Spengler / On Scientific Psychology

What Oswald Spengler said:

Every professed philosopher is forced to believe, without serious examination, in the existence of a Something that in his opinion is capable of being handled by reason, for his whole spiritual existence depends on the possibility of such a Something. […] The proposition “there is a soul, the structure of which is scientifically accessible; and that which I determine, by critical dissection of conscious existence-acts into the form of psychic elements, functions, and complexes, is my soul” is a proposition that no psychologist has doubted hitherto. And yet it is just here that his strongest doubts should have arisen. Is an abstract science of the spiritual possible at all? Is that which one finds on this path identical with that which one is seeking? Why has psychology meant, not knowledge of men and experience of life, but has been the shallowest and most worthless of the disciplines of philosophy, a field so empty that it has been left entirely to mediocre minds and barren systematists? The reason is not far to seek. It is the misfortune of “experimental” psychology that it does not even possess an object as the word is understood in any and every scientific technique. Its searches and solutions are fights with shadows and ghosts. What is it the Soul? If the mere reason could give an answer to that question, the science would be ab initio unnecessary.

The image of the soul is mythic and remains objective in the field of spiritual religion so long as the image of Nature is contemplated in the spirit of religion; and it transforms itself into a scientific notion and becomes objective in the field of scientific criticism as soon as “Nature” comes to be observed critically. As “time” is a counter-concept to space, so the soul is a counter world to “Nature” and therefore variable in dependence upon the notion of Nature as this stands from moment to moment.

I maintain, then, that scientific psychology has, in its inability to discover, or even approach the essence of the soul, simply added one more to the symbols that collectively make up the Macrocosm of culture-man. Like everything else that is no longer becoming but become, it has put a mere mechanism in place of an organism.

…For everything that our present-day psychologist has to tell us – and here we refer not only to systematic science but also in the wider sense to the physiognomic knowledge of men – relates to the present condition of the Western soul, and not as hitherto gratuitously assumed to the “human soul” at large.

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Oswald Spengler (an Asperger?)

I first came upon DECLINE over 30 years ago. I keep going back to this text, not because I see history as truth – but culture forms a profound boundary between  “popular” received wisdom and extra-human reality.  

 

The German philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) is famous for his Decline of the West. He held that civilizations, like biological organisms, pass through a determinable life cycle and that the modern West was approaching the end of such a cycle.

Oswald Spengler was born at Blankenburg am Harz on May 29, 1880, the son of a postal official. Although mathematics and natural science were his major subjects at the University of Halle, he received his doctorate for a dissertation on Heraclitus in 1904. After recovering from a nervous breakdown in 1905-1906, Spengler taught in secondary schools until a small inheritance from his mother allowed him in 1911 to move to Munich as a private scholar. Spengler never married.

Exempted from military service because of poor health, Spengler wrote the major part of The Decline of the West during the war years under conditions of great economic hardship. The first volume appeared in 1918, the second in 1922.

The Decline of the West is an impassioned attack against the values of modern post-Enlightenment civilization—of intellect, social equality, peace, and urban culture. Borrowing from the anti-intellectualist tradition of German conservative thought, he rejects the possibility of scientific history. History is never “correct” or “erroneous” but only “deep” or “shallow.” Human history as such has no meaning. In place of the traditional Eurocentric conception of a linear history of human civilization, Spengler offers a “Copernican” view of history in which Western (or Faustian) civilization since A.D. 1000 constitutes merely one of eight historic cultures. Each culture has a wholly individual way of looking at the world which permeates all its cultural expressions, even its mathematics and science. No understanding is possible between men of different cultures. Nevertheless, the similarity of the life processes of birth, growth, and decay makes possible a “comparative morphology of history.”

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