Letter from Hans Cornelius written 11.01.1938
Gräfelfing, January 11, 1938
My dear friend and honored colleague,
n I would have replied to your letter much sooner if it hadn’t been for a severe bout of bronchitis and unpleasant and comprehensive correspondence with official authorities.
n Once again, our correspondence makes it clear to me how difficult it is to discuss philosophical matters via mail. In verbal conversations, one can somewhat sense whether the conversation partner is misunderstanding or misinterpreting one’s own words; unfortunately, this is not the case when writing a letter, and we often end up talking past each other. I just hope that my comments concerning your work have not offended you, and therefore, I will add a few additional explanations. You would certainly have the right to be offended if my words were meant as you interpreted them.
n The central misunderstanding on your part regarding my philosophy, which also affects my comments regarding your work, seems to be the presumption that I believe, based on my transcendental considerations, the natural attitude of humans is a falsification of the concept of the world. While this may apply to Kant and Schopenhauer, I am not aware of having stated this. In fact, I strive to utilize my transcendental investigations to explain the conclusion of this natural view as the necessary result of transcendental conditions of our thoughts, so that this natural view turns out to be the necessary world view for our mind and for our experience. The only exceptions here are the conclusions (of which some were not derived from natural thinking but rather pseudo-scientific deliberations of over-hasty natural scientists and mathematicians) based on terms that have not been thoroughly defined, yet they have been applied to the interpretation of nature. Thus, I do not refute the actual validity of these naturalistic terms, as I call them; however, I am striving to prevent hasty conclusions by trying to clarify their origins and therefore their purely empirical meaning. When you say that transcendental idealism turns the entire experiential world into a delusion, I cannot recognize this assertion with regard to the form (or aberration?) of transcendental idealism that reflects my viewpoint. I don’t mean that the world of natural experiences is a delusion, but I believe that I have proven that some conclusions drawn from it by scientists are.
n Well, this covers the principle of this matter. In particular, I have to stand against the conventional interpretation (in accordance with my previous statements above) of the word “idealism” if it is extended to transcendental idealism as defined by me. In contrast to Berkeley’s and most of all Schopenhauer’s idealism, I am trying to demonstrate that the world of objects in space exists independently of our perception, and, contrary to Schopenhauer, that it is nothing less than “mere imagination”. Furthermore, I have, as for all experiences, including the creation of the concept of time, declared those factors responsible that cause the interconnection of our consciousness. However, I never described time as a structure of a timeless self. On the contrary, I believe that I have shown how the self is essentially built on the temporal interconnection of experiences. Therefore, the self is by no means a timeless self, but rather one that cannot think without the concept of time.
n If you say that you don’t recognize the self as an interconnection of experiences, I would ask you to not merely interpret the term “experience” according to my philosophy as “content” of “acts” or similar terms which abstract from the self. To me, an “experience” is always and from the outset the experience of the self: If you ask how me how being “sad” could be an interconnection of experiences, I would reply that while this might not be an interconnection, it might be a single part of an interconnection, namely an experience (“the experience of grief”). (Certainly not one of the experiences that are interpreted as occurrences of objects of the “external world”.) When I point out that the interconnection caused by a memory is essential for the “self”, I don’t mean to define the self. I only strive to describe what constitutes the unity of the self and its experiences compared to the experiences of another self. The experience, i.e. what unifies the self or whichever way you want to describe this condition, is something that could not somehow be defined or detailed in this regard. The experience is what, at any time, leads a self into existence (i.e. for the individual having the experience, for the self, itself). Only by experiencing, meaning based on experiences according to my definition of the word, do we know about “ourselves”. However, only by our knowledge (provided by our memory) of the temporal interconnection of the experiences do we know of such experiences (of the same self) as “our” experiences. This means that there’s only unity of the temporal sequence in this interconnection, and this is why we shall call them “our” experiences; in other words, the persistence of the self only depends on this, and one can only speak of the self as “the same” at different (“different” meaning differentiated by us!) times, even if it was only a short time ago, in the sense of the interconnection of experiences. Since this means that everything that is thought through (as the experiencing self) during each “experience” only gains an identity (meaning it is only legitimized by attaching a usable term), I believe that it is correct to say that the interconnection of experiences is essential for the term self. I don’t claim that this would exhaust the term of the self that is essential for each experience that cannot be separated from “experiencing”, yet can never be somehow defined, and can only be recognized – since the term “interconnection of experiences” presupposes everything that is included in the “experience”, everything that is connected to the term “experience” also applies to the term self. With my analysis of the interconnection of experiences, I would like to draw attention to the facts that must form the essential basis for all further questions about the “self” (particularly as it regards its continued existence outside of the body). I believe I implied in the paper on the “Rational Theory of the Soul” in the transcendental systematics as well as in the “Commentary on Kant” that specific “material” statements about the self find their explanation within this framework.
n Well, I guess that’s enough for today! I hope my sharing these principals with you will remove the obstacles that prevent our mutual understanding. I hope very much that we will soon be able to meet again to discuss these matters in person.
n n n Warmest regards from your devoted servant,
n n n n n n n H. Cornelius