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Modern History Sourcebook:
Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829):
German Romanticism in Philosophy


The object therefore of philosophy is the inner mental life (geistige Leben), not merely this or that individual faculty in any partial direction, but man's spiritual life with all its rich and manifold energies. With respect to form and method: the philosophy of life sets out from a singte assumption- that of life, or in other words, of a consciousness to a certain degree awakened and manifoldly developed by experience -since it has for its object, and purposes to make known the entire consciousness and not merely a single phase of it. Now, such an end would be hindered rather than promoted by a highly elaborate or minutely exhaustive form and a painfully artificial method; and it is herein that the difference lies between a philosophy of life and the philosophy of the school....

Now, the distinction between the philosophy of life and the philosophy of the school will appear in very different lights according to the peculiarity of view which predominates in the several philosophical systems. That species of philosophy which revolves in the dialectical orbit of abstract ideas, according to its peculiar character presupposes and requires a well-practised talent of abstraction, perpetually ascending through higher grades to the very highest, and even then boldly venturing a step beyond. In short, as may be easily shown in the instance of modern German science, the being unintelligible is set up as a kind of essential characteristic of a true and truly scientific philosophy. 1, for my part, must confess, that I feel a great distrust of that philosophy which dwells In inaccessible light, where the inventor indeed asserts of himself, that he finds himself in an unattainable certainty and clearness of insight, giving us all the while to understand thereby, that he does see well enough how of all other mortals scarcely any, or perhaps, strictly speaking, no one, understands or is capable of understanding him. In all such cases it is only the false light of some internal ignis fatuus that produces this illusion of the unintelligible, or rather of nonsense. In this pursuit of wholly abstract and unintelligible thought, the philosophy of the school is naturally enough esteemed above every other, and regarded as pre-eminently the true science-i.e., the unintelligible....

But the true living philosophy has no relation or sympathy with this continuous advance up to the unintelligible heights of empty abstraction. Since the objects it treats of are none other than those which every man of a cultivated mind and in any degree accustomed to observe his own consciousness, both has and recognizes within himself, there is nothing to prevent its exposition being throughout clear, easy, and forcible. Here the relation is reversed. In such a system the philosophy of life is the chief and paramount object of interest; while the philosophy of the school, or the scientific teaching of it in the schools, however necessary and valuable in its place, is still, as compared with the whole thing itself, only secondary and subordinate. In the philosophy of life, moreover, the method adopted must also be a living one. Consequently it is not, by any means, a thing to be neglected. But still it need not to be applied with equal rigour throughout, or to appear prominently in every part, but on all occasions must be governed in these respects by what the particular end in view may demand....

* * . But in order to illustrate this simple method of studying life from its true central point, which is intermediate between the two wrong courses already indicated, and in order to make by contrast my meaning the plainer, 1 would here in a few words, characterize the false starting-point from which the prevailing philosophy of a day-whether that of France in the eighteenth century or the more recent systems of Germany-has hitherto for the most part proceeded.

False do I call it, both on account of the results to which it has led, and also of its own intrinsic nature. In one case as well as in the other, the starting-point was invariably some controverted point of the reason - some opposition or other to the legitimacy of the reason; under which term, however, little else generally was understood, than an opposition of the reason itself to some other principle equally valid and extensive. The principal, or rather only way which foreign philosophy took in this pursuit, was to reduce every thing to sensation as opposed to reason, and to derive every thing from it alone, so as to make the reason itself merely a secondary faculty, no original and independent power, and ultimately nothing else than a sort of chemical precipitate and residuum from the material impressions....

Briefly to recapitulate what has been said: The existence of the brutes is simple, because in them the soul is completely mixed up and merged in the organic body, and is one with it; on the destruction of the latter it reverts to the elements, or is absorbed in the general soul of nature. Twofold, however, is the nature of created spirits, who besides this ethereal body of light are nothing but mind or spirit; but threefold is the nature of man, as consisting of spirit, soul, and body. And this triple constitution and property, this threefold life of man, is, indeed, not in itself that pre-eminence, although it Is closely connected with that superior excellence which ennobles and distinguishes man from all other created beings. I allude to that prerogative by which he alone of ;all created beings is invested with the Divine image and likeness. This threefold principle is the simple basis of all philosophy; and the philosophical system which is constructed on such a foundation is the philosophy of life, which therefore has even "words of life." It is no idle speculation, and no unintelligible hypothesis. It is not more difficult, and needs not to be more obscure, than any other discourse on spiritual subjects; but it can and may be as easy and as clear as the reading of a writing, the observation of nature, and the study of history. For it is in truth nothing else than a simple theory of spiritual life, drawn from life itself, and the simple understanding thereof. If, however, it becomes abstract and unintelligible, this is invariably a consequence, ;and for the most part an infallible proof of its having fallen into error. When in thought we place before us the whole composite human individual, then, after spirit and soul, the organic body is the third constituent, or the third element out of which, in combination with the other two?, the whole man consists and is compounded. But the structure of the organic body, its powers and laws, must be left to physical science to investigate. Philosophy is the science of consciousness alone; it has, therefore, primarily to occupy itself with soul and spirit or 'mind, and must carefully guard against transgressing its limits in any respect. But the third constituent beside mind and soul, in which these two jointly carry on their operations, needs not always, as indeed the above instance proves, to be an organic body. In other relations of life, this third, in which both are united, or which they in unison produce, may be the word, the deed, life itself, or the divine order on, which both are dependent. These, then, are the subjects which I have proposed for consideration. But in order to complete this scale of life, I will further observe: triple is the nature of man, but four-fold is the human consciousness. For the spirit or mind, like the soul, divides and falls asunder, or rather is split and divided into two powers or halves-the mind, namely, into understanding and will, the soul into reason and fancy. These are the four extreme points, or, if the expression be preferred, the four quarters of the inner world of consciousness. All other faculties of the soul, or powers of mind, are merely subordinate ramifications of the four principal branches; but the living centre of the whole is the thinking soul.


Source:

From F. Von Schlegel, The Philosophy of Life and Philosophy of Language in a Course of Lectures, trans. A. J. W. Morrison (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1847), pp. 4-6, 8-12, 16-17, 21-22.



This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu