My reader, before you proceed to the reading of this work, let us come to a preliminary agreements
That which you are going to read in this book has, it is true, been thought by me; but it matters not, either to you or to me, that you should know what I have thought. However much it may have been your habit to read works merely in order to know what their authors have thought and said, I still wish that you should proceed differently in respect to this book. I appeal not to your memory, but to your understanding. My object is not that you should remark what I have said, but that you should yourself think, and, if it pleases heaven, think precisely what I have thought. Hence, if in the reading of this work it should happen to you—as so often happens to readers now-a-days—that you should continue to read, without continuing to think—that you should still be taking hold of the words, without, however, continuing to seize their meaning—desist, redouble your attention, and read over again from the sentence where your attention slipped off, or put the book aside for the day, and commence tomorrow with fresh vigor. Only on this condition on your part can I fulfil the proud promise on the title-page—to force you to an understanding. You must really come out with your mind and oppose it to mine for battle, and to this I cannot force you. If you hold back, I have lost the wager; you will understand nothing, just as you can see nothing if you close your eyes.
But if it should happen to you that from a certain point in this work you cannot in any manner, and by any exertion, convince yourself of the correctness of my assertions, put the book aside, and leave it unread for a considerable time. Continue to use your understanding in the accustomed manner, without thinking about the book; and, perhaps, all of a sudden, without your intending it in any way, the condition of understanding it will come of itself, and you will after a while comprehend quite readily and well what at present you cannot comprehend by any exertion. Such things have also occurred to us, who at present claim some power of thinking. But let me entreat you to give God the praise for it, and to keep utterly silent on this subject until the condition of understanding this work, and its comprehension, have arisen in you.
My argument is one uninterrupted chain of conclusions; each subsequent point is true only on condition of its preceding point having been found to be true by you. If it has not been so found by you, you cannot continue to think as I have thought, and hence your persisting to read would have no other result than to make you acquainted with what I have thought. But this result has always been considered by me as very insignificant; and I have often marvelled at the modesty of most men in placing such a high value upon the thoughts of others, and so little value upon their own, that they will rather spend their whole lives in making themselves acquainted with those, than generate any of their own—a modesty which I desire should be utterly waived in the case of my thoughts.
By observing the external world, and his own internal self, each man of healthy senses receives a collection of cognitions, experiences, and facts. These, the given of immediate perception, he can also renew in himself without that actual perception; he can reflect upon and can hold the manifold of the perception together; can hunt up that wherein the separates of the manifold agree, and that wherein they do not agree. In this manner, if a man has but an ordinary, healthy understanding, his knowledge will become clearer, more definite, and useful—will become a possession, which he can administer with complete freedom and agility—but on no account will his knowledge be increased by thus reflecting upon it. He can reflect only upon what he has perceived or observed, and can compare it only with itself, but on no account can he produce new objects by mere thinking.
This collection of knowledge, and a certain more or less superficial or thorough control over it by freely reflecting upon it, you and I and all men possess in common; and this is doubtless what is meant when people speak of a system or of propositions of common sense.
There did exist a philosophy which claimed that it could increase the above described collection by a mere drawing of conclusions, and which held that thinking was not only what we have just described it to be—a mere analyzing and recomposing of the given—but, at the same time, a producing and creating of something altogether new. According to this system, the philosopher was exclusively possessed of certain cognitions which common sense could not attain. According to it, the philosopher could produce through argument, a God, and an immortality for himself, and could argue himself wise and good. If such philosophers are logical, they must declare common sense to be insufficient for the purposes of daily life—since, otherwise, their expanding system would become superfluous—and must invite all who bear a human face to become as great philosophers as they are themselves, so that all may likewise become as good and virtuous as these philosophers.
My reader, does a philosophical system, such as I have just now described, appear to you to be honorable to common sense and its interests—a system which insists of common sense that it should be cured of its inborn blindness in the school of the philosopher, and should there get an artificial light to replace its own natural light?
Now, if to this system there should oppose itself another system, claiming utterly to refute this pretension of a knowledge obtainable only through argument, but inaccessible to common sense, and to show in the most convincing manner that we have no Truth and Reality except the experience which is accessible to all; that there is nothing for life except the above described system of common sense; that life can be learned only through life itself, but on no account through speculation; and that men do not argue themselves wise or good, but live themselves wise and good—would you, as the representative of common sense, consider this latter system your enemy or your friend, and would you believe its tendency to be to wrap new chains around you, or rather to liberate you from those wherein you have been enwrapped?
Again: If this latter system were attacked, and charged with being hostile to you and threatening your ruin, and if this charge emanated from persons who had all the appearance of belonging to the party of the philosophers of the class first described, what opinion would you hold of the honesty of such persons, or, to use the mildest expression, of their acquaintance with the true position of things?
You are astonished, my reader. You ask whether these are really the facts of the case in the charges raised against the newest philosophy?
I am forced here to throw aside my character as author, and to assume my individual personality. Whatever people may think and say of me, I am at least known to be not a mere copyist; and, so far as I know, the public is unanimous on this point—nay, many confer upon me the oft repudiated honor of holding me up as the originator of an utterly new system, unknown before me; and the man who would seem to be the most competent judge in this matter—Kant—has publicly renounced all participation in my system. Let this be as it may, at any rate I have not learned from any one else what I teach; have not found it in any book before I taught it; and hence it is, at least in its form, altogether my property. I ought, therefore, to know best my own teachings. Doubtless I also desire to state them; for of what use could it be to me here publicly to declare something whereof any one might prove the contrary from my other writings?
I therefore publicly declare it to be the innermost spirit and soul of my philosophy, that man has nothing but experience, and that he arrives at everything at which he does arrive, only through experience, only through life itself. All his thinking, be it loose or systematic, ordinary or transcendental, proceeds from experience, and has again experience for its object. Nothing except life has unconditioned value and significance; all other thinking, imagining, and knowing, has value only in so far as it relates itself in some manner to life, proceeds from life, and tends to return back into life.
Such is the tendency of my philosophy. Such, also, is the tendency of Kant's philosophy, which will not separate from me, at least on this point; and such, also, is the tendency of the philosophy of a contemporary of Kant—Jacobi—who would have little to complain of about my system if he would understand me on this one point. Hence, it is the tendency of all newer philosophy which understands itself and knows what it wants.
I have not to defend any of the others here; I speak only of my own, of the so-called newest. The standpoint, the method, the whole form of this philosophy, involves statements which may induce the belief that it does not tend towards the result just described, but towards its very opposite, namely: if its peculiar standpoint is lost sight of, and if that which is valid for it is held as valid for everyday life and common sense. Hence, I need only to describe this standpoint accurately, and to distinguish it carefully from the standpoint of common sense, in order to make it appear clearly that my philosophy has no other tendency than the one just announced. If you, therefore, dear reader, should resolve to remain upon the standpoint of common sense, this work will give you full security on that standpoint against my own and all other philosophy; or should you desire to rise to the standpoint of philosophy, it will furnish you with the most comprehensible introduction to it.
I am desirous to be, for once, clearly understood in regard to the points which I have to treat of here, for I am tired of continually repeating what I have stated so often.
Nevertheless, I must ask the patience of the reader for a continuous argument, wherein I can assist his memory only by repeating propositions before proven, whenever new consequences are to be drawn from them.