Other philosophers approach internal reality from a different point of view. Immanuel Kant shows that the world we experience can only reflect our perceptions of things (that is only our sensory inputs of them) and that we can never truly know the ‘thing-in-itself.’ Arthur Schopenauer counters that we should be able to know the ‘thing-in-itself’ as it applies to ourselves. When he looks for it, he finds ‘will’ – that is, ‘will’ is the thing-in-itself for human beings.3 Friedrich Nietzsche drawing on Schopenauer uncovers within himself the more active and assertive ‘will to power.’ Sigmund Freud delving through the lens of psychology identifies the ceaselessly conflicting tripartite self as ego, id, and superego. Martin Heidegger uses phenomenology to explore human ‘being-in-itself’ which he calls dasein, and which is revealed to him as ‘in-the-world’, subject to mood, and in search of authenticity.4
Thinking about internal reality also leads to examination of the manifestations of the self – external, internal, and primal – most profoundly investigated in mystical traditions. External self is that persona we allow the world to see perhaps tailored to the expectations of others, often imperfect, even selfish. Internal self is the more complex personality generally known only to the individual himself, capable of virtuous transformation. It is the focus of the Western religious mystics such as Meister Eckhart. The primal self is that unthinking, non-egoic being which underlies and precedes personality and intellect, seen in the consciousness of the not yet self-aware infant. It is the point of emphasis for the great Eastern spiritual teachers such as the Buddha.
Philosophy offers much to the understanding of internal reality. Each of us needs to take the time to contemplate deeply our mind and inner self as part of meaningful growth. It appears that the likely conclusion of deep internal reflection for us will be a mixture of these great philosophers’ impressions – a thinking, willful, assertive, emotional, conflicted, individual being that feels both distinct from and part of the world, in search of an authentic existence.
Along the way , we will need to resolve the issue of monism versus dualism. But perhaps the greatest reward will be the profound insight gained from reconnecting with your primal self.
1 Magill, Frank. Masterpieces of World Philosophy. HarperCollins Publsihers. 1990. ISBN 0-06-270051-0. Pages 224-228.
2Berkeley, George. Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. The Great Books, Volume 35. 1952. Pages 403-444.
3 Schopenauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Idea, Everyman. 1995, ISBN 978-0-4608-7505-9. Page 32.
4Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Harper Perennial Modern Thought. 2008.ISBN 978-0-06-157599-4. Part 1.