A. It is held that a certain system of consciousness exists for each rational being as soon as this being itself exists. Can that, which this consciousness contains, be presupposed in every human being?
R. Undoubtedly; your very description of that consciousness involves that it is common to all men.
A. Is it also to be presupposed that every person is able to form a correct judgment of objects by means of that consciousness, and to draw conclusions from the one as to the other without falling into error?
R. Clearly enough, provided he has but practised to some extent the faculty of judging which belongs to that system, and which is inborn in all men. Nay, it is no more than fair to assume, until the contrary is proved, that each one has thus moderately developed that faculty.
A. But that which is not included in this universal system, common to all men, and given to them as their heritage, as it were; that which must first be produced by an arbitrary and free abstraction and reflection: is that also to be presupposed in every rational being?
R. Clearly not. Each one attains it only by freely realizing within himself that abstraction and reflection; and otherwise he does not attain it.
A. If, therefore, some person should venture to give his judgment upon the sufficiently described Ego, from which the Science of Knowledge takes its start, and should look for this Ego as a Given in common consciousness, could his judgment be received in the matter?
R. Decidedly not; for that of which you speak is not found in common consciousness, but first must be produced by free abstraction.
A. Again: the teacher of the Science of Knowledge, whose manner of proceeding we have become acquainted with, describes from this first link a continuous series of determinations of consciousness, wherein each preceding link connects with another, &c, &c. It is these links of his series, whereof he speaks and asserts. Now tell me, how can any one get from the first link to the second, from the second to the third, &c.?
R. According to your description only by actually constructing the first link internally within himself, and observing himself in this constructing to see whether or not a second link arises and what that second link may be; and then again constructing the second and observing whether a third link appears, &c. It is only in this contemplation of his constructing, that he receives the object, which is spoken of; and unless he so constructs, the object, which is spoken of, does not exist for him at all. So at least the matter would be according to your description, and this was undoubtedly the answer you intended me to give you.
But the following doubt occurs to me. This series, which the teacher describes, consists only of separate, particular determinations of consciousness. But the actual common consciousness, which belongs to each one without any Science of Knowledge, also contains a separate manifold. Hence if the former are the same as the latter and are separated and divided in the same manner, then the manifold of the Science of Knowledge is known from actual consciousness, and we do not need contemplation in order to get at it.
A. It suffices here, to tell you concisely and historically, that the separates of the Science of Knowledge and of actual consciousness are not at all the same, but utterly different. True, the separates of consciousness also occur in the Science of Knowledge, but only as its final deductions. But in the way of their deduction through our philosophical construction and contemplation there lie elements altogether different, and through the uniting whereof alone there first arises a separate totality of actual consciousness at all.
Let me give you an illustration. The Ego (I) of actual consciousness is certainly, also, a particular and separate Ego; it is a person amongst many persons, all of whom, each for himself, call themselves I, and our Science of Knowledge proceeds with its deduction to the consciousness of this very personality. But the Ego, from which the Science of Knowledge starts, is something quite different, is nothing but the identity of the subject and object of consciousness; and this abstraction can be reached only by removing whatsoever else the conception of personality involves. Those who assure us, that they cannot abstract from their individuality in the conception of the Ego are quite correct if they speak of their Ego as they find it in common consciousness; for in ordinary consciousness, in perception, the identity, which they do not cast their eye upon, and the individuality, which they exclusively attend to, are inseparably united. But if they have not even the general faculty to abstract from actual consciousness and its facts, then the Science of Knowledge has no claims upon them. In previous philosophical systems, all of which had a description of the same series of determinations of consciousness dimly in view, which the Science of Knowledge undertakes, and some of which systems did even hit them in part happily enough,—we meet some of these separates and names for them, as for instance: Substance, accidence, &c, &c. But, firstly, these words are not understood by any one, unless he has the contemplation of what they signify; for otherwise he gets merely empty words instead of what they stand for,—as indeed some senseless philosophers have actually considered these words to be things existing for themselves;—and secondly, the Science of Knowledge in rising to a higher abstraction than all those systems did, composes these separates from far simpler elements, and hence in a quite different manner; but finally those artificial conceptions which occur in previous systems are even partly incorrect.
Hence whatsoever the Science of Knowledge speaks of, exists absolutely in contemplation and for that science only, i.e. only for him who actually constructs that series; and without this condition it does not exist at all, as indeed without this constructing all the propositions of the Science of Knowledge are utterly without sense or significance.
R. Is this your serious opinion, and shall I take it strictly, without deducting for any exaggeration?
A. Certainly; I desire you to take it in full seriousness. I wish people would believe me, at least on this point.
R. But in that case only one of two things is possible in regard to the Science of Knowledge; it must be understood, or altogether not understood; must be correctly apprehended, or not at all apprehended. But by far the fewest are willing to confess that they do not understand you at all; they believe, that they understand you well enough, but see clearly, that you are in the wrong; whereupon you say, that they misunderstand you. Hence they certainly must make some sort of sense out of your words and expressions, and only not the sense which you intended. But how is this possible according to what you have just now said?
A. Because the Science of Knowledge had to begin with a collection of existing words in a language. If it had been possible for that science to begin, as no doubt it will end, by creating an altogether peculiar system of signs, representative only of its contemplations and the relations of those contemplations to each other, and signifying absolutely nothing but this, then it certainly could not have been misunderstood, but neither would it have been understood and passed from out of the mind of its originator into the minds of others. At present, however, it has to solve the difficult problem of leading others to contemplation by the use of confused words, which thoughts people have even recently attempted to elevate as judges over reason. Every one has hitherto thought something when hearing or reading a word, and now when he hears it again he quickly tries to recall what he did think when he heard this word before. Well, this is very proper. But unless he can rise above the words, which are merely as so many lines in geometry, and above their whole previous significance, to the subject-matter itself, or the contemplation, he will necessarily misunderstand even where he understands best; for that which is the all-important here, has hitherto neither been said, nor has it been characterized through words, nor can it be said; it can be only contemplated. The highest whereof word-explanation is capable, is a determined conception; and for that very reason the utterly false in the Science of Knowledge.
This science describes a continuous series of contemplation. Each successive link connects with and is determined through the preceding link; i.e. this very connection explains it and belongs to its characteristic; and only when contemplated in this connection is it contemplated correctly. The third link again is determined through the second, and since the second is determined through the first, the third is likewise mediately determined through the first, and so on until the end. All the previous explains the succeeding, and again all the succeeding further determines that which preceded. In an organic system, the links whereof connect not merely through sequence but through reciprocal determination, it cannot well be otherwise.
Now, I ask you, can any link of the Science of Knowledge be correctly comprehended, unless all the previous links have been correctly comprehended and are present in the comprehension of it?
A. Can any part of it be completely and thoroughly understood, unless the whole system has first been completely understood?
R. Not according to what you have said. Each point of the system can be understood only in its connection, and since each is connected with the whole, it can be completely understood only when the whole has been understood.
A. Of course, I mean each point in the actual science. For, the mere conception of that science, its nature, object and manner of proceeding, may be made known to others, although they are not in possession of the science itself, simply because the conception of that science is taken and deduced from the sphere of common consciousness. To learn to know this conception and to form a judgment of it, I have invited you, as a popular reader; whereas I should take good care not to invite you to a discussion of the system itself.
In the same manner, the final result of the system falls also within the sphere of common consciousness, and in regard to its deduction, likewise, each person can judge, not whether it has been correctly deduced, for about that he has no judgment, but whether it does occur in common consciousness.
Hence, the propositions and component parts of the Science of Knowledge do not lie within the sphere of common consciousness and within the judgment of ordinary common sense. They are produced only through freedom and abstraction, and are determined through their connection, and no one who has not undertaken this abstraction and construction, and who has not followed it to its final result, and cannot keep the whole constantly and firmly in mind, has the least judgment in matters of this description.
R. I clearly see that it is so. Each one who wants to have a judgment on this subject, must first invent for himself the whole system.
A. Assuredly. But since it appears that mankind has philosophized for thousands of years, and has, at various times, as can be clearly proved, been but one hair's breadth removed from the real point at issue, without hitting it, and thereby discovering the Science of Knowledge, and since it may thus be assumed, that the Science of Knowledge, if it should get lost now, would not be found very soon again, it may be advisable enough to make use of its present accidental discovery, by accepting for the present a description of its invention, and using this as an aid in reinventing it, precisely as is done in the science of Geometry, which it also, in all probability, took time enough to discover. People would thus study the Science of Knowledge, and study it until they had made it their own invention.
It is clear, therefore, is it not, that no one who does not prove by the fact, that he has himself invented the Science of Knowledge, or who is not conscious of having studied it long enough to have made it his own discovery, or—for this is the only possible alternative—who cannot establish by proof another system of intellectual contemplation, opposed to that of the Science of Knowledge—can have any judgment upon any proposition of this science, and if it should turn out to be the only possible philosophy, as it asserts itself to be, upon any philosophical proposition whatsoever?
R. Turn whichever way I please, I cannot deny that it is so. But, on the other hand, I cannot condemn the other philosophers for making a very unfriendly face at your proposition, to take them all again to school. They are all conscious of having studied their science as well as you have studied it; some of them, moreover, having passed for masters in it at a time when you were still studying its first rudiments. They presuppose and you yourself confess that you were first shaken out of the dreams of your mind partly by their writings, and at present, when the beards of some of them have grown gray, you tell them either to go to school under you, or to stop talking.
A. True, if they love anything in the world more than truth and science, their fate is a hard one. But there is no help for it. Being very conscious, as they are, that they have never even believed that they possess what we claim to, namely, an evident science, they cannot well help, however distasteful it may be to them, to examine once what there really is in our unheard of pretension. Do you know any other alternative for them, unless they choose to study the Science of Knowledge, than to keep silent, without waiting to be told so, and to take their exit from the scene?
R. Ah, but in that case—and I have already heard such a birdlet sing,—they will say that you are so extremely conceited as to ask others to despise themselves in comparison with you.
A. This is an invidious manner of getting out of it; but it does not better their case. I do not ask them to think little of the general talent and the knowledge which they have hitherto claimed actually to possess; on the contrary, I compliment the former, by inviting them to an explanation and examination of my science. That it is I who made the discovery, and not they, I ascribe to a happy chance and to the time in which I was born, but I do not in any manner consider it to be a personal merit of my own. But neither is the request that they should consider me and not themselves in possession of this invention, which they have never claimed to possess, and that they ought to listen to what I say about it, any more a presumption that they ought to hold themselves in contempt, than that I would think of despising myself, when I read their books on the presupposition that they may, after all, have thought something which I have not thought.
Each one who goes to be taught some science, presupposes that the teacher knows more about it than he does, for, otherwise, he would not go to be taught, and the teacher presupposes the same, or he would not assume to teach. But the former does not, on that account, hold himself in contempt, for he hopes to be able to comprehend the science quite as well as his teacher, and thus to comprehend it, is indeed his object.
R. But it cannot be known beforehand whether there really is something in your science or not, and whether it is really worth the difficult and persistent study which you require of them. They have been so often deceived by the promises of great wisdom!
A. Of course they cannot know it beforehand, for to ask them to believe our assurance would be ridiculous. Bat neither did they know this in the case of any other science, which they nevertheless learned at the risk of losing their time. Or did they do so only while they were under the rod of their teacher, and have they not done it again since they became their own masters?
They must risk our science as they risked the other sciences. Or, if they have been frightened away for their whole lifetime from every venture, the escape is still open to them to keep silent and enter some other profession, to which the presumption of the teachers of the Science of Knowledge may not extend so very soon.
R. If there were only a prospect for them that you and your science would become the fashion. But this you have yourself obstinately prevented in defiance of all the warnings of those who were well disposed towards you. You have inspired your colleagues with too little confidence and love towards your person, for them to be inclined to make you fashionable. You are not old enough. You have neglected the old praiseworthy customs of your profession; you have not allowed yourself to be first introduced in a preface by one of your teachers as a diligent student; nor have you sought to make conversions, and to gain praise and approval in an honest and decent way by letters, by asking for advice and information, by quoting and praising others, and by joining some society of reviewers; thus rising gradually and imperceptibly. No, you have jumped up all of a sudden, as if out of the ground, with all your presumptions and perhaps quite as arrogant as you are now. You have quoted and praised scarcely any one but yourself. But how have you condemned and made war upon others? In violation of all literary usage and public law, you have offered no peace and compromise; you have immediately refuted your opponents, and have not allowed them to be in the right unless they really were so; you have not mentioned with one syllable all their other talents and their profundity, and have had no other end in view than to annihilate. You are capable of denying the most well known truth which has been received as valid ever since the beginning of the world, and turning it into dust under the hands of some poor opponent, so that an honest man knows no longer from what premises he is to dispute with you. Hence many have resolved and publicly protested, that they will not learn anything from you, as you are certainly not worthy to receive learning from; whereas others have even doubted whether your name could be mentioned in honorable company.
A. Well, we must bear the affliction that these people will not learn anything.
But to return. Do you hold that every person is possessed of that fundamental contemplation which we have described above?
R. According to your description, necessarily, as sure as he has ever in all his, lifetime uttered one solitary universal proposition, as such; and not merely repeated it, but repeated it with firm conviction; or as sure as he has absolutely required some one else to think something precisely as he thinks it; for we have seen that this necessity and universality proceeds from and bases itself solely upon that contemplation.
A. But does every one rise also to the clear consciousness of that contemplation?
R. This, at least, does not follow, like the contemplation itself, from the fact of an absolute assertion; for such an assertion is uttered as absolutely grounded in itself, without further asking for its higher ground, and without consciousness of such higher ground. It seems that in order to rise to this consciousness, it is first necessary to reflect upon that absolute asserting and account for it to one's self. But this does not seem to be by any means so universally and necessarily grounded in the nature of rational beings, as that absolute asserting, without which, indeed, all communication and common understanding amongst mankind would almost cease.
Nevertheless every one certainly can make that reflection—as we, for instance, did in our previous conversation,—and can thus rise to a consciousness of that contemplation.
A. Undoubtedly every one can do it; precisely as every one can through freedom elevate himself to pure morality, or by means of another contemplation, closely related to the philosophical scientific contemplation,—to poetry. Concerning this matter our opinion is as follows, and it will suffice to tell you this historically: It is not proper to deny to any one the faculty of rising to a consciousness of scientific contemplation, as it is not proper to deny to any one the faculty of being morally regenerated, or of being a poet. But just as little can it be explained—precisely because these faculties and abilities are absolutely primary and are not conditioned by any previous grounds—why they should appear in this person and not in that one. Experience, however—which, as we have said, cannot be explained from grounds—teaches us, that some men do not rise to it, no matter what you may do to assist them. In youth, when man is most open to culture, he rises easiest to science or to poetry. But if he has allowed this youth to pass away, and has ruined half a lifetime by committing to memory, studying a little of everything and reviewing,—it is pretty safe, with little risk of being refuted by success, to deny to such a one a faculty for science or for poetry, although you certainly cannot demonstrate that he has not got that faculty.
At any rate, no one should get angry if this faculty of rising to a contemplation of contemplation is denied to him; as no one gets angry if poetical talents are denied to him.
In regard to the latter, people have long since comforted themselves by the proverb, that "Poets are born and not made;" why, then, do they not extend this consolatory proverb to philosophy? Unfortunately, it has become a habit to consider philosophy as a matter of ordinary judgment, and hence, to consider the denial of philosophical talent equivalent to a denial of ordinary judgment. This certainly would bean insult, but coming from the lips of the Science of Knowledge, that denial has indeed, quite another meaning.
But it is not enough to possess that faculty in general; one must also have the talent of strictly controlling it; of being able to exercise it at any moment when it may be needed, and hence, of entering at will that altogether peculiar world which it opens to us, and of dwelling with full consciousness in that world, wherever one may be. It is not unusual, especially amongst young people, that a light penetrates them all at once and scatters the old darkness like a flash of lightning; but, before they are aware of it, the eye has closed again, and the old night set in; whereupon they await the moment of a new enlightenment. This condition is worth nothing for a permanent and systematic study. Contemplation must become perfectly free and must be completely in our power. But this power over it we attain only through continual practice.
But systematic thinking requires, even as such, freedom of the mind to give direction to its thinking, with absolute arbitrariness, to fix it upon this or that object, and keep it so fixed until it has been sufficiently digested for our purpose, and to keep everything else removed from it. This freedom is not inborn in men, but must be acquired through diligence and through constant exercise of our mind, which is naturally much inclined to wander from one object to another. Now, transcendental thinking is distinguished, moreover, from ordinary thinking in this: that whereas ordinary thinking is fixed, and, as it were, carried by something, which is separated and determined already in itself, transcendental thinking, on the contrary, has nothing for its object but itself, and hence, is fixed, separated, divided and determined only through itself. The mathematician has, at least, his lines and figures on the blackboard, and thus concentrates his attention; but the teacher of the Science of Knowledge has nothing whatsoever except himself and his free reflection. Now, this reflection he is to keep constantly fixed throughout a long series, and at each new link he must have all the previous links in their fixed determination before his mind, while, at the same time, he must also keep the whole series of links not completely determined, since each successive link will again further determine all the previous ones. It is clear, that he must not only have the ordinary faculty of concentrated attentiveness and self-activity of the mind, but also an habitual ability of reviewing his whole mind, fixing it, analyzing it in the finest or coarsest manner, recomposing it, and again analyzing it, and always with a firm unshaken hand, and with the assurance that it will always remain as he has arranged it. It is, therefore, also clear, that this is not only a higher degree of labor, but an entirely new kind of mental labor, the like of which has never before been known, and that the faculty of working in this manner can be practised and exercised only upon the one object, which exists for it. Hence, all other thinkers, however accomplished and practised, will need time and diligence to gain a firm foothold in this science, and can by no means give a competent judgment upon it after the first or second reading. Is it then, to be supposed, that unpractised and unscientific persons, who have no other culture than that of memory, and who are not even capable of carrying on an objective-scientific argument, should be able to pass a judgment upon any detached proposition of that science, which they may have found in some newspaper or another, at the very first reading, just as if they had merely to say whether they had already heard the same thing somewhere else or not?
At the same time, no study is so easy as the study of this science, as soon as but the very first ray of light concerning its true nature has risen upon students. This science presupposes no elementary knowledge of any kind, but merely ordinary mental culture. It does not weaken the mind, but strengthens and enlivens it. Its progress is altogether connected, and its method very simple and easily comprehended. Each single point of this science, which has been understood, throws a flood of light upon all the others.
The Science of Knowledge, therefore, is not inborn in man, as his five senses are, but can be acquired only through study. It was this I wished to convince you of, my reader, so that, if you have not studied it yet, and have no inclination to study it now, you may at least be careful not to make yourself ridiculous by talking about it; and secondly, so that you may know what to think, when other persons, however highly cultivated otherwise, talk about the Science of Knowledge, without having studied it any more than you have.
- Such was also the assertion of Leibnitz, who indeed had begun to create a system of philosophical signs.—Translator.
- The reviewer of the Erlanger Literary Journal doubts whether my name may be mentioned in honorable company.