The Human Concept of the World/Book reviews/The Monist
|←Contents||Review of Der menschliche Weltbegriff
The Monist (1892)
|The Monist, Vol. 2 No. 3 (April 1892): pp. 451-53.|
This monograph is as it were a self-confession. The author endeavors to attain clearness in his own philosophical standpoint. He looks back upon the path he has traveled and feels that “the solution of the problem attained is fundamentally a personal self-liberation” (Preface, ix). This book is most commendable reading to all idealists and agnostics. It is an interesting and instructive little work, tracing with a keen psychological criticism the vagaries of certain philosophical conceptions, through which not alone the author but the thinkers of mankind in general have strayed. The philosopher begins with what Avenarius calls the “natural world-conception.” But this natural world-conception leads to contradictions and the evil spirit of speculation leads us in a circle through the barren fields of idealism. Avenarius asks: “Is the world really of such a nature that it appears unitary and consistent only to the superficial thinker, while it leads every one astray who attempts to grasp it more precisely in its entirety—the more so the more consistently the thinker proceeds?” (p. xiii.)
The author proposes the question: “In what consists the inevitableness of the contradiction to which every general world-conception seems to have led? Or, if the world really be unitary what is the evil spirit that leads those astray who hunger and thirst after a true cognition of the world?”
The author has entirely abandoned the idealistic standpoint, an inclination to which he showed in his first publication, “Philosophie als Denken der Welt gemäss dem Princip des kleinsten Kraftmasses.” He says: “Doubt of the correctness of my way heretofore pursued was induced through the barrenness of theoretical idealism in the field of psychology; and yet cognition and experience should belong to this science as psychological ideas.”
The author in explaining the development of thought as it takes place in man proceeds in a personal way, so much so that every idealist ought to be satisfied. There are whole pages which teem with ME’s and I’s. The method of notation is what might be called American. Europeans often complain about our abbreviations, the Y. M. C. A., the S. A. S., the C. B. & Q. Ry., etc., which are great puzzles to the uninitiated newcomer. In a similar way Avenarius introduces such algebraic signs as R and E, which means reality and the sensations which our fellow-men are supposed to have. M is Man, T is fellow-man. T1 is the bodily appearance of T, it is R; while T2 is the E of T, i.e. his soul or spirit. C is the nervous central organ, etc. Thus Avenarius says (p. 18):
“I can in a relative consideration assume R to be the condition of changes in the E values, supposed to exist in M, only if M and in M the system C are parts of my supposition,” and in a note (p. 117) he adds:
“The skeleton in Goethe’s poem, ‘The Dead’s Dance,’ scents without an organ of smell, sees without eyes, thinks without a brain; it also moves without muscles. To consider such acts as true is now universally declared to be superstition. The time will come when the assumption of psychical phenomena without the coördination of the system C will universally be considered in the same way.”
The first three chapters remind us very much of W. K. Clifford’s article “On the Nature of Things in Themselves.” But the article is nowhere mentioned and it is most probable that it is unknown to the author. If Avenarius had known Clifford’s view, he might have presented his ideas with more economy of space. But if he did not know Clifford’s article, the coincidences of procedure and to a great extent also of the result attained are the more remarkable. What Avenarius calls the E values are termed by Clifford “ejects,” and the formation of ejects is called by Avenarius “introjection.”
On page 52 we read the following sentence on the three phases of the cognition of the data of experience:
“The first phase alone, that of ingenuous empiricism, cognises, i.e. explains the totality of these facts without the assistance of a non-sensible . . . . the second that of ingenuous realism conceives the non-sensible as supersensible, and the third, that of ingenuous criticism, as the pre-sensible. The epithet ingenuous has reference to the foundation, not to the doctrinary system built upon it. That which makes the said realism and criticism ingenuous is a survival of the ingenuous empiricism.”
The theory which conceives the external cause of an experience as an object, effecting in the subject sensations, passes successively through the following views. The object is said to be (1) not within the range of experience, (2) not within the range of cognition, (3) not-existing. Thus it reaches via agnosticism its climax in idealism and “pure experience becomes a something that is never truly experienced, it becomes the totality of mere or pure sensations” (p. 62).
The third part of the pamphlet is devoted to “the restitution of the natural world-idea.” Here the author comes, at least in some expressions, very close to the solution editorially upheld in The Monist. Avenarius says: “The task is . . . . to describe the what of my experience so as to make a practical application of it in my dealings with my fellow-men” (p. 79).
Professor Avenarius sums up his conclusions in the term “empirio-critical principal-coördination” which he defines as the inseparability of the ego-experience from the surrounding experience. “The ego and the surrounding belong in the same sense to every experience. It is a co-ordination peculiar to all experience” (p. 83). If we understand Avenarius correctly he means to say, to express it in our terms, that there is no object but there is a subjective aspect of it, no subject but it appears objectively. Thus there is no subjectivity in itself and there is no objectivity in itself. This is exactly our position, which we call Monism.
The “introjection” was according to Avenarius the evil spirit that led speculation astray. To get rid of this evil spirit the proposition is made to discard “introjection” and replace it by the empirio-critical principal-coördination. But closely considered the latter is only an improved modification of the former, and this plan would better be characterised as discarding the error implied in that kind of introjection theory which assumes that sensations alone are given. The data of experience are not mere feelings, not mere subjectivity, as is maintained by the idealist; nor are they mere objectivity, as is maintained by the ingenuous realist; the data of experience are states of subject-objectness, they are feelings of a certain kind possessing objective significance, and the ideas subject as well as object are abstractions made in a late stage of mental development from this one inseparable whole of subject-objectness (see The Monist I, No. 1, pp. 78-79).
Avenarius says in a note (p. 132), “The question should not be ‘Why do we believe in the reality of an external world?’ but ‘Why did we not believe that the external world is real?’” We should say that neither question is admissible. We should first ask: What do we mean by real? Reality is the sum total of our experiences, including the meaning of sensations and ideas, and finds its special application in their reliability. The question, Is the candle I see real? means, Does it react in special ways? Every name of a special object signifies a certain group of actions or reactions observable by the subject. This is what we call real and the idealist would have to deny the existence of his own experience to deny the reality of objects in this sense.
Avenarius’s books are not easy reading to the English and American student, for his style is sometimes heavy and his constructions are involved. So are his thoughts. But his thoughts show the earnest thinker; the evolution of his views goes in the right direction and his works deserve the attention of his co-workers in the philosophical field. κρς.
|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).|