The Human Concept of the World/Book reviews/Philosophical Review
|←Contents||Review of Der menschliche Weltbegriff by
The Philosophical Review (1892)
|The Philosophical Review, Vol. 1 No. 3 (May 1892): pp. 325-27.|
The problem this book faces is the old one of a principle which unifies the subjective and the objective elements in experience: the author says the means by which he tries to solve it have some claims to originality but not to novelty. Dr. Avenarius says that a knowledge of his Kritik der Reinen Erfahrung is necessary with a view to a judgment upon this volume, but is not indispensable to its understanding. The real point that Der Menschliche Weltbegriff tries to answer is whether or not the systematic study or examination of our experience necessarily leads to dualism, say the dualism represented by the antithetical schemes of Idealism and Materialism. A person who is convinced of the utter unfruitfulness of philosophical idealism [Idealism, our author suggests, comports itself only too well alongside of practical realism, and under circumstances of even Materialism] may simply neglect the initial position of an idealistic epistemology about immediate subjective consciousness (not such a baneful position in Psychology as in Epistemology), and resolve to study experience without a presupposition of any kind. Dr. Avenarius himself adopted the plan of regarding the facts of experience and knowledge as they are attested to by the individual, purely from the psycho-physiological standpoint, to the neglect of all special epistemological investigations and criticisms of metaphysicians. He found that the world-conception which satisfied the world-problem must be a conception whose content is pure experience. But scientific study may lead to the belief that all we know is what is within our consciousness; i.e. may lead back to the point of departure of Idealism. How is it then that one seems to take to Realism to get away from Idealism, and then to be led by Realism to the same dualism of what is within and what is without consciousness which the Idealist tries to explain away? Is the world so made that only to superficial contemplation or unreflecting consciousness does it appear to be one and without contradiction, but to accurate, earnest thinking, contradictory and illusory? or is the world at bottom one and without contradiction and is the resolute thinker misled by an evil spirit into circular reasoning? In the first case, wherein is the inevitableness of the contradiction; and in the second, what is the evil spirit that misleads? The turning-point of the reasoning by which Professor Avenarius seeks to answer these questions is a criticism of what he calls introjection (Introjektion, Beilegung, Einlegung), that is, of the introspective standpoint, the separation of self from the world and from fellow-men on the part of all men; he studies and develops what this really means and how it comes about and how it is possible, and then tries to answer the question whether this introspection or anything else necessitates us to change our preliminary world-concept. He finds that neither introspection nor anything else leads us to change our natural world-concept. Our natural world-concept (which he had determined must be a realistic one) is simply that of Variationserscheinungen—changing content. This reminds one of the Ionics. We have given us, he says, (1) experience, (2) hypothesis; experience is das Vorgefundene, and hypothesis is the meaning (Deutung) or value attributed to any experience or any element of experience by any consciousness. The subject finds that other individuals (1) have got experience, (2) attach values to experience just as he does himself, and we have therefore to make the assumption (empiriokritische Grundannahme) of the qualitative similarity of other men with one’s self. The I-experience and the environment-experience (Umgebungs-erfah.) mutually involve and belong to each other; that is, in a word, this co-ordination that accompanies all experience in which that which is called ‘I’ is a constant member, and that which is called ‘tree’ or ‘fellow-man’ is a varying member, is the principle of our experience; Professor Avenarius calls it die empiriokritische Principal ko-ordination. Thus the great fact of experience, the world-formula, is constancy through variation; this, though, agrees exactly with the natural world-concept—Variationserscheinungen. Introjection, then, does not lead us to a dualism or to a rejection of the world-concept that is formed by experience. The book is excessively hard reading, for the reason is unfolded in a series of paragraphs whose only connection beyond their numbering is the arbitrary, conquering march of the author’s thought, which, too, is condensed, technical, and symbolical [mathematical formulae abound in it]. The tone of it is that of a Selbstbefreiung, as is admitted in it, and it is hardly, therefore, to be treated as a didactic exposition of any kind. We have really before us a systematized phenomenology of knowledge in its transition from naïve realism in which object and perception, being and thought, are not distinguished to self-consciousness or reflected knowledge, through the discriminative work of the logical understanding and the hypothetical constructions of the imagination as seen in different stages of human culture. The thought is undoubtedly masterly but too technical and idiosyncratic to induce the ordinarily diligent reader to follow it through all its mazes and over all its hard barriers; the merit of it lies in its combination of the critical and the empirical modes of philosophizing.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).|