H. Lawrenny (essay date 1872)
SOURCE: “A New System of Philosophy,” in The Academy, Vol. III, No. 43, March 1, 1872, pp. 90-93.
[In the following review of Philosophy of the Unconscious, Lawrenny attempts to discredit Hartmann's conclusions.]
A NEW SYSTEM OF PHILOSOPHY.
The rise of a new philosophical system, which its adherents hail as embodying the most important metaphysical discovery since Hegel and Schopenhauer, cannot be viewed with indifference, and curiosity changes into interest when we find on what principles it claims to rest. Dr. Hartmann modestly confesses that the mysteries of the Dialectic Philosophy are as inaccessible to him as to the ordinary world, and he declares in favour of a simple inductive method, by which he hopes to reconcile or at least to lay the foundations of a system which shall reconcile and embrace the last conclusions of physical science and speculative philosophy. He does not disguise from himself the difficulty of the task, and it would certainly be impossible to exaggerate its importance. In examining the value of his present contribution towards its accomplishment, we must remember that something is gained if only the conditions of the problem have been clearly stated, and the best means for its solution correctly pointed out. For this reason we are anxious to do full justice to the Philosophy of the Unconscious, and though the author is somewhat unmethodical in the exposition of his views, this can perhaps be better done by following his own arrangement than by recasting his arguments in a logical order which he might repudiate.
The nature and existence of “the Unconscious” have to be explained and demonstrated in the course of the work, but the meaning of the name can be described at once; it does not stand for unconsciousness, but for “the unknown positive subject of whom unconsciousness can be predicated,” for the unconscious Will and unconscious Idea of the Unknown. The name is new, but the thing, as the author explains, is only his equivalent for the common first principle of every considerable philosophy (Spinoza's Substance, Schelling's Subject-Object, Fichte's Ich, Plato's and Hegel's Idea, Schopenhauer's Will, &c.), now for the first time approached by the light of scientific experience instead of à priori reasoning. To relieve philosophy from the reproach of remoteness and unpracticality would be much, and considering how slowly metaphysical science advances, it would perhaps be more to have suggested a name which designates the sum of our actual ignorance rather than a climax of fancied knowledge. There are some scientific discoveries which are a mere question of time and patience, there are others which may reasonably be expected to follow from the first, and there are also questions which we are at present quite unable to conceive as soluble by the methods of mathematical or physical science. If these questions have anything more than their inscrutability in common, x might be a better name than the Unconscious for the unknown quantity; but it is certainly well that there should be some general name under which we can conceive all that we do not know in contradistinction to all that we do or easily might know. Unfortunately, Dr. Hartmann aims at more than this simple clearance of the intellectual ground, and the whole superstructure of his argument rests on no more solid basis than the evidences of design in nature! It is the old story of the watch and the watchmaker with fresh illustrations taken from the more curious facts of natural history, and we might think we were reading Paley but that the name of the artificer is changed, for the Unconscious is endowed with all the old theological properties, Eternity, Omniscience, Omnipotence, and especially Incomprehensibility, which serves here as elsewhere to explain why the others are not of more use to their possessor.
The author confesses that he does not hope to convince any one who is not already persuaded that nature works with a purpose (Endzweck), and he is perhaps right not to think highly of the efficiency of reasoning if he himself, after studying Spinoza, Hume, and physical science, still finds it possible to ascribe anthropomorphic motives to nature and to consider cause as a metaphysical idea. However, in support or confirmation of the opinion where it exists, he has one curious argument. Assuming that everything must have an efficient cause, that cause must lie either in the material circumstances attendant on the production of the effect, or in other material circumstances, or it must be of a spiritual nature. The second alternative is inadmissible because all the material circumstances which can in any way influence the result are supposed to be reckoned in the first, so that it may be said that there is an equal antecedent probability in favour of the material or the spiritual character of the desired cause. Thus far there is nothing amiss, except the application of the law of chances to ascertained physical facts; but the author proceeds to argue as if no physical facts were ascertained, that the probability of the cause being spiritual increases with every material circumstance that is set aside as not cause. In illustration he enquires why hens sit, and children see with their eyes, and enumerates the conditions required for both phenomena, with the omission of the one thing needful in the eyes of a naturalist—their descent from animals with eyes and a habit of hatching eggs. Of course the laws of inheritance can only give the reason, not the cause, of the occurrence, and science does not trouble itself to provide the hen with an adequate motive for her sudden adoption of a sedentary life, such as Dr. Hartmann finds in the intention of the Unconscious that the species shall be preserved. But in the second case there is not even the appearance of voluntary action, and all the mathematical formulæ brought together to determine the degree of improbability (0.99994) that the fourteen physical conditions of sight which he enumerates should come together fortuitously, are little short of absurd in face of the simple fact that parents with two eyes and the necessary optical apparatus do, under normal conditions, invariably give birth to children similarly endowed.
The body of the work—for thus far we have not got beyond the introduction—is divided into three sections:—A. The corporeal manifestations of the Unconscious; B. The Unconscious in the mind; C. The metaphysics of the Unconscious. In these, two points have to be established: first, that the words unconscious thought and unconscious will do not involve a contradiction in terms; and, secondly, that we see traces in nature of thought and will which we cannot refer to any known conscious subject. It is one of the difficulties of the attempt to reconcile science and speculation that we are obliged to use abstract terms before the nature of the things they denote has been ascertained. In the present case we are called upon to recognise the assumed effects of Will and Idea in the first book, while the possibility of their existence is considered in the second, and their reality not till the third book. A better arrangement might have been possible, though, we admit, not easy. Following the author, we begin with “the unconscious will in the independent spinal and nervous systems,” and the “unconscious idea which presides at the execution of involuntary (i.e. reflex or mechanical) movements.” Apart from the teleological tendencies already noticed, it is a matter of indifference (or terminology) whether conscious human will is explained away into the action of physical laws, or whether the action of physical laws is uniformly described as voluntary, but less than nothing is gained if we are simply invited to credit nature with will in its popular acceptation of free preference and choice. In some passages the author seems almost guilty of this inconsistency, but it is not a necessary part of his system. Will in the abstract does not exist, and any particular act of Will can only will the transition from one state or condition to another. The tenour or content (Inhalt) of the Will is formed by the Idea of two states, one of which is viewed as actual and the other as desirable, and the will itself is the longing or striving after the realisation of the second idea, or, to speak more precisely, Will is defined as the immediate cause of whatever change takes place.
Before tracing the distinction between conscious will and idea and the same faculties as ascribed to the Unconscious, we have to ascertain what the author understands by consciousness. In the first part the answer is that of simple materialism: the threshold of consciousness is passed whenever the clearness and strength of the brain-vibrations reaches a certain point. It is in the account of what takes place short of that point, and in the metaphysical explanation of the dawn of consciousness, that, for better or worse, we come to something original. Consciousness (Bk. C. 3) is also “the stupefaction of the will at the sensible existence of an idea not willed by itself.” How the will, which, according to a very able argument, is shown a few pages farther on to be naturally and necessarily unconscious, can be supposed capable of feeling (i.e. being conscious of) astonishment, is not explained. And the companion demonstration that consciousness cannot be an inherent element of the idea, but must be something accidental to it produced from without, has the effect, whether intentionally or not, of neutralising all the preceding materialist admissions. In effect Dr. Hartmann makes conscious thought material, and unconscious thought the reverse, a proceeding plainly at variance with his own principles of the economy to be observed in explaining natural phenomena. The passages which he quotes from idealist philosophers, who knew even less than we do of the physiology of the brain, to show that they recognised the existence of thought which had not quite passed the threshold of consciousness, refer in their original contexts rather to thought which as thought is not yet quite perfect and complete. Spinoza's “confused ideas” should have been coupled with Kant's “dunkle Vorstellungen.” We should have expected to find a writer, who goes so far in his devotion to positive science, prepared either to deny the existence of unconscious ideas or to explain it as a state of the brain to which the finishing touch, which brings consciousness, was still accidentally wanting. Materialism offers the simplest solution of such problems as memory, association, &c., for material modifications of the brain may be of many kinds or degrees without quite reaching that kind or degree which corresponds to completely developed thought or consciousness. And it is not easy to see why, after braving the dangers and difficulties of an unpopular system, he rejects its help when most readily available. If consciousness presupposes thought, and thought presupposes certain physical conditions, the cross requisition of a contradiction to will is superfluous, though its presence may be recorded as a fact in psychology. But psychology is not the author's strongest point, at least there is much that might be objected in detail to his account of the next phase of the unconscious idea, in which it seems simply to be a name for as much of our ordinary mental processes as has become mechanical and involuntary from habit, or is too swift and simple for analysis.
After the proof that unconscious thought is possible follows the enquiry into the thought of the Unconscious, and all Dr. Hartmann's learning and ingenuity are called upon to bridge the yawning gulf between the two. He explains by the influence of the Unconscious in language the strangely perfect grammatical arrangements of barbarous languages, which have before now been claimed by Christian apologists as evidences of the miraculous origin of speech, and are scarcely more strange than the way in which figures lead of themselves from one combination to another, or the way (only proving that human thought obeys its laws) in which men of genius divine remote discoveries, and one intelligent system of philosophy is always on the point of blending with another, and that of leading to a third. But his chief reliance is of course upon the argument from design, in support of which he multiplies stories of instinct and instances of adaptation, from all of which he draws the same inference which their number does not strengthen; namely, that the course of the material universe is governed and actuated by mind, to wit, the mind of the Unconscious, an entity of a somewhat theological character, indefinitely more so at least than Spinoza's God, as the author in his third edition expressly admits. Here it is that Dr. Hartmann disappoints expectation; the Unconscious, or, as we should prefer to say, the Unknown, must be looked upon provisionally as the agent in innumerable natural processes; but it is impossible that a general name, improbable that a supernatural being, should be actuated by human feelings such as want and wish. The actual tendencies of nature can and must be recorded and summed up, but we can account for very few, and the attempt to explain and motive all has never yet led to anything but Fetishes. But even supposing, as in the absence of proof to the contrary is allowable, that the Unconscious is the one and indivisible mind of the universe, it does not, on the whole, will the preservation of every species, but (since it is omnipotent) what takes place, i.e. the struggle for existence, and the alternating inferiority of its own most ingenious contrivances for offensive and defensive warfare.
The distinction between the will of the brain and that of the nervous or muscular system is no doubt valid. The brain possesses very little indirect and no direct power of influencing the course of such vital functions as the circulation, respiration, digestion, &c., which are fairly paralleled to the instinctive life of less developed animals, and like that might perhaps be ascribed to the unconscious will of the organism, but have nothing to connect them with the intelligent will of the Unconscious. The author supposes “intelligence in the central organs,” but the intelligence is probably of the same transcendental character as the will and the ideas: for, whatever else is doubtful, science certainly tends to establish an indissoluble actual connection between rational and conscious mind and brain-fibre of a particular kind. It is for physiologists to decide whether the spinal marrow and ganglions do what they do in so far as they approximate in composition to the organ of thought, but the intelligence of which Dr. Hartmann speaks is independent of these conditions. Instead of resolving the dualism of mind and matter into a higher or simpler unity, the third hypothetical element which he introduces merely parodies the known forms of the other two, and while its very existence does not admit of scientific proof, the imaginary fertility of the principle discourages really hopeful trains of thought. Thus, in the third Book the author appears for a moment on the point of arguing to the real existence of the world from the independent material existence of the human body as evidenced by the material conditions of thought, some of which fall within and others without the direct sphere of consciousness. The hint is not followed up, though we can scarcely imagine a discovery more likely to lead to the reconciliation of science and philosophy than a rational inference from physical facts in favour of a doctrine which no deductions à priori have yet succeeded in securing against the attacks of scepticism.
It would take too long to examine the “Metaphysics of the Unconscious” as carefully and minutely as they deserve, for even when we decline to follow, or perhaps fail to trace, the thread of the main argument, the incidental matter is always interesting and suggestive, and the more abundant that the author's method is not severely consequent. Chap. V., “Matter as Will and Idea,” is perhaps the most important, though the physical theories it contains are rather in advance of our present knowledge, and, a still more serious objection, they do little to support the metaphysical assumptions previously made. In a perfectly consequent scheme unconscious mind would correspond to rudimentary atomic matter; the Unconscious would begin where the conscious ends, and the continuity of nature, already defended in a chapter on Consciousness in the Vegetable Kingdom, might have been firmly established. The existence and nature of the Unconscious, however, having been already taken for granted, it only remains to reduce the elements of consciousness to their simplest form. Matter is, on the one hand, “a system of atomic forces in a state of equilibrium,” on the other, “a combination of acts of will emanating from the Unconscious.” Of course, the idea of force ends by swallowing up that of the material upon which it acts; but we must ask what is a Kraftpunkt without the idea of extension, and therefore of body; and in this atmosphere of rarefied speculation the paradoxical redundancy of the Unconscious to cause what is already accounted for, or to account for what does not take place, is more apparent than ever. The conception of individual existences is also rendered unnecessarily difficult by the attempt to deduce their singularity from the Unity and Totality of the Unconscious. Individuality of character is surely either a series of facts or a generalisation based on them, and in real existence it is similarly either physical or rational; the germ-cell and the conscious mind are one and many, according to the definition preferred.
We have not as yet noticed the extent of Hartmann's obligations to Schopenhauer, which are about equivalent to those of Schopenhauer to Kant, but rather less freely and gratefully acknowledged. In the chapter on “The Unreason of Willing and the Misery of Being,” Schopenhauer's influence is supreme, for pessimism is not the conclusion to which a systematic admiration of the works of nature would seem to point. Optimism of an unusually sweeping character would have been more natural, and indeed the supposition of unconscious happiness seems almost necessary to stimulate the unconscious will to give effect to the unconscious idea. Instead of this we find one more paradox. The Unconscious is All-wise and All-powerful, and the world is the best possible world; but that does not interfere with its being heartily bad, and in fact a great deal worse than nothing. Why it could not have been better is not exactly explained, though the author is no doubt right in supposing that it would if it could. His remedy for its evil estate only differs from that of Schopenhauer in being more radical. Annihilation is the goal, but the annihilation of the individual is not enough.
“Du kannst im Grossen nichts vernichten Und fängst es nun im Kleinen an”
is the reproach he addresses to his master. The release of one man is followed (such is the imbecility of will) by the birth of another, and even if the whole human race were to die out by common consent, nothing would be gained, for “the poor world would still continue and the Unconscious would have to take the first opportunity of creating a new man or other similar type.” “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth with us,” and the problem is to enable the rational will for self-destruction to outweigh the blind, alogical, absolutely stupid creative will. Consciousness is the first step towards the attainment of the desired result, but the later ones are involved in mystical obscurity, only for our encouragement it is pointed out that the world will probably have an end, because it has an Endzweck (aim) which would be absurd on its part if the aim were not attainable, while its attainment of course marks the conclusion of the world-process thereto directed. Here however an awful prospect opens before us. Even when the universe has committed suicide by the exercise of moral forces as yet undreamt of, “the possibility still remains that the potentiality of the will may once again decide itself in favour of willing,” and a new universe and after that another and an endless series beyond may come in the future to know “the misery of being.” It is true that the author calculates the probabilities after his favourite fashion, and settles that the chances are against existence, but the apprehensions he excites are too lively to be allayed by a sum. Schopenhauer's Nirwana is surely better than this still more Indian vision of infinite worlds. The blind will which has once produced the calamitous phenomena of existence may do so again, for it is as incapable of experience or memory as of reflection, while no being capable of reflection could have voluntarily created the mass of evil actually extant.
This last rather circular argument has not prevented the obvious enquiry as to the difference between Dr. Hartmann's Unconscious and the God of the vulgar. In the rapidly succeeding second and third editions of his work he has attempted to answer the question in a manner which seems, upon the whole, intended to qualify the uncompromising irreligion of his central standpoint. He treats Pantheism as the inevitable outcome of philosophical theism, and admits that the Unconscious is simply the Pantheist's God without the attribute of consciousness, which he thinks ought not to be ascribed to nature on the mere ground of analogy, though he was content to attribute intelligence for no better reason. He concludes that there is no valid distinction between philosophical theism rightly understood and the philosophy of the Unconscious, but the motto on his title-page,
“Speculative Resultate nach inductiv-naturwissenschaftlicher Methode,”
should warn him not to carry his concessions too far. Philosophical theism, however “rightly understood,” is not a doctrine that can easily be proved by the inductive methods of natural science. The other additions, amounting in all to something like a seventh part of the original work, serve rather to complete and amplify the superstructure than to strengthen the foundations of the system, or to modify its general character.
To sum up the results of this new philosophy in a few words: The Unconscious is a metaphysical divinity who reigns but does not govern; Will is an irrational fate whose decisions are not final, and Consciousness is the creature of one and pupil of the other of these two inaccessible forces which it is to reconcile in the common destruction of itself and them. Untenable as a system, the Philosophy of the Unconscious is certainly the work of an able man, but the author is heedless as well as daring, and he follows the uncertain course of his ideas without pausing often enough to compare the whence and the whither.
Hartmann's answer is at least frank and explicit. The universe, he says, is a mere Form or manifestation of “the Unconscious,” which it has assumed in order to rid itself of the burden of its miserable existence, by cheating itself into nothingness. This is the best answer, perhaps the only one, which an atheist and a Pessimist can arrive at, for it is a reductio ad absurdum of the principles that he started with.
We have first to consider in what sense, and by what means, the plurality of phenomenal being is reduced by Hartmann to the unity of the Unconscious. How can he be a decided Monist, in spite of the elaborate argument which he has just constructed in favor of the “real” existence in Space, outside of our minds, of the countless material things which constitute the outer world? His answer is, that the universe is independent of our thought, independent even of all human thought. It is not a subjective fancy of the percipient Ego of consciousness, not a dream-world arbitrarily fashioned by our own vain imaginings; but it is an objective manifestation of the Unconscious, which would continue to be “real,” even if there were no eye to behold it, and no thought in which it could be reflected. The unity of the Unconscious is not destroyed by the countless multiplication of its phenomenal aspects, any more than the sun in the heavens ceases to be one, because its image is mirrored in innumerable pools and streams. Herbart is right in maintaining that the multiplicity of individual being is as broad and true as the reality of existence itself; but his mistake consists in failing to recognize the strictly phenomenal character of all reality and all existence. Subjective Idealism had a just presentiment that reality is only phenomenal; but it distorted and defaced this thought, because it recognized only a subjective phenomenality, whereby plurality was degraded into a merely personal illusion. In its essence and inmost nature, the universe is only an objective manifestation of one omnipresent Intellect and Will; but it is a “real” presentation to my thought in all its myriad forms, just as the image of the sun reflected in a brook is a “real” image; and it will continue to be thus manifested after my mind shall cease to be.
Then, what are Matter and Space per se, in their inmost being, apart from the phenomenal aspects under which they are manifested to consciousness? Schopenhauer says, Matter consists only of the purely subjective forms of Time, Space, and Causality presented to Sense by the universal Will as visible and tangible; and therefore it is mere Vorstellung, a Presentation to thought, a mental picture. Hartmann says, Matter is the Will and Intellect of the Unconscious, made objective in what the physicists call “Force,” which is only a manifestation of mind, a spiritualistic principle. Hence, like Berkeley, he does not idealize Matter in the sense of making it unreal, but only spiritualizes it. Force is real in the highest or absolute meaning of that term; for it is only Will and Intellect in action, and therefore it would continue both to be and to appear, though there were no brain, no human consciousness, to witness its activity. It was thus displayed and objectified in material forms, as we learn from geology, before any animal life appeared upon the earth.
In the chapter on “Matter as Will and Intellect,” Hartmann presents an elegant and concise statement of the Atomic Theory, in the form in which it is now accepted by most physicists and chemists, and argues conclusively, that the “atom” thus conceived is merely a mathematical point, which is the seat of force, the assumption of an inert and material substratum of this force being an arbitrary and really unmeaning hypothesis. The conclusion at which he arrives agrees perfectly with the doctrine propounded, as far back as 1758, by Father Boscovich. Hartmann presents his conclusion in these words: “Matter is therefore a system of atomic forces in a certain state of equilibrium. From these atomic forces, in their various combinations and reactions, arise all the so-called forces of matter, such as gravitation, expansibility, crystallization, chemical affinity, etc. The lines of action of all the forces cut each other in a mathematical point, which we call the seat of force, and this seat is movable.” The doctrine of Boscovich, as summed up by Dugald Stewart, is, that “the ultimate elements of which Matter is composed, are unextended atoms, or, in other words, mathematical points, endued with certain powers of attraction and repulsion; and it is from these powers that all the physical appearances of the universe arise. The effects, for example, which are vulgarly ascribed to actual contact, are all produced by repulsive forces, occupying those parts of space where bodies are perceived by our senses.”
The attractive force of each atom, Hartmann argues, has a definite end and aim, before the result is produced by it of bringing another atom nearer; it must, therefore, be conceived as a striving or effort, and the actual approximation of the two atoms to each other, an approximation not yet effected, as the purpose of this effort. In so far as the effect is already produced, the striving has come to an end, and no longer exists; only so far as the movement still remains as yet unrealized, is any effort to realize it possible. Hence, the movement, which is a definite one of approach with increasing velocity, must exist in idea, as the purpose of an intellect, before it exists in reality, as a result accomplished; otherwise, it would be an aimless effort, without any definite object, which is contrary to experience. Then the movement cannot be produced, as Schopenhauer supposes, by a mere blind Will or force acting vaguely, without reference to any particular result; but...
(The entire section is 11903 words.)