“With the philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann we once again enter a world of sober, objective and impartial inquiry, which presses beyond man’s self and seeks to grasp the universe of being so far as it is revealed to our limited capacity to know. The basic mood of Existence philosophy, as might be expected, is altogether missing from this universal way of viewing matters. (…).
The true concern of his philosophy is to discover the structural laws of the real world, of the world of being, not of some ‘world of mere appearances’ set out in front of the real world. Traditional philosophy, according to Hartmann, has sinned a great deal in this connection and in a double manner. First, it has always believed that it faced two basic alternatives – to accept an absolute knowledge of being, or else to assume the total unknowability of the ‘things in themselves’. The latter course means rejecting the possibility altogether of objective knowledge of being, the former results in closed metaphysical systems that dismiss the irrational aspects of being and hold that the whole of being may in principle be grasped rationally. What has been overlooked is the middle possibility, namely, that being may be partially comprehensible conceptually despite the irrationality of the infinite portion that remains.
The second error of traditional philosophy is the propensity, stemming from the monistic need for unity, to transfer the categories or principles of one province to another that differs from it in kind. Illustrations are the application of mechanistic principles to the sphere of the organic, of organic relationships to social and political life, and, conversely, of mental and spiritual structures to the inanimate world. This infringement of categorial boundaries, as Hartmann calls the theoretical encroachment of one province of being upon another, must be eliminated by rigorous critical analysis; yet the categories must preserve their relative validity for the domain from which they were taken originally. From the standpoint of a critical ontology, the totality of beings then turns out to be a far more complicated structure than finds expression in the traditional metaphysical formulas of unity.
Knowledge belongs to the highest stratum with which we are acquainted, that of spirit or culture. Consequently only an ontology of spiritual being (geistiges Sein) can comprehend the essence of knowledge. At the same time, however, the problem of cognition must already have obtained at least a partial solution if ontological inquiry is to be admissible at all. For to begin with we do not even know whether there is any such thing as objective knowledge of being or a transcendent object independent of the subject of cognition. This fact necessarily places epistemology in a dual position. On the one hand, it must create the foundation for all ontological inquiry; but at the same time it can reach its goal only within the framework of an ontology of spiritual being. Hartmann attempts to do justice to this twofold aspect of knowledge by prefacing his works in ethics and ontology with an investigation of knowledge, by including in this investigation the ontological viewpoint, and by discussing in his ontology the consequences of his findings for the phenomenon of cognition.”
From: Wolfgang Stegmüller – Main currents in contemporary German, British, and American philosophy – Dordrecht, Reidel Publishing Co., 1969. pp. 220-221.