AOH :: RSGOETHE.TXT|
Borderland: Goethe's Concept of Space
GOETHE'S CONCEPT OF SPACE
(Translated by Eva Lauterbach)*
A full understanding of Goethe's work in physics is only
possible if one considers Goethe's concept of space. For
this reason we shall describe it here. If we wish to
understand this concept, we need to have grasped from our
preceding elaborations the following points:
1) Objects singly confronting us in our experience have
an inner reference to each other. In reality, they are bound
together uniformly by the world. In them lives but one
2) When our mind approaches objects and tries to
mentally embrace what is separated, the conceptual unity thus
produced is not external to the objects, but taken from the
inner essence of nature itself. Human understanding is not a
process taking place outside objects, arising from purely
subjective arbitrariness; instead, the law of nature arising
in our mind, the happening in our soul, is the heartbeat of
the universe itself.
For our present purpose, we shall examine the most
external reference our mind establishes between the objects
of experience. Let us take the simplest case in which our
experiencing calls for mental activity. Two simple elements
of the world of appearances are given by way of example. In
order not to complicate our examination, let us take
something quite simple, for example two shining points. We
shall leave aside completely that possibly in each of these
shining points we already have something unbelievably
complicated posing a task for our mind. We shall also leave
aside the quality of the tangible elements of the world of
the senses before us. We shall only consider the
circumstance that we have before us two elements separated
from each other, i.e., appearing separate to our senses. We
are only taking as given two factors, each of which is
capable of making an impression on our senses: that is all
we are taking as given. We shall further take for granted
that the existence of one of these factors does not exclude
the existence of the other. One organ of perception can
perceive both of them.
* (C) 1984 Schaumberg Publications, Inc. Reprinted, with
permission of the translator, from THE FOUR ETHERS by Dr.
If we assume that the existence of one of these elements
is dependent upon the existence of the other in any way
whatsoever, then we have a problem different from our present
one. If the existence of B is such that it excludes the
existence of A, yet, according to its essence, is dependent
on it, then A and B have to have a relationship in time.
Because the dependence of B on A - keeping in mind that the
existence of B excludes the existence of A - is conditioned
on A preceding B. But this should be discussed separately.
For our present purpose we shall not assume such a
relationship. We are taking for granted that those things we
are concerned with do not exclude each other's existence, but
instead are entities existing with each other. If we
disregard every reference demanded by inner nature, only this
remains that a reference as such exists of the special
qualities, that I can transit from one to the other. There
can be no doubt for anyone what kind of relationship it may
be that I create between things without considering their
composition, their essence. Whoever asks what kind of
transition from one thing to the other can be found, with the
thing itself of no consideration, must certainly give the
answer: space. Every other relationship has to be based on
the qualitative composition of what appears separately in the
world. Only space considers nothing other than that things
are separated. When I am thinking: A is above , B is below,
I don't concern myself at all with what A and B are. I
connect no other thought with them than they are separate
factors of the world that I grasp with my senses.
When looking at experience our mind wants to overcome
separateness, it wants to demonstrate that the force of the
whole can be seen in the individual members. Concerning
spatial views, it does not wish to overcome anything other
than individualization as such. Our mind wants to establish
the utmost general relationship. That A and B individually
are not a world by themselves but share togetherness, is
clear through spatial observation. That is the idea of next
to each other. If each thing were a being alone, there would
exist no concept of next to each other. I would in no way be
able to establish a reference of beings to each other.
Now we shall examine what further follows from
establishing an external reference between two individual
entities. I can visualize two elements only one way in such
a reference. I visualize A next to B. I can now do the same
with two other elements of the world of the senses, C and D.
Thereby, I have established a concrete reference between A
and B and another between C and D. Now I will completely set
aside the elements A, B, C, and D, and only refer the two
concrete references to each other. It is clear that as two
special entities, I can refer these to each other as much as
A and B themselves. What I am referring here are concrete
references; I may call them a and b. If I now go a step
further, I can refer a again to b. But now I have already
lost all that is individual. When looking at a, I no longer
find an individual A and B referring to one another, and the
same with b. In both of them I find nothing other than that
there has been a reference as such. This determination,
however, is the same for a and b. What enabled me to still
distinguish a and b was that they referred to A, B, C, and D.
If I exclude this remnant of the individual and only refer a
and b to each other, i.e., the circumstance that there has
been a reference altogether (not that something specific has
been referred), then I have again arrived very generally at
the spatial relationship from which I started. Further I
cannot go. I have reached what I have set out for earlier:
space itself is standing before my soul.
Herein lies the secret of the three dimensions. In the
first dimension I refer to each other two concrete elements
appearing in the world of the senses; in the second dimension
I refer these spatial references themselves to each other. I
have established a reference between references. I have
brushed off the concrete things, the concrete references have
remained. Now I spatially refer these to each other. That
is, I disregard that they are concrete references; then,
however, I have to find in the second reference exactly
whatever I find in the first. I am establishing references
where there is no difference. Now the possibility of
relating is ended because the difference is ended.
What I previously took as the viewpoint for my
observations, namely, the totally external reference, I now
reach again as idea based on sense perception; from the
observation of space, after executing my operation three
times, I have arrived at space, i.e., my starting point.
Therefore, space can have only three dimensions. What
we have done here with the idea of space is actually only a
special case of the method we employ when we observingly
approach things. By observing tangible objects from a
general viewpoint, we gain concepts of individual things.
These concepts we then examine from the same viewpoints so
that we have only the concepts of the concepts before us. If
we connect those, they melt into that uniformity of an idea
which may be placed under no further viewpoint than its own.
Let us take a specific example. I am getting to know two
people: A and B. I look at them from the viewpoint of
friendship. In which case I shall gain a very specific
concept, a, of the two people's friendship. Now I look at
two other people, C and D, from the same viewpoint. I come
to another concept, b, of this friendship. I can go further
and refer these two concepts of friendship to each other.
What I am left with, if I disregard the concrete fact I have
gained, is the concept of friendship as such. This, however,
I can also gain in reality by viewing the persons E and F
from the same viewpoint, and also G and H. In this, as in
innumerable other cases, I can reach the concept of
friendship as such. All these concepts, however, are
essentially identical to each other; and if I look at them
from the same viewpoint, it becomes apparent that I have
found a whole. I have returned again to what I started with.
Space is thus a view of things, a way in which our mind
gathers things into a unit. The three dimensions in this
connection behave in the following manner. The first
dimension establishes the relationship between two sensory
perceptions (sensory perception here is what Kant calls
sensation [Empfindung]). Thus it is a concrete thought. The
second dimension relates two concrete thoughts to each other
and thereby moves into the area of abstraction. The third
dimension, finally, only establishes the uniformity of the
idea between the abstractions. Therefore, it is totally
incorrect to consider the three dimensions of space as
completely equal. Whichever is the first depends, of course,
on the elements perceived. But then the other dimensions
have a very specific and different meaning from the first.
Kant assumed, quite in error, that space is a totality
instead of an entity conceptually determinable within itself.
Heretofore, we have spoken of space as a relationship, a
reference. But is there only this relationship of next to
each other? Or is an absolute determination of location
existent for each thing? This, of course, has not even been
touched on in our preceding elaborations. But, let us
examine if such a condition of location, a very specific
"there" exists. What am I referring to in reality when
speaking of such a "there"? Nothing other than an object of
which the immediate neighbor is the object in question.
"There" means neighboring an object referred to by me. With
that, however, the absolute indication of location has been
led back to a spatial relationship.
Finally, let us raise the question: According to the
preceding examinations, what is space? Nothing other than a
necessity, inherent in the things themselves, to overcome in
a most external way their being individual without
considering their essence, and to unite them in an external
uniformity. Space, therefore, is a way of grasping the world
as uniformity. Space is an idea; not, as Kant thought,
something one sees.
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