The Way of the Blessed Life or The Doctrine of Religion Lectures Delivered at Berlin 1806 by Johann Fichte Pages 383 and following
From The Popular Works of Johann Fichte 1762-1814 Translated by William Smith 1816-1896
Lecture III. p. 419-435
Difficulties Arising From The Common Mode Of Thought: Definition Of Being (Seyn) And Ex-istence (Daseyn).
In the first of these lectures we maintained that not everything which seems to be living does really and truly live; and in the second we said that a large portion of mankind, throughout their whole Life, never attain to true and proper Thought, but remain within the circle of mere Opinion.
It might well be, and indeed it has already become obvious from other remarks which we made on that occasion, that the phrases Thought and Life, Thoughtlessness and Death, mean precisely one and the same thing; we have already shown that Thought is the element of Life, and consequently the absence of Thought must be the source of Death.
An important difficulty stands in the way of this assertion, to which I must now direct your attention, namely the following:
If Life be an organic whole, determined by one universally efficient law, then it seems at first sight impossible that any one part appertaining to Life should be absent where the others are present; or that any one individual part should exist without all the parts proper to Life, and consequently without Life itself as a whole, in its complete organic unity.
In solving this difficulty, we shall also be able to exhibit to you clearly the distinction between true Thought and mere Opinion, which was the first business announced for to-day in our last discourse, before we proceed to the fulfilment of our other purpose in this lecture, namely, to begin the application of pure Thought it self to the elements of all Knowledge.
The supposed difficulty is thus solved: Wherever spiritual Life is to be found, everything, without exception, that belongs to this Life, follows wholly and unreservedly, according to the established law of its being: but all this, which follows with absolute mechanical necessity, does not necessarily enter into consciousness; it is there indeed a Life according to the law, but not our Life, not the Life which is properly and peculiarly ours. Our Life is only that part of the Life according to the law which we embrace in clear consciousness, and, in this clear consciousness, love and enjoy. “Where Love is, there is individual Life,” we said once – Love, however, exists only where there is clear consciousness.
The development of this conscious Life which in these lectures is all to which we shall give the name of Life within the whole mass of Life which has an existence according to the law, proceeds precisely like that of physical death.
As this, in its natural progress, begins at first in the remoter members, those farthest removed from the central seat of life, and from them spreads itself gradually to the inward parts, until at last it reaches the heart; so does the spiritual Life, filled with consciousness, love, and enjoyment of itself, begin at first in the extremities and remoter out works of Life, until it also, with God s good pleasure, reaches the true foundation and central point of all.
An ancient philosopher maintained that the animals had arisen from the earth; “as happens,” he added” even to the present day in miniature, since every spring, particularly after a warm rain, we may observe frogs, for example, in whom some particular part, perhaps the fore-feet, may be quite perfectly developed, while the other members still remain a rude and undeveloped clod of earth.”
The half-animals of this philosopher, although they scarcely afford sufficient evidence of what they were designed to prove, yet present a very striking illustration of the spiritual Life of ordinary men.
The outward members of this Life are in themselves perfectly formed, and warm blood flows through the extremities; but when we look to the heart, and the other nobler organs of life, which, in themselves and according to the law, are indeed there, and must necessarily be there since otherwise even the outward members themselves could not have been, in these organs, I say, they are found to be still unsentient clods of frozen rocks.
I shall, first of all, convince you of this by a striking example; to which, although I shall express myself with strict precision, I must yet require your particular attention, on account of the novelty of the observation. We see, hear, fuel outward objects; and along with this seeing, &c., we also think these objects, and are conscious of them by means of our inward sense ; just as we are conscious, by the same inward sense, of our seeing, hearing, and feeling of these objects.
I hope that no one who is possessed even of the commonest power of reflexion will maintain that he can see, hear, or feel an object without being at the same time inwardly conscious both of the object itself, and of his seeing, hearing, or feeling of it; that he can see, hear, or feel anything definite without consciousness.
This co-existence, this inseparability of the outward, sensible perception and the inward thought or conception, this co-existence, I say, and nothing more than this, lies in practical self-observation, or the fact of Consciousness ; but this fact of consciousness does by no means contain, and I beg you to note this well, this fact of consciousness does by no means contain any relation between these two elements, the outward Sense and the inward Thought, a relation of the one to the other, it may be as Cause and Effect, or as Essential and Accidental. If any such relation between the two be assumed, this is not done in consequence of practical self-observation, and it does not lie in the fact of consciousness: this is the first thing that I beg of you to understand and keep in mind.
Now, in the second place, should such a relation be assumed upon some other ground than that of self-observation, which other possible ground we put in the place of consciousness, should such a relation between the two elements be, upon such a ground, supposed and accepted, then it appears, at first sight, that the two elements, as coexistent and inseparable from each other, must be held to be of equal rank; and thus the inward thought may as well be regarded as the foundation, the essential, and the out ward perception as the superstructure, the accident, as the reverse; and in this way an insoluble doubt would necessarily arise between the two suppositions, which would forever prevent any final decision respecting the assumed relation. Thus, I say, it is at first sight; but should any one look deeper into the matter, then, inasmuch as the inward consciousness embraces even the outward sense it self, since we are conscious of the seeing, hearing, or feeling, but can by no means, on the other hand, see, hear, or feel our consciousness, and thus, even in the immediate fact, consciousness assumes the higher place: then, I say, such an one would find it much more natural to make the internal Consciousness the chief thing, and the external Sense the subordinate thing; to explain the latter by the former ; to control and try the latter by the former; and not the reverse.
Now how does the common mode of thought proceed in this matter? To it, the outward Sense is, without further inquiry, the first thing, the immediate touchstone of truth: whatever is seen, heard, or felt, that is, just because it is seen, heard, or felt. The Thought, or inward consciousness of the object, comes afterwards, as an empty addition which is scarcely to be noticed at all, and is quite willingly dispensed with if it do not force itself upon our observation; and a thing is never seen or heard because it is thought, but it is thought because it is seen or heard, and that under the guidance and control of this seeing and hearing. The perverse and absurd modern philosophy referred to in our last lecture, as the peculiar organ and voice of common opinion, comes forward and unblushingly declares: “Outward sense is the only source of reality, and all our knowledge is founded upon experience alone;” as if this were an axiom to which no one could adduce a single objection.
How is it that this common mode of thought, and its guardians, have so easily got over the causes of doubt which we have just noticed, and even the positive grounds for the adoption of the opposite view, as if they had not even an existence? Why does the opposite view, which, even at the first glance, and as yet without any deeper investigation, recommends itself as much more natural and probable, that the whole outward Sense, and all its objects, are founded upon universal Thought, and that a sensible perception is possible only in Thought, and as something thought, as a determination of the general consciousness, but by no means in itself and separated from consciousness, I mean, the view that it is not true that we see, hear, and feel absolutely, but only that we are conscious of seeing, hearing, feeling, why does this view which we profess, and which we recognise with absolute certainty to be the only right one, while we also clearly perceive its opposite to be a palpable absurdity, why does this view, or even the possibility of it, remain wholly concealed from the common mode of thought ? It may easily be explained: The judgment of this mode of thought is the necessary expression of its actual degree of life. For those who cannot go beyond this mode of thought, Life dwells, in the meantime, only in outward Sense, the remotest extremity of the nascent spiritual Life; in outward Sense they have their whole round of being, their most vital existence; in it alone they feel, love, and enjoy ; and, of necessity, where their heart is, there is their faith also: in Thought, on the contrary, Life does not spring forth before them directly as living flesh and blood but seems rather an inchoate mass; and therefore Thought appears to them to be a heterogeneous mist, belonging neither to themselves nor to the matter in hand. Should they ever come so far as to attain a more intense existence in Thought than in seeing or hearing, and to feel and enjoy in it more keenly than in Sense, then would their judgment also be different from what it is.
Thus is Thought, even in its lowest manifestation, degraded and made of no account by the common view of things, because this common view does not place the seat of its Life in Thought, has not even extended its spiritual feelers thus far. Thought in its lowest manifestation, I said; for that, and nothing more, is this thought of an external object, which has an anti type, a competitor for truth, in an outward sensible perception. Thought, in its high and proper form, is that which creates its own purely spiritual object absolutely from itself, without the aid of outward sense, and without any reference whatever to outward sense. In ordinary life this mode of thought presents itself when, for example, the question arises with regard to the origin of the World, or of the Human Race; or regarding the internal laws of Nature; where, in the first case, it is clear that at the creation of the world, and before the appearance of the human race, there was no observer present whose experience could be cited; and, in the second case, the question is not regarding specific phenomena, but regarding that in which all individual phenomena coincide; and that which is to be evolved is not any visible event, but a mental necessity, which not only is, but is thus, and cannot be otherwise: that is, an object proceeding entirely from Thought itself: which first point I beg of you thoroughly to understand and recognise.
In matters pertaining to this higher Thought, the adherents of the common view proceed after this wise: they let others invent, or, where they are possessed of greater power, they invent for themselves, by means of vagrant and lawless thought, or, as it is called, fancy, one out of many possible ways in which the actual fact in question may have arisen; in the language of the schools they make an hypothesis : they then consult their desire, fear, hope, or whatever may be their ruling passion for the time, and, should it assent, the fiction becomes established as a firm and unalterable truth. One of the many possible ways, I said; and this is the leading characteristic of the proceeding we have described: but it is necessary that this expression should be correctly understood. For, in itself, it is not true that anything whatever is possible in many different ways; but everything that is, is possible, actual, and necessary, at the same time only in one perfectly fixed and definite way: and herein, indeed, lies the fundamental error of this proceeding, that it assumes many different possibilities, from which it proceeds to select one for adoption, without being able to verify this one by anything but its own caprice. This proceeding is what we call Opinion, in opposition to true Thought. Opinion, like Thought itself, possesses, as its domain, the whole region lying beyond sensuous experience ; this region it fills with the productions of fancy, either that of others or its own, to which desire alone gives substance and duration ; and all this happens simply and solely because the seat of its spiritual Life is as yet no higher than in the extremities of blind desire or aversion.
True Thought proceeds in a different way in filling up this super-sensual region. It does not invent, but spontaneously perceives, not one possibility among many, but the one and only possible, actual, and necessary mode; and this does not seek its confirmation in a proof lying beyond itself, but it contains within itself its own confirmation; and, as soon as it is conceived, becomes evident to Thought itself as the only possible and absolutely certain Truth, establishing itself in the soul with an immovable certainty and evidence that completely destroys even the possibility of doubt. Since this certainty, as we have said, attaches itself at once to the living act of Thought in its immediate vitality, and to this only, it follows that everyone who would become a partaker in this certainty, must himself, and in his own person, think the Truth, and cannot commit to any other the accomplishment of this business in his stead. Only this preliminary remark I desired to make before proceeding, as I now do, to our mutual realization of true Thought in the highest elements of Knowledge.
The first task of such Thought is to conceive of Being in itself with strict exactitude. I approach this conception thus; I say: Being (Seyn), proper and true Being, does not arise, does not proceed, does not come forth out of nothingness.
For everything which thus arises, you are compelled to assume a previous causal being, by virtue of which the other at first arose. If you hold that at some earlier period this second being has itself arisen in its turn, then you are again compelled to assume a third being by virtue of which the second arose; and should you attribute a beginning to the third then you are compelled to assume a fourth, and so on forever. You must, in every case, at last arrive at a Being that has not thus arisen, and which therefore requires no other thing to account for its being, but which is absolutely through itself, by itself, and from itself. On this Being, to which you must at last ascend from out the series of created things, you must now and henceforward fix your attention; and then it will become evident to you, if you have entered fully with me into the preceding thoughts, that you can only conceive of the true Being as a Being by itself, from itself, and through itself.
In the second place I add: that within this Being nothing new can arise, nothing can alter its shape, nor shift nor change; but that as it is now, so has it been from all eternity, and so it endures unchangeably in all eternity. For, since it is through itself alone, so is it, completely, without division, and without abatement, all that, through itself, it can be and must be. Were it in time to become something new, then must it either have been previously hindered, by some being foreign to itself, from becoming this something; or it must become this something new through the power of a being foreign to itself, which now for the first time begins to exert an influence upon it: both of which suppositions stand in direct contradiction to its absolute independence and self-sufficiency. And thus it will become evident to you, if you have thoroughly comprehended these thoughts, that Being can be conceived of only as absolutely One, not as Many; only as a self-comprehensive, self-sufficient, and absolutely unchangeable Unity.
By this course of thought and this is my third point you arrive only at a Being (Seyn) shut up, concealed, wholly comprehended in itself; you do not, by any means, arrive at an Ex-istence (Daseyn😉 [The English language does not contain terms by which the opposition of the German “Seyn” and “Daseyn” can be expressed with the distinctness of the original. “Being” and ” Ex-istence ” are here adopted as the nearest approach to a correct translation that our language admits of, although the awkwardness of the expression is obvious, and the strict philosophical mean ing here attached to those terms is unknown in their common use] I say to an Ex-istence, manifestation, or revelation of this Being. I am most anxious that you should understand this at once; and you will undoubtedly do so, when you have strictly considered this idea of Being, now for the first time set forth, and have so become conscious in yourselves of what is contained in this thought, and what is not contained in it. The natural illusion which may obscure your minds against the desired insight, I shall very soon examine.
To explain this more fully : You perceive that I distinguish Being (Seyn] essential, self-comprehended Being from Ex-istence (Daseyn), and represent these two ideas as entirely opposed to each other, as not even indirectly connected with each other. This distinction is of the weightiest importance; and only through it can clearness and certainty be attained in the highest elements of Knowledge. What Ex-istence (Daseyn] really is, will best be made evident by actual contemplation of this Ex-istence. I say, therefore: Essentially and at the root, the Ex-istence of Being is the consciousness or conception of Being; as may be made clear at once in the use of the word “is” when applied to any particular object, for example, to this wall. For, what is this “is” in the proposition, “The wall is?” It is obviously not the wall itself and identical with it; it does not even assume that character, but it distinguishes the wall, by the third person, as independent; it thus only assumes to be an outward characteristic of essential Being an image or picture of such Being, or, as we have expressed it above, and as it is most distinctly expressed, the immediate, outward Ex-istence of the wall, as its Being out of its Being. (It is admitted that the whole of this experiment demands the most subtle abstraction and the keenest inward observation; and it may be added, as the proof, that no one has thoroughly performed the task, to whom it has not become evident that the whole, and particularly the last expression, is perfectly exact.)
The common mode of thought, it is true, is not wont to remark this distinction; and it may well be that what I have now said may seem to many something wholly new and unheard of. The reason of which is, that their love and affection are attracted directly to the object itself, interested with it exclusively, and wholly occupied with it ; and that thus they have no time to tarry by the “is,” or to consider its significance, so that to them it is wholly lost. Hence it usually happens that, leaping over the Ex-istence (Daseyn), we believe that we have arrived at Being (Seyn) itself; while nevertheless we forever remain in the fore-court, in the Ex-istence: and this common delusion may render the proposition which we have submitted to you above, at first sight, dark and unintelligible. In our present inquiry, however, everything depends on our comprehending this proposition at once, and henceforth giving it due attention.
We said that the Consciousness of Being, the “is” to the Being, is itself the Ex-istence (Daseyn): leaving out of sight, in the meantime, the supposition that Consciousness may be only one among other possible forms, modes, and kinds of Ex-istence, and that there may be many other, perhaps an infinite variety of, such forms, modes, and kinds of Ex-istence. This supposition, however, must be dismissed: in the first place, because we here desire not to accumulate mere opinions, but truly to think; and secondly, with reference to its consequences, for with such a possibility remaining, our union with the Absolute, as the only source of Blessedness, could never be attained; but there would rather be placed, between the Absolute and us, an immeasurable chasm, as the true source of all Unblessedness.
We have therefore to make it manifest to you in thought, which is our fourth point that the Consciousness of Being is the only possible form and mode of the Ex-istence (Daseyn) of Being ; and, consequently, is itself immediately and absolutely this Ex-istence of Being. We conduct you to this insight in the following way: Being (Seyn) as such, as Being, as abiding, unchangeable Being, without in any respect laying aside its absolute character and inter mingling or blending itself with Ex-istence must exist. Hence it must, in itself, be distinct from Ex-istence, and opposed to it; and indeed since besides the absolute Being (Seyn) itself there is nothing else whatever but its Ex-istence (Daseyn) this distinction and opposition must be manifest in the Ex-istence (Daseyn) itself; and this, more clearly expressed, is equivalent to the following: Ex-istence (Daseyn) must apprehend, recognise, and image forth itself as mere Ex-istence: and, opposed to itself, it must assume and image forth an absolute Being (Seyn), whose mere Ex-istence it is; it must thus, by its own nature, as opposed to another and an absolute existence, annihilate itself: which is precisely the character of mere representation, conception, or Consciousness of Being, as you have already seen in our exposition of the “is.” And thus it is clear, if we have succeeded in making these ideas thoroughly intelligible to you, that the Ex-istence of Being must necessarily be cannot be other than a Consciousness of itself of Ex-istence as a mere image or representation of Absolute, Self-existent Being.
That such is the case, and that Knowledge or Consciousness is the absolute Ex-istence (Daseyn), or, as you may now rather wish to say, the manifestation and revelation of Being (Seyn), in its only possible form: this may be distinctly understood and seen by Knowledge itself, as we have now seen it. But and this is our fifth point this Knowledge can, by no means, in itself, understand or see how itself arises, and how from out the inward, self-comprehensive Being (Seyn) an Ex-istence (Daseyn}, manifestation or revelation of itself can proceed ; as indeed we may distinctly perceive, by reference to our third point, that such a sequential evolution is wholly beyond our power. The reason of this is, that Ex-istence, as we have already shown, cannot be without apprehending, recognising, and assuming itself, because such self-conception is inseparable from its nature; and thus Knowledge, by the very absoluteness of its Ex-istence and its dependence on that Ex-istence, is cut off from all possibility of passing beyond it, or of conceiving and tracing itself prior to that Ex-istence. It is, for itself and in itself, and so far well ; but wherever it is, it finds itself already there in a certain determinate mode, which it must accept just as it is presented to it, but which it can by no means explain, nor declare how and whereby it has become so. This unchangeably determined mode of the Ex-istence of Knowledge, which can be apprehended only by immediate comprehension and perception, is the essential and truly real Life of Knowledge.
But notwithstanding that this true and real Life of Knowledge cannot explain the definite mode in which it has arisen, it is yet susceptible of a general interpretation; and we may understand and perceive with absolute certainty what it is according to its essential inward nature; which is our sixth point. I lead you to this insight thus: What we set forth above, as our fourth point, that Ex-istence is necessarily Consciousness, and all that is involved in this principle, follows from mere Ex-istence as such, and the conception of such Ex-istence. Now, this Ex-istence (Daseyn) itself is, resting and reposing on itself alone; prior to any conception of itself, and inseparable from every such conception, as we have just proved; arid this its being, its reality, which can only be immediately perceived, we have called its Life.
Whence has it then this being, so completely independent of its conception of itself, and of the being which arises from that conception, nay, rather preceding these, and first rendering them even possible? We have said: It is the living and efficient Ex-istence of the Absolute itself which alone has power to be and to exist, and beside which nothing is, nor truly exists. Now as the Absolute can be only through itself, so also can it exist only through itself; and as it, in its very self, and nothing else in its stead, must be, since indeed nothing out of it has power either to be or to exist, so does it exist even as it is in itself, complete, undivided, without diminution, without variableness or change, as Absolute Unity, as it is in its own inward and essential nature. Thus the actual Life of Know ledge is, at bottom, the essential Being of the Absolute itself and nothing else; and between the Absolute or God, and Knowledge in its deepest roots, there is no separation or distinction, but both merge completely into one.
And thus we have already attained a point from which our previous propositions become clearer, and light spreads over our future way.
That any living Ex-istence should be wholly cut off from God, all living Ex-istence, as we have seen, being necessarily Life and Consciousness, and the dead and unconscious having no place in Ex-istence, that any living Ex-istence should be wholly cut off from God, is absolutely impossible; for only through the Ex-istence of God in it is it maintained in Ex-istence, and were it possible that God should disappear from within it, then would it thereby itself disappear from Ex-istence. In the lower grades of spiritual life, this Divine Ex-istence is seen only through obscure coverings, and amid confused phantasmagoria, which have their origin in the organs of the spiritual sense through which man looks upon himself and upon Being; but to gaze upon it bright and unveiled, as indeed the Divine Life and Ex-istence, and to bathe our whole being in this Life with full enjoyment and love, this is the True, the unspeakably Blessed Life.
It is ever, we said, the Ex-istence (Daseyn) of the Absolute and Divine Being (Seyn) that “is ” (exists) in all Life; by which expression “all Life,” we here mean the universal Life, according to the law, spoken of at the beginning of this lecture, which in this respect cannot be otherwise than as it is. In the lower grades of the spiritual life of man, however, that Divine Being, (Seyn) as such, does not reveal itself to Consciousness; but in the true central-point of spiritual life, that Divine Being, in its own express nature, does reveal itself to Consciousness; as, for example, I assume that it has revealed itself to us.
But, that it reveals itself as such to Consciousness, can mean nothing else than that it assumes the form which we have already seen to be the necessary form of Ex-istence and Consciousness, that, namely, of an image, representation, or conception, which gives itself out only as a conception, and not by any means as the thing itself. Immediately, in its true essential nature, and without any image or representation, it is at all times present in the actual life of man, only unperceived; and it continues there present as before, after it has been perceived; only it is then, besides, recognised in an image or representation. This representative form is the essential nature of Thought; and in particular the Thought we are here considering bears, in its sufficiency for its own support and confirmation, the character of Absoluteness; and there by approves itself as pure, true, and absolute Thought. And thus it is made evident on all sides, that only in pure Thought can our union with God be recognised.
We have already said, but must yet again expressly inculcate it upon you, and commend it to your earnest attention, that as Being (Seyn) is One and not Manifold, and as it is at once complete in itself, without variation or change, and thus an essential and absolute Unity, so also is Ex-istence (Daseyn) or Consciousness since it only exists through Being and is only the Ex-istence of Being, likewise an absolute, eternal, invariable, and unchanging Unity.
So it is, with absolute necessity, in itself; and so it remains in pure Thought. There is nothing whatever in Ex-istence but immediate and living Thought: Thought, I say, but by no means a thinking substance, a dead body in which thought inheres, with which no-thought indeed a no-thinker is full surely at hand: Thought, I say, and also the real Life of this Thought, which at bottom is the Divine Life; both of which Thought and this its real Life are molten together into one inward organic Unity; like as, outwardly, they are one simple, identical, eternal, unchangeable Unity.
Nevertheless, opposed to this latter outward Unity, there arises in Thought the Appearance of a Manifold, partly because there are many thinking subjects, and partly on account of the infinite series of objects upon which the thought of these subjects must eternally proceed.
This Appearance arises even before pure Thought and the Blessed Life in it, and Thought itself cannot forbid the presence of this Appearance; but in no way does pure Thought believe in this Appearance, nor love it, nor attempt to find enjoyment in it. On the other hand, the lower life, in all its inferior grades, believes in every appearance of this Manifold and in the Manifold itself, runs forth in vagrant dissipation upon this Manifold and seeks in it for peace and enjoyment of itself, which nevertheless it will never find in that way. This remark may, in the first place, explain the picture which we drew in our first lecture of the True Life and the Apparent Life. To the outward eye, these two opposite modes of Life are very similar to each other; both proceed upon the same common objects, which are perceived by both in the same way; inwardly, however, they are very different.
The True Life does not even believe in the reality of this Manifold and Changeable; it believes only in its Unchangeable and Eternal Original, in the Divine Essence; with all its thought, its love, its obedience, its self-enjoyment, for ever lost in and blended with that Original: the Apparent Life, on the contrary, neither knows nor comprehends any Unity whatsoever, but even regards the Manifold and Perishable as the True Being, and is satisfied with it as such. In the second place, this remark imposes upon us the task of setting forth the true ground why that which, according to our doctrine, is in itself absolutely One, and remains One in True Life and Thought, does nevertheless in an appearance, which we must yet admit to be permanent and indestructible, become transmuted into a Manifold and Changeable; the true ground of this transmutation, I say, we must at least set forth, and distinctly announce to you, although the clear demonstration of it may be inaccessible to popular communication. The exposition of this ground of the Manifold and Changeable, with the farther application of what we have said to-day, shall form the subject of our next discourse, to which I now respectfully invite you.
The Way of the Blessed Life or The Doctrine of Religion
Lectures Delivered at Berlin 1806 by Johann Fichte Pages 383 and following From The Popular Works of Johann Fichte 1762-1814 Translated by William Smith 1816-1896
Lecture III. p. 419-435
Difficulties Arising From The Common Mode Of Thought: Definition Of Being (Seyn) And Ex-istence (Daseyn.)