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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Motive to Philosophy
By Kuno Fischer (1824–1907)
From the ‘History of Modern Philosophy’: Translation of Richard Jones

PHILOSOPHY is a love for wisdom, a striving after truth. Even this striving is philosophy. A progressive culture-process can be comprehended only by a progressive knowledge-process. The human spirit is this progressive culture-process; philosophy is this progressive knowledge-process, the self-knowledge of the human spirit. This self-knowledge of the human spirit is the fundamental theme of all systems of philosophy. The problem of philosophy is to see the meaning of the forms of culture, to grasp their inner motives, and to make clear what they are and what is their aim. The problem is the more difficult, the richer and more manifold the world of culture becomes. The animating principles of men are so various that conflicting systems of philosophy arise, each of which expresses one phase of these animating principles. This phase must be co-ordinated, in order to solve the philosophical problem of the age. But there are ruling tendencies of the time; so there arise in philosophy ruling systems.  1
  Moreover, this explanation of the spirit of history, which is the province of philosophy, is always more than a mere exposition. Philosophy bears the same relation to the history of the human spirit as does our self-knowledge to our life. In what consists the act of self-observation? We withdraw from the outer world which has occupied us, and busy ourselves with ourselves. We make our own life a subject of observation, just as the artist views the work arising under his hand. He lays down his tools and steps back from his work, and from a suitable point of view surveys the whole. The eye of the critical artist sees otherwise than the eye of the artist lost in his work. He now discovers faults which were before unseen. He sees want of proportion in the parts; there a limb is too prominent for a symmetrical whole. By this opportune examination he sees now wherein one harmonizes with all, and what destroys the harmony. What shall the artist do? Abandon the work because many faults appear? Shall he not rather again grasp the tools, and in accordance with the right idea which he in a moment of criticism conceived, now correctly and better labor?  2
  Let us apply the illustration: The artists are ourselves; the artistic work is our lives; the critical look which judges the work is the self-observation which interrupts the process of living. We withdraw from the life which we have until that moment lived; and as the artist makes his work, we make our lives our subject of observation and win thereby a better knowledge of ourselves. We thereby separate ourselves from our past life-conditions, and shall never again return to the same. So self-observation determines the moment when one life-period closes and a new one begins. It makes a crisis in our development, a turning-point or epoch in our lives. We free ourselves from our passions as soon as we think. We cease to feel them so soon as we begin to observe them. In this lies the whole importance of self-knowledge, the crisis which it works in our lives. We are no more ruled by our previous life-conditions; we are no more what we were. So an earnest observation of self is always a fundamental freeing and renewal of our lives, a crisis which separates the present from the past and prepares for the future. The act of self-observation is in our own life what the monologue is in the drama. The action withdraws from the confusing stage of the outer world into the innermost soul, and here in silence, in deliberation with self, the problem is considered and solved.  3
  Such moments are wanting in the life of no spiritually active being, and every one finds them in his own experience. It is impossible that we shall always continue in the conditions of life and culture which have hitherto ruled us; our interest in them ceases to satisfy us. A feeling of satiety, of dissatisfaction, makes itself always more actively and painfully felt, and at last we remain alone with ourselves. We are estranged from our previous life-conditions; we begin to reflect concerning ourselves, concerning the problem of our being, concerning the problem of the world; we begin to philosophize,—so far as we are able, so far as our culture permits.  4
  I have portrayed out of the experience and development of a single life, the soul-condition in which the will is inclined to reflection and self-observation, and which germinates the first motive to philosophy. It is the moment when, in fervid souls, a passionate longing awakens to know philosophy and to receive from her the satisfaction which life, mere activity, no more provides.  5
  To that important part which, in the development of the individual, self-observation plays, there correspond in the life of the race the dominant systems of philosophy. They not merely accompany the progress of the human spirit, they influence this progress by making subjects of observation out of hitherto ruling life-conditions. They free the world from this rule. They perfect the present form of culture and prepare for the new. They work as world-historical factors, through which the great systems of culture live out their life and great culture crises are brought about.  6
  We see the history of philosophy in its true light, when we recognize in it the course of development in which the necessary problems of humanity are with all distinctness defined, and so solved that out of every solution there arise in progressive order ever new and deeper problems.  7

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