s consciousness itself but not the possibility of penetrating that consciousness. Different consciousnesses are in principle separated and cannot merge with one another. Besides, the other consciousness is given in my experience as connected with the body of another subject. This body appears as a material object localised in space and adjacent to and interacting with other material objects. Though cognition of external actions, the reactions of this other subject’s body conditioned by external stimuli, as well as of the nervous processes taking place in this body, does have some meaning, it does not at all characterise, Sartre believes, the free consciousness of the other subject which actually underlies all its actions. (Sartre adds a critique of psychological behaviourism to the critique of introspective psychology.)
Thus the body of another subject appears in my experience as an object of a special kind, as it does not appear to the other subject itself, just as my body is not originally an object for me, being merged with my own consciousness. It is precisely the fact that another consciousness appears in my experience as inseparably linked with an object of a special kind, the body of another subject, that compels me to treat the other subject generally as an object of a special kind, unique in its physical and psychological characteristics, and to “insert” the conscious processes “in” that body, that is, to constitute a special “world of the subjective life of consciousness,” a world of psychical processes existing in definite relations with the material corporeal processes. At the same time the relation to the other person compels me to recognise myself as “another” for that other subject (that recognition is attained in the process of communication with the latter) and to ascribe myself all the characteristics which the latter has in my experience. And that means that consciousness begins to treat itself in the same way as another treats it, that is, as a subject possessing a body in the shape of a material object localised in space and endowed with psychical experiences placed “within” that body. The subject comes to distinguish these experiences and their course from the course of the objective processes of the external world, positing the unity of its psychical life as a special object, the ego. The objectification, the reification of self as a person, as the ego, thus implies the other person’s view, a view of self from the outside, from the standpoint of the possible “another.” It is in this connection that reflection emerges, being, according to Sartre, the product of communication with other subjects.
The process of objectification of consciousness, of transforming it into the ego as the object of another consciousness, and later of the subject itself, goes through several stages. At one of them consciousness merely feels itself the object of another subject but does not fully know itself in this capacity. This happens when the given Being For-Itself feels itself the object of scrutiny on the part of another (the problem of “scrutiny” has an important ontological meaning in Sartre’s philosophy). Only as a result of communication with another can consciousness, through language, objectify itself to the end and generate reflection. The individual subject, therefore, which sees itself in the mirror and is at the same time deprived of the ,possibility of communication, cannot in principle recognise itself in the mirror image (this image merely appears to it as a strange play of external objects), for it does not exist for itself as an object outside of communication with others.
For Sartre, objectification of consciousness through a relation to another is an indication of the ontological degradation of Being For-Itself.
My ego does not express my true nature, Sartre believes. Although consciousness internally gravitates towards objectification, although it performs this objectification itself and is responsible for it, it appears as something imposed by the external relation to other consciousnesses, by the process of communication. The relation to another does not follow logically from the nature of Being For-Itself. That other consciousnesses apart from my own exist is a real and fundamental fact, but it is metaphysically accidental. A situation is conceivable in which my consciousness would exist in solitude, Sartre believes. I do not know myself, for my reflection pertains only to the external integument of my consciousness, an integument existing as the ego. At the same time I have, in principle, an access to my consciousness and a capacity for directly grasping it in the form of a non-objectifying pre-reflective act of self-consciousness. As for the other, according to Sartre, I do not know his true depth, for I deal only with his external visage, but moreover, unlike in my own case, I have no possibility at all to penetrate his consciousness from the inside, for, to perform that feat, I must be in his place, whereas different consciousnesses are individual, they are metaphysically distinct. The other is given in my experience as an expression of a certain individual consciousness which is just as real as my own. At the same time I can grasp or comprehend the other only as a body, as a material object endowed with the psyche, Sartre insists; the conditions of the problem predetermine in this case the impossibility of solving it. Meanwhile, the tendency of Being For-Itself towards substantivisation, towards meaningful filling is also necessarily connected with the desire for merging or fusing with another consciousness. The impossibility of the latter predetermines the tragedy of individual existence.
Now, what about the cognition of the external world, of Being In-Itself; how does Sartre solve the problem of substantiation of knowledge?
The world of objective material things pertaining to Being In-Itself is given to consciousness directly, he believes. In terms of content, the cognitive or subject-object relation is entirely determined by the external object, for consciousness by itself is empty. Only “nothingness” separates it from the world of external objectiveness. However, this distinction between cognition and the external world is at the same time fundamental for it means that consciousness, being a “nothingness,” can never simply merge with the world of objects or merely absorb their content. The cognitive relation of consciousness to material being necessarily includes the element of negation that is inherent in consciousness. This negative activity of consciousness coincides, according to Sartre, with the primary, basic characteristics of time. The objective spatial relations of material objects inherent in Being In-Itself necessarily appear in the cognitive process in the forms of time, so that time itself, which originally coincided with Being For-Itself, is “spacified” acquiring the characteristics of objectiveness. The interaction of the spatial and temporal features of experience produces various forms of the necessary structural organisation of knowledge (types of causal dependence, constancy of the objects of knowledge relative to the flow of time, etc.). It is these fundamental features of the cognitive relation that underlie any knowledge, including scientific knowledge. To find out the invariant characteristics of experience, science constructs a certain system of abstract or ideal objects. But these objects are, according to Sartre, essentially fictitious, being in themselves devoid of content and performing a purely pragmatic function. The meaning of scientific-theoretical knowledge is determined by the primary cognitive relation of consciousness to Being In-Itself, although science itself forgets about it, claiming to discover the hidden essence of things that is not immediately given in primary cognitive experience.
As we see, Sartre endeavours, in the final analysis, to deduce the fundamental properties of knowledge from the specific characteristics of individual consciousness and its relation to the world of objects.
In Sartre’s view, however, scientific-theoretical cognition does not know the true properties of Being In-Itself, dealing merely with abstract invariant relations between objects.
The primordial, pre-scientific and pre-theoretical relation of consciousness to Being In-Itself grasps the characteristics of the objects themselves, but no cognitive act may be directed at consciousness and its relations, including cognitive ones, since consciousness is in principle unobjectifiable. That means, according to Sartre, that the problem of substantiation of knowledge cannot be the object of theoretical inquiry, that is to say, epistemology in the traditional sense of the term is impossible. The primary specific properties of knowledge are not found through cognitive research of a special kind of objects but comprehended through phenomenological non-objectifying insights into consciousness and its relations with Being In-Itself .
Speaking more precisely, however, the establishment of the dependence of the fundamental characteristics of cognition and knowledge on the features of consciousness does not, according to Sartre, solve the problem of substantiation even if this solution is to be sought for on the path of phenomenological insight and not of cognitive research. Indeed, in his view consciousness is devoid of essence or depth. It therefore has no foundation and cannot serve as a foundation for anything whatever. In general, the problem of substantiation of anything (knowledge, values, norms of activity, etc.), Sartre insists, only emerges at the level of “human reality,” expressing the vain tendency of Being For-Itself to “take root” in something, to acquire density, substantiality, self-confidence. This problem is insoluble, Sartre believes, because of the fundamental properties of Being For-Itself. For this reason, the fundamental structural characteristics of knowledge do not express substantiation of knowledge by something but rather “absence of its substantiation,” that is, the important fact that, being conditioned in its content by the world of external objects, knowledge is at the same time a relation of consciousness, that is, it is “suspended from nothingness,” as it were, hanging in a vacuum. The necessary connections of cognitive experience always express, in one way or another, the temporal flow of events, while time directly characterises consciousness and its intrinsic negativeness.
The fact that Sartre rejects the problem of substantiation of knowledge and, in general, epistemological inquiry in its traditional form, does not mean that he regards theoretical analysis of cognition as impossible. On the contrary, his conception does not exclude such an analysis (directed, e.g., at establishing the logical structure of knowledge, the mechanisms of its origin, various methods of theoretical investigation, the modes of verification of knowledge, etc.). Sartre merely insists on the impossibility of theoretical, cognitive investigation of the very essence of the cognitive relation, of the fundamental meaningful characteristics of knowledge, of the problem of substantiation of knowledge, that is, of those problems which have always been the concern of epistemology as a philosophical discipline. Those problems of cognition and knowledge which are not philosophical. in nature can be, according to Sartre, the subject-matter of specialised scientific investigation.
Let us now consider more closely Sartre’s conception of the interrelations between subject and object.
Sartre proceeds from the immediate givenness of consciousness to itself in the act of non-objectifying self-consciousness. Even before it reifies itself as the ego, before it is included in relations with other consciousnesses, before the act of elementary reflection emerges, consciousness already distinguishes itself from the world of external objects, elementary cognitive experience being expressed in the intentional orientation at the latter. As this starting point of Sartre’s analysis lacks substantiation, his conception as a whole proves to be basically defective.
We have no grounds for distinguishing self-consciousness pertaining to “pure,” non-objectified consciousness, from ordinary reflection aimed at the individual ego as an object. In any case, the experience of the consciousness of an adult gives no grounds for this differentiation. (The facts of the development of the child’s psyche will be discussed somewhat later.) Moreover, the very emergence of consciousness as a unified centre of psychic life, as a certain individuality distinguishing it from other consciousnesses, implies that its states are related to the activity of a certain object that is my body (though not identified with this activity). The very differentiation between consciousnesses, the possibility of their individuation, assumes their correlation with the bodies of different subjects included in objective relations with other things.
Sartre agrees that distinguishing myself as the ego from the others implies a relation to myself as an object of a special kind connected with other material objects and other egos appearing before me as other objects. In his view, however, the true individuality of my consciousness is not expressed in the ego but in the very fact of the existence of a pure structureless point – Being For-Itself.
But pure consciousness as something absolutely empty and contentless indeed proves to be “nothingness,” though not in the sense of Sartre, who not only ascribes absolute emptiness to consciousness but interprets it at the same time as a special kind of being, as a metaphysical reality, as a centre of activity: it proves to be “nothingness” in the sense of absolute fiction. Structureless and contentless consciousness devoid of any properties or qualities cannot in principle be individualised. Consciousnesses interpreted as “nothingness” must merge, they must be “glued together.” But in this case Sartre’s fundamental philosophical premise falls – the assumption of uniqueness of separate consciousnesses, of the impossibility of one consciousness penetrating another.
Let us consider in this connection the development of child psychology, which provides additional arguments for a critical evaluation of Sartre’s conception.
As we have seen, consciousness distinguishing itself from the external world is, according to Sartre, the starting point of experience which does not assume a relation of consciousness to other persons and their consciousnesses. But there are grounds to believe (and psychological data confirm this opinion) that the individual who does not treat himself as an object of a special kind included, on the one hand, in the world of material objects and, on the other, in the world of interpersonal relations, does not possess consciousness and self-consciousness, that is, simply does not distinguish himself from the rest of reality. But that means also that cognitive experience itself is not in this case fully endowed with the features of unity and continuity which Kant believed, with every justification, to be indications of its objectiveness.
Indeed, objectiveness of experience implies that the subject is at least capable of distinguishing those of its features which are produced by the action of the external objects themselves from those which are caused by the subject, that is, those which are conditioned, on the one hand, by changes of its position relative to certain objects (its movement, changes in viewpoint, the perspective of perception, etc.), and on the other hand, by changes in the states of consciousness. But the existence of this faculty in the subject means that he can conceive of himself as a special object possessing consciousness, that is, he can perform an act of elementary self-cognition. It also means that to the extent in which self-consciousness and self-cognition are absent in the subject (and there are no grounds for distinguishing between them, as we have endeavoured to show), cognitive experience cannot retain its unity and continuity, that is, it cannot be viewed as fully objective.
Jean Piaget, whose works on the psychology of intellectual development and genetic epistemology were discussed in the first chapter, singles out different stages in the development of the child’s cognitive structure on the basis of the results of experimental studies. At the beginning, at the stage of the so-called sensori-motor intellect, the child is absolutely unconscious of itself as an object and, consequently, as a subject. For this reason the objects surrounding him do not retain in his experience their constant relation to one another and their own constant characteristics independent of the flow of experience itself (such as size, volume, weight, etc.).
The object disappearing from the perception field (e.g., when the child looks away or when one object obstructs the view of another) does not exist for the child, it “disappears absolutely,” as it were. Cognitive experience is thus discontinuous. Grown-ups are perceived by the child as merely particularly active objects, sources of pleasure and punishment.
This stage in the development of cognitive structures recorded in Piaget’s studies has, as we see, certain similarities with the initial experience of which Sartre writes. The latter also stresses that initially consciousness does not realise itself as an object, neither is it aware of its body as an object and cannot therefore constitute a special subjective world of consciousness distinct from the objective connections between objects given in experience: it cannot, for instance, localise the sensations coming from the various parts of its own body but merges as it were with the latter. However, there is a fundamental difference between the views of Piaget and Sartre in the interpretation of that experience. As opposed to Sartre, Piaget insists that at the first stages of intellectual development the subject is incapable of perceiving himself reflexively, so that his consciousness does not exist either objectively or subjectively. That means that not only the difference between the subject’s consciousness and his body is non-existent for the subject (that fact is also recognised by Sartre), but neither is its difference from the world of external objects (which Sartre does not recognise). At the first stages of intellectual development, the subject merges, as it were, with the world of external objects in his own experience. It is for this reason that the objects of experience do not appear here as things yet, that is, as something different from the subject (whereas for Sartre Being In-Itself is immediately given to consciousness as the world of objects).
Another important circumstance should be noted. For Sartre, the initial cognitive experience underlies the entire subsequent development of cognition determining the content and meaning of all the types, kinds, and structures of knowledge including scientific-theoretical knowledge. But Piaget shows that the development of cognition in individual psychical evolution implies complete restructuring of the intellectual mechanisms which took shape at the first stages; thus it absolutely cannot be understood from the latter alone.
At the same time it would be quite wrong to interpret the characteristics of the initial stages of intellectual development established by Piaget as a kind of “experimental confirmation” of the proposition of philosophical subjectivism that what is given to the subject initially is the subject himself and the states of his consciousness, and not the world of objective things. The subject is from the very beginning of the development of the psyche objectively included in definite relations with external objects and other men. Although subjectively these things do not initially appear before him as objects, and other persons M subjects, only a knowledge of the development mechanisms of these objective relations, in which man is included immediately after birth, enables one to explain the development of consciousness. As for the form in which the subject perceives the objective relations indicated here, its knowledge cannot by itself explain the nature of the successive changes of the cognitive structures. On the contrary, the subjective form itself can and must be explained from the system of objective relations. Finally let us point out that at the initial stages of intellectual development the subject is not given either the world of objects or the subject himself, the states of his consciousness. Therefore that picture of the initial cognitive relation which philosophical subjectivism outlines is completely at variance with the actual data of cognitive experience.
Piaget shows that the development of cognitive structures from non-reversible to reversible intellectual operations (see Chapter 1) includes a change in the child’s psychological relations with adults. At the initial stage these structures are “centred,” that is, they offer no possibility for distinguishing between the immediately given standpoint and the objective relations of things. “Centring” necessarily implies also that imitation of the adult, who appears as an absolute authority, is the main mechanism of the child’s involvement in socio-cultural experience. The stages of cognitive development characterise the phases of consecutive “de-centring” of the intellectual structures, that is, achieving the view of oneself from the outside, as it were. But simultaneously that means a change towards complete reversibility of relations with adults. In other words, the child begins to treat the adult as in principle his equal, as another subject. The adult’s authoritarian pressure gives way to intellectual exchange and cognitive cooperation. It therefore becomes possible for the child to treat himself fully as an ego, that is, a being like any other.
Thus what Piaget calls complete reversibility of intellectual operations necessarily includes the subject’s reflexive relation to himself.
The fundamental features of the emergence of individual reflection were formulated on the philosophical plane by Marx: “In a sort of way, it is with man as with commodities. Since he comes into the world neither with a looking glass in his hand, nor as a Fichtean philosopher, to whom ‘I am P is sufficient, man first sees and recognises himself in other men. Peter only establishes his own identity as a man by first comparing himself with Paul as being of like kind. And thereby Paul, just as he stands in his Pauline personality, becomes to Peter the type of the genus homo.”
Thus the subject’s relation to himself as the ego is necessarily mediated by his relation to another. Reflection is not born as a result of the inner needs of “pure,” isolated consciousness, as Descartes, Fichte, and Husserl believed, but in interpersonal relations, as a complex product of the development of a system of communications. At the same time it would be wrong to interpret the words of Marx quoted above in the sense that the individual first recognises the other as a subject, another ego, and only after that begins to treat himself as a subject, on the analogy of that other. In actual fact there is mediation of dual kind: the individual not only perceives himself on the analogy with the other – he perceives, at the same time, the other on the analogy with himself. In other words, the ego and another ego emerge simultaneously and necessarily presuppose one another. This fact is, by the way, clearly recorded in Piaget’s studies.
Let us emphasise that we use in this context only experimental facts obtained by Piaget, and certain concrete psychological generalisations. As for the general epistemological and psychological conception of that author, according to which the development of intellectual operational structures is determined by inner, “spontaneous” maturing of the subject’s schemes of activity, its substantive critique was given in the first chapter.
Let us also note that the theory of gradual “de-centring” of the cognitive structures developed in Piaget’s latest works must not be confused with his early propositions concerning the overcoming of the child’s initial intellectual “egocentrism” in the course of development. We know that the thesis about “egocentrism” was sharply criticised by the Soviet psychologist L. S. Vygotsky. He correctly reproached Piaget for choosing wrongly the starting point of the investigation: the individual only gradually becomes involved in the system of social relations, essentially modifying his cognitive instruments in the process. Vygotsky insisted that no such independence of the individual in his original state from society and his subsequent socialisation existed at all.
Piaget now recognises the correctness of much of Vygotsky’s criticism. All three stages in intellectual development, Piaget insists, are stages in the process of socialisation: “..Human intelligence is affected by the action of social life on all levels of development, from the first day of life to the last.” The whole point, however, is, Piaget believes, that the influence of society varies at different stages of intellectual development. The stages in the process of “de-centring” characterise only the phases in the gradual sublation of the primacy of the direct viewpoint incapable of changing the given cognitive perspective. The early stages in intellectual development are better referred to as “centrism” rather than “egocentrism,” Piaget points out. This change in Piaget’s position on a number of questions, although it makes his conception more sophisticated, permitting a more precise description of some facts, particularly those which interest us most of all in this section, does not of course signify any radical reorientation of his philosophical and psychological theory as a whole.
Mutual assimilation apparently begins with identification of the subjects’ actions. In insisting that the attitude to self as an object is alien to the very nature of consciousness, Sartre, as we remember, pointed out that in the initial cognitive experience man does not perceive even his own body as an object: the eye does not see itself, man cannot look at his own face, etc. But Sartre fails to see that there are parts of the body which are simultaneously perceived both “from within” as something belonging to the given being, and “from without” as objects incorporated in the world of material objects. These are the organs with which I perform actions with things and which enable me to move in the object world – my hands and my legs. Outwardly, they look just as the corresponding parts of another man’s body. In the course of joint activity of one person with others (in the first place, of an adult and child), the actions of different individuals are apparently identified and then individuals as wholes are mutually likened, that is, the ego and another ego take shape simultaneously.
What we have said here about the mutual mediation of my attitude to myself and to the other does not entail my self-consciousness and my cognition of another person being in principle identical. Indeed, individual reflection implies the view of oneself from the standpoint of another, as it were. At the same time I always know something about myself which is not directly accessible to the other: I have perceptions, experiences, memories that are only given to the act of my reflection and can be concealed from everybody else (I can, for instance, even conceal pain). Thus I have direct “inner access” to the states of my consciousness. This important real fact was recorded and philosophically interpreted by the adherents of subjectivist and transcendentalist philosophical conceptions. Indeed, I can only judge of the subjective states of another in an indirect way – either by observing his actions or receiving his own information about himself. In either case the possibility of error or deceit is not ruled out. It is important to note, however, that the very nature of self-consciousness, of individual reflection, is such that its emergence necessarily implies a fundamental likeness between what I perceive in myself “from within” and that which is or may be perceived by another subject within himself. Of course, that other may conceal from me certain states of his consciousness, just as I can do with my consciousness. That does not, however, exclude the fundamental identity of the mechanisms of our psychical life, while the actual process of communication assumes as a premise of its success the attainment of mutual understanding in most cases. My subjective states are directly given me in the act of self-consciousness, in a way in which they cannot be given to another, but I realise them in forms which are not my personal property but are inter-individual in nature. In other words, the act of subjective reflection presupposes, on the one hand, an object which is directly accessible to me only (my subjective states), and on the other, such instruments of cognitive fixation of this object which subsume “any other” person (i.e., that which would be realised by that other if he had a direct access to the states of my consciousness).
Thus Sartre’s proposition that there is no access to the consciousness of another subject is at variance with the actual data of interpersonal communication, expressing, in fact, the thesis of “pluralistic individualism”: according to Sartre, a multitude of consciousnesses exists, each of them closed in itself and incapable in principle of penetrating the others.
Thus cognitive experience which has the characteristics of objectiveness, that is, experience assuming the subjects conscious relation to the world of objects, necessarily includes the subject’s reflective relation to himself and distinguishing his own body from all the other objects, as well as differentiation between changes in the state of consciousness and the objective changes in the world of things. The subjective experience expressed in the act of self-consciousness and self-cognition is different from the objective experience pertaining to the world of external objects. But these are not simply two series of experience existing independently from each other and following parallel paths, as it were. As we have tried to show, both of these series presuppose and mediate one another. Subjective experience only becomes possible as a result of a relation to oneself as an object included in the network of objective relations with things and other persons. In their turn, the external things emerge before the subject as a world of objects independent of him and of his consciousness only when the first elementary act of self-consciousness appears.
The subject realises not only his inclusion in an objective network of relations but also the uniqueness of his own position in the world. The latter manifests itself, first, in his body occupying a place in the system of spatio-temporal connections which is not taken up by any other subject, and second, in the fact that only he has “inner access” to his own subjective states. The objective fact of the uniqueness of this position, just as the subjective realisation of this fact, is assumed by the very structure of experiential knowledge (any attempt to apply theoretical knowledge to the description of the data of experience also assumes this fact). As we have seen, however, this circumstance has nothing to do with “centring” the world around the individual subject, a thesis which Husserl endeavoured to substantiate in his later works.
Let us note in this connection that some epistemological conceptions of the empiricist variety current in modern bourgeois philosophy, criticising the Cartesian thesis (“I exist” as the supreme substantiation of any knowledge), often deny any serious cognitive significance to the act of individual self-consciousness. Thus A. J. Ayer insists that the proposition “I exist” does not in fact say anything about me, being devoid of any content, it does not identify me with any object (Ayer stresses in this respect that this assertion is different from the statement that there exists a person of such and such a sort). The utterance “I exist,” the English empiricist believes, may be likened to simply pointing to an individual object without words. This pointing, as we know, does not carry any information. Besides, he believes. that there can be knowledge that is not accompanied by self-consciousness.
But self-consciousness, as we have endeavoured to show, is impossible without reference to oneself as a definite object possessing specific unique characteristics and included in a network of objective relations. The act of individual self-consciousness itself can only emerge due to the existence of certain meaningful dependences of experience (subjectively one may not, of course, be immediately aware of all these dependences, but implicitly they are always present). The relation to oneself as the ego thus includes a whole system of connections of knowledge. Descartes, Fichte and Husserl were therefore right in asserting that the act of self-consciousness and reflection implicitly assumes the fundamental characteristics of knowledge. Their error lay elsewhere: in the attempt to interpret the specificity of knowledge and of the cognitive process by analysing the act of reflection, a “pure” self-conscious ego. The real dependence is directly the reverse: the emergence of the ego and of its self-consciousness and reflection must be understood as a result of the formation of cognitive experience, as a consequence of the development of definite objective relations of the given subject to the world of material objects and other persons.
The fundamental error of transcendentalism and subjectivism lies in their assumption that knowledge of one’s own existence is more indubitable than knowledge of the existence of the external world. In reality, the most elementary act of self-consciousness always implies recognition of the world of external objects independent of consciousness and connected by stable relations.
Thus the attempts to substantiate knowledge undertaken within the framework of philosophical subjectivism, and to interpret cognition as determined by the structure of individual consciousness, could not in principle be successful.
That does not mean that the adherents of the conceptions considered in this chapter have not established any real facts about the cognitive relations of subject and object. In our critical analysis we have pointed to the most important of these facts. Summing up what has been said in this chapter, we can say that philosophical subjectivists exploit for their purposes, first, the specificity of the nature and functioning of the subject’s consciousness (the existence of direct “inner access” to the states of one’s consciousness, self-consciousness as the necessary feature of the objectiveness of experience, etc.) and, second, the normative characteristics existing in any knowledge.
Idealistic juggling with these facts of cognition and with the real problems arising in epistemological research makes an adequate interpretation of the cognitive relation impossible. Philosophical subjectivists inevitably find themselves in blind alleys because of the very mode of specifying the initial cognitive relation between subject and object. Understanding the fundamental properties of knowledge and cognition assumes an essentially different interpretation of the subject-object connections.
We have not analysed here the conceptions of cognition developed in the framework of objective-idealistic systems. As is well known, the most thorough investigation of the problem of cognition in the spirit of objective idealism is to be found in the philosophy of Hegel, who succeeded in establishing a number of important aspects of the cognitive relation and in revealing many elements of the dialectics of the cognizing subject and the cognized object. At the same time Hegel, being an idealist, thoroughly mystified the essence of the matter. Hegelian philosophy does not view cognition as determined by the features of individual consciousness but as an expression of the specific mode of existence of the Absolute Spirit embodied, in particular, in the objective forms of human culture. Because of the nature of the real problems exploited by the Hegelian conception of cognition, we shall criticise the latter in the second part of the monograph, in direct connection with a positive analysis of the problem.
In our critical analysis of Sartre’s conception of consciousness and knowledge we came to recognise the important role played in the cognition of an external object by the relation of the individual subject to other persons and to culture created by them and embodied in objects. A solution to the problems with which we are concerned should be sought for in the framework of an interpretation of the subject and objects which can take these fundamental facts into account. Such a solution of this problem is possible in the framework of the Marxist-Leninist approach to cognition as the socially mediated and historically developing activity of reflection.