SELF-OBSERVATION; An Introduction to Rudolf Steiner's "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" by Arnold Freeman
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SELF-OBSERVATION by Arnold Freeman
EXTRACTS FROM "MEIN LEBENSGANG"
THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE IMPLICIT IN GOETHE'S WORLD-CONCEPTION
THE PHILOSOPHY OF SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY
Chapter 1 CONSCIOUS HUMAN ACTION
Chapter 2 MAN'S FUNDAMENTAL IMPULSE TO GET KNOWLEDGE
Chapter 3 THINKING AS THE INSTRUMENT OF KNOWLEDGE
Chapter 4 THE WORLD AS PERCEPT
Chapter 5 COGNISING THE WORLD
Chapter 6 THE HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY
Chapter 7 ARE THERE LIMITS TO WHAT WE CAN KNOW?
Chapter 8 THE FACTORS OF LIFE
Chapter 9 THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
Chapter 10 MONISM
Chapter 11 PURPOSE
Chapter 12 DARWINISM AND ETHICS
Chapter 13 THE VALUE OF LIFE (PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM)
Chapter 14 THE EMERGENCE OF THE INDIVIDUAL FROM THE GENERIC
Chapter 15 THE CONSEQUENCES OF MONISM
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As an indication of his intentions, Dr. Steiner inscribed upon the title page of his "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" these words: —"What we find, when, in conformity with the methods of natural science, we observe our own inner being."
The procedure of Natural Science is well-known: —"Reject appeals to authority and to tradition! Let the facts decide! Trust nothing but evidence! Observe for yourself! Test for yourself! Let actual experience be the criterion of truth! Let your views arise not out of credulity but out of vigilant, critical intelligence!"
This is the method of Dr. Steiner's book. It asks of the student nothing except open-minded consideration of the facts of his own being.
The reader may find such mental receptivity less easy than he would have anticipated. Below the level of consciousness, we are all of us subject to numberless influences that prevent us from seeing things objectively. The reader is never, as he reads what Dr. Steiner has written, asked to accept any statement on authority. But he is continuously asked to listen with the whole of his truth-loving self to what the author has to say.
Dr. Steiner contends that if we are willing to look without any a priori assumptions at the facts of our own being, we shall find beyond controversy that we have within us a source of spiritual activity, —that though external physical conditions in general determine what we do, it is not beyond our power to assert ourselves and defy them.
If Dr. Steiner can make good his claims, this book would seem to have for present-day mankind a hardly exaggerable importance. It offers to a thinking, educated, modern-minded person what religious agencies are no longer able to give him —the certainty of his own supersensible being. Whoever makes this book his own, will have come to know that he stands possessed of a perpetual fountain of self-originated energies. He becomes unshakably able to trust in his own selfhood. He knows unanswerably that he is possessed of free spiritual activity.
It is becoming more and more obvious that unless mankind is capable of a spiritual awakening, disasters we dare not envisage are in store for us. But no genuine, permanent, effective spiritual awakening is practicable except as a result of the sort of appeal that Steiner makes in this book —an appeal to the individual man or woman, —an appeal to experience, —an appeal to intelligence. That —in such a state of human affairs— this book of Steiner's should be known only in tiny Anthroposophical circles is a tragedy. Wherever there are thinking men and women, in any corner of the globe, it has potential readers. Its proper destiny is that of establishing a common understanding the world over among thinking, responsibly-minded men and women; of offering a starting-point for the re-making of civilization.
The "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" is not easy reading. If more people are to be got to read it, they will have to be offered encouragement. This I try to give In these pages.
The first half of Rudolf Steiner's life was essentially occupied with his struggle to understand and to formulate what is stated in the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity." Of this struggle he gives his own account in his autobiography. The reader will find It well worth his while, before he sets to work on the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" itself, to read the first seventeen sections of "Mein Lebensgang." I have ventured here to present a few characteristic passages.
Inwardly occupied though he was, throughout early manhood, with his basic struggle to understand human thinking and human willing, Dr. Steiner was ostensibly at work for the most part upon Goethe's natural-science writings. He edited these as a whole in five volumes for the Kurschner "Deutsche National Literatur." He worked in the Goethe Archives at Weimar from 1891 to 1897, contributing further scientific studies to the standard Weimar Edition of Goethe. He paused, so to speak, amid these commissioned labours, to issue on his own account a book he called: —"A Theory of Knowledge according to Goethe's Conception of the World." He says of it in a Preface written twenty-five years later: —[This Theory of Knowledge] "is the foundation and justification for all that I have since affirmed orally or in print." It is, as the title indicates, an account of the way in which Goethe's mind works; but it is also an account of the essential operations of the human mind as such. Here we have a kind of anticipatory sketch of what is said in the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity," more particularly of what is said in Part I. It is simpler than the sequel to it, —more easily read. If the student has first read the Theory of Knowledge book, he will certainly find himself better equipped to grapple with the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity." I offer here a brief outline of the main argument of the earlier work.
The body of this booklet of mine is some sort of statement of what Dr. Steiner says in the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity." Chapter by chapter, I have tried to give the essential argument. (And what I say can be read as a self-contained work, in and for itself).
The charge can be brought against me that I have over-simplified things, e.g. in leaving out Dr. Steiner's many references to contemporary thinkers. Such an accusation is justifiable but I claim to have done rightly with such a book as this to lay myself open to it. Long and varied experience with students has convinced me that most readers of the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" will be grateful for an abbreviated statement of what in any particular chapter, or in the book as a whole, Dr. Steiner is expressing. That I have not here pursued the argument into every subtle ramification does not seem to me for a book of this sort to matter so much; nor even that (as is certain) I have often mistaken or partly mistaken the meaning. What I offer is intended only as an "introduction." It sets out merely to stimulate the reader's study by indicating to him how what Dr. Steiner says has struck a fellow-student. It is not meant to be, and could not conceivably be, any substitute for the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" itself. This little book is an infinitesimally small moon to an immensely great sun.
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EXTRACTS FROM "MEIN LEBENSGANG"
The Course of My Life
[The first half of Dr. Steiner's life was essentially occupied with his struggle to come to an understanding with human cognition and to formulate what he came to know. The first seventeen sections of his autobiography give his own account of this struggle. He is in effect telling us how the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" came to be written. We have a sort of great preface to it. The student will be well-advised to read these sections before he sets to work upon his real task. In the half-dozen passages here quoted, I have endeavoured to indicate something of what Dr. Steiner has to say.]
FROM SECTION I
"Nevertheless, I learned earlier than is usual, to read well; and through this, the assistant teacher was able to arouse in me an interest which gave direction to my whole life-course. Not long after my entry into the school at Neudorfl, I found in his room a book on Geometry. I was on such good terms with him that he at once made me a loan of it. I read it enthusiastically. For weeks on end my mind was full of triangles and squares and polygons. I tormented myself with asking where parallel lines meet. The Theorem of Pythagoras aroused in me wonder and delight.
"That in complete independence of sense-impressions, entirely within oneself, one can shape forms, gave me the profoundest satisfaction. It was consolation for my unanswered questions. That there is something one can lay hold upon exclusively in the spirit —that gave me immense joy. It was in Geometry that I first found such happiness.
"Out of Geometry there emerged for me a way of thinking, which developed further and further. Already, even though more or less unconsciously, it lived in me during my childhood; when I was about 20, it became fully conscious and took explicit shape.
"I argued thus with myself: 'The objects and processes perceived by the senses are out there in space. This space is outside me. Within me, also, there is a kind of space. Upon this inner-space stage, spiritual occurrences are being enacted. To regard thoughts as pictures of objects, formed by man himself, I found impossible. I saw them as manifestations of a spiritual world. Geometry exemplified for me a kind of knowledge which, while seeming to originate in man, has a significance altogether its own.' As a child, I could not of course say this clearly to myself but I felt: 'Like Geometry must one bear within oneself the knowledge of the spiritual world.'
"The reality of the spiritual world was to me as completely certain as that of the physical world. But I felt a need to justify this to my thinking. I was resolved upon demonstrating to my own mind that experience of the spiritual world has the same scientific validity as experience of the physical."
FROM SECTION II
"The spiritual world stood self-evident before me. But I felt that it was essential for me to enter it through the doorway of nature. I urged upon myself: 'I must intensify my thinking; I must become able with my thinking to penetrate into the reality within natural phenomena; only in such a way can I legitimately enter the spiritual world' While I was in the third and fourth classes of the Realschule, I was full of feelings such as these. Everything I studied was subservient to this one aim.
"One day I happened to pass a bookshop in the window of which was Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason.' Forthwith, in every way I could, I set about getting the money to buy it.
"Of Kant's place in cultural history I was quite ignorant. Of what other thinkers said of him, whether in appreciation or depreciation, I knew nothing. My insatiable interest in the 'Critique of Pure Reason' arose solely out of the necessities of my own personal-mental life. In my boyish way I was struggling with all my might to discover how far one could penetrate into the reality of things by means of human cognition.
"The study of Kant was beset with hindrances. Every day, on the long journey to and from school, I lost a good three hours. I only reached home at six in the evening. Then there was an immense quantity of homework to get through. On Sundays I felt it essential to devote myself almost exclusively to geometrical drawing. It was my resolve to reach the utmost exactitude in geometrical construction and the greatest possible neatness in hatching and in the laying on of colours.
"Thus, there was scarcely any time available for 'The Critique of Pure Reason.' I found the following way out. Our history teacher spoke as if he were lecturing: actually, he read what he had to say from a book. Then we in our turn were expected to learn in our own history books what had been taught us. I decided to let history take care of itself at home. From the ' lecture' I got nothing; I could not take in anything at all from the teacher's reading. So I separated from one another the various sections of Kant's 'Critique' and bound them in the history book which lay before me during the school lesson and then I read Kant while the history 'lecture' was being given us. From the point-of-view of school discipline, this was, of course, a serious fault; but nobody was disturbed by it; and it detracted so little from what I was supposed to be doing that at that very time I was given 'Excellent' for History.
"In the holidays I got on fast with Kant. Many a page I read more than 20 times over. My heart was set on finding out what relation human thinking bore to the creative work of nature . . .
" 'What is the scope of human thought?' —this question never left me. My feeling was that if it could be sufficiently intensified, man's thinking would be able actually to penetrate into and make its own the things and processes of nature. A 'something' which remains outside there; which we can only think towards; —such notions I found unendurable. Whatever is in things —so did I again and again affirm to myself— must be in our thinking."
FROM SECTION III
"What philosophy I could learn from others had no thought-technique for the perception of the spiritual worlds. Frustrated In that direction, I began to shape a Theory of Knowledge of my own. Man's life in thought came more and more to seem to me a reflection of what can be perceived in the spiritual. In his thinking man lives through and through within a reality; there is no place here to doubt. But the life of the senses seemed to me less veridical; we cannot lay hold upon it as our own; conceivably, it mediates some hidden reality. Man, however, finds himself in a world of sense-impressions; and the question arose for me: —'Can this sense-perceptible world be a complete reality? If from out of himself man weaves into this world thoughts which fill it with light, how can he be bringing to it something alien?' This does not in the least correspond with the feeling we have when into the sense-world, we introduce thinking; our thoughts seem rather to be as if the sense-world were expressing its own being. My inner life was at that time largely occupied with the following up of reflections such as these.
"The mechanical theory of heat and the wave theory of light and electricity drove me back to epistemology. The external world was conceived as motion-processes in matter; sensations were merely the subjective effects of these upon the human sense-organs. Out there In space occurred motion-events; if they affected man's heat sense, he experienced the sensation of heat. Outside man, there were wave-processes in the ether; if these reached the optic nerve, light and colour experiences arose inside him.
"These views reached me from all sides. They caused for my thinking difficulties which I was unable at that time to overcome. They drove spirit entirely out of the external objective world. But I had my own spiritual experience, and I knew that such a point-of-view had no foundation. I could see how tempting were all such hypotheses to natural scientific thought; I was not then, however, capable with a way of thought of my own of confronting the prevalent ways of thought. This caused me the utmost distress. I saw that it was of no use to bring a superficial criticism against the prevailing views; I had to wait until out of deeper sources of knowledge, I had gained greater certainty.
"Schiller's way of thinking deeply interested me. It suggested that if man is to gain a relationship to phenomena such as is proper to his own nature, he must first of all raise his consciousness to the necessary level. Something was here intimated whereby my questions about cognition became much more clarified. Schiller had in mind the state of consciousness we must attain if we are to apprehend Beauty in the world. Might I not likewise envisage a state of consciousness which would mediate Truth? I saw that if such reasoning is justified, it is futile to ask (as Kant does) whether we can penetrate into reality with our existing consciousness. We must first raise ourselves into that condition of consciousness to which things can declare their own being.
"I believed that I knew, moreover, that such a state of consciousness may be attained —at any rate, up to a certain point— if man entertains not thoughts which merely reproduce outer things and processes but thoughts which are experienced in themselves. This life in thought revealed itself to me as quite other than that which we utilise for everyday life or for scientific research. If we push forward into this life of thought, we find that spiritual reality comes to meet us. We are taking the way of the soul to the spirit. Yet upon this inner path we are getting to a spiritual reality which is then found again in Nature. The spiritual reality found in living thought has become the answer to the riddles set us by natural phenomena.
"If he strives forward beyond the usual abstract thinking to the dignity and beauty of spiritual perception, man enmembers himself in a reality from which the everyday consciousness excludes him. Such spiritual perception has on the one side all the living quality of sense-knowledge; on the other, all the abstract quality of thought-forming. Spiritual perception apprehends the spiritual world as the physical senses apprehend the natural. But whereas the everyday consciousness with its thinking stands apart from its perceiving; spiritual perception in its thinking becomes one with the perceiving.
"I now saw that there is a way of cognising supersensibly which is altogether free from mystical obscurity. It possesses the through-and-through clearness of mathematical thinking. I was at last very near being able to say to myself that my perception of the spiritual could be justified out of natural scientific thought.
"These, at the age of 22, were my mental experiences."
FROM SECTION Vl
"How one must think, in order to comprehend living phenomena, was what I wanted to state in my comments upon Goethe's Organic Science writings. His views called for such an explanatory basis. My contemporaries conceived cognition in a manner which could never come to terms with Goethe's way of looking at things. They had In mind natural science as it then existed. What they had to say about cognition held good only for the inorganic. Between what I was saying and what they were saying, no accomodation was possible.
"Thus, whatever I said about Goethe's Organics sent me back once again to epistemology. There stood before me views like those of Otto Liebmann, declaring in all sorts of ways that human consciousness cannot get outside itself; that it must be content with what is sent into it from the outer world; that it is only capable of cognising a subjective spiritual. To such a way of looking at things Goethe's mode of investigating organic nature is altogether uncongenial. All that is then possible is to confine oneself to the spiritual inside the human consciousness and assert that the use of our spiritual faculties for the observation of nature is illegitimate.
"There was no theory of cognition which explained Goethe's kind of knowledge-getting. Out of an inner need I felt impelled to try to outline such a theory. Before going on to prepare the further volumes of Goethe's Natural Science writings, I accordingly wrote my 'Theory of Cognition according to Goethe's View of the World.' This little book was finished in 1886."
FROM SECTION X
"The first three decades of my life seem to me in retrospect to make a single self-contained chapter. I then went to Weimar. During the period in Vienna —before I went to Weimar— those thoughts towards which I had all my life been striving came to a certain finality. I began to shape them into my 'Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.'
"The sense-world was for me no true reality. In the articles and lectures I did at the time, I strove to explain that the human mind attains reality not in thought drawn from the sense-perceptible but only In thoughts drawn in freedom from the supersensible. When it thinks such sense-free thoughts, I pictured the mind as participant in the spiritual being of the world.
"I was at the greatest pains to urge that when man lives in this sense-free thinking in full consciousness, he knows himself to stand within the basic world-reality. Talk about 'Limits of Knowledge' was to my way of thinking nonsensical. 'Knowing' meant for me merely the re-discovery of the content —already experienced within one's own self— of the sense-perceptible world. If anyone spoke of 'Limits of Knowledge,' it meant that, being unable to find reality in himself, he of course could not find it in the outer world.
"My main concern was to refute the dogma that there are limits to knowledge. I wanted to overthrow a theory of cognition which sought to make a way to reality from out of the sense-perceptible. I tried to make it plain that never by any such breaking through from without, but only by getting down deeper into himself, can man find reality. We try to break through from without; find this impossible; and then speak of 'Limits to Knowledge.' But to the human mind itself there are no limitations. The seeming impossibility arises only because we are envisaging a situation which to true self-understanding is inconceivable. We are merely trying to press further into the sensible world in order to find in It a continuation of the sensible beyond the sense-perceptible. This is as if a person who lived in illusions found the causes of his illusions in further illusions.
"The drift of my explanations ran as follows : —From birth onwards, we confront the world with our cognising. To begin with, we make use only of sense-perception. To sense-perception, however, the world-content cannot reveal its essential being. Only when we have made ourselves penetrable by finding our own real being, can the Real Being of the World get at us. At this first stage of cognising, all we can achieve is the creation of a world-picture which is sheer illusion. If, however, we then go on from out of ourselves to generate sense-free thinking —thus supplementing and completing what the senses have told us about things— then our illusory world-picture becomes metamorphosed into reality. It is illusory no longer. As soon as we come to our own true selfhood in thought, we cease to think of the World Mind as hidden behind the sense-perceptible phenomena; we see it living and weaving within them.
"I saw that the Being of the World can be found, not by logical inference nor by physical research, but only by moving forward from sense-perception to sense-free thinking.
"The second volume of my Goethe's Natural Science writings (1888) is full of such points-of-view as the following: —'if we see in thinking the capacity to comprehend more than can be known to the senses, we are forced on to recognise the existence of objects over and above those which we experience in sense-perception. Such objects are Ideas. In taking possession of the Idea, thinking merges itself into the World Mind. What was working without now works within. Man has become one with the World Being at its highest potency. Such a becoming-realised of the Idea in the World Reality is the true communion of man —thinking has the same significance for ideas as the eye for light and the ear for sound. It is an organ of perception.'
"When sense-free thinking, through self-intensification, moves forward to actual spiritual perception, the spiritual world is revealed to us; but to speak of the spiritual world was not at that time my concern. What I wanted to bring out was that the being of nature, as it manifests itself to our physical senses, is spiritual.
"Destiny led me into conflict with contemporary epistemologists. Assuming as self-evident that Nature was devoid of spirit, they concerned themselves to ask with what right human beings try to shape their spiritual ideas about Nature. My own conception of the knowledge-process was entirely different. I found it impossible to envisage man as standing with his thinking outside Nature and from outside concocting theories about her. Thinking was for me the experiencing of reality. I could see man In his thinking only as standing in the very being of things.
"It was my further destiny to relate my own views to what Goethe stood for. Here I had numerous opportunities to speak about the spiritual being of nature. It was in this way that Goethe himself looked at Nature. But Goethe went no further; he did not go on into any direct perceiving of the spiritual. In this Goethe-work accordingly there was no occasion for me to speak of the spiritual being of the world, as such.
"In the second place, I was trying to state what I understood by human freedom. When a man acts out of his instincts and passions, he is unfree. Impulses —comparable for consciousness with sense-impressions— determine his conduct. Upon this level, his real being is not at work; as man, he is hidden away —exactly as the spiritual world is hidden away from mere sense-observation. Of itself, the sense-perceptible world is not an illusion; it is man who lets it become illusion. And man can in like manner in his conduct allow the sense-like instincts and passions to act upon him; then, instead of being himself active, the illusory acts in him. He is allowing the unspiritual to have its way. His own self is at work only when he finds the motive-forces for what he does in sense-free thinking. Then he himself is active and nothing else. We have a free being, acting from out of itself.
"Whoever rejects as a reality man's sense-free thinking will never come to the conception of human freedom. But as soon as we see the reality of sense-free thinking, the conception of human freedom forthwith arises."
FROM SECTION XI
"Thus took shape the ideas out of which my 'Philosophy of Spiritual Activity' subsequently arose. The ultimate experience gained by these ideas is of the same nature as that of the mystic. In formulating my ideas, however, I was scrupulous never to allow any mystical elements to intrude. The mystic strengthens his own Inner life and by doing so obscures the true form of the spiritual. As I present things, man is called upon, by self-obliteration, to let the objective-spiritual reality arise in him."
FROM SECTION XVII
" It was my destiny to experience within the borders of natural science the riddles of our human existence. The answers I found were given expression in the 'Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.' "
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"THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
IMPLICIT IN GOETHE'S WORLD-CONCEPTION"
[Rudolf Steiner edited Goethe's "Works in Natural Science" : —Volume I, published in 1884; Volume II, in 1888; Volume III, in 1891; Volume lV (Part l), in 1895; Volume IV (Part II), in 1897. From 1891 to 1897 he lived and worked in Weimar, making contributions to the Natural Science volumes of the "Weimar Edition," then being officially prepared, of Goethe's entire writings.
In 1886 he published on his own account a book called (in the present English version) "The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World-Conception" . . . "How does man stand within the phenomena of nature? How does he grasp outer existence in his consciousness? What is the explanation of his thinking? " . . . To questions such as these Dr. Steiner felt that Modern Science was giving no satisfactory answers. He averred that by observation of Goethe's method of handling scientific problems the proper solutions could be discovered. What follows is an attempt to give an outline of this work of Dr. Steiner's. It is ordered as a brief but valid account of human cognition.]
Two spheres of experience stand over against one another:—
(1) The Appearance of Things to our Senses: —The green of the grass; the barking of a dog; etc.
(2) Our Thinking: —What we make of these sense-perceptible phenomena when we work upon them with our minds.
We are inquiring into the relationship between these two spheres. We are asking: —"What significance has the reflection in our consciousness of the external world? "
Following the rule that every good scientific investigator or thinker makes his own, we shall look for an answer exclusively in experience.
Let us first get clear about the way in which things appear to our Senses. We can then go on to elucidate the precise function of Thinking in the knowledge-process.
Let us suppose that there sits, watching a game of cricket, some lover of the game and on his knee, also watching, a tiny child. The grown-up sees every occurrence against a vast invisible, complicated mental background of all that he knows about the game. If we try to "un-think" or "de-think" all that the grown person knows of the game, we shall get to something like the sort of picture of it which is in the consciousness of the tiny child: —mere movements of white on a green background; mere sense-perceptions. At this level of cognition, we are like a cow looking at the Mona Lisa or like a person who has never learned to read looking at a page of Shakespeare.
Such virginal sense-experience is sheer multiplicity: —a medley of impressions; mere juxtaposition in space; mere succession in time; single items of experience; blobs of smell and colour and noise; each item standing in entire isolation; mere particulars.
These sense-particulars make no disclosure of their nature. Taken in this way, they present themselves as entirely enigmatical, entirely unintelligible entities. So long as we depend passively upon what our senses bring to us, we are in darkness. Things seem as if they were shot at us from a gun out of the unknown. We are in a world without values and without meanings; in a world of appearance and illusion.
If as human beings we were limited all our lives to cognition by our senses alone, the world would be for ever completely unintelligible. Thinking —to the first meaningless appearance of things for the sense-organs— brings: —INTELLIGIBILITY. (Thought, we say, "enlightens"; "illuminates"; "throws light".)
Things, as mediated to us by our senses, tell us nothing about themselves. They are enigmatic, obscure, unyielding, lifeless. Things, as mediated to our thinking, are infinitely alive; they are always in metamorphosis; they spontaneously declare their inner being.
While we are standing amid sense-percepts, we know as little about the world as an animal does. We feel as if we were surrounded by the impenetrable outsides of objects. Standing in our thoughts, we feel as if we are on the inside of the world. Secrets are being told to us; we are behind the scenes.
In the appearance it had for the senses, reality seemed to consist of single, isolated objects —each self-contained— each keeping exclusively to itself. But as it appears to Thinking, reality seems to consist of objects that smile upon each other; that stretch out helping hands to each other; each communicating gladly with all the rest. Every thought helpfully relates itself to others. We cannot conceive of gold without conceiving also of buttercups and wedding-rings and hair and goodness. We are travelling about the universe upon a magic-carpet at lightning-speed. Here we find ourselves in a world of associativeness and affinity. Things automatically group themselves. Towards the concept "organism" rush other such concepts as "growth" and "evolution". Whereas, so to speak, a percept likes to be alone, a concept refuses to be alone. We find It intolerable to have in our minds a concept not brought into relationship with those already there.
We have emerged out of a nightmare multiplicity of single particulars into a world where, of their own accord, things are grouping themselves. We stand now In generalizations; amid the laws of nature; amid wholes; in that ordered body of knowledge called "Science."
In Chapter lX of this work, Dr. Steiner puts the matter thus: —". . . What comes first into our mind is in actual fact derivative.
" In the achievement of reality through cognition, the process is as follows: —We meet with a concrete percept. It confronts us as a riddle. Within us, the impulse manifests itself to investigate its 'What?' —its real nature— which the percept itself does not express. This impulse is nothing but the upward working of a concept out of the darkness of our consciousness. We then hold this concept firmly while the sense-percept moves on a parallel line with this thought-process. The mute percept suddenly speaks a language intelligible to us; we know that the concept which we have taken hold of is the real nature of the percept for which we have been seeking."
Sense-perceptions are mediated to us by our eyes and ears and hands. Then, "in our heads," takes place an activity which we ourselves originate or mediate . . . What is the super-personal background of these happenings? That I may perceive and think as I do —in what relation must I be standing to things all about me? What is the world-context of my perceiving and thinking?
Outwardly, reality exposes itself as mere building materials. If we make use exclusively of sense-perception —so long as we are like an animal or a tiny child— we can take in only this lower, outer, provisional aspect of reality. But immediately we think, reality begins to reveal to us its other inner higher aspect —its complete being.
Nature specializes. She offers me a shower of rain; a rising tide; this steadfast table on which I am writing. Thus she presents her mere outer particulars, her isolated exemplifications . . . But she is capable also of a far higher activity. She can generalise. All these single occurrences are mere instances of the Law of Gravitation . . . She offers to my eye and ear her single unrelated particulars; to my mind, She reveals her generalizing.
We ourselves continuously manufacture that dead outer garment we call our skin. In some like manner, nature seems to clothe herself In common-place matter. Within She is all stir and magic and creation; when She externalises herself, She becomes mere stuff. Use your sense-organs and you see, in her shop-window, only Nature's isolated products. But you can also use your mentality and go Into the workshop where She is ceaselessly producing.
If the considerations here brought forward are justified, we see that it is no longer legitimate for us to speak of Thinking as "merely subjective." Nor to regard it as consisting just of "personal opinions." Admittedly, it appears in the heads of single persons. Admittedly, we can think more or less effectively; more or less correctly; etc. But the thing itself Thinking as such transcends every subjective and personal limitation. What Thinking does in and of itself (e.g. our sense of cause and effect; e.g. the unfailing associativeness of our concepts is none of our doing. I am only the stage onto which Thinking enters; upon which Thinking performs. It is not I that think but the World that thinks in me. When " I " think, things are in my mind declaring their true being.
Let us recapitulate.
We are in search of a Theory of Knowledge. We desire to understand what this Thinking of ours signifies.
In accordance with the spiral and practice of present-day Science, we are making our appeal exclusively to Experience. Coming of its own accord out of the unknown periphery of things, there looms up upon us through our sense-organs a nightmare world of mere multiplicity: —a chaos of isolated blobs of sensation. This "Appearance for the Senses" is devoid of "values", it is meaningless; it is unintelligible. It is by itself altogether barren and unprofitable.
Refusing to be befooled by this nightmare, we think. Immediately, things begin to take on intelligibility. These dormant percepts of ours, like the personages in the fairy story, wake up and speak. The Other Half of Reality (hitherto concealed) is now made known to us. We have broken through the outer shell of nature into Her Real Being. We delightedly find ourselves in a world of relationships and groupings; in a world of law and harmony and unity. To the humdrum sense-organs, the world displays only its external covering. To that unique sovereign organ called "The Mind of Man," it speaks as its very self... Certainly I must say: —"It Is I myself that think." But far more deeply, far more powerfully, should I affirm: —"When I think, it is the World Itself that thinks in me."
Among the data of Experience, we have found an item that enables us confidently to solve the world-mystery.
CONSCIOUS HUMAN ACTION
What a stone does is due to forces external to itself. Of this we are all of us completely certain.
If I am knocked down by a car in the street, what happens to me is the result, as things always are for the stone, of external forces. Here too we all of us feel completely certain of our argumentative ground.
In the routine of our lives; in our opinions and habits and behaviour; —if we are honest with ourselves, we are obliged to confess that here also our activity is quasi-mechanical. It may not be easy to elucidate them; they reach us by devious, underground, untraceable routes; —but it is influences outside ourselves that are the causes of most of the things we do. I am still a stone.
(1) Macbeth is contemplating the murder of Duncan. He hears within himself the voices of angels pleading with him to spare Duncan's life:—
"He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, bath been
So clear in his great office . . . "
At that fateful moment, Lady Macbeth enters, with her:—
"Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?"
"When you durst do it, then you were a man."
Shakespeare makes us feel very intensely indeed —the play turns on it— that Macbeth need not have listened to Lady Macbeth; that if he wished, he could have acted from out of his own deeper selfhood. In thus representing things, is Shakespeare true to the facts of human psychology?
(2) Luther is required by the Diet of Worms to declare finally where he stands. If he will recant, he has, as we say, everything to gain. If he refuses to recant, he faces the fate of Huss and Giordano Bruno. He passes a fearful night of struggle with himself, emerging with: —"Hier stehe ich! Ich kann nicht anders! So hilf mir Gott!" Was his decision "free"?
(3) St. Francis at long last discloses to brother Leo the secret Of Perfect Joy: —"And if, constrained by hunger and by cold and by the night, we shall continue lo knock and shall call and beseech for the love of God, with great weeping, that he open unto us and let us in; and he, greatly offended thereat, shall say: —'These be importunate rascals; I will pay them well as they deserve' and shall come forth with a knotty club and take us by the cowl and shall throw us on the ground and roll us in the snow and shall cudgel us pitilessly with that club; if we shall bear all these things patiently and with cheerfulness, thinking on the sufferings of Christ the blessed, the which we ought to bear patiently for His love; O Brother Leo, write that here and in this is the Perfect Joy." Is St. Francis here speaking of a certain authentic possibility in Brother Leo and in every human being whom Brother Leo represents?
In cases such as these, —and in the corresponding situations that come to all of us,— when everything seems to be happening not outside ourselves but within; when there are these acute and prolonged self-communings; when if we are to achieve a victory, we feel we must supply from within ourselves the motive-forces, —are these actions also the actions of a stone?
With human behaviour in general we are not in this book concerned. We are not asking the unaskable abstract question: —Is a human being free or unfree?" This opening chapter is entitled, by Dr. Steiner: —"Conscious Human Activity." We are concerned exclusively with human actions which seem —at any rate— to be the effect of causes contained within ourselves: with deeds of which the motive-forces seem to lie in our own consciousness.
What direction our investigations must take accordingly becomes plain to us. We turn to the study of human consciousness. What does it mean when we say: "I think"?
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MAN'S FUNDAMENTAL IMPULSE TO GET KNOWLEDGE
In consciousness-filled deeds; when we are fully aware of the motive-forces of what we do; is there then the possibility of self-originated activity? Chapter 1 indicated the "What" of our enquiry; Chapter 2 indicates the "How". We are now told in what way we must read these pages if we are to understand them, —in what way we must look for freedom if we are to find it.
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What light does our interest in art, philosophy, religion, science throw upon our nature as human beings?
We watch a play. A moment ago, these magnificent dramatis personae were making up their faces and putting on their costumes. A moment ago, where now stands a solemn temple or a gorgeous palace, there was a litter of boards and boxes. We are well aware that the whole thing is humbug. But the greatest minds of the world have made it their life-aim to fake up such make-believes. And as we sit and watch, we undergo experiences essentially greater than any that "real life" can offer. What do such happenings tell us about ourselves?... Socrates made a convert of Plato in the streets of Athens. He has made numberless other such converts from those days to these in the streets of Rome and Alexandria and Paris and London and Delhi and Pekin. The Dialogues of Plato, says Emerson, "are the germ of the Europe we know so well." What is the significance of such phenomena for our understanding of our own being?.... What, in all its miracle-working power has brought into existence what we call "Modern Science"? What magic evoked the truth-seeking energies of Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Haeckel, Einstein?... Speaking for mankind throughout the ages, Augustine declared: "Tu nos fecisti ad Te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in Te"; "Thou has made us for Thyself and restless is this heart of ours until it rests in Thee." (If nowadays there are many who assert that they share no such feeling, it may be retorted that this is perhaps because they do not fully know themselves; and that possibly the prevalence of nervous disorders is a sort of cosmic revenge upon us human creatures for denying the basis of our being.) What does this longing to be re-integrated in the World-whole tell us about the way we are made ?
This chapter is called " Der Grundtrieb zur Wissenschaft." Dr. Steiner is asking us to note in the history of the human race and in our own experience, how infinitely much we are affected by religion, philosophy, art and science. Fundamentally; centrally; essentially; we are (he urges) beings who seek enlargement of consciousness. We are not content to be as we are. Impelled by a thirst which we are never able more than slightly, more than momentarily, to quench, we listen to music and poetry, we search for knowledge, we engage in meditation.
There are all sorts of stupid ways of looking at a human being. The only true way is to see ourselves as invisibly motivated at the centre by "Der Grundtrieb zur Wissenschaft." It is this hard lesson that we are required to learn. It is this that we must take to heart. It is this that, if we would read these pages victoriously, we are called upon to be . . . To read the " Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" as one reads some university text-book will bring no result except disappointment. It is necessary to bring to the reading much more than a clever head. At the outset, Dr. Steiner postulates in the reader a mood of fundamental sincerity. If we try to read these pages with our self as it now is —with this unexamined prejudice at this point and with this obscurantist feeling at the next— we shall thereby render ourselves incapable of seeing anything more than words. Only if we continually overcome our present mental limitations; only if we persistently bring latent resources to bear upon what we read; shall we be able to take Into ourselves what Dr. Steiner is presenting to us.
THINKING AS THE INSTRUMENT OF KNOWLEDGE
We have learned that man is at heart a being that seeks increasing knowledge; that realises itself by enmembering itself more and more in the World-whole. We see that to be successful in the study we are undertaking, we must orientate ourselves to such an expansion of our consciousness. In this Third Chapter of his book, Dr. Steiner urges upon us the claims of Thinking as "The Instrument of Knowledge". . . Is he justified in making such claims? Does not present-day Science rely rather upon "experimental verification"? Is trust in our own mentality practicable?
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Normally, our Thinking is turned outwards upon other objects. We are now asked to turn it for a while inwards upon itself.
Immediately, as we take up this unusual attitude towards ourselves, we begin to see vaguely how mysterious and how basic this Thinking of ours is. Nothing is more common-place than to say —"This is a table";— but if we enter fully into the implications of such a deed, we shall have gone far to solve the problems raised in this book . . . We are really saying; —"By means of Thinking I stand in a mysterious, basic relation to the table, which enables me —though it is outside me and alien to me— to make this confident assertion about it."
H. G. Wells made great play with a phrase "Scepticism of the Instrument." He asserted that we cannot trust our Thinking; that the only final criterion for scientific work is some sort of "verification by facts." He is expressing what is felt by 99 scientists out of 100.... But if we examine such an instruction, we at once sense that it is unworkable. How do we become "sceptical of the instrument"? Are we not being asked in effect to doubt our thinking by means of thinking? Thinking, by the laws of the Universe, must be left with the last word. " When me they fly, I am the wings."
Let us turn upon ourselves all the light we can find! Let us turn ourselves inside out and then look at ourselves! Do we not find that in every tiniest activity as well as in every special effort to solve a problem, Thinking is antecedent, ubiquitous, underlying, instinctive, assumed? Do we not increasingly discover with Descartes that to be a human being means to be a being that thinks and that the more we think, the more fully do we become a human being? Thinking is what we essentially and ultimately are. To doubt the legitimacy of our thinking is as ridiculous as to doubt the legitimacy of the living and growing of a tree.
To be a human being means to rely upon Thinking. We are seeking in this book for the secrets of our selfhood; only if we understandingly rely upon our thought-process can they be found.
Our habit hitherto has been to place reliance upon all maker of treacherous supports; henceforth we determine to rely upon that alone which will unfailingly bear us up.
We will be believers in Thinking.
"There bubbles up within me a pure primal fountain of wisdom. Of this alone will I consent henceforward to drink."
THE WORLD AS PERCEPT
Two or three feet away from me, I see a rose. How do I gather my knowledge of this rose? What account must I offer myself of the way in which it comes into my head?. . . I give myself some such explanation as the following: —"Out there, two or three feet away from me, is the point-of-origin of the cognitive process. From this point, 'light-waves' have been set going, out into space. Some of these 'waves' reach my eye. In the eye these stimulate physico-chemical occurrences. These arouse further such occurrences in the optic nerve. These arouse further occurrences in the brain-matter. Out of these is finally born what I am pleased to call 'a rose' ". . . Of the "rose" at the point-of-origin I have no experience whatever. I "know" only the effect of the effect of the effect of the effect of some entirely obscure cause. I am in contact with nothing except my own mental state . . . The "rose" of which I am finally aware has been light-waves in space, whirling atoms in my eye, other atoms in my optic nerve, other atoms again In my brain . . . That my inner rose can be identical with the outer rose is unimaginable; that it can resemble it is unimaginable. The utmost I can imagine is that it may have some oblique symbolic correspondence with it... Matters are made very much worse still because I am specifically dependent upon my own individual physiological organisation; e.g., if I am colour-blind, the rose will not acquire redness on its journey to me. Etc., etc. What sort of idea I in particular have of the rose is private and personal to myself.
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Thinking, seen in this context, is merely some sort of terminal flickering up of each individual's sense-organisation. What it delivers is merely some dubious personal opinion. We may well be highly "sceptical of the instrument."
Galileo in the early days of Modern Science prophetically declared how it would come to look at the world: —"Hence, I think that these tastes, odours, colours, etc., which seem to exist In the object are nothing else than mere names and hold their residence solely in the percipient."
In his various philosophical works, Dr. Steiner frequently quotes from the views of thinkers of his own time. In his "Theory of Knowledge according to Goethe's Conception of the World" he quotes from Volkelt to this effect: —"All acts that call themselves objective cognitions are inseparably bound up with the individual cognising consciousness; they take their course at first and immediately nowhere else than in the consciousness of the individual; and they are utterly incapable of reaching beyond the sphere of the individual and laying hold of the sphere of the real, lying outside."
Bertrand Russell has made this statement: —"Light-waves travel from the brain that is being observed to the eye of the physiologist, at which they only arrive after an interval of time, which is finite though short. The physiologist sees what he is observing, only after the light-waves have reached his eye. Therefore the event which constitutes his seeing comes at the end of a series of events which travel from the observed brain into the brain of the physiologist. We cannot, without a preposterous kind of discontinuity, suppose that the physiologist's percept, which comes at the end of this series, is anywhere else but in the physiologist's head."
Though it is the central science; though all that they do at every turn involves cognition; very few scientists pay much heed to epistemology. If they did, they would see in what a strange situation they stand. As epistemologist, the scientific worker is convinced that the only rose he knows of is a rose totally devoid of reality; a rose merely faked up within himself; a rose devoid of all those qualities of colour and fragrance which make it what it is for us. As human being, the scientist finds it impossible to believe what as epistemologist he asserts; his common-sense routs his scientific theories. That the rose stands objectively before our eyes with colour of its own is the ineradicable belief of every sane man and woman.
Why has Science thus bedevilled itself? It is not because the prevalent Theory of Cognition (along the lines set out above) is in itself illogical. It is because Modern Science has the tendency to look at the world only from one side; because it investigates more or less exclusively the sense-perceptible aspects of existence. Ignoring other aspects; confining itself to physical and physiological factors; it endeavours to explain human cognition. The implications of the account it gives do violence to common-sense. It Is much as if a biologist brought forward an explanation of generation exclusively from the side of the female agent.
Whitehead avers that the picture of Nature given us by Modern Science is quite unbelievable."He further declares that "No alternative system of organizing the pursuit of scientific truth has been suggested" . . . We will accept forthwith the first of these statements. Before we accept the second, we will consider what Goethe and Steiner have to say.
COGNISING THE WORLD
In his "Theory of Knowledge according to Goethe's Conception of the World," Rudolf Steiner gives what he believes to be a truly scientific account of human cognition. In a passage in Chapter 11 he summarises his argument in these words: —"In all working over of reality through cognition, the process is as follows. We meet with a concrete percept. It confronts us as a riddle. Within us the impulse manifests itself to investigate the 'What?' of it —its real nature— which the percept of itself does not express. This impulse is the upward working of a concept out of the darkness of consciousness. We hold this concept firmly. The mute percept suddenly speaks to us intelligibly. We know that the concept which has arisen in us is the real being of the percept."
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We perceive the world with our senses. Upon what we thus perceive we bring to bear the concepts created by thinking. We then get knowledge. What is passively received is by our mind lifted out of the darkness of mere potentiality into full validity. What is given to perception alone is nothing final; it is merely provisional; it is valueless and meaningless, unless and until it is supplemented by the activity of the mind.
The Senses give us only one side of reality; the other is supplied by Thinking. When we make use of experience alone, we get the merely specialized aspects of reality; mere particulars. "What comes first into consciousness is in actual fact derivative."
The knowledge-process, as Rudolf Steiner elucidates it, has two sides: —the perceptual and the conceptual. Let us look first at what we get by means of our physical sense-organs; and, secondly, at what we further get by means of our thinking.
If the reader will imagine himself deprived of the power to think, he will get some notion of the world of percepts, taken by itself. Let him picture his unthinking self, say at a cricket-match —observing on a great green slab all manner of meaningless movements of white things; or looking at a book and only able to see a long procession of little black hieroglyphics. This "de-mented" world is apprehended as mere juxtaposition of things in space; mere succession of occurrences in time; blobs of colour, sound, smell, etc.; mere multiplicity of sense-impressions; a rubbish-heap of particulars. The world of mere sentience is "as if it had been shot at us out of a gun." The objects I see and hear are just "there." In their coming about I have had no participation. They emerge from the unknown. They are alien to me. They tell me nothing of themselves.
So long as I remain at this first stage of cognition —limited to what the sense-organs tell me— my world is something like that of the animal or tiny child. It Is a world without values. Objects are certainly there for me but they are meaningless. Things merely declare that they exist; of their real being they make no disclosure.
Into this darkest of worlds comes Thinking with its brightest of lights. What the senses cannot offer, Thinking gives. What the senses lack, Thinking has. When I think, I am unavoidably associative. If I think of "yellow," I thereby summon every buttercup and every case of jaundice and every wedding-ring from the three corners of the world. If I think of "organism," I cannot help thinking spontaneously of "growth" and "evolution." Thinking will not have things in isolation; we find it intolerable to hold in our minds an idea not merged with the ideas already there. Thinking means togetherness; Thinking means grouping; Thinking means looking at items in this or that context; Thinking means taking things in wholes; Thinking means orientation. What is gained by this associating; this grouping; this relating? Intelligibility in place of meaninglessness! Light in place of darkness!
So long as the sense-perceptible item stands by itself in isolation before the senses, it is devoid of significance. Immediately it is related by our Thinking to other items, it takes on value and meaning. By revealing things in this or that context, Thinking elucidates and evaluates them. There arise for us the everyday generalizations by which we conduct our lives; there arise the laws which it is the pride of science to formulate.
Once again: —There are two sides to the cognitive process. At the first stage of knowledge, we apprehend only unrelated and unrelatable percepts, mediated to us by our physical sense-organs. The world thus given us consists of a meaningless mass of particulars. At the second stage of knowledge, Thinking relates these individual items into all manner of conceptual contexts, revealing them thus as having value and meaning.
So long as we look out upon the world with our physical senses alone, we get only a half-reality or much less than a half-reality. Only when Thinking supplements and completes what the senses offer do we get the full reality of the world. Thinking makes the world understandable. Thinking is the organ of intelligibility.
What Dr. Steiner says may be here repeated: —" We meet with a percept. It confronts us as a riddle. We are impelled to Investigate it, to find out its real nature. Out of the darkness of our consciousness the relevant concept arises. As a result, the mute percept suddenly opens its mouth and speaks to us and declares its real being."
THE HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY
An object indicates its existence to me through one or other of my sense-organs; I have a Percept. I think; the relevant Concept arises in me; the Percept has become located in its proper thought-nexus and is thus given validity, significance. For a moment —Percept plus Concept— the full reality is before me. Now the object disappears; but there is left in my mind what may perhaps best be called an "Idea," —a subjective representation of the object, —a concept individualized upon a particular percept. I see the same object again —or one similar to it— and with the help of the Idea in my mind, I can recognise it. The first idea now merges into the second. And so on. And so on . . . Thus flows along the quiet grey unperturbed stream of cognitional experience.
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Accompanying these cognitional experiences are others of a totally dissimilar character —as if the dull grey stream were streaked with all manner of colours. I am not allowed to be indifferent to what my thinking tells me: it is as if every experience that occurs "in my head" jabbed or stabbed me "in the heart." Thinking gives me cold information: Feeling brings it vividly home to me . . . I see a little child that I love ---and my heart fills with Joy. I read in bed a tale of Edgar Allen Poe's and find myself sweating with fear. I get a letter telling me that a dear friend is dead and I am filled with sorrow. Every cognitional experience insists, in some way or other, to some degree or other, on causing pleasure or pain.
To the sense-organs, things cannot divulge their secrets. To Thinking, they disclose themselves. What we call "our Thinking" is the quintessence of things themselves. This quintessence comes from the world-reservoir. As it comes from the world-reservoir, it is virginally pure. Our Thinking, as such, is not ours; it is the World thinking in us. It is impossible for Thinking, in itself, to be at fault. In so far as we think, we express the universal.
When I think, I experience the World-whole. But when I feel, I shrink into the petty confines of my own personal existence. When I think, the mighty music of the cosmic orchestra is sounding in my ears. When I feel, I am listening only to my own peevish ill-played piping. Sufferings and rejoicings: anger, gratitude, fear, desire, self-satisfaction, envy, pride, gladness, depression, mirth —enable us, compel us, to become centrally aware of ourselves as individuals. Our feelings give to our cognitional experiences a special value to ourselves exclusively, —so colourful a special value that we are perpetually being tempted to retire completely into ourselves and to sever our connections with the Cosmic Whole.
"ARE THERE LIMITS TO WHAT WE CAN KNOW?"
The famous physiologist Du Bois-Reymond, once delivered himself of the following utterance: —"It is absolutely and for ever unintelligible that it should be other than indifferent to a number of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc. how they lie and move, how they lay and moved or how they will lie and will move. It is in no way understandable how, through their interaction, consciousness can come into existence."
When Science thus communes with itself —as it did in Dr. Steiner's time; as it is still doing today— what are we being asked to accept?
(1) We are being told that at the centre of our selfhood there is continuously taking place an occurrence so miraculous —so out of keeping with all that is known about the laws of the universe— that Science can find no explanation for it and regards any such explanation as impossible of discovery. Particles of matter, which by no hypothesis can have the possibility of any such notion or design, give birth to our sensations and ideas. Outside my being are "atoms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen," etc.; they have no conceivable qualitative resemblance to or affinity with our inner mental states; yet they somehow manage to metamorphose themselves into "the rose" with which we so confidently and completely identify ourselves.
(2) We are required to believe that "these tastes, odours, colours, etc., which seem to exist in the object, are nothing else than mere names and hold their residence solely in the percipient"; that the birds do not themselves sing their songs, nor the flowers deck themselves with their colours but that it is we ourselves who inside ourselves sing the songs and that it is we ourselves inside ourselves who create the colours —and that we then wantonly attribute our own activity to the birds and the flowers.
(3) We are being urged to acknowledge that between what goes on inside us (our mental states) and what goes on outside us (atoms, etc.), there is an impassable chasm. There is, it is alleged, quite obviously no way of getting across from the privacy of our own selves (the " I ") to the outer conditions which we call "the World." Mentality is qualitatively altogether different from matter: how can we get from the one to the other? We can speculate, as Kant did, about "Things-in-themselves"; we can infer; we can use scientific imagination; we can guess; but if we are true to our scientific training we shall be compelled to confess that anything that can be called "Knowledge" or "Science" is limited to experience of our own inner mental states.
To such points-of-view, Dr. Steiner opposes the following account of cognition: —"In knowledge, we are concerned with questions which arise for us through the fact that a Sphere of Percepts, conditioned by time, space and our subjective organisation, stands over against the Sphere of Concepts, pointing to the totality of the universe. Our task is to reconcile these two spheres, with both of which we are well-acquainted There is no room here for speaking of 'Limits of Knowledge'."
Let us examine this statement, piece by piece:—
(1) "A Sphere of Concepts, pointing to the totality of the universe."
If we consider our conceptualising, we find ourselves pointed to a cosmic background wherein there is a ubiquitous and perpetual tendency towards the forming of greater and greater wholes. Every item gets to itself context upon context, background upon background. Fact links itself with fact, occurrence with occurrence; ever-larger groupings become apparent; and we find ourselves at last in the presence of the totality of the universe, of world-oneness.
Modern Physical Science thinks of a Law of Nature as subjective. It says to itself: —"This law is not a self-existent entity; it does not really exist; it cannot really exist." To a science accustomed to regarding every item of knowledge through physical eyes there is nothing in a Law for Nature which it can make real to itself. When Science speaks of "Laws," these are only man-made hypotheses or conjectures. The only things that for Science have genuine existence are the individual sense-perceived objects, —(e.g. the single tulips). "Laws" are merely a convenient subjective way of provisionally lumping together a number of things or occurrences of the same sort.
Steiner affirms that "things exist and act on one another according to laws which can be discovered by thinking"; that "things exist in indivisible unity with laws." He insists that the Laws of Nature —these groupings —these wholes —are objective realities. They are not visible to physical eyes: they are not tangible to physical fingers: they are nevertheless completely actual and factual... And unless we can come by thinking-intuition to see them —or at least to realise that we must postulate their self-existence— we shall never be able to make sense of what takes place in the knowledge-process.
(2) "A Sphere of Percepts, conditioned by time, space and our subjective organisation."
I was once travelling alone in a compartment of a non-corridor railway train; I lay down on the seat and went to sleep: I was awakened by a thump on my side. Of what had taken place I could for the moment give no explanation. This was pure percept. . . . In one of his absurd stories Chesterton tells of a man who heard In the passage outside his study an extraordinary medley of noises: —rifle-shots, running water, whirring machinery; he could for a time give himself no intelligible account of what they were. Here again we have pure percept.
In actuality, this sort of thing is all the time taking place with us. The reader can observe it easily enough for himself. By means of our sense-organisation, we get a percept. For a very brief space of time, it is only percept. Then —as a rule, more or less spontaneously; but sometimes after an appreciable time-lag— it ceases to be a mere empty percept and gets lit up from within by the relevant concept.
At the lower level, at the first stage of cognition, what we get is blobs of colour, noises, etc., —mere unintelligible items of sense-experience. They are mere indications (in and of themselves without content or meaning) of the Wholes or Laws which we have just been describing. Things themselves undergo no change; it is we who are at fault. As creatures of time and space; conditioned by our subjective organisation; we are able to apprehend only fragments of reality —specializations, exemplifications, particulars. We have the power to see only a mere aspect or hint of the actuality. What we thus get is in and of itself only enigma and illusion. "Through sense-perception," says Goethe, "objects appear separately."
(3) "My task consists in reconciling these two spheres."
In order that I may reconcile these two spheres, I must let them come together again. That they may take on intelligibility I must allow the percepts to enter into groupings, contexts, laws, wholes. This reconciliation is effected by Thinking.
(4) "We cannot speak of 'Limits of Knowledge'. "
Modern Thought sees in Percepts, a world altogether alien to our thinking and declares it to be "inaccessible to knowledge".... Dr. Steiner asks us to make crystal-clear to ourselves the function and significance of thinking. Thinking is simply Things realising themselves within us. Only in a very circumscribed way can we say —" I think." When we have learned our manners as cosmic citizens, we shall say —"The World thinks in me." What we call our thinking is merely the assertion within us of the patterns, the relationships, the wholes, which are the substance of what we get with our senses. Thinking is subjective only in the sense that our head is the stage on which it appears; in itself, it is objective through and through.
We cannot all at once plunge into omniscience, into world-vision. We are required to overcome the limitations of time and space. On our long evolutionary journey we are subject to all manner of temporary hold-ups to knowledge. But as soon as we comprehend the nature and function of Thinking, we see that any absolute limits to knowledge are inconceivable. Relying upon our sense-organs, we are on the outside of things; as soon as we begin to think, we get inside. Man as constituted by his thinking is free of all the secrets of the universe.
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THE FACTORS OF LIFE
It might be said that Dr. Steiner's object in this book is to wean us from our inborn childish "Naive Realism" and to induce us to grow up into "Monism."
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We find ourselves amid an aggregate of sense-perceived details, an environment that is none of our making. We agree to call this the world of "Percepts." The Naive Realist in his child-like unthinking way fancies that this merely perceived world is "real." . . . The Monist sees it as a world of appearances, void of content.
Among these perceptual items, the Monist notes and singles out the percept of his own Self. This percept, like all the others, is "given"; it stands unquestionably within the confines of experience. But out of it —quite as unquestionably— issues an activity which transcends the merely perceptual that characterizes all the rest of our experiences. Here of itself emerges conceptualizing. It is certainly mediated through the Self, through our I. But just as certainly, —just as obviously to unprejudiced observation,— it is a world-activity. This too is a "given". We can call it, in Goethe's phrase —"Higher Experience within Experience." Making use of this unique means of experience, we find ourselves able to render intelligible the entire perceptual world. We stand now with our Thinking in a world of meanings and values.
We are aware likewise of a closer environment of insubstantials which we call our "Feelings." These are also "given": they have not been evolved by our conscious activity. They come of themselves, —often enough, indeed, in spite of what our "real Self" would like. The Naive Realist, struck by the intimacy and colourfulness of these experiences accepts them for "Reality." He may grow up with such a mentality and philosophize himself into "Mysticism" . . . The Monist refuses thus to make much of mere emotions. Feelings have a value only for the particular individual that entertains them. To universalise them is unwarrantable. If they are to become inwardly illuminated and acceptable to our fully grown-up selves, these instinctive emotions must also be subjected to thinking. Feelings, too, are mere percepts. As such, they are disqualified from holding the central place within a mature human being.
We are, in the third and last place, aware of ourselves as creatures of Will. In our Feelings we are as it were conscious of the world outside closing in upon us, relating itself to us; the environment is active, we are passive. When we will, on the contrary, we thrust ourselves upon the world outside. Will-impulses of this sort are perceived by us in all their immediacy. The Naive Realist (again like a child) feels how very "real" they are.... The Monist denies them this sort of reality. He insists that in the same way that ordinary sense-percepts become intelligible only when Thinking throws its light upon them; only in the same way that Feelings become valid when they are universalised in the world-order; so also acts of Will become truly those of a human being only when they issue from a fully illuminated consciousness.
In this perceptual nursery of ours, we are contented little children. Our toys are very real and very dear to us. Here we would like to remain —indulging in all the exciting emotions of the playroom; subjecting all things to our own caprice. There is nothing we less desire than to grow up and to grow out of it all... Dr. Steiner asks us to cease being Naive Realists and to become Monists. He wants us to think. We shall gain, he urges, immeasurably more than we lose:—
" But if we once succeed in really finding the true life in thinking, we learn to understand that the self-abandonment to feelings or the intuiting of the will, cannot even be compared with the inward wealth of this life of thinking, which we experience as within itself, ever self-supporting, yet at the same time ever in movement... If we turn towards the essential nature of thinking, we find in it both feeling and will and both of these in the depth of their reality. If we turn away from thinking towards mere feeling and will, these lose for us their genuine reality. If we are prepared to make of thinking an intuitive experience, we can do justice, also, to expenences of the type of feeling and will. But the mysticism of feeling and the metaphysics of will are not able to do justice to the penetration of reality by intuitive thinking."
The following passage from another of Dr. Steiner's works throws light on what he is urging in this chapter of the "Philosophy of Spiritual Activity":—
"What is important is not whether the thing has aroused pleasure In me; it is that I should experience through the liking the nature of the thing. The pleasure should only be an intimation to me that there is in the thing a quality calculated to give pleasure. It is this quality that I must learn to understand. . . He who thus develops himself will gradually understand how instructive pleasure and pain are. He will not say, 'O, how I suffer!' or 'O, how glad I am!' but, 'How suffering speaks!' and 'How joy speaks!' He eliminates the element of self in order that the pain and pleasure from the outer world may work upon him. By this means there develops in the student a completely new mode of relating himself to things.... Pleasure and displeasure become the organs through which things tell him how they themselves really are in their own nature . . . As long as a man lives in pleasure and pain, he cannot gain knowledge by means of them. When he learns to live through them, when he withdraws from them his feeling of self, then they become organs of perception . . . So long as one lives in a personal relationship with the world, things reveal only that which attaches them to our personality. But this is only their transitory aspect. If we withdraw ourselves from the transitory, —living with our feeling of self, with our ' I,' in our permanent selfhood,— then the transitory in us becomes an intermediary; and that which is revealed through it is the Imperishable, the Eternal in things."
THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
Beginning of chapter 9 (1918 revised edition):
"The concept 'tree' is conditioned for our knowledge by the percept 'tree.' When faced with a determinate percept, I can select only one determinate concept from the general system of concepts. The connection of concept and percept Is mediately and objectively determined by thinking in conformity with the percept. The connection between a percept and its concept is rocognised only after the act of perception, but the relevance of the one to the other is determined by the thing itself.
"The procedure is different if we consider knowledge or rather, the relation of man to the world which arises within knowledge. In the preceding chapters the attempt has been made to show that an unprejudiced observation of this relation can throw light on its nature. Correct understanding of this observation shows us that thinking may be intuitively apprehended in its self-contained being. Those who find it necessary, for the explanation of thinking as such, to invoke something else, e.g. physical brain-processes or unconscious spiritual processes lying behind the conscious thinking which they observe, fail to grasp the facts which unprejudiced observation of thinking yields. We live during the observation of thinking immediately within the essence of a spiritual, self-sustaining activity. Indeed we may even affirm that if we desire to grasp the essential nature of Spirit in the form in which it immediately presents itself to man, we need only look at our own self-sustaining thinking.
"For the study of thinking, two things coincide which elsewhere mest always appear apart, viz. concept and percept. If we fail to see this, we shall look upon the concepts which we have elaborated in response to percepts as mere shadowy copies of these percepts and we shall take the percepts as presenting to us reality as it really is. We shall, further, build up for ourselves a metaphysical world after the pattern of the perceived world. We shall, each of us according to his habitual thought-pictures, call this a world of atoms or of will or of unconscious spirit, etc. And we shall fail to notice that all the time we have done nothing but erect hypothetically a metaphysical world modelled upon our perceived world. But if we clearly apprehend what thinking consists in, we shall recognise that percepts present to us only a portion of reality and that the complementary portion (which alone imparts to reality its full character as real), is experienced by us in the permeation of percepts by thinking. We shall regard that which enters into consciousness as thinking, not as some shadowy copy of reality, but as a self-sustaining spiritual essence. We shall be able to say of it that it is revealed to us in consciousness through intuition. Intuition is the purely spiritual conscious experience of a purely spiritual content. It is only through intuition that we can grasp the essence of thinking.
"Only if one wins through, by means of unprejudiced observation, to the recognition of this truth of the intuitive essence of thinking, will one succeed in clearing the way for a conception of the psycho-physical organisation of man. One recognises that this organisation can produce no effect whatever on the essential nature of thinking. At first sight, this seems to be contradicted by obvious facts. For ordinary experience, human thinking occurs only in connection with and by means of such an organisation. This dependence upon the psycho-physical organisation is so patent that we can recognise its true bearing only if we clearly appreciate that in the essential nature of thinking it plays no part whatever. Once we grasp this, we can no longer fail to notice how peculiar is the relation of the human organisation to thinking. This organisation contributes nothing to the essential nature of thought but recedes whenever the thinking-activity appears. It then suspends its own activity and yields ground. And the ground thus set free is occupied by thinking. Thus, the essence which is active in thinking has a two-fold function —first, it restricts the human organisation in its own activity; secondly, it steps into the place of it. Yes, even the former, the restriction of the physical organization, is an effect of the activity of thinking and more particularly of that part of the activity which prepares the manifestation of thinking. This explains the sense in which thinking has its counterpart in the organisation of the body. Once we perceive this, we can no longer misapprehend what significance for thinking this physical counterpart has. When we walk over soft ground, our feet leave impressions in the soil. We do not believe that the forces of the ground, from below, have formed these foot-prints. We do not attribute to such forces any share in the production of the foot-prints. Correspondingly, if without prejudice we observe the essential nature of thinking, we shall not attribute any share in it to the traces in the physical organism which thinking produces in preparing its manifestation through the body."
We are called upon here, very urgently indeed, for "unprejudiced observation" of thinking. We must not take it for granted ---because the tendencies of this particular phase of history run so tumultuously in that direction--- that thinking can be explained only as the final product of physical-physiological processes. This hostile prejudice may be latent in the student who feels himself antipathetic to Dr. Steiner's line of thought. But the reader who is sympathetic with Dr. Steiner's line of thought is likely to be in a more unhopeful situation still. The danger is that he will agree with what Dr. Steiner says, not because he has observed it in himself, but because Dr. Steiner says it .... We are called upon to make, each of us, our own independent observation of our own thinking. Unless we are able to be completely objective, we render ourselves incapable of listening to the argument, of effectively grasping it.
"But if we dearly apprehend what Thinking consists in, we shall see that Percepts present to us only a portion of reality and that the complementary portion —which alone gives complete reality— is experienced by us in the permeation of Percepts by Thinking."
What do these words mean? Have we taken in what has been argued in Part I of this book? Can we state to ourselves by what right Dr. Steiner is able to make such an assertion?
As apprehended by our senses, the world is mere appearance; it has no true existence; it consists of meaningless particulars; it a unintelligible. But as soon as we grasp it with our thinking, we find it taking on meanings, values, intelligibility, reality. This forces us to ask ourselves —"If Thinking can effect such a transformation, what sort of a thing is it?" We observe that Thinking, like a king, confers relationships, establishes laws, groups particulars into wholes, mediates the world-order. We note that Thinking is not In any way derived from nor dependent upon Percepts; we see that it completely transcends the perceptible; we see that only in and through Thinking have Percepts come to life. We realise that we are in the presence of a "self-existing spiritual essence".
"Thinking is revealed to us through intuition"; "Only through intuition can we grasp the essence of Thinking"... All other items of experience are as if "shot at us out of a gun"; they are felt as externals. Thinking however we experience from within. What am I to make of this plainly observable fact? I can give myself no explanation of it except to say that whereas all other things are in existence of themselves, my Thinking arises only through and in me. The world of Percepts consists of things that are not-me, of things un-me-ised; Thinking is ME. America is there already in existence; so is the sky; so is this table; so is my next door neighbour; but not Thinking. If Thinking is to be in existence, I must bring it into existence. "I think, therefore I am" really signifies that Thinking is indissolubly one with my very being.
Man truly enough is part of nature. He is subject to natural causation. His psycho-physical organization mediates to him external perceptual forces. Impelled by these, he is nothing better than an animal, a plant, or a stone. "Our dependence on the psycho-physical organization is obvious . . . but in the essential nature of Thinking it plays no part whatever. It recedes whenever Thinking-activity appears; it suspends its own activity; it yields ground. And the ground thus set free is occupied by Thinking."
We are actors in a cosmic drama. When we think, we clear the stage of perceptual rubbish so that this drama can go on. Thinking is the power to create within ourselves a free space whereinto physical forces are refused entry. As long as I am only a sleeping, perceptualising creature, I am subject to natural causation; when I awaken, when I become my Thinking Self, I then become myself a cause.
To me personally, observing myself, it seems beyond controversy that by means of thinking, I can and do bring into existence within myself a self-existing essence, wherein and wherefrom I am no longer motivated by the external, the unknown, the perceptual . . . To prolong further the argument upon this point would be unprofitable. The reader must forgive me if I assume that the fact is established.
Within me is a source of spiritual activity. Whenever I choose, I can ignore it; I can treat it as non-existent; I can let my action originate —through my psycho-physical organization— in the external-perceptual. I can let myself be motivated openly or obscurely by the forces operative in nature or in social conditions. I can allow the determinants of my conduct to be such things as sex, fear, anger, the power of the State, social convention, moral platitudes, obsolete ideas, conscience. In so far as I let this kind of thing happen to me, I am unfree:—
Alternatively, I can say "No" to the forces that assail me from the external-perceptual and "Yes" to the intuitions that arise within me. I can refuse to let myself be made into the plaything of obscure forces external to my selfhood. I can, instead, in imaginativeness and in love, in crystal-clear consciousness, creatively, give myself the motives for what I do. This is to be "free."
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The Naive Realist accepts the "evidence of his senses" as conclusive. He regards as final what is brought to him through his psycho-physical organisation. He virtually pays no heed to his thinking. He ignores what Thinking mediates to him. He accepts, as if they were full reality, mere perceptuals and particulars, —a world of threads and patches. His experience consists of unknown peripheral items, —of things "shot at him, as if from out of a gun," —of things which, without Thinking, he cannot make over into true inner experience of his own, of things accordingly not comprehended.
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If within such a philosophical context; if from these obscure sources; we attempt to find the motives for our conduct, we are condemned to act without any clear knowledge of what we are about. We are in a state of confused self-deception. We cannot thus have deeply grounded confidence in our moral action. We shall submit ourselves to the pressure of some outer or inner peripheral authority or influence. Not clearly aware of any higher alternative, we shall obey the State or be ruled by social conventions or bow down to some imposing ecclesiastical organization, etc., etc.
The Monist regards what is contributed by the psycho-physical organisation as merely a part-reality; he affirms that only when this part-reality is supplemented and fulfilled by Thinking does it become full reality. He holds that our senses give us only the materials wherewith to build; it is Thinking that erects the cloudcapped towers, the solemn temples, the gorgeous palaces, the great globe itself. At the stage of "appearance for the senses," we get nothing more than mere isolated blobs of experience; only when we go on to think, do these meaningless particulars become assembled and related Into groupings and wholes and laws and actualities.
We now no longer make little of our Thinking. We make much of it. We have come to know that by means of it we have been translated into reality. We see that it is this Thinking of ours that makes sense of our human existence. We see that it is Thinking that supplies all the meanings and all the values. We realise, at long last, that here within our own selves is something we can know through and through, something we can trust to the uttermost.
We have now discovered the true, the altogether pure, the Divinely-appointed source of human activity. We are henceforward under no necessity of turning for moral direction to intermediaries. We know that within our own selfhood speaks authentically the Primal and the Ultimate. Human morality, consists in listening to and giving effect to what is declared by the Highest within ourselves. In so far as we are of this kind, we are "free,"
This stone has come to rest at my feet; forces external to it placed it there. This unattractive bulb has become a lovely daffodil; but it was not in the mind of the bulb to become the flower. This swallow has arrived in England; but I cannot believe that during the winter it was making its plans for migration in the spring.... Man is otherwise constituted; he has what Goethe calls "a universe within"; by the help of this subjectivity of his, he can exercise a magical power of purposing his actions. He can turn the established order of nature upside-down and inside-out.
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The stone and the plant and the animal —in mechanical or quasi-mechanical fashion— each conforms to the law of its being. For man, however, Nature has in mind no prescribed destiny. To man is given the very power of causation itself. Man is himself a cause. Man is purposive.
Mysteriously and majestically, man turns effects into causes. For him, and for him alone, the clock strikes before it reaches the hour. He proposes to himself a deed or a course of action; and this which is to be the subsequent, contrives to become the antecedent .... This is because man —unlike stone and plant and animal— is in his essential being a member of a Higher World .... In his conceptual selfhood man imaginates to himself a purpose. This purpose is then applied to things perceptual and sets them going. These things perceptual, in the ordinary cause-effect way of Nature, influence or move other perceptual elements and thus the original idea of man becomes perceptualised, materialized actuality.
The painter sees in imagination a picture; he makes up his mind to get it onto canvas; so far, we have the conceptual or ideal cause. The painter gets ready his paraphernalia; he sets to work; now we can watch him; the cause has set going various sense-perceptible activities. At length on the canvas appears the completed work. It has truly enough in a certain sense resulted from all that the painter perceptually did with his brushes and paints. But more antecedently yet, and far more truly, it has its origin in a conceptual purpose, now realised; —the effect seen and known in an inner world having brought about the occurrence in an outer.
We are called upon to try to take in the virtually unbelievable fact that we are comprehensively, completely, "really and truly" creative, causal, "free." We are under no necessity to give effect in our lives to any purposes except our own. But to be purposeful within our own selfhood —to this, if we have the necessary receptivity, we are being perpetually called. Our task is to discover by thinking-intuition what are the life-purposes proper to ourselves, each of us as a special, distinctive, unique entity; our further task is to convert these ideal purposes into outer actions.
O Man, realise thyself! O Man, become what thou art!
DARWINISM AND ETHICS
We used to believe that a Being of Immeasurable Power and Wisdom and Goodness decreed our creation with the words: —"Let us make man in our image." We once felt we were at the centre of things. We thought of ourselves as known by the Cosmos and loved by it. We called the Universe "Our Father." We held up our hands to it in prayer.
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Physical Science requires us to think otherwise. It indicates a world-whole which is not only indifferent to us but is altogether unaware of us. It Insists that neither at the outset nor anywhere along the line was there any prevision of what has actually taken place in evolution nor any intention to bring about the results with which we are familiar. That we exist at all is explained as merely the final result of a series of "accidents." Astro-physicists are still in debate about the origins of our earth. A hypothesis until recently much in favour was that somewhere about 2000 million years ago another star in our galaxy happened to pass near enough to what was then "the sun" to attract out of it the blazing substances which became in due course the planets of our solar system —among them a planet on which by a chance the physical conditions were such as to make life as we know it practicable. After some 1000 million years; at a certain place or at certain places; at a certain moment or at certain moments; conditions occurred which resulted in the formation of special chemical compounds having the property of "livingness." Living matter, having been brought forth, somehow maintained itself. It not only maintained itself; it reproduced itself and it evolved. It evolved blindly into many blind-alleys. It evolved with equal blindness along what we unscientifically regard as a uniquely important and specifically intended main-line —cell —cluster of single-celled organisms —some sort of jelly-fish —flat-worm stage —round-worm stage —coelomate —primitive chordate —fish —amphibian —reptile —monotreme —marsupial —true mammal —insectivore —some sort of tree-shrew —some sort of lemur —some sort of monkey —some sort of ape —and finally man.
The full title of Darwin's great first book on evolution was "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Here in the title are indicated the essentials of Darwin's doctrine. He asked his readers to look at facts on every hand observable in nature: —that organisms vary; that features are transmitted by heredity; that in every environment at every level of life, there is among living organisms competition for survival. He argued convincingly that in the struggle for life in any given environment, those that survive will be those that possess characteristics giving them in that particular situation some biological advantage over their competitors; he argued further that those surviving would tend to hand on their helpful qualities to their off-spring. Working along these lines, he saw every environment mechanically eliminating organisms ill-adapted to it and mechanically bringing into existence organisms that could adapt themselves.This materialistic, mechanistic mode of accounting for what has taken place in evolution was applied more and more comprehensively. Darwin himself brought man into his evolutionary scheme in his "Descent of Man." Darwin's followers out-Darwined Darwin. In the period from 1859 to the present day we have witnessed the rise of an official biology, almost universally accepted in universities and schools, which purports to explain man as originating exclusively from blind physical and chemical events.
What Julian Huxley writes in his Foreword to Eileen Mayo's "Story of Living Things" (1947) is typical:—
"The discoveries of the 19th Century concerning life rank with those of the 17th concerning lifeless matter as the two achievements of science which have had the greatest influence on general thought. Galileo and Newton following on Copernicus and Kepler, finally robbed our earth of its claim to a central position in the universe. At the same time, they introduced us to the idea of universal scientific law, by demonstrating that the behaviour of the moon, the earth and the other planets was due to the same force of gravity that makes a rain-drop or a stone fall to the ground.
"So, two centuries later, Darwin, following on Lamarck and the other great naturalists, comparative anatomists and physiologists who preceded him finally dethroned man from his claim to a unique position as Lord of Creation. At the same time he introduced us to the idea of universal law in biology, by demonstrating that all plants and animals, including man himself, share many basic similarities, and that the origin of human species is due to the same general type of agency which is involved in producing a local variety of snail or a new breed of poultry: evolution operates as automatically as gravity.
Those who look at things with the quantitative eyes of Modern Physical Science see no point in the long evolutionary process where man could have possessed himself of any private, inner, spiritual-ethical reality. They see him as in the last resort nothing other than a highly organised chemical structure, an ephemeral assemblage of molecules. If such a view were valid, it would be unthinkable for Dr. Steiner to try to elaborate a philosophy of mans spiritual activity.
Fortunately, there is among theories of evolution themselves, a struggle for existence....
Alfred Russel Wallace came forward with the notion of Natural Selection at the same moment as Darwin himself. But unlike his less imaginative confrere, he did not allow the theory to run amok in his speculations. He allowed it only a circumscribed range. That evolution in general can be accounted for on what are now called "Darwinistic principles"; and that in especial man himself was materialistically and mechanically evolved into existence; Wallace flatly denied. Here are a handful of quotations from the last chapter of the book he generously called "Darwinism":—
"The special faculties we have been discussing clearly point to the existence in man of something which he has not derived from his animal progenitors —something which we may best refer to as being of a spiritual essence or nature, capable of progressive development under favourable conditions. On the hypothesis of this spiritual nature, superadded to the animal nature of man, we are able to understand much that is otherwise mysterious or unintelligible in regard to him, especially the enormous influence of ideas, principles, and beliefs over his whole life and actions.... And still more surely can we refer to it those progressive manifestations of Life in the vegetable, the animal and man —which we may classify as unconscious, conscious and intellectual life.
THE VALUE OF LIFE (PESSIMISM & OPTIMISM)
Human existence is anything but easy We find ourselves faced with difficulty after difficulty, with problem upon problem. We are in ever-recurring danger of being overwhelmed. In the cellarage lurks the possibility of a nervous breakdown, even of making away with ourselves.... But within us there sound strengthening voices:—
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"Be a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
"Trust thyself! Every heart vibrates to that iron string."
"Be our joys three parts pain, strive and hold cheap the strain."
"Hold up your head! You weren't made for failure, you were made for victory."
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves that we are underlings."
"The fountain-head of strength upon which you can draw is inexhaustible."
"And the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock."
"If only I could believe in these inner voices more! If only I could listen to them steadfastly! If only I could somehow become a person who as a matter-of-course lived from within, outwards!".... This is our longing —the deepest, truest, noblest longing of the human heart. How shall we turn it into accomplished fact?
"If Freedom is to be realised," says Dr. Steiner, "the will must be sustained by intuitive thinking." By the help of this book of his, we can discover how we work and what we are. By self-observation we learn that with our thinking we are lifted up above this sense-perceptible world of effects and stand in the super-sensible world of causes. With what we thus acquire as ascertained and indubitable knowledge, we cannot but increasingly identify ourselves. We find ourselves emerging out of wistful pathetic longing into realised strength. We are on the high road to Freedom.
"The view that I have here developed," says Dr. Steiner, "points man back to himself." In these words Chapter 13 is summed up. Whether life is worth living is a question every human being must settle for himself. Our business is to make it worth iving. That it is in our power is a thing that by sincere self-observation we can come to know.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE lNDIVIDUAL FROM THE GENERIC
Torvald says to Nora in Ibsen's "Doll's House": —"Before all things, you are a wife and a mother." Nora replies; —''That I no longer believe.... Before all things, I am a human being, just as you are." We have come to see that the "Woman's Question" could be solved only in line with Nora's point-of-view. We are coming to see that all the other social questions demand a like solution. We are learning what Mill says to us in his essay on "Liberty," —what Emerson says to us in his essay on "Self-Reliance." We are evolving out of the generic into the individual. So far from wanting people to be conformed to some imposed mould, we see nowadays that it is highly desirable that each person should become more and more specifically a self —with a centre of his or her own.
It is for this that we stand in "the West." It is for this that all good thinking moderns stand in West and East and North and South. The plain, obvious, decent social ideal before mankind is a world community of free individuals, living out their lives, each in his or her own way, tolerantly, side by side.
Generic ideas —taking strange new forms but having their roots in the past— are everywhere endeavouring to thwart the evolving of human beings into individualization. We were from 1939 to 1945 engaged in open warfare with Fascism and Hitlerism. We are now locked in a life-and-death struggle with Communism.
How is "the West" to win in this world-conflict? How are those who believe in the individual (From Within, Outwards) to overcome those who believe in the State (From Without, Inwards)?
Not by arms. Not by politics. Not by propaganda .... The question goes deep and can be answered only at the level upon which it arises .... It is man's very evolving that is at issue —and the only answer is that we should get on with the evolving itself. The only answer that can be given to Totalitarianism is the answer of the single human being, who in a certain courageous loneliness, imaginatively and creatively, lives out his or her own possibilities.
Unless we of "the West" make use of this work of Rudolf Steiner's, we shall not win this battle.
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THE CONSEQUENCES OF MONISM
Instinctively, in these days, we look for a natural cause for every occurrence, not excluding occurrences wherein man himself is the seeming agent. We find it almost impossible to credit that there can be in man a final source of free activity. Our ways of thinking dispose us to assert that whatever man does is the result of physical-physiological causes, external to himself and beyond his own control.
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Is this view of man justified? Is it the result of open observation? Dr. Steiner holds it to be an oblique and almost incidental consequence of five centuries of physical science and technical civilization. He insists that, apparently scientific though it may be, it is in actuality merely a prejudiced way of looking at things. He says that we do not look at the facts about ourselves objectively. He says that we look at them with all sorts of pre-existent mental habits, applicable no doubt to physical nature but not proper for an understanding of man .... This chapter sums up his book. It is a final effort to get us to look at ourselves not through the spectacles of materialistic science but with our own eyes. He says that if we can succeed in this, we shall know of our own incontrovertible experience that we have within us a source whence free actions can issue.
Before he proceeds to look at my own notes, the reader may find it helpful to ponder for a while upon the following extracts from this chapter. If indeed he does this sufficiently, he may well find that the notes have become superfluous.
"A particular human individual is not actually cut off from the universe. He is a part of the universe and his connection with the cosmlc whole is broken, not in reality, but only for perception. At first we apprehend this part as a self-existing thing, because we are unable to see the cords and ropes by which the fundamental forces of the cosmos keep turning the wheel of our life. All who remain at this stand-point see the part as if it were in truth an independent, separate, self-existing thing, gaining all its knowledge of the rest of the world in some way from without. But the Monism described In this book shows that we can believe in this separateness only so long as thinking has not gathered our percepts into the net-work of the conceptual. As soon as this happens all partial existence in the universe reveals itself as mere appearance, due to perception. Man can find his existence rightly in the universe only through the experience of intuitive thought. Thinking destroys the mere appearance of perception and assigns to our individual existence its place In the life of the cosmos."
The tree which I perceive, taken in isolation by itself, has no existence; it exists only as a member in the immense organism of nature, and it is possible only In actual connection with nature. An abstract concept, takers by itself, has as little reality as a percept taken by itself. The percept is that part of reality which is given from without; the concept is that part which is given from within (by intuition). Our mental organization breaks up reality into these two aspects. The one aspect is given to perception; the other to intuition. Only the union of the two —percept fitted, according to law, into its place in the universe— gives us reality in its full character."
"Even the most orthodox Subjective idealist will not deny that we live in a real world; that, as real beings, we are rooted in it; but he does deny that our knowledge by means of our ideas can grasp the reality in which we live. As against this view, Monism shows that thinking is neither subjective nor objective but a principle which holds together both sides of reality. Thinking-observation is a process which itself belongs to the stream of real events. By thinking we overcome, within the limits of experience itself, the one-sidedness of mere perception. We are not able by purely conceptual reflection to decipher the real, but in so far as we find the ideas for our percepts, we live in the real."
In my (now very remote) school-days, I learned a piece of verse which began:—
"There were six men of Hindustan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see an elephant,
Though all of them were blind."
One of them grasped the elephant's tail and concluded that an elephant is "very like a rope"; another felt an elephant must be some sort of a tree; another, that it is like a spear; etc ....
Before thinking begins —so long as we depend exclusively upon perception— the world appears to us thus in fragments. From such fragments we receive no complete picture but mere illusion.
Before I think— "The tree which I perceive, taken by itself in isolation has no existence; it comes into existence only as a member in the immense organism of nature and it is possible only in actual connection with nature."
Before we think— the world appears to us as mere multiplicity, mere unrelated particulars, mere blobs of colour, noise, smell, etc. —without values, without meaning.
The animal accepts some such world; so does the tiny child; the grown human being cannot accept it. He has a feeling that at this stage of cognition he is on the outside of things, excluded from reality. He longs in the words of Faust for "the Breasts of Nature."
He instinctively and spontaneously sets about getting real knowledge. This is to be achieved not by the acquisition of a further quantity of perceptual facts but only by supplementing perception with an entirely different sort of human activity. The name of this qualitatively different human activity is Thinking.
What does Thinking do? lt transforms the unintelligible of mere perception into intelligibility.
How does Thinking do it? It does it by assigning to the perceptual particulars their place in appropriate groupings, contexts, wholes. The tail takes on its proper significance when it is thought into its place as a member of the elephant; and the elephant takes on meaning and value as soon as we see it as a member in the vast organism of nature. The tree becomes more and more a tree as we relate it to other trees of the same kind as itself; to all other plants; etc., etc. The world itself is not split into two. It is we who split it into two. We first of all get a feeble spectral hold of things by Perception; then by Thinking we get them in their full reality. If we are active only with our sense-organisation, we are able to cognise only particulars, fragments, outsides, shadows, appearances. As soon as we think, we get relationships, groupings, wholes, laws, reality.
"The percept is that part of reality which is given from without. The concept is that part of reality which is given from within. Our own organization breaks up reality into these two aspects. The one aspect appears to perception; the other, to thinking-intuition. Only the union of the two, which consists of the percept fitted according to law into its place in the universe, gives us reality in its full character."
So long as I live in percepts alone, I live in unintelligibility. As soon as l think, I live in the intelligible.... What then has thinking effected? What is the role of this thinking of mine? What must be the nature of thinking?
To me personally, it would seem that the following assertions about thinking have been established beyond controversy:—
(1) With my Thinking, I am in the most intimate way identified. Without it, I fall to pieces. With it, I am completely equipped for understanding the world and living in it. So much is Thinking my very self, that if I try to throw doubt on its dependableness, I can do it only by making use of thinking. Rightly taken, the words of Descartes are entirely acceptable:— "I think, therefore I am." Thinking is at the centre of my selfhood. Without Thinking, I could not be a human being.
(2) It is impossible to question the me-ness of our Thinking. But it is equally impossible to doubt that it is a World-activity. It is as real an event In the universe as the courses of the stars or the falling of the rain or the beat of the heart. It is implanted In man that; by means of It, man may be man. True though it is to say:— "I think": it is even more true to say— "The World thinks in me." When we think, we are participant in the higher workings of the world-order. Thinking directly mediates reality. In so far as we think, we live in reality. When we think, "The fundamental forces of the cosmos are turning the wheel of our life."
(3) Giving them thus value and meaning, Thinking arranges the perceptual particulars into groupings, patterns, wholes. These relationships, these groupings, these wholes, these laws, cannot be held in the hand or seen with the eye. They are nevertheless unquestionably real existences.... Unless the reader is so materialized that he refuses downright to look at the fact, he is obliged to admit that Thinking not only mediates Reality but also that the Reality which it mediates transcends physical phenomena.
We are looking for a Source of free, spiritual, human activity. Such a Source must be in our own selfhood. Such a Source must be world-factual. Such a Source must be uncaused and unconditioned by the physical world.... If we observe without prejudice what goes on within ourselves; if we are capable of seeing things "Monistically"; we see that such a Source exists. We know that man is "free."
If the background and basis of our human existence is Divine Spiritual Reality, why does it seem to be so remote and even so dubious to us? Why have we so puzzling a relationship with it? Why are we overwhelmingly impressed in these days by the sense-perceptible aspect of things? Why is it that only by so many and such arduous efforts can we, in work upon this book, come to know that with our Thinking we stand in a Supersensible World? In the course of this study, such "why-questions" unavoidably arise. They can be answered only along evolutionary-ethical lines.
We crave most for knowledge, not about those aspects of man wherein he is related to the animals and plants and minerals, but about that aspect of him wherein he is exclusively himself. If it is of such knowledge we are in search, we shall find ourselves compelled to consider all sorts of facts that Darwin and Haeckel and their followers have ignored. Let us make a starting-point with a consideration of what is declared to us about our origins by the great cultural-spiritual myths of mankind.
Adam and Eve live in child-like innocence in the Garden of Eden; they are persuaded by the Serpent to eat of an Apple from the Forbidden Tree; they are in consequence expelled from Paradise.... Persephone dwells in Elysian Fields with Demeter; she plucks the Forbidden Flower; Hades snatches her down into the Lower World. These are the great foundation-myths of the Hebrews and the Greeks. Our own Teutonic myth speaks correspondingly of "The Twilight of the Gods." To what facts in man's long adventure do these myths point? What is this mysterious "Fall"? this strange "Expulsion"?
Man was once aware of the Divine Spiritual Beings out of Whom he originated. He knew of Them in some such naive dreamlike way as a little child knows of its parents. He was possessed of a natural child-like clairvoyance. Adam and Eve were in their garden. Persephone sat at the feet of Demeter.
And now let the sceptical reader consider facts well known to him from his own studies. What is said to him of the last millenia before the Christ-Event by Ancient Greece and by the Old Testament?
We find Dreams accepted as valid and important truth. (The various veridical dreams in the Genesis story of Joseph; Socrates' confidence in the dream, of which he speaks to Crito, telling him he is not yet to die; Calpurnia's dream, which almost prevented Caesar from meeting his death).
We find Oracles accepted as centres of Divinely authoritative counsel. (I quote from Zimmern's "Greek Commonwealth":— "Nothing in the story and no material circumstances in the environment of Delphi explain the rapid rise of the Oracle till it became for several generations the greatest spiritual force in the Greek world. And not only a spiritual force but.... a temporal power as well. It was Apollo to whom, as to a Pope, kings and people came for advice. Through Pindar and Sophocles, Aeschylus and Herodotus, Thucydides and Euripides, Plato and Aristotle. . . each let the leaven work in the way that best suited his own genius").
We find Poets invoking the Muse, not as a pretty fiction, but in all seriousness. (Homer begins both the Iliad and the Odyssey with a solemn prayer to the Goddess of Poetry).
We find the belief that Law-Givers bring their legal codes as a dictate from God. ("And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the Mount; and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the Mount; and Moses went up". There God gave him the Ten Commandments. Correspondingly, the Athenians held that the Laws of Solon were Divinely derived).
We find Prophets declaring the Will of God in a style nowadays inconceivable. ("Hear the Word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom! Give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah!" Isaiah and all the prophets of the Old Testament declare themselves in some such style to be the direct mouth-pieces of God).
If these facts are given their rightful chronological location, it will be seen that they point clearly enough to a phase of man's development when human beings in general were losing their primitive clairvoyance. During this period, however —under special psychical conditions; at such and such places; at certain times; through chosen people: —man was vouchsafed various kinds of spiritual direction.... In the Middle Ages man's ancient instinctive feeling for the Super-sensible dies finally away.
In Modern Times Adam and Eve have been completely expelled from their Garden; Persephone is completely lost to Demeter; the Gods have withdrawn into something darker even than twilight. We have no longer any experience of or much belief in Spiritual Reality. We are conscious of the physical world alone and we call our present-day knowledge (which is equivalent to his religion for modern man) indifferently "science" or "physical science." We are able to be aware of the physical aspects of reality only.
What are we to make of these facts? If we say with the Darwinians that the Universe had no intention of making man, it is virtually impossible to account for them. But if (alternatively) the Universe is engaged in a great venture of man-making; if it really said to itself: —"Let us make man in our image!"; then these facts could not have been other than as they are given by the Myths and the Old Testament and Ancient Greek History, etc.... If a child is to learn to stand upon its own feet, it is necessary that at a certain stage in its development it shall be slowly emancipated from the guidance of its parents. It was unavoidable that Persephone should cease to be tied to her mothers apron-strings; that Adam and Eve should get knowledge of good and evil. The basic condition for the emergence of human selfhood was the withdrawal of the Cosmic-Parental control.. . . Evolution is the effort of the Cosmos to bring into existence a creature capable of spiritual activity. As soon as we see this, we can read all the known facts aright.
Here, in order to gather things together, I will quote at some length a passage from Dr. Steiner's "Die Ratsel der Philosophic."
"If, however, we take an unprejudiced view of the matter, we shall see that the unreal character of the external sense-world is due to the fact that when man first comes into direct contact with things, he suppresses something that in truth belongs to them. If he develops a creative inner life, and allows the forces slumbering in the mind's depths to rise to the surface, he adds something to his sense-perceptions which in the act of knowing turns the half-reality into a full reality.
"It is the nature of the mind, when it first confronts objects, to eliminate something which really belongs to them. Hence they appear to perception not as they really are, but in the form which perception gives to them. This, however, is because the mind has removed something which belongs to their real being. And in so far as man does not remain at his first view of things, he adds some thing to them through knowledge—something that reveals their full reality for the first time. It is not that by knowing the mind adds any foreign element to things, but that prior to the stage of knowing it has deprived them of something that really belongs to them. It will be the task of philosophy to gain the insight that the world revealed to man before he brings thinking to bear on it, is "illusion," whereas the path of knowledge leads to full reality.
"The knowledge that is the product of creative thought seems to be merely subjective because, before the stage of knowing, we are obliged to close our eyes to the real nature of things. We cannot see their real nature when we first confront them. Through knowledge we discover what was at first hidden from us. If we regard what we first perceive as reality, then the results of knowledge will appear as something added to reality. If we recognise that what we have only apparently produced ourselves is to be sought in the object, and that at first we merely avoided seeing it, then we shall find that knowing is a real process through which the soul unites itself increasingly with the world and extends its inwardly isolated experience to embrace world-experience.
"In a small work called 'Truth and Science', which appeared in 1892, the present author made a tentative effort to give a philosophic basis to what has just been said. He spoke there of the views that philosophy must arrive at if it is to overcome the obstacles which have naturally resulted from its latest development. A philosophic point-of-view was suggested in the following words: 'It is not the first form in which reality approaches the ego that is the true one, but the final form which the ego gives to it. That first form has no significance whatever for the objective world; its only value is to serve as a basis for the thinking process. So it is not the form of the world which theorising gives it, that is subjective; what is subjective is the form in which it is first presented to the ego.'
"The author enlarged on this point-of-view in his later work, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. There he was at pains to give it a philosophic basis, as follows: 'It is not the fault of the objects, but of our mental organization, that they at first appear to us without their corresponding concepts. We are so made that reality approaches us from two sides, that of perception and that of thinking.... it has nothing to do with the nature of things how I am organised to apprehend them. The cleavage between perceiving and thinking is present only at the moment when I, as observer, am face to face with the object. And later: The percept is that part of reality that is given 'objectively ' from outside; the concept that part which is given 'subjectively,' through intuition from within. Our spiritual organization separates reality into these two factors. The one factor appears to perception, the other to intuition. Only the union of the two, which consists of the percept fitted into its place in the universe, makes up reality in its fullness. If we consider the bare percept, we have no reality but only chaos. If we consider the bare laws that govern the percepts, we have nothing but abstract concepts. Reality is not to be found in the abstract concept, but in thoughtful observation which considers neither the concept nor the percept alone, but the union of the two.'
"If we come to adopt this point of view, we shall be able to think of mental life and of reality as united in the self-conscious ego. This is the view towards which philosophy has been tending since the Greek age; but it is in Goethe's outlook that the first clearly perceptible traces of it are to be found. A recognition arises that the self-conscious ego does not live in isolation, apart from the objective world, and that its sense of detachment is an illusion.
"This illusion can be overcome by seeing that at a certain stage of evolution man was obliged to give his ego a provisional form in order to eliminate from consciousness the forces that united him to the world. If he had remained conscious of those forces within him, he would never have arrival at a strong and independent self-consciousness; he would never have become a self-conscious ' I '. The development of man's self-consciousness depends on the soul being given the possibility of seeing the world without that part of reality which the self-conscious ego eliminates prior to the stage of knowledge. The world-forces belonging to this part of reality withdraw into obscurity in order to allow the self-conscious ego to light up strongly. The ego must therefore realise that it owes its knowledge of itself to an act which spreads a veil over its knowledge of the world. It follows that everything which helps the soul towards a strong and energetic experience of the ' I ' renders invisible the deeper layers in which the ' I ' is rooted.
"All knowledge which is acquired through the ordinary consciousness tends to strengthen a man's self-conscious ego. His perception of the outer world through the senses; his sense of being separate from this world, his view of the world as "illusion" —an attitude characteristic of a certain stage of scientific inquiry— all these give him the feeling of self-consciousness. Were it not so, the self-conscious ego would never emerge. If, therefore, in the act of knowing one seeks merely to copy what is observed before knowing begins, one will never arrive at a genuine experience of reality; all one can have is a copy of a half-reality.
"If we admit the truth of this, we cannot look for an answer to the riddles of philosophy in the experiences of the soul on the level of ordinary consciousness."
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of crampon day."
Wordsworth is speaking out of his own special sensitivity to the underlying facts of human existence. He says elsewhere in the poem that the child is an "eye among the blind"; that on it "rest the truths" that the grown-ups are "toiling all their lives to find." He is declaring what, whether we observe it or not, takes place for every human being.
Let me quote again the paragraph I have italicized in the passage cited above from Dr. Steiner's " Riddles of Philosophy ":—
[We must learn to see that] "at a certain stage of evolution man was obliged to give his ego a provisional form in order to eliminate from consciousness the forces that united him to the world. If he had remained conscious of those forces within him, he would never have arrived at a strong and independent self-consciousness; he would never have become a self-conscious " I." The development of man's self-consciousness depends on the soul being given the possibility of seeing the world without that part of reality which the self-conscious ego eliminates prior to the stage of knowledge. The world-forces belonging to this part of reality withdraw into obscurity in order to allow the self-conscious ego to light up strongly. The ego must therefore realise that it owes its knowledge of itself to an act which spreads a veil over its knowledge of the world. lt follows that everything which helps the soul towards a strong and energetic experience of the ' I ' renders invisible the deeper layers in which the ' I ' is rooted."
That we might have, every human being, a centre of our own; that we might be enabled to say " I " to ourselves; it was necessary for the Cosmos to free us from its direct control, to cease pouring its forces into us, to encourage us to think and will for ourselves. As a result we stand today in a sense-perceptiblised consciousness, wherein we can —to begin with— cognise only the external aspects of reality. We tend to regard this "appearance for the senses" as an Ultimate and an Absolute. But as soon as we wake up to our evolutionary situation, we realise that we are at this cognitional stage, living in a fool's paradise. An irrepressible desire arises in us to make our way consciously out of it into that Larger World to which in our soul-depths we have never ceased to belong.
To help us to regain our cosmic status is what Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" is for.
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