Reflection (philosophy)

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Reflection means thinking about oneself or one's own behavior in a testing and comparative way, thinking (if it is related to a mental activity). The corresponding verb is to reflect and stands for brooding, thinking through or pondering.

In philosophy there have also been subject-specific uses of the term since the 17th century, which are based on this term and emphasize different aspects. The focus is on the distinction between perception related to external objects and that mental activity that is directed towards the act of thinking and imagining itself ( abstraction ).

Ancient and modern foundations

A “ knowledge of knowledge” is already mentioned by Plato ( Charmides 171c), Aristotle mentions the “thinking of thinking” in connection with a discussion of happiness , which for him arises from spiritual activity in general:

"If he perceives who sees that he sees and hears that he hears, and when walking perceives that he is walking, and if everything else also has a perception that we are active, so we do perceive that we perceive and think that we think: and that we perceive and think is a sign to us that we are (...) ”.

Finally, the turning back of the spirit on itself, in Greek epistrophé , becomes a central concept in Neoplatonism , especially in Proclus . In the Middle Ages, epistrophé was first translated as reditio , return, or conversio , reversal. In addition, Thomas Aquinas was already using reflexio .

Numerous controversial theories of reflection emerged following Descartes ' mirror metaphors. Nevertheless, “ Leibniz's definition La réflexion n'est autre chose qu'une attention à ce qui est en nous (Eng .:“ The reflection is nothing other than the attention to what is in us ”) for the Cartesian one Tradition until Husserl were considered capable of reaching a consensus. ”Delimitations emerged from these foundations that increasingly differentiated“ reflection ”from the prevailing psychological notion of introspection .

John Locke

After reflection in English and réflexion in French had established themselves as slang terms in the 17th century, John Locke's treatment of reflection in his attempt on human understanding (1690) became decisive for further philosophical debates about it. Locke differentiates between the perception of external objects and the perception of the processes in our own soul such as “perceiving, thinking, doubting, believing, justifying, knowing, wanting”, including the associated feelings of “satisfaction or dissatisfaction”:

“By being aware of them and looking at them in ourselves, our mind receives certain ideas as well as from the bodies that excite our senses. Everyone has this source of ideas entirely in himself, and although here we cannot speak of any meaning, since it has nothing to do with external objects, it is nevertheless very similar to the senses and could quite rightly be called internal meaning. Since I already call this source sensation , I call it: self-perception ( reflection ) (...) ”.

It remains unclear whether the reflection should be seen as dependent on external perception or as an independent source of knowledge, since Locke, referring to Descartes , who admittedly does not yet use the term reflection, also asserts the latter.

The concept of reflection in the Enlightenment

The idea that reflection means a loss of immediacy is first found in François Fénelon and was propagated primarily by Jean-Jacques Rousseau : "The state of reflection is against nature." A literary treatment of this subject that has become known is Heinrich von Kleists about the puppet theater , which says:

"We see that as the reflection in the organic world becomes darker and weaker, the grace becomes more and more radiant and dominant."

Johann Gottfried Herder pointed out that reflection depends on language: only this allows individual moments to be captured in an "ocean of sensations" on which the mind can reflect. Since people fell back on what they had already achieved earlier, which they expanded and improved, for Herder the history of ideas finally presents itself as a "supra-individual context of reflection" (L. Zahn).

Kant and German Idealism

Immanuel Kant deals with the reflection concepts of his predecessors in an appendix to the transcendental analytics of the critique of pure reason . He is talking about amphibolism here , i.e. H. the ambiguity of these reflection concepts, since they either “abstract from all conditions of intuition (...) we of course have nothing left in the mere concept but the interior in general” (B 339, 341); or the concepts of the understanding would be completely “sensified” so that one could only determine their difference and conflict. The former is Leibniz's mistake , the latter that of Locke (B 327). He therefore calls for a transcendental reflection, through which it must first be established whether terms “are compared with one another as belonging to pure understanding or to sensual perception” (B 317) - he calls them transcendental, because they “find out the subjective conditions, under which we can arrive at concepts ”, and have“ not to do with the objects themselves ”from which the concepts are to be obtained (B 316).

Johann Gottlieb Fichte distinguishes in his science theory of 1794 between “reflection” and “striving” as the two fundamental activities of the “absolute self”. On a first level, they bring about “Ihood” as “an activity that goes back into itself and determines itself”. Through further “free reflection” what was initially still connected is separated and “taken up in a new form, the form of knowledge or consciousness”, whereby reflection becomes “being of knowledge for itself”, but which is its reason, namely its freedom and unity, can never be fully visualized. The “essential basic law of reflection” is that knowledge always retains the form of “this and that”, which leads to the fact that the “reflection upon reflection” repeatedly allows “the world to appear in a new shape”. The connection between reflection and immediacy is accessible in love, which is intended for Fichte as “reflection that is purely self-destructive in God”.

For Schelling , the “sphere of reflection and division” is characteristic of humans, but it also means “a mental illness”. However, since this determines modern consciousness primarily through Christianity as the “division of the infinite and the finite” (L. Zahn), it must be dealt with. Schelling undertakes this in the system of transcendental idealism (1800), in which "free reflection" has the task of bringing the ego as opposed to the mere organism to become conscious of itself. The reflection is “analytical”, but refers to a “synthetic intuition” lying ahead, in which what is viewed and viewed are identical.

Schelling criticizes Fichte for the fact that, with his positing of the ego by the ego, he “never gets out of the circle of consciousness” to the independently given objects of nature, but it is difficult to spare himself this reproach.

In an essay from 1802, Hegel defines the newer philosophy as a whole as the "reflection philosophy of subjectivity" but criticizes that in his predecessors the separation between finite consciousness and an absolute empty of content always remains. He developed his own conception of reflection in the science of logic (1812-1816) and in the encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences (from 1816).

Hegel differentiates between “being” as pure immediacy and “being”, whose “own determination” is reflection. The reflection "presupposes" the identity of the being, on the one hand it presupposes being, but at the same time "presupposes" it itself. In addition to the "positing reflection" there is therefore an "external" reflection, which is posited being, precisely because it is derived from reflection is posited, negates, with which it is "the abolition of this positing of its own" and "in negating the negating of this of its negating" operates. Ultimately, the “determining reflection” shows that positing and external reflection are one, because the latter is nothing but the “immanent reflection of immediacy itself”. This gives rise to identity, difference and contradiction as “reflection determinations”, whereby reflection on the latter “perishes”, in the double sense of the expression. The “infinite reflection” leads from the “essence”, which has the character of a “substance”, to the purely subjective “concept” as the third stage of development of Hegel's logic . In the sphere of the term “articulates” the reflection, which until then had only made up the “movement” from being to being, itself as judgment and conclusion.

From this “reflection in general” Hegel distinguishes the “reflection of consciousness”, which he developed in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1806), and the “more specific reflection of the understanding”, which discusses the facts of perception from different points of view. Within the overall process of his philosophy, which describes the coming into being of the absolute, he also identifies the being and consciousness of the individual as a “level of reflection”.

Phenomenology and Existentialism

According to Hegel, Jakob Friedrich Fries traced back reflection on the one hand to "immediate knowledge of reason", on the other hand he determined it empirically as a faculty of "inner self-observation". As a result, tendencies towards a “ psychologistic ” approach, in which reflection itself was treated as an empirical subject, increased. In contrast, Franz Brentano emphasized that “inner perception ... can never become inner observation”, but merely accompanies the observations. The phenomenology of Edmund Husserl was based on this insight :

Husserl sees in reflection the "method of consciousness for the knowledge of consciousness in general". Since for him only the contents of consciousness can be the subject of a strictly scientific philosophy, it has a “universal methodological function”. He formulates a gradual order of the reflections, because the "reflections are once again experiences and as such can become substrates for new reflections, and so in infinitum", whereby the previously experienced facts are recorded in the "retention". In the end, the “pure me” is made present.

This “reduction to pure subjectivity” (L. Zahn) was criticized by the phenomenological and existentialist successors of Husserl. Merleau-Ponty pointed out that, on the one hand, with this approach the world becomes so transparent to the ego that it is not understandable why Husserl even took the detour via it; on the other hand, the reflection always encounters a pre-reflective “impenetrability” (opacité) of the world. Reflection must examine and develop its possibilities in the face of this impenetrability:

“What is given is neither consciousness nor pure being, but, as Kant himself profoundly put it, experience, in other words the communication of a finite subject with an impenetrable being, from which it emerges, but in which it is nevertheless engaged remains."

From this it follows: “Reflection is never able to raise itself above all situations (...) it is always given itself by experience - in a Kantian sense of the word experience: it arises without knowing where from, it is given as given to me by nature. "

In Being and Nothingness, Sartre describes the failure of reflection in its “double simultaneous effort to objectify and internalize”.

“The reflection remains a permanent possibility of the for-itself as an attempt to take over being. Through reflection, the for-itself, which is lost outside of it, tries to remember itself in its being (...) "

But “the turning back of being to itself can only make a distance appear between what turns back and that to which the turning back occurs” - a split that “only deepens and separates the nothingness that separates consciousness from itself become more insurmountable ”.

Sartre differentiates between a total of three “annihilation processes”: firstly, the annihilation of the “for-itself” which is lost “outside”, “in the in-itself and in the three temporal ecstasies” past, present and future; second, when trying to regain oneself, as just described; thirdly, finally, the non-denial through “being for others”, which Sartre describes as “impure” or “complicit reflection” because it pursues the impossible goal of “being other and remaining oneself at the same time ”.

Karl Jaspers , referring to Kierkegaard, calls “existential self-reflection” “a medium that is nowhere closed”. On the one hand, I “look for myself” in it “as emerging from my judgment about myself”, a process that cannot be concluded in principle; on the other hand, although I am constantly opening up new possibilities, I run the risk of destroying “every beginning of my reality”. "Existence can only come to itself in the constant danger of the endlessness of its reflection" in which it dares to "venture into boundless openness."

Heidegger deals with the concept of reflection in Kant's thesis on being (1962). Kant's transcendental reflection is “reflection on the local network in the place of being”, whereby thinking “once as reflection and then as reflection of reflection” is involved. The former provides “the horizon” in which “such things as positedness, objectivity can be seen”, the latter “the process by which (...) the being seen in the horizon of positedness is interpreted”. According to Heidegger, it is a dichotomy that is fundamental to “the whole history of Western thought”.

Paul Ricœur refers to Fichte and its reception in French philosophy when he describes the reflection as "reappropriating our striving for existence". The philosophy of reflection differs from the Cartesian philosophy of consciousness in that the I is given in it "neither in a psychological evidence nor in an intellectual intuition":

reflection is the endeavor to recapture the ego of the 'ego cogito' in the mirror of its objects, its works and ultimately its actions.

Communication theories and philosophy of language

In the 20th century the questions of reflection and reflexivity were raised anew by the formative influence of the philosophy of science or philosophy of language , linguistics and structuralism . They are particularly pronounced in post-analytical philosophy (in its attempt to reintegrate empiricism and reflection semantics) as well as in communication theories, especially discourse and systems theories . In that communication paradigm , the new theming is also reflected in the sphere of influence of Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002).

In Herbert Schnädelbach's analysis , reflection is traditionally the way of thinking , which is generally useful as philosophy and, more precisely today, as methodical-rational philosophy and can be systematized. The methodical systematization of 'reflection' makes it possible to transform and critically differentiate the pre-analytical, mentalistic understanding of reflection in the discourse theories following Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel as well as in the linguistic and post-analytic philosophies. The idea of ​​mirroring is abandoned. Schnädelbach formulated the relationship between reflection and method at the beginning of his major work Reflexion und Diskurs (1977):

“Anyone who talks about questions of philosophical method is suspected of talking about philosophy instead of philosophizing. But heard the discussion of methodological issues to philosophy, one can obviously only philosophically talk about philosophy, and you must do it if you keep in philosophy methodological issues relevant. […] Such a self-thematisation of ways of thematization is what the philosophical tradition calls reflection (in an optical metaphor) , and it explains this above all in modern times - roughly speaking: from Descartes to Husserl - in mentalistic terms: as thinking of thinking, cognition of knowledge , Consciousness of Consciousness, etc. It links what has been explicated in this way with the task of a philosophical foundation of philosophy, which in turn should justify science and morality . Reflection thus becomes the medium of the self- justification of philosophy, i. H. the method of solving a problem that is itself structured reflexively . "Reflection" is therefore the most important method term in modern philosophy . "

Here, reflection as a justification - in the sense of the validity of practical philosophy - goes beyond reflection as self- observation (this represents a distinction from empirical and system-theoretical theories). A third distinction in Schnädelbach's theory of reflection is reflection as a clarification of terms (analogous to its analytical separation of normative, descriptive and explicative discourses). With regard to reflection as a justification for actions, Jürgen Habermas emphasizes in the lecture series The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1983/84) the communicative anchoring of reflection:

“Of course, 'reflection' is no longer a matter of the knowledge subject, which refers to itself in an objectifying way. Instead of this pre-linguistic, lonely reflection, there is a stratification of discourse and action built into communicative action. "

In Niklas Luhmann's systems theory , reflection describes a certain form of self-reference of social systems , namely that in which the system bases its operations on the difference between system and environment. The self-reference is used for autopoietic reproduction, i.e. H. the reproduction of the system from within itself; Orientation towards the difference between system and environment allows the system to choose conditioning by the environment itself, which can become relevant if the system as such is questioned. Luhmann formulates, also with regard to mental systems (with reference to Jurgen Ruesch / Gregory Bateson for undisputed standards of psychiatric theories):

“Any analysis of self-description or, in classic terminology, of“ reflection ”will have to assume that the system is operationally inaccessible to itself and therefore remains opaque for its own operations. [...] This may be the reason why the classical theories of self-reflection, be it of consciousness, or of the “mind”, work with the scheme determined / indefinite. [...] In Hegel's theory, this becomes a problem through dialectics of disciplined transitions. "

Theories of reflection work in different ways and solution approaches with the paradox of a blind spot in every observation, the Kantian disregard of oneself, the assumption of Martin Heidegger, the already-being-in-language with Hans-Georg Gadamer or the deconstruction theorem of Jacques Derrida ; Last but not least, what cannot be described as at least “indeterminate”. Theodor Adorno , following Hegel - who still worked most extensively on this - was prompted to work out a negative dialectic . In this theoretical position, reflection is the thought-running back reference to what the thinking thinks and cannot think in thinking (or to what the conversations and other communications in communication communicate and cannot communicate).

See also



Individual evidence

  1. Reflect. In: Duden , accessed on June 30, 2017.
  2. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics IX 9, 1170a28ff. (Transl. O. Gigon); see. also with Analytica posteriora 87b and De Anima 429a – 433a.
  3. ^ Thomas Aquinas , De veritate I 9.
  4. Leibniz , Nouveaux Essais, Préf. (Darmstadt 1959, XVI).
  5. ^ Herbert Schnädelbach : Reflection and Discourse . Frankfurt 1977, p. 14.
  6. ( Experiment on human understanding II, 1, § 4)
  7. ( experiment ... IV, 9, § 3)
  8. Treatise on the Origin and Fundamentals of Inequality among Men
  9. Treatise on the Origin of Language , Part 1. 2nd section
  10. See Treatise on the Origin of Language , Part 2, under 1. and 4. Natural Law
  11. Appendix. From the amphibolism of the reflection concepts through the confusion of the empirical use of the understanding with the transcendental , Critique of Pure Reason B 316–346
  12. Foundation of the entire science of science (1794) III, § 5 ff.
  13. Foundation of Natural Law (1796)
  14. On the concept of the science of science (1794) II, § 7
  15. Presentation of the science of science (1801)
  16. Instructions for a blessed life (1806)
  17. Ibid.
  18. Philosophy and Religion (1804)
  19. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797)
  20. On the true concept of natural philosophy (1801)
  21. Belief and Knowledge
  22. Encyclopedia § 112
  23. Science of Logic
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. ^ Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion
  27. ^ Encyclopedia § 413
  28. New or anthropological critique of reason (1807)
  29. Psychology from the empirical point of view (1874)
  30. Ideas for a pure phenomenology ... I, § 78
  31. § 77
  32. Ibid.
  33. Phenomenology of Perception (1945), Berlin: de Gruyter 1966, p. 257 (trans. R. Boehm)
  34. p. 65.
  35. Being and nothing , Reinbek: Rowohlt 1993, p. 294 (trans. H. Schöneberg and T. König)
  36. a b p. 293.
  37. p. 294 f.
  38. p. 306.
  39. Philosophy II , 1956, p. 35 ff.
  40. p. 43 f.
  41. Taken up in: Wegmarken (1967)
  42. Complete edition I, 9, 1976, pp. 473, 477 f.
  43. The interpretation. An attempt on Freud , Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1974, p. 58 (trans. E. Moldenhauer)
  44. p. 56 f.
  45. Reflexion and Discourse , Frankfurt 1977, p. 9.
  46. ^ The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity , 1985, p. 375.
  47. Social Systems. Outline of a general theory , Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1987, p. 600 ff., 617 f.
  48. Organization and decision. Opladen 2000, p. 424., with reference to Jurgen Ruesch, Gregory Bateson: Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. 2nd Edition. New York 1968, p. 99 ff.