Individualism in Philosophy
(From the opening pages of the last chapter of Rudolf Steiner's Riddles of Philosophy, 1914)
Whoever studies the development of philosophical world views up to the present day can discover in the seeking and striving of some thinkers undercurrents that in a certain way do not break through into consciousness but rather live on instinctively. Powers are at work in these undercurrents that determine the direction — and often the form as well — of the ideas of these thinkers; these thinkers do not want to turn their searching spiritual gaze directly upon these powers, however. What they say often seems motivated by hidden forces, which they do not want to investigate, and from which they even recoil in fear. Such forces live in the thought-worlds of Dilthey, of Eucken, and of Cohen. The beliefs presented in these thought-worlds are the expression of cognitive powers that govern these philosophers unconsciously, but that are not consciously elaborated in their thought-systems.
Sureness and certainty in knowing are sought in many systems of thought. The direction followed takes its point of departure more or less from Kant's way of picturing things. The natural-scientific mode of thinking has a definitive influence, consciously or unconsciously, upon the way one shapes one's thoughts. But many people sense that it is within the “soul that is conscious of itself” that the source is to be sought from which knowledge must draw in order also to gain enlightenment about the world outside the human soul. And almost all of them are dominated by the question: How does the self-conscious soul arrive at the point of seeing what it experiences within itself as being the manifestation of a true reality? The everyday sensory world has become an “illusion” because, in the course of philosophical development, the self-conscious “I” has more and more found itself in its inner experience to be isolated within itself. It has arrived at the point of regarding even sense perceptions as mere inner experiences that reveal no power within themselves able to guarantee their existence and permanence within reality. One feels how much depends upon finding, in the self-conscious “I,” a point of support for knowledge. In the course of investigations motivated by this feeling, however, one arrives at views that do not afford a means of penetrating with the “I” into a world that can carry existence in a satisfactory way.
Whoever seeks the explanation for this state of affairs can find it in the position toward outer reality taken by man's soul being, which has been detached from this outer reality of the world by the development philosophy has undergone. Man's soul being feels itself surrounded by a world that reveals itself to him first of all through the senses. But the soul has become attentive also to its own activity, to its inner, creative experiencing. The soul feels it to be an irrefutable truth that no light, no color can be revealed without an eye sensitive to light and color. Thus it feels something creative already in the activity of the eye. But if the eye itself creatively brings forth the color — which is what one must think according to this philosophy — where can I then find something that exists in itself, that does not owe its existence merely to my own creative power? If now even the revelations of the senses are only expressions of the soul's own power, must it not then to an even greater extent be thinking that wants to gain a picture of true reality? Is this thinking, however, not condemned to create pictures that are rooted in the character of man's soul life but that can never bear within themselves anything able to provide certainty in pressing forward to the sources of existence? Such questions are surfacing everywhere in the recent development of philosophy.
As long as one cherishes the belief that the world revealed to our senses represents something complete and self-sustaining, which one must investigate in order to know its inner being, one will not be able to escape the confusion caused by the above question. The human soul can produce its knowledge within itself only through its own creativity. That is a conviction which justifiably grows out of the presuppositions described in the chapter of this book on “The World as Illusion” and in the presentation of Hamerling's thoughts. But then, having arrived at this conviction, one will not surmount a certain obstacle to knowledge as long as one still has the following picture: that the world of the senses contains the true foundations of its existence within itself; and that, with what man himself creates within his soul, he must somehow copy something that lies outside the soul.
Only that knowledge will be able to surmount this obstacle which grasps with the spiritual eye the fact that everything perceived by the senses does not represent, through its own being, a finished, self-contained reality, but rather something incomplete, a half reality, as it were.
As soon as one assumes that the perceptions of the sense world present us with a complete reality, one will never arrive at an answer to the question: What do the soul's own creative productions have to add to this reality in the act of knowing? One will have to remain at the Kantian belief that the human being must regard his knowledge as the product of his own soul organization and not as something that reveals itself to him as a true reality. If reality, in its actual form and nature, lies outside the soul, then the soul cannot bring forth what corresponds to this reality, but only something that flows out of the soul's own organization.
Everything changes as soon as one recognizes that the organization of the human soul — with what it produces creatively itself in the activity of knowledge — does not move away from reality; rather, in the life it unfolds before all knowing activity, it conjures up a world that is not the real one. The human soul is placed into the world in such a way that, because of the soul's own nature, it makes things different than they really are. In a certain sense what Hamerling expresses in the following passage is justified: “Certain stimuli produce odors in our sense of smell. The rose, therefore, has no fragrance if no one smells it ... If that is not obvious to you, dear reader, and if your understanding shys away from this fact like a skittish horse, then read no further; leave this and every other book on philosophical matters unread; for you lack the necessary ability to grasp a fact without bias and to retain it in thought.” The way the sense world appears when man confronts it immediately does depend, without any doubt, upon the being and nature of his soul. But does it not follow from this that his soul in fact causes the world to appear as it does? Now an unbiased study shows how the unreal character of the sense-perceptible outer world stems from the fact that man, in his immediate confrontation with things, suppresses something in himself which in truth belongs to them. If then, out of his own creativity, he unfolds his inner life, if he allows what slumbers in the depths of his soul to rise up out of these depths, then, to what he beheld with his senses, he adds something more that makes the half reality into a full reality in the act of knowledge. It lies in the nature of the soul to extinguish, with its first look at things, something that belongs to their reality. Thus, for the senses, things are not as they are in reality but rather as the soul has made them. But their semblance (or their mere appearance) is due to the fact that the soul has first taken away from them something that belongs to them. By not stopping short at his first look at things, man, in his activity of knowing, then adds to them that which first reveals their full reality. In its activity of knowing, the soul does not add something to things that is an unreal element with respect to them; rather, before its activity of knowing, the soul has taken something from things that belongs to their true reality. It will be philosophy's task to realize that the world revealed to man is an “illusion” until he confronts it in knowing activity, but that the path of knowledge indicates the direction toward full reality. What man produces out of his own creativity in knowing appears to be an inner revelation of the soul only because man, before he has the cognitive experience, must close himself off from the essential being of things. He cannot yet see this essential being in things when he at first only confronts them. In knowing, he discovers for himself, through his own activity, what at first was hidden. Now if man regards as a reality what he has only perceived, then what is produced in the activity of knowing will appear to him as something he has added onto this reality. When he realizes that what he had only seemingly produced himself must be sought in the things, and that he had only kept this at a distance when he first looked at the things, then he will sense how his activity of knowing is a process of reality by which the soul progressively grows into world existence and broadens its inner, isolated experience into world-experience.
In a little book, Truth and Science, published in 1892, the author of the present book attempted to give a philosophical foundation to what has just been briefly indicated. He speaks there about perspectives that modern philosophy must open up if it is to surmount the obstacle that has resulted quite naturally from its own recent development. A certain philosophical viewpoint is presented in that book in the following words: “It is not the first form in which reality approaches the ‘I’ that is its true one; its true form is the final one, which the ‘I’ makes out of the first. That first form has no significance at all for the objective world and has that form only as a basis for the cognitive process. Therefore, it is not the form of the world given it by knowledge that is subjective; but rather the first form ‘given’ to the ‘I’ that is so.” The author's later philosophical attempt, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, 1Anthroposophic Press, 1986 published in 1894, is a further elaboration of this viewpoint. His effort there is to establish a philosophical basis for a view indicated in that book in the following way: “It is not due to the objects that they are given to us at first without their corresponding concepts, but rather it is due to our spiritual organization. Our total being functions in such a way that, for each thing within reality, the pertinent elements flow to us from two sides: from the sides of perceiving and of thinking. How I am organized to grasp things has nothing to do with their nature. The split between perceiving and thinking is first present the moment I, the observer, approach the things.” And in the last chapter of the book: “The perception is the part of reality that is given objectively; the concept is the part given subjectively (through intuition). Our spiritual organization tears reality apart into these two factors. The one factor appears to perception; the other to intuition. Only the union of both, the perception incorporating itself lawfully into the universe, is full reality. If we look at mere perception by itself, we then have no reality, but rather a disconnected chaos; if we look at the lawfulness of our perceptions by itself, we then have to do merely with abstract concepts. The abstract concept does not contain reality; but the thinking observation does indeed do so that considers neither concept nor perception one-sidedly by itself, but rather the union of both.”
For someone who can make this point of view his own it is then possible to regard fruitful reality as being united with his soul life within the self-conscious “I.” This is the view toward which the evolution of philosophy has been striving since Greek times and which has revealed its first clearly recognizable traces in Goethe's world view.
It is becoming recognized that this self-conscious “I” does not experience itself as isolated within itself nor as being outside of the objective world; rather, the “I’s” separation from this world is only a phenomenon of human consciousness and can be overcome by the insight that, as a human being in a certain stage of development, man has assumed a temporary form for the “I” by expelling from consciousness the forces that unite the soul with the world. If these forces worked continuously in human consciousness, one would not then attain a powerful, self-contained consciousness of oneself. One could not experience oneself as an “I” conscious of itself. The development of self-consciousness therefore depends precisely upon the soul's being given the possibility of perceiving the world without that part of reality which the self-conscious “I” extinguishes at a certain stage — at the stage that precedes knowledge.
Thus, the cosmic forces in this part of reality work upon the being of the soul in such a way that they withdraw and conceal themselves in order to allow the self-conscious “I” to shine forth powerfully. The “I,” accordingly, must recognize that it owes its knowledge of itself to a factor that casts a veil over its knowledge of the world. It follows necessarily from this that everything which brings the soul to a powerful, energetic experience of the “I” renders invisible the deeper ground in which this “I” has its roots. But now all the knowledge that our ordinary consciousness has is of the kind that makes the self-conscious “I” powerful. The human being feels himself to be a self-conscious “I” through the fact that he perceives an outer world with his senses, through the fact that he experiences himself as outside of this outer world, and through the fact that he stands in a kind of relationship to this outer world that, at a certain stage of scientific investigation, makes the “world seem like an illusion.” If all this were not the case, the self-conscious “I” would not come to manifestation. If, therefore, in one's activity of knowing, one strives only to make a copy of what was already observed before one's knowing activity, then one gains no true experience of full reality, but only a copy of “half reality.”
If one acknowledges that this is how matters stand, one cannot then seek the answer to the riddles of philosophy within the experiences of the soul that present themselves to ordinary consciousness. This consciousness is called upon to strengthen the self-conscious “I”; striving to this end, it must veil our vision of the relationship between the “I” and the objective world; it cannot therefore show how the soul relates to the true world.
This explains why a cognitive striving that wishes to progress philosophically by using the approach of natural science or something similar must always arrive at a point where what it is striving for in the activity of knowing falls apart. This book has had to point to this falling apart in the case of many modern thinkers, for, basically, all scientific endeavor of modern times works with those scientific, cognitive means that serve to detach the self-conscious “I” from true reality. And the strength and greatness of modern science, especially of natural science, are founded upon the unrestrained application of these cognitive means.
Individual philosophers like Dilthey, Eucken, and others direct their philosophical studies toward the soul's observation of itself. But what they study are those experiences of the soul which provide the basis for the self-conscious “I.” Therefore they do not penetrate into those wellsprings of the world where the soul's experiences well forth from true reality. These wellsprings cannot lie where the soul at first confronts and observes itself with its ordinary consciousness. If the soul wants to arrive at these wellsprings, it must get out of this ordinary consciousness. It must experience something in itself that this consciousness cannot give it. To our ordinary knowledge such an experience seems at first sheer nonsense. The soul is supposed to experience itself knowingly in some element without bringing its consciousness along with it into this element?! One is supposed to skip over consciousness and still remain conscious at the same time?! And yet: in philosophical endeavors one will either continue to arrive at impossibilities, or one will have to entertain the prospect that the “sheer nonsense” just indicated only seems to be so, and that precisely it points the way to where help must be sought in solving the riddles of philosophy.
One will have to acknowledge that the path “into the inner being of the soul” must be a completely different one than that chosen by many a recent world view. As long as one takes soul experiences the way they are presented to ordinary consciousness, one will not enter into the depths of the soul. One will be limited to what these depths send up. Eucken's world view is in this situation. One must strive downward, below the surface of the soul. But one cannot do this with the means of ordinary soul experience. Their strength lies precisely in the fact that they maintain the soul in this ordinary consciousness.
Means of penetrating more deeply into the soul present themselves when one directs one's gaze upon something that is, to be sure, also at work in ordinary consciousness, but which, in its work, does not enter this consciousness at all. When a person thinks, his consciousness is directed toward his thoughts. He wants to picture something through his thoughts; he wants to think correctly in the ordinary sense. But one can also focus one's attention on something else. One can fix one's spiritual gaze upon the activity of thinking as such. For example, one can place in the center of one's consciousness a thought that does not relate to anything external, that is thought as a kind of» symbol without any regard at all for the fact that it might represent something external. One can now continue to hold onto such a thought for a time. While one perseveres in this way, one can live entirely into what the soul itself is doing inwardly. The important thing here is not that one live in thoughts, but rather that one experience the activity of thinking. In this way the soul breaks away from what it accomplishes in its ordinary thinking. When the soul has continued this inner practice long enough, it will recognize after a time that it has become involved with experiences which detach it from that thinking and picturing which are bound to the bodily organs. One can accomplish something similar with the soul's activities of feeling and willing; yes, even with its sensing and perceiving of outer things. One will achieve something along this path only if one does not shrink from acknowledging that one cannot undertake self-knowledge of the soul simply by looking at the inner life that is usually present, but rather by looking at what must first be disclosed by inner, soul work — by soul work which, through practice, arrives at such concentration upon the inner activity of thinking, feeling, and willing that these experiences become in a certain way spiritually “densified” within themselves (sich geistig in sich “verdichten”). In this “densified state” they then reveal their inner being, which cannot be perceived in ordinary consciousness. Through such soul work one discovers that in order for ordinary consciousness to arise, one's soul forces must become “rarefied” (sich “verdünnen”) in this way and that in this rarefied state they become unperceivable. The soul work meant here consists in the unlimited enhancement of soul capacities known also to ordinary consciousness but which this consciousness does not employ in their enhanced state. These are the capacities for attentiveness (Aufmerksamkeit) and for loving devotion 2Hingabe: literally, “a giving oneself over to” something. -Ed. to what is experienced by the soul. In order to achieve the spiritual densification indicated here, one must enhance these capacities to such a degree that they work as entirely new powers of the soul.
By proceeding in this way, one grasps within the soul a real experience whose actual being proves to be independent of the restrictions of the bodily organs. This is a spiritual life that must not be confused conceptually with what Dilthey and Eucken call the spiritual world, for their spiritual world is experienced by the human being only when he is connected with his bodily organs. What we mean here by spiritual life is not present for the soul that is bound up with the body.
And a true knowledge of our ordinary soul life does present itself as one of our first experiences when this new spiritual life has been attained. In reality, even our ordinary spiritual life is not produced by the body, but rather runs its course outside the body. When I see a color, when I hear a sound, I do not experience the color or sound as resulting from my body; rather, as a self-conscious “I,” I am connected outside of my body with the color or sound. The task of the body is to function as a kind of mirror. If, in my ordinary consciousness, I am connected with a color only with my soul, then, because of the nature of this consciousness, I can perceive nothing of the color. Similarly, I cannot see my own face when I look forward, but if a mirror is in front of me, I perceive my face as an objective body. If I do not stand in front of a mirror, I am this body and experience myself as such. Standing in front of a mirror, I perceive this body as a reflection. It is like this also with sense perception (one must of course recognize the insufficiency of any analogy). I live with the color outside of my body; through the activity of my body (of my eye, of my nervous system) the color becomes a conscious perception for me. The human body is not a producer of perceptions — nor of any soul life; rather, it is an apparatus for reflecting what takes place in a soul-spiritual way outside of the body.
Such a view places epistemology upon a promising basis. “One will ... arrive epistemologically at a ... picture of the ‘I’ not when one pictures it (the ‘I’) as being within the bodily organization and as receiving impressions ‘from outside,’ but rather when one regards this ‘I’ as located within the lawfulness of the things themselves and when one sees the bodily organization only as a kind of mirror; by means of the organic processes of the body, the weaving of the ‘I’ within the true being of the world outside the body is reflected back to the ‘I.’” Thus — in a lecture entitled “The Psychological Basis and Epistemological Position of Spiritual Science” prepared for the Philosophical Congress in Bologna in 1911 — did the author of this book seek to characterize the perspective hovering before him of an epistemology.
During sleep the mirror-like relationship of the body to the soul is interrupted; the “I” lives only within the weaving of what is soul-spiritual. For ordinary consciousness, however, no experience of the soul is present if the body does not mirror these experiences. Therefore sleep runs its course unconsciously. The result of the soul exercises indicated above and of others like them is that the soul unfolds a different consciousness than its ordinary one. The soul attains thereby the capacity not only for experiencing in a soul-spiritual way, but also for strengthening in itself what is experienced, so that what is experienced reflects itself in a certain way within itself — without the help of the body — and thus arrives at spiritual perception. And only in what is thus experienced can the soul first truly know itself and consciously experience itself in its essential being.
Just as memory conjures up out of the depths of the soul physically experienced facts from the past, so — for a soul that has prepared itself for this by the means indicated above — there arise from the soul's inner depths substantial experiences that do not belong to the world of sense existence but rather to a world in which the soul has its fundamental being.
It is only too obvious that the adherents of many modern points of view will consign the world revealed here to the realm of mental aberration, of illusion, of hallucination, of auto-suggestion, and the like. One can only answer them that an earnest striving of the soul — working in the way just indicated — finds, in the inner, spiritual state which it has developed, the means to distinguish between illusion and spiritual reality; and these means are just as sure as those used in ordinary life, in a healthy state of soul, to distinguish between something imaginary and something actually perceived. One will search in vain for theoretical proof that the spiritual world characterized above is real; but such proof of the reality of the perceptual world does not exist either. In both cases it is the experience itself that determines how one is to judge.
What keeps many people from taking the step which, according to our presentation, alone offers a prospect of solving the riddles of philosophy is that they believe such a step will land them in a realm of nebulous mysticism. But anyone who has no soul predisposition toward such nebulous mysticism will, along the path just described, gain access to a world of soul experience that is just as crystal clear in itself as the structures of mathematical ideas. To be sure, if someone is inclined to seek the spiritual in some “dark unknown,” in something “that cannot be explained,” then he will not find his way on this path either as knowledgeable adherent or as opponent.
It is also easy to understand that what is indicated here will be strongly resisted by those who want to regard the natural-scientific approach to knowing the sense world as the only true scientific way. Nevertheless, whoever casts off such one-sidedness will be able to recognize that it is precisely the genuine natural-scientific attitude that provides the basis for undertaking what has been described here. The ideas described in this book as constituting the modern natural-scientific approach provide the best practice thoughts to which the soul can devote itself and upon which it can dwell in order to free itself in its inner experiences from its connectedness to the body. Whoever uses these natural-scientific ideas and proceeds with them in the way described here will discover that, through inner spiritual practice, thoughts that originally seem meant only to portray natural processes, really free the soul from the body, and that therefore the spiritual science referred to here must be seen as a continuation of a natural-scientific way of thinking that is rightly experienced by the soul.