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Section Forty-six: “Psychological Idea”

25 September, 2015 - 17:25

It has long been observed that the subject proper, in all substances, namely, that which remains over after all accidents (as predicates) have been abstracted, that is, the substantialitself, is unknown, and oft-repeated complaints have been made of these limitations of our insight. But it is to be observed as regards this, that the human understanding is not to be taken to task for not knowing the substantial of things, that is, for not being able to determine it by itself, but rather for expecting to know it definitely, like a given object, when it is a mere idea. Pure Reason requires of every predicate of a thing the subject belonging to it, but to this, which is again necessarily only predicate, it requires a further subject, and so on ad infinitum (or as far as we can reach). But it follows from the above, that nothing to which we can attain is to be taken for an ultimate subject, and that the substantial itself can never be thought by our understanding, however deeply penetrating it may be, not even if the whole of Nature were unveiled before it; because the specific nature of our understanding consists in that it thinks all things discursively, i.e., through conceptions, and hence solely by means of predicates, to which the absolute subject must always be wanting. For this reason all real qualities whereby we cognise bodies, even to impenetrability, which must always present itself as the effect of a force, are simply accidents, the sub- ject of which eludes us.

Now it seems as though in our own consciousness (the thinking subject) we have this substantial, and indeed in an immediate intuition; for all predicates of the internal sense refer to the ego, the subject, and this cannot be thought of as predicate of any other subject whatever. Here, then, the completeness in the connection of the given conceptions as predicates of a subject, not merely an idea, but an existence, namely, the absolutesubjectitself, seem to be given in experience. But this experience is vain, for the egois no conception at all, but merely a designation of the object of the internal sense, so far as we can cognise it by no further predicate, and hence in itself it can indeed be no predicate of another thing, and just as little a definite conception of an absolute subject, but only, as in all other cases, the reference of the internal phenomena to their unknown subject. At the same time, this idea (which serves well enough, as regula- tive principle, completely to annihilate all materialistic explanations of the internal phenomena of our soul) occasions, owing to a perfectly natural misunderstanding, a very plausible argument, by inferring from this supposed cognition of the substantial in our thinking entity, its nature, in so far as the knowledge of the same falls entirely outside the content of experience.