Review of "Untersuchungen zur Phænomenologie und Ontologie des Menschlichen Geistes" by Dr. G. Class
Untersuchungen zur Phænomenogie und Ontologie des Menschlichen Geistes. Von Dr. G. Class, ord. Professor in Erlangen. Leipzig: A. Deichert'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung Nachf. (Georg Böhme), 1896. Pp viii + 238. M 4.
Dr. Class describes this investigation as an honest attempt to combine Schleiermacher's conception of the "personal individuality" (s. the second Monolog) — persönlich Eigenthümlichkeit — with Hegel's conception of the "objective spirit." But the stimulus to the undertaking is not to be found in either of these philosophers' writings, but in a more modern movement. Schleiermacher's conception is one that is determined by the problems of personal obligations and the solution is one that comes from the marvelous spiritual insight of this religious hero, whose instincts were in advance of his times. Hegel, on his side, moves within speculative conceptions which could be clearly defined and deduced in detail, without going beyond the mental horizon of his own period. No abstract thought of that time was able to realize and work out the position which Schleiermacher suggests as that in which "every man shall present (darstellen) humanity in his own particular manner."
But since that period we have become so conscious of the process of development revealed by the modern physical, biological and social sciences, that application of Hegel's method to the whole concrete content of life is becoming a possibility. That this will involve a restatement of the method is in all probability true. For Hegel, being is both one of the movements in the process and the whole content which is to be revealed.
It will be necessary to define being in terms of the process as the physicist defines matter in terms of velocities and changes in velocity, and the comparative physiologist defines the organ of digestion in terms of the process of digestion. From this standpoint the individual organ presents in its own peculiar manner the whole organism. A fixed content or substance of any sort can never solve the problem of the particular and the universal. It is only in an organic activity that the individual can be completely individualized and yet present simple the whole.
I have said that it was a modern stimulus that lay behind this contribution. It seems to me to be the demand that is to be felt not only in philosophic circles but as strongly in religious thought. Our whole religious thought has gone upon the assumption that the personality was a fixed substance with which we had to deal — a something given
(790) at birth and to be carried eternally. Through its faculties large stores of knowledge may be acquired and it may be developed in character, but its essence is a fixed entity. Against this static view of the self all of the social sciences have been more or less unconsciously working. The individual has been reduced to conditions operating upon him from a so-called outer environment. This reconstruction of the individual goes so far that with a large class of persons we tend to deny even responsibility, the most central of all the expressions of personality. On the other hand we are steadily quickening what may be called a social consciousness, that has heretofore been quite unrecognized, and has least of all had a part in the conception of the personality. The most dominant religious conception of the individual has been one drawn from an exclusive relationship to the Deity, that transcends all other relationships. The individual was thought of as existing quite independently of the world in which he is found and all of its conditions and relations. He was conceived of as placed here to be tried and disciplined and pass finally to a world of relations which were those essentially expressing his nature and personality. Every connection here is of a purely provisional character and transitory existence, of no value except for the effect which our actions with reference to them may have upon the individual nature given from above and to return to its home.
To such an individual all the social relationships here can be only of a purely superficial character except in so far as they react upon a nature that is independent of them. It would be impossible to regard such a nature as the expression of the social relationships within which it finds itself. There would be no meaning in arousing a consciousness of these relations as the essence of the self. The most that could take place would be a judgment from without as to our duty with reference to them. But if I am not mistaken the tendency not only of our social sciences but also of the forces of society itself is to substitute in the individual a vivid immediate consciousness of himself as a nodal point in the operation of these social forces, for the conception of an individual who stands outside of the processes and enters in or stays out as his conscience dictates or his desires demand. The harsh judgment of the old-fashioned individualist upon the labor union, which seems to him to swallow up and destroy the independence of the laborer, is due to the inability to appreciate the formation of a new and deeper individuality. Now it is evident that from this standpoint perfect individuality or a fully developed personality instead of being
(791) something given and simply to be recognized is the result of a deep and profound consciousness of the actual social relations. Furthermore, as a prerequisite of this consciousness, we imply the formation of the most extensive and essential social relationships, whose control must lie within themselves and in their interaction upon each other rather than in any external judgment. From this standpoint personality is an achievement rather than a given fact, and it is in response to the demand for a generalized statement of this phase of ethical experience that this book seems to me to spring.
The solution which the author offers is based on the conception of "objective systems of thought" which tend to express themselves practically in the spiritualizing — Vergeistigung — and universalizing of the historical element as presented in human nature. That which psychology investigates, especially that which falls within the scope of physiological psychology, would according to the author be a realm of mere facts — das Thatsächliche; — in contradistinction from the realm of the spiritual or that which expresses the meaning of the world — das Sachliche. The former includes also all that falls within the natural sciences, all that is essentially pragmatic in its statement. It will be observed that this distinction differs from that between the particular and universal found for example in Plato and Aristotle, in that the spiritual is conceived of as having this essentially practical impulse — this tendency to universalize that which in itself is still merely particular, and secondly in that these systems of thought express this tendency in individuals, to whose essential particularities reference has already been made. In other words the systems of thought as they appear — die historischen Inhalte — represent even in their most universal expressions the essential peculiarities which make up the character of the individuals in society. It is not so much in the thought-complexes themselves that these individual characteristics lie as in the fashion in which they tend to spiritualize das Thatsächliche;. "The historical contents" in which these thought-complexes appear differ essentially, then, in the peculiarities which express themselves in the individuals, who make up the movement; they differ also in a way that is not essential, in so far as the amount of truth expressed in them varies.
This statement can make no claim to completeness because the contribution itself is fragmentary in its character. It starts out with a dualism between the fact and its meaning which is nowhere explained or even announced as an essential postulate. This does
(792) not fall within the scope of the brochure, so that this is no criticism. But it must explain the fragmentary statement that is made here of Dr. Class's position. It is only in so far as the book bears upon the problem we have referred to that I have tried to criticise it. From this standpoint it is easy to see what has been done and has been left out. If I am not mistaken the author has simply turned the problem around and affirmed it instead of offering any solution, i.e., he has asserted simply that the individual is the essential expression of the meaning of the universe, that he is the carrier and essence of it, that therefore the individual peculiarities which are found within him must have also an ultimate logical statement in the movement of the thought process. He has left that these individual peculiarities are to be expressed in the very movement of social life, not in static entities that lie outside this movement. But he has done more in his statement, so far as I can read out the meaning of his system, than shut the whole problem up in his postulates. He postulates the individualities, he does not account for them either metaphysically or logically.
The best part of the book is the phenomenology, which is full of acute and profound
observations upon the ethical value of the individual, in his development and in his
relations to society.
University of Chicago
George H. Mead.