A variety of circumstances led, however, to a more particular examination of Kant's philosophy as a whole. It was first taken up by a coterie of brilliant spirits at the University of Jena, to which Fichte, at first an ardent adherent of Kant, had just been called as Professor.
In close proximity to Jena lay Weimar, the home of Goethe, and the chief literary centre of Germany. Poetry and philosophy thus mutually stimulated each other, and in the person and work of Schiller, then Professor of History at Jena, were actually united.
Another factor which helped to mould the thought of this time was the revival of interest in the philosophy of Spinoza, brought about by a correspondence between Jacobi and Mendelssohn on the nature of God, and also by the studies of the youthful Fichte. Thus, in spite of the deep opposition between the two, Kant and Spinoza became the poles around which the speculation of the next generation revolved. Idealism is the common character of all the systems which arose after Kant. But it was from Kant that the new movement sprang. The conception of the "Thing-in-itself," the relation of the unknown object to the phenomenon of Experience, which seemed to be a fundamental element in the Critique, became the starting-point of a new series of speculations which led ultimately to the efforts of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel to explain the world as a System of Reason.
Chap. I. Philosophy of Feeling
Before presenting the more imposing systems of idealism which owe their origin to Kant's speculative views, we must notice a tendency which took its rise specially in opposition to Kant's ethical and religious conclusions. It was not wonderful that a system which made religion a function of the will and exalted the behest of conscience in such a way as practically to dispense with the need of religion, should evoke dissent and reaction. According to Kant, the three ideas of God, immortality, and freedom could not be demonstrated, and were to be regarded as postulates, without theoretic certainty. To combat this uncertainty and doubt there arose a "philosophy of feeling" or faith which sought to vindicate these truths by a higher faculty than reason—by a kind of intuitive belief. The deepest truths do not admit of logical demonstration. They are not to be proved by the human understanding, but to be apprehended by subjective feeling, by inner intuition. It is, moreover, only a select few, an aristocracy of spiritual beings, who possess this spiritual sense. The truth lies not on the surface, and can only be discovered by a withdrawal into the secret depths of consciousness.
The chief representatives of this tendency are Hamann, Herder, and Jacobi, who stood in close personal union with each other.
Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) was born at Königsberg. He was a man of striking personality; egotistical, yet not without deep spiritual feeling. He was, on account of his originality and mysticism, called "The Wizard of the North." His writings, which consist of his autobiography, miscellaneous essays and letters, though now largely forgotten, had a considerable influence on contemporary thought, and especially on such writers as Goethe, Jacobi, Herder, and Richter.
He was a confirmed foe of the Enlightenment, that "aurora borealis of the eighteenth century," as he calls it, which separated the Divine from the Human. Like Kant he is satisfied neither with the materialism of France nor the Rationalism of Germany. But he is also dissatisfied with Kant's "two stems" of the faculty of knowledge by which he makes a cleavage between the Divine and the Human. Language itself, that Divine Gift to man, unites Idealism and Realism. But this union, which Hamann perceives and contends for, he never works out. The union is wholly subjective. He exalts feeling, and contends that the truth cannot be demonstrated to the understanding. It may, none the less, be held with a deep irrefragable certainty when it appeals to that which is most spiritual in man. Reason is not given to make us wise, but to show us our error. The Revelation of God given to us in Scripture is of equal validity with that of nature, but truth being wholly subjective cannot be taught: it must be immediately perceived by each individual for himself. Without its mysteries Christianity is not credible. Christ, the God-Man, in becoming flesh, solves all contradictions. So, too, he regards the Triune God as the basis and reconciliation of all divine truth. These tenets are of the very essence of the Christian faith, but to try to prove them, instead of inwardly experiencing and living them, is just as foolish as an attempt to deny them.
Erdmann calls Hamann "the theosophist or mystic among the faith philosophers." Jean Paul says of him, "the great Hamann is a deep heaven full of mighty stars, but also of many dark clouds which no eye can penetrate." "His style is a stream which a storm has driven back to its source, so that the German trading vessels know not how to get up." His works collected by Roth, are in eight vols. (1821); but a most interesting life, with extracts from his writings, has been written by G. Poel in 1874.
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was one of the most thoughtful and influential writers of Germany. If not an exact thinker, he was fertile in suggestion, full of genial enthusiasm, a poet and preacher as well as a philosopher. His book on the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry impresses its readers with the sublimity and attractiveness of the Scriptures. His principal work—Ideas Towards a Philosophy of the History of Mankind, in which he regards nature as a progressive development of which man is the goal—is an application to the life of man generally of the ideas which Lessing applied to the History of Religion. The conception of development,—the idea that everything grows and expands from type to type,—pervades the book, which is remarkable for its anticipation of modern evolutionary theories. Reason, Herder holds, directly recognises God as the Supreme Reason—the primary cause and bond of all things. As man's development is incomplete in this world, we are warranted in assuming his immortality. Religion is the highest expression of the spirit of humanity, and religious feeling, the condition of man's deepest life. To comprehend man, Herder begins with the universe and attempts to show how the central position of the planet on which man dwells conditions the whole character of human thought and life—(an idea which has recently been revived and advocated with vigour by Wallace in his book, Man's Place in the Universe). The history of man is a natural process: in his life we see the same laws of development which we see in nature. Herder was influenced by Kant, but probably more by Hamann, with whom he agrees that there is no pure thought, and that all certainty must rest upon faith or inner experience. In his work on God, containing his philosophy of religion, which is a modified Spinozism, he assigns to the deity the position of the world-spirit. Christ, through His complete consciousness of the Divine and Human, is the Ideal Man. Man is not only the crowning work of the universe to whom all lower forms of life point, he is also the first link in a higher order of existences. Hence the life-work of man is to cultivate those elements of his humanity which unite him with the highest.
These views, which are opposed to the Kantian standpoint, are interesting as giving us the first impulse to the philosophical treatment of history, which becomes a marked feature in the thought of the nineteenth century. Herder was not only a philosopher, but even more, a poet and literary writer. He was an enthusiast for nature and all natural things, and in this respect again finds himself in opposition to Kant's views as to the elements of beauty and of aesthetic feeling generally. He interested himself in antiquity, folklore, and all primitive forms of poetry and life, and, along with Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller, was one of the writers who exercised a broadening and enriching influence on the general culture and thought of Germany.
While with Herder philosophy proper had only a secondary place, with Fried. Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) it is the central interest. He was an acute, if not, indeed, a systematic, thinker, and he deals more directly with philosophical problems. His protest against Kant's philosophy of religion is more definite and pronounced than that of Herder. He occupied an important position in his day. He was born at Düsseldorf, but studied in Geneva. He had a country seat near his native town, where he gathered around him a circle of literary friends. In 1807 he was made President of the Academy of Munich.
He has been called the "Pantheist in Head and the Mystic in Heart," in that he united, as he himself professed, the mysticism of Hamann with the pantheism of Herder.
Jacobi does not profess to be a philosopher of the schools. His writings are occasional and desultory, often taking the form of letters, dialogues, and even novels.
He was one of the earliest to realize the importance of the revolution wrought by Kant's philosophy. He had been in England, and had been attracted by the Scottish philosophy. The French Encyclopedists, especially Rousseau and Bonnet, interested him, while to him is due the fresh attention which the works of Spinoza began to receive.
Jacobi is the greatest of the faith-philosophers, and may be said to sum up and define their general position. He holds that the fundamental truths of natural religion are indemonstrable. They are, however, the objects of an immediate belief, a spontaneous intuition, inspired by a necessity of feeling. This instinctive faith is an act of reason. But reason is not, as according to Kant, merely regulative, it is intuitive. God, immortality, freedom, though lying beyond the apprehension of sense, are guaranteed to us by this higher faculty of reason.
Taking this idea for his guidance, he successively examines Spinozism, Hume's and Kant's teaching, and Schelling's philosophy. His principal works are:
1785. Of the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Mendelssohn.
1787. David Hume, upon Belief, or Idealism and Realism.
1790. Letters to Fichte.
1802. On the Attempt of Criticism to Bring Reason to the Understanding.
1811. Of Divine Things and Their Revelation (in which he charges Schelling with employing Christian terms in a pantheistic sense, and accuses him of infidelity).
The central point around which the entire philosophy of Jacobi turns is the distinction he draws between mediate and immediate knowledge.
1. Mediate knowledge by means of demonstration and proof is only applicable to finite things. When we extend it to embrace the highest truths, it leads to materialism. "The way of demonstration," says Jacobi, "leads to fatalism." When we make the attempt to explain everything, we simply reduce the universe to a machine and leave no room for the freedom of the individual or the existence of God. The most logical and consequent of all systems is Spinozism, but on that very account it is a system of atheism and fatalism. It cannot be otherwise. When you attempt to explain the ultimate grounds of things, you can never get beyond the conditioned and the finite. Demonstration and proof must cease when you exhaust the chain of causes. By means of thinking we can only reach a world of mechanical necessity; we cannot attain to the origination of the world. "A God who could be proved would be no God."
2. But while this is the necessary result of all speculative thinking, of all mediate knowledge, man has another and higher faculty of knowledge, immediate and intuitive. Jacobi employs various terms to express this higher power. He calls it faith, sense, intuition, feeling, and sometimes reason.
Jacobi controverts Kant's position, that we only know phenomena, and not things in themselves. We know directly every object which affects us. It is absurd to say that the phenomena disclose nothing of the truth that is concealed behind them. In denying a knowledge of the thing-in-itself, Kant's philosophy is practically idealism, and idealism is nihilism. It is only by an awkward roundabout method that Kant restores the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, in the practical critique, which he dissolves in his theoretic.
(1) With regard to nature, Jacobi maintains, in opposition to Kant, that our sensations give us real knowledge. The thing-in-itself is the only thing we do know. Space and time are not mere ghostly forms—"a twofold enchanter's smoke,"—but actual objects of perception. "Nature conceals God and the supernatural in man reveals Him."
(2) Faith, however, assures us of God, God is a necessity to human nature. "A rational human being is conditioned by a twofold externality—a nature below him and a God above him." "Man finds God because he can only find himself in and through God." The existence of God cannot, however, be proved, for you can only prove a thing from its causes and conditions, but God is the uncaused and unconditioned. Belief in God is a personal necessity—"I am not and cannot be, if He is not." And as He cannot be proved, so He cannot be comprehended. "A God whom we could understand were no God." We can say nothing about Him except that He is personal. That which is highest in us must be in Him. Reason can only belong to a personal being. The true revelation of God is a revelation within the soul of man. An external revelation is a contradiction. "God must be born into man himself if man is to have a living God and not merely an image or idol." The essential element in Christianity is the inner feeling it creates. The external evidences of the Christian religion are of little significance. The main thing is the witness of our own heart. Christ is not so much the originator of Christianity as the witness of faith within each. Whether Christ existed historically or not is unimportant. "Does lie exist in thee? " "In thee He may be a truly divine being, through whom thou mayest perceive the God."
(3) With faith in God, faith in man's higher nature stands in closest relationship. God reveals Himself to the inner spirit of man, and that inner revelation guarantees man's higher faculties,—his freedom, his moral obligation, and his immortality. Virtue is not so much a law without, as with Kant, as a natural instinct, an impulse of nature; and freedom consists in obeying the original qualities with which God has endowed us. Jacobi's peculiar principle of Subjectivity makes him an opponent of Kant's Categorical Imperative. "It is the prerogative of man that the law exists for him and not he for the law." In his works of fiction, especially in his Woldemar, he claims for the heart the immunities of poetry. "The grammar of virtue has no rules." "We can exalt ourselves above the sphere of the understanding by faith in divine things. There lives in us the spirit which comes directly from God, which is at once the guide and warrant of our actions." This same subjectivity lies at the basis of his religious views. In his work on Divine Things and Their Revelation, he condemns Schelling's system of Identity because of its pantheism. But he himself will not attempt a theory of God's nature. All definitions are anthropomorphisms. "We only know that God is, but not what He is." While Jacobi applied the term "reason" to this feeling of consciousness of God, he regarded reason as being only an organ for that which is supersensuous, and did not consider it a faculty which was independently active and productive of ideas. It is merely a receptivity —an inward sense of revelation—which he placed side by side with the outward senses. Both furnish us with truth, each after its kind, the one guarantees to us the existence of the spiritual world, and the other of the real world. The fact that all knowledge has some truth which really exists, corresponding to it, and every subject some object which belongs to it and is bound up with its personality, is the kernel of Jacobi's philosophy,—an idea which he is continually groping after, but never succeeds in explaining. The distinctive feature of his position is the separation of understanding and feeling. These he could never unite. "In my heart there is light," he says, "but the moment I would bring it into the understanding it vanishes." He makes the mistake of fancying that the measure of his own consciousness is the measure of the intellect of mankind. Wishing to present the personality both of God and man, he places that which he conceives as constituting the essence of man—his self-consciousness —between the two, as something merely passive and purely receptive, both of things divine and things natural—a selfless medium.
"Feeling" is the first and last word of Jacobi's philosophy, and though he designates it reason, it remains nothing more than subjective intuition or faith.
Kant had made God, freedom, and immortality postulates which practical reason proved. Jacobi felt the insufficiency of his proof, but instead of attempting any rational justification of them, he simply accepted them as subjective intuitions, of which he could give no further account than that they were there. This is not philosophy, says Hegel, it is rather the despair of all philosophy. "Jacobi," he says, "is like a solitary thinker who, in the morning of his day, has a very ancient riddle hewn out upon an eternal rock. He believes in this riddle, but endeavours in vain to interpret it. He carries it about with him the whole day—he elicits from it meanings full of importance, which he moulds into images that delight the hearer and inspire him with noble wishes and presentiments; but the interpretation fails, and he lays them down at even with the hope that some divine dream, or the next waking, will pronounce to him the word for which he longs, and in which he has so firmly believed."
A somewhat different aspect of Kant's ethical philosophy was dealt with by Schiller and Humboldt; and although these writers were not adherents of the philosophy of feeling, still on their literary side they were closely related to some of its representatives, particularly to Herder and Hamann.
Just as Kant had assigned to different sources the two factors of our knowledge, sensation and thought, and had failed to assimilate them, so on the ethical side he had left a gap between the moral law and practical life, between duty and desire. It was the endeavour of Schiller, therefore, to remove the sharpness of this distinction in Kant's moral theory and to claim a place in life for the natural impulses of man. So far from its being the case that we only do our duty when we do it with aversion, virtue is nothing else than an inclination to duty. Man should obey the voice of reason with joy. We must not separate what is united in our nature, reason and sensibility. We must not suppress the sensuous part of our being, but bring it into harmony with our whole life.
Our freedom stands towards our nature in a double relation—it can liberate our nature or it may wholly command it. The spiritually free and the spiritually-ruled nature are both aesthetic manifestations. The one is Grace, the other Dignity. In dignity there is manifested the sublime will: in Grace, the beautiful Soul. In both the Spirit rules the sensuous nature—in Dignity, it rules as conqueror: in Grace, it rules without coercion. Dignity is imposing, but grace is winning.
There is a beauty in which Grace and Dignity unite. It is the perfect beauty of humanity such as the gods of Greece realized. Were Dignity the only possible ideal of man, his life would be grand, majestic, but stern and ascetic. Grace is the quality in which reason is reconciled with sense, and duty is performed with delight. Moral grace is spontaneous virtue, the virtue which flows from love of duty. It is a fine and noble thing to act from duty alone. It is a more beautiful thing to do our duty for the love of it. The one fulfils the moral law; the other realizes our own nature. Our actions are indeed good when we do our duty because we ought, but they are beautiful when we do it because we cannot do otherwise; because they have become our second nature. The highest state, the state of the beautiful soul, is attained when the whole character acts with such freedom and spontaneity that it does not require first to still the voice of inclination, but fulfils, even its most painful duties, with the ease of instinct.
The purpose of all culture is to harmonize reason and sense and thus to fulfil the idea of a perfect manhood. As it is the aim of art to present life in its fulness, so it must be the aim of man himself to develop his whole nature and reach a stage in which the strife between duty and impulse ceases and his entire activity springs, by the harmonious working of both principles of his nature, from one noble idea (Schiller, Über Anmuth und Würde).
Thus Schiller sought to harmonize the moral with the aesthetic standpoint. Here is revealed to us the difference between the philosopher and the poet. At the opposite extreme from Kant, the stern moralist, stood Goethe, the apostle of self-culture and geniality of life. Between the two, Schiller appeared as the reconciler. But he pleased neither. Dignity and Grace would not unite. Thus while Schiller began as a disciple of Kant, in his later writings, especially in his Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, he approached more nearly to the views of Goethe.
A somewhat similar position was occupied by Humboldt (1767-1835), who sought also to soften the rigour of Kant's moral theory. Influenced by Goethe and Schiller and incited by his studies of Greek Antiquity, he developed the idea of an Aesthetic Humanity. The harmonious development of all man's powers and impulses was his ideal; the agreement of the spirit with nature, the general basis of his conception of the world. In his political activities he carried the same idea into his conception of the State. Also in his researches into the origin of language, he sought to show that just as all sciences are connected, as the manifestation of one spirit, so all the different languages spring from a common source, have certain simple ground-forms and express one universal human need.
He also attempted to prove that all history is but the revelation of certain powers lying latent in man which are gradually developed through the union of the two principles of necessity and freedom.