The Phenomenology of Mind HTML version

For the rest, at a time when the universal nature of spiritual life has become so very much emphasized and
strengthened, and the mere individual aspect has become, as it should be, correspondingly a matter of
indifference, when, too, that universal aspect holds, by the entire range of its substance, the full measure of
the wealth it has built up, and lays claim to it all, the share in the total work of mind that falls to the activity
of any particular individual can only be very small. Because this is so, the individual must all the more forget
himself, as in fact the very nature of science implies and requires that he should; and he must, moreover,
become and do what he can. But all the less must be demanded of him, just as he can expect the less from
himself, and may ask the less for himself.
It is natural to suppose that, before philosophy enters upon its subject proper−namely, the actual knowledge
of what truly is−it is necessary to come first to an understanding concerning knowledge, which is looked
upon as the instrument by which to take possession of the Absolute, or as the means through which to get a
sight of it. The apprehension seems legitimate, on the one hand that there may be various kinds of knowledge,
among which one might be better adapted than another for the attainment of our purpose−and thus a wrong
choice is possible: on the other hand again that, since knowing is a faculty of a definite kind and with a
determinate range, without the more precise determination of its nature and limits we might take hold on
clouds of error instead of the heaven of truth.
This apprehensiveness is sure to pass even into the conviction that the whole enterprise which sets out to
secure for consciousness by means of knowledge what exists per se, is in its very nature absurd; and that
between knowledge and the Absolute there lies a boundary which completely cuts off the one from the other.
For if knowledge is the instrument by which to get possession of absolute Reality, the suggestion
immediately occurs that the application of an instrument to anything does not leave it as it is for itself, but
rather entails in the process, and has in view, a moulding and alteration of it. Or, again, if knowledge is not an
instrument which we actively employ, but a kind of passive medium through which the light of the truth
reaches us, then here, too, we do not receive it as it is in itself . but as it is through and in this medium. In
either case we employ a means which immediately brings about the very opposite of its own end; or, rather,
the absurdity lies in making use of any means at all. It seems indeed open to us to find in the knowledge of
the way in which the instrument operates, a remedy for this parlous state; for thereby it becomes possible to
remove from the result the part which, in our idea of the Absolute received through that instrument, belongs
to the instrument, and thus to get the truth in its purity. But this improvement would, as a matter of fact, only
bring us back to the point where we were before. If we take away again from a definitely formed thing that
which the instrument has done in the shaping of it, then the thing (in this case the Absolute) stands before us
once more just as it was previous to all this trouble, which, as we now see, was superfluous. If the Absolute
were only to be brought on the whole nearer to us by this agency, without any chance being, wrought in it,
like a bird caught by a limestick, it would certainly scorn a trick of that sort, if it were not in its very nature,
and did it not wish to be, beside us from the start. For a trick is what knowledge in such a case would be,
since by all its busy toil and trouble it gives itself the air of doing something quite different from bringing
about a relation that is merely immediate, and so a waste of time to establish. Or, again, if the examination of
knowledge, which we represent as a medium, makes us acquainted with the law of its refraction, it is likewise
useless to eliminate this refraction from the result. For knowledge is not the divergence of the ray, but the ray
itself by which the truth comes in contact with us; and if this be removed, the bare direction or the empty
place would alone be indicated.
Meanwhile, if the fear of falling into error introduces an element of distrust into science, which without any
scruples of that sort goes to work and actually does know, it is not easy to understand why, conversely, a
distrust should not be placed in this very distrust, and why we should not take care lest the fear of error is not
just the initial error. As a matter of fact, this fear presupposes something, indeed a great deal, as truth, and