When Kant concludes that the objects of our experience are only phenomena, our spontaneous consciousness protests against that view. In our daily awareness, the objects in our experience are independent “things” that rest in themselves. When they are seen as interdependent, as being connected, then that relation is regarded as something external, which comes to things from the outside. The independent things are not substantially interconnected. It seems obvious. The chair is next to the stove and this “next to” does not belong to the things themselves.
Yet we “know” that the objects of our experience are indeed only phenomena. After all, they do not have the ground of their existence in themselves, but in something other than themselves. What exactly is this “other” with which they are not coincidentally, but essentially involved? According to Kant, the phenomena, that is, the things in our experience, are phenomena for us. Their being as such is inaccessible but must be assumed. The thing-by-itself is the impossible expression for things insofar as they are not phenomena, but cannot be an object of our experience.
The content of our consciousness, Kant teaches, is merely something of us, is posited by us. And we will have to protest against that from daily experience. The seat on which I am sitting and the heater that gives me warmth are not illusions. Speaking about the seat-it-itself or the stove-in-itself is a meaningless exercise of our imagination.
We have to go beyond Kant, at least if we also want to do justice to our daily experience. It is not about things in so far as they appear to us, but the things themselves, in their independence and apparent validity in themselves, are essentially phenomena. That is the essence of the finite things: that they do not have their ground in themselves, but receive their being from an absolute Ground of all things, from the universal Divine Idea. That is the tenor of absolute idealism, which transcends Kant’s subjective idealism. The very ground of this idealism is found in every religious consciousness, namely when it sees the whole world, with all things in it, as dependent on a divine Spirit. This awareness of the dependence and relativity of all things is therefore not an original philosophical insight, but a religious insight.
The point now is to make a distinction between what is indeed only a phenomenon in the world, and therefore transitory and meaningless, and what in the world deserves the predicate “reality”. Only a philosophy that conforms to the whole of our experience can bring this reality “to be conceptually understood”. The highest goal of philosophy is to be “science” in that sense, that it brings reality itself to speak of itself and by itself, and thereby establish the correspondence between reality and its understanding – the basic definition of truth.
When philosophy is only concerned with universal ideas, as was the case in the early history of philosophy, it ends up in barren formalism. However, our experience cannot concern itself with individual moments of perception. There is no science possible of the purely individual, as Aristotle taught. In the development of the natural sciences, however, neither the universal nor the individual is considered to be essential. The consideration of singular phenomena in the light of universal laws identifies the object of the sciences as the particular. The inherent immediacy of our experience and the emphasis on the given (that became an ideology in positivism) must be removed in a reflection on the nature of the particular self. Philosophy is thus also a continuous development out of natural sciences, while at the same time it originates from religious consciousness as absolute idealism. In this historic synthesis, her essential form is produced.
An old proposition says that nothing is in the intellect, that has not been before in experience. Speculative philosophy, especially absolute idealism will confirm that this is true. What in itself is the first – the universal, the concept, the idea – comes last for us. After all, we develop the concept out of experience, out of the everyday immediacy of our experience. But the opposite is also true, as we learned from Kant: there is nothing in our experience that was not present before – in a logical sense – in thought. The religious source of idealism says: because the Spirit is the cause of the world. And, because in religious feeling, the intuition of the relativity of things is preserved. That is why the world in its reality is not a collection of independent things, but through and through interconnectedness. This is how the world must necessarily be thought.
[Free to Enz. Par. 8, Anmerkung