The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
In the following there is given again, in all its essential points, what stood as a kind of preface to the first edition of this book. Since it gives more the mood of thought out of which I wrote the book twenty-five years ago than the book's content, I bring it here as an “appendix.” I do not want to leave it out entirely, for the reason that the view always comes upon again that because of my later spiritual-scientific writings I have something to suppress in my earlier writings.
Our age can wish to draw the truth only out of the depths of man's being.* Of Schiller's well-known two ways, the second will especially benefit the present day:
we both are seeking, you in the life without,
I within the heart, and so each finds it surely.
Is the eye healthy, it meets the creator without;
Is the heart so, it surely mirrors the world within.
A truth which comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty about it. What appears to each one of us within his own inner life as truth, in this only do we want to believe.
*Entirely left out here are only the very first introductory sentences (of the first edition) of these considerations which seem to me today completely unessential. But the rest of what is said seems to me necessary, even now, in spite of the scientific mode of thought of our contemporaries, nay precisely because of it.
Only the truth can bring us certainty in the developing of our individual powers. Whoever is tormented by doubts, his powers are lamed. In a world which is a riddle to him, he can find no goal for his activity.
We no longer want merely to believe; we want to know. Faith demands the acceptance of truths about which we do not have full insight. That about which we do not have full insight, however, goes against what is individual, which wants to experience everything with its deepest inner life. Only that knowing satisfies us which submits to no outer norm, but rather springs from the inner life of the personality.
We also do not want any kind of knowing that has become frozen once and for all into rigid academic formulations and preserved in compendia valid for all time. We consider ourselves, each one, justified in taking our starting point from our immediate experiences, from what we live through directly and in ascending from there to knowledge of the whole universe. We are striving for a sure knowing, but each in his own way.
Our scientific teachings should also no longer be formulated as though we were unconditionally compelled to accept them. No one would want to give a scientific work a title like Fichte once did: “A Crystal-clear Report to the Wider Public on the Actual Nature of the Newest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel Readers to Understand.” Today, no one should be compelled to understand. If no definite individual need moves a person toward a certain view, we demand neither that he recognize nor agree with it. Today we do not want to funnel knowledge even into the still immature human being, the child, but rather we seek to develop his capacities so that he no longer needs to be compelled to understand, but rather wants to understand.
I am under no illusions with respect to this characteristic of my times. I know how alive and extensive the tendency is to be stereotyped and without individuality. But I know just as well that many of my contemporaries are seeking to conduct their life in the sense and direction I have indicated. I would like to dedicate this book to them. It is not meant to be “the only possible” way to the truth, but it is meant to tell of that way which one person has taken, whose concern is for the truth.
This book leads at first into more abstract regions, where thought must draw sharp outlines in order to reach sure points. But the reader will be led out of these dry concepts into concrete life also. I am altogether of the view that one must lift oneself also into the ethereal realm of concepts, if one wants to experience existence in all directions. Whoever knows only how to enjoy with his senses does not know the real delicacies of life. Oriental sages make their pupils lead lives of renunciation and asceticism for years before they communicate what they themselves know. The West no longer demands for science any devout exercises or asceticism, but it does require, instead of these, the good will to withdraw oneself for a short time from the immediate impressions of life, and to betake oneself into the realm of the world of pure thought.
The realms of life are many. For each of these, particular sciences evolve. But life itself is a unity, and the more the sciences strive to deepen themselves in the individual realms, the more they distance themselves from a view of the living wholeness of the world. There must be a knowledge which seeks within the individual sciences the elements needed to lead man back again into full life. The scientific researcher in a particular field wants to acquire through his knowledge a consciousness of the world and its workings; in this book the goal is a philosophical one: the science itself is meant to become organically living. The individual sciences are preparatory stages of the science striven for here. A similar relationship holds sway in the arts. The composer works on the basis of the theory of composition. This last is a sum of knowledge whose acquirement is a necessary prerequisite for composing music. In composing, the laws of composition serve life, serve actual reality. In exactly the same sense philosophy is an art. All real philosophers were artists in concepts. For them human ideas become the artistic medium and the scientific method became the artistic technique. Abstract thinking thereby gains concrete individual life. Ideas become powers of life. We have the not merely a knowing about things, but rather we have made knowing into a real self-governing organism; our actual active consciousness has lifted itself above a merely passive taking up of truths.
How philosophy as an art relates itself to the inner freedom of man, what inner freedom is, and whether we partake in it or can become partakers in it: that is the main question of my book. All other scientific discussions are included here only because they ultimately shed light on those questions which, in my view, concern the human being most immediately. A Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (Freiheit) is meant to be given in these pages.
All science would only be the satisfying of idle curiosity, if it did not strive toward raising the value of existence of the human personality. The sciences first acquire their true value through presenting the human significance of their results. The ennobling of one single soul faculty cannot be the end of all the abilities that slumber within us. Knowledge has value only through the fact that it contributes to the all-around unfolding of the whole nature of man.
This book does not therefore consider the relationship between science and life to be such that man has to bow down to the idea and dedicate his forces to its service, but rather in the sense that man takes possession of the world of ideas in order to use them for his human goals which transcend merely scientific ones.
One must be able to confront the idea, experiencing it; otherwise one falls into bondage to it.