Gerald's succinct chapter summaries, Tim's tale of visualizing himself backwards and seeing things in a new light, and Tom's account (somewhere) of a PoF study group who were asked to distill each paragraph of the book into one sentence, inspired me to reread Chapter Four in a different way. Reversing through it, and summarizing each paragraph with a sentence, I discovered many new things about the chapter, some of which are:
1) What we look upon as "percepts" first seems to expand, and then contract. In 4.3, the given is presented as, "a mere disconnected aggregate of objects of sensation : colors, sounds, sensations of pressure, of warmth, of taste and smell; also feelings of pleasure and pain." In 4.4, Steiner expands the given in his definition of percept: "I do not choose the term "sensation", since this has a definite meaning in physiology which is narrower than that of my concept of "percept". I can speak of a feeling in myself (emotion) as percept, but not as sensation in the physiological sense of the term. Even my feeling becomes known to me by becoming a percept for me. And the way in which we gain knowledge of our thinking through observation is such that thinking too, in its first appearance for our consciousness, may be called a percept."
By 4.7, we perceive ourselves and our mental pictures. "The percept of myself contains, to begin with, the fact that I am the stable element in contrast to the continual coming and going of the percept-pictures. The percept of my "I" can always come up in my consciousness while I am having other percepts... I know, moreover, that something happens in me while I am observing the tree. When the tree disappears from my field of vision, an after-effect of this process remains in my consciousness -- a picture of the tree. This picture has become associated with my self during my observation. My self has become enriched; its content has absorbed a new element. This element I call my mental picture of the tree."
But then, starting in 4.8, the percepts start to shrink into our own mental pictures. "The perception of a change in me, the modification my self undergoes, has been thrust into the foreground, while the object which causes this modification is lost sight of altogether... I know, so it is said, nothing of the table in itself, which is the object of my observation, but only of the change which occurs within me while I am perceiving the table." In 4.9, even we ourselves get broken into bits, each isolated facet of the perception sequence, including the parts of our own body and soul, separate from every other. By 4.10, we've put ourselves into such a bizarre state of mind that we can't even find the color red anywhere we look. In 4.11, everything, including ourselves, has become an impossible tissue of mental pictures acting on one another. Finally, in 4.12, we're gratefully shot out the other end of the argument into sanity again.
2) The chapter starts with the view that the object and its ideal counterpart belong together. (4.0: "When someone sees a tree, his thinking reacts to his observation, an ideal element is added to the object, and he considers the object and the ideal complement as belonging together.") The chapter ends with this view (Is it really only Naive Realism? I can't decide!) undefeated: (4.12: "Investigation within the world of percepts cannot establish critical idealism, and consequently, cannot strip percepts of their objective character.") Critical Idealism's whole brilliant trajectory of concepts is unable to bring down the objectivity of percepts.
3) The chapter's first four sections give us the concepts we need to keep us from falling prey to the rationalistic flights of fancy we encounter in the rest of the chapter. These concepts are:
i) 4.1- 4.2: A consciousness of the polarity of concepts (cause/effect, subject/object). Concepts that seem to be opposites are really united in that one calls up the other every time. Unbroken unity is only manifested when thinking contemplates itself and the subject becomes the object. "For when thinking contemplates its own activity, it makes its own essential being, as subject, into a thing, as object."
ii) 4.2: Thinking, since it produces all concepts, including the subject/object polarity, must never be regarded as merely subjective. Contrast this with 4.8: "The subject can merely, 'through the medium of its subjective thoughts, imagine it, invent it, think it, cognize it, or perhaps even fail to cognize it.' This (Kantian) conception believes it gives expression to something absolutely certain, something which is immediately evident, requiring no proof..." yet it starts by violating the important concept in 4.2.
iii) 4.3: By remembering that thinking is not merely subjective, we avoid falling into the trap of believing that all the relationships it establishes are merely subjective.
iv) 4.4: By means of thoughtful reflection, we discover relationships (not-merely-subjective!) between things.
v) 4.4: All sensations, feelings, concepts, make their first appearance in our consciousness as percepts, and this includes something that is elaborated only later: everything that could make us aware of ourselves. This sets us up to realize that it's not right to distinguish the percepts of ourselves as somehow belonging to a different order of reality than other percepts.
4) Empiricism means, basing one's view on facts. The argument for Critical Idealism, as presented in this chapter, starts with various facts discovered in physics, physiology, etc., and from them reasons that we can know only our own mental pictures. This in turn demolishes the factuality of the very facts the argument is based on. Instead of being "The Song That Has No End," Critical Idealism has become "The Song That Has No Beginning."
5) I'd like to try to summarize what Chapter Four means to me: Remembering that thinking is what brings forth the subject/object polarity, and that therefore neither thinking nor the relationships it establishes can be all merely subjective, I'm armored against Kant's Critical Idealism and everything that derives from it, that drives the spirit from the external world.