The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

X. Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Monism

The naive person, who considers real only what he can see with his eyes and grasp with his hands, also requires for his moral life incentives that are perceptible to the senses. He requires a being who communicates these incentives to him in a way understandable to his senses. He will let these incentives be dictated to him as commandments by a person whom he considers to be wiser and more powerful than himself, or whom, for some other reason, he acknowledges as a power standing over him. There result in this way as moral principles the authorities already enumerated earlier, of family, state, society, church and divinity. The most limited person still believes in some one other person; the somewhat more advanced person lets his moral behavior be dictated to him by a majority (state, society). Always it is perceivable powers upon which he builds. The person upon whom the conviction finally dawns that these are after all basically just such fallible men as he himself is will seek guidance from a higher power, from a divine being whom he endows with sense-perceptible characteristics. He lets this being again communicate to him the conceptual content of his moral life in a perceivable way, whether it be that God appears in the burning bush, or that He moves about among men in bodily human form and says to them in a way their ears can hear what they ought and ought not to do.

The highest level of development of naive realism in the area of morality is that where the moral commandment (moral ideas) is separated from any entity other than oneself, and is hypothetically thought to be an absolute power in one's own inner being. What the human being first perceived as the voice of god from outside, this he now perceives as an independent power in his own inner being, and speaks of this inner voice in such a way that he equates it with his conscience.

With this, however, the level of the naive consciousness is already left behind, and we have entered into the region where the laws of morality are made self-dependent as norms. They then no longer have any bearer, but rather become metaphysical entities that exist in and through themselves. They are analogues to the invisible-visible forces of metaphysical realism, which does not seek reality through the involvement that the human being has with this reality in thinking, but which rather thinks up these forces hypothetically and adds them to what is experienced. Moral norms outside man also always appear in company with this metaphysical realism. This metaphysical realism must also seek the origin of morality in the sphere of some reality outside man. There are different possibilities here. If the assumed being of things is thought of as something essentially without thoughts and as working by purely mechanical laws, which is the picture materialism has of it, then this being will also bring forth the human individual out of itself through purely mechanical necessity, along with everything about him. The consciousness freedom can then only be an illusion. For while I consider myself to be the creator of my action, the matter composing me and its processes of motion are at work within me. I believe myself free; all my actions are, however, actually only results of the material processes underlying my bodily and spiritual organism. Only because we do not know the motives compelling us, do we have the feeling of inner freedom, according to this view: “We must again emphasize here that this feeling of inner freedom ... rests upon the absence of external compelling motives.” “Our actions are necessitated like our thinking.” (Ziehen, Guidelines of Physiological Pathology) 1Leitfaden der physiologischen Psychologie. For the way “materialism” is spoken of here, and the justification for doing so, see the Addition to this chapter.

Another possibility is that a person sees some spiritual being as the absolute, outside man, which exists behind the appearances. Then he will also seek the impulse to action within such a spiritual power. He will regard the moral principles to be found in his reason as flowing from this being-in-itself which has its own particular intentions for man. Moral laws seem, to the dualist of this sort, as though dictated by the absolute, and the human being, through his reason, has simply to discover and carry out the decisions of the absolute being the moral world order appears to the dualist to be the perceptible reflection of a still higher order standing behind the moral world order. Earthly morality is the manifestation of a world order outside man. The human being is not the essential thing in this moral order, but rather the being-in-itself, the being outside man. Man ought to do what this being wills. Eduard von Hartmann, who pictures the being-in-itself as the divinity whose own existence is suffering, believes that this divine being created the world so that through it he might be delivered from his infinitely great suffering. This philosopher, therefore, sees the moral development of mankind as a process which is there in order to deliver the divinity. “Only through the building up of a moral world order by intelligent individual's conscious of themselves, can the world process be led to its goal.” “Real existence is the incarnation of the divinity; the world process is the history of the passion of God become flesh, and at the same time the path to the deliverance of the one crucified in the flesh; morality, however, is our collaboration in the shortening of this path of suffering and deliverance.” (Hartmann, Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness) 2Phänomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins. Here man does not act because he wants to, but rather he ought to act, because God wants to be delivered. Just as the materialistic dualist turns man into an automaton, whose actions are only the result of purely mechanical lawfulness, so the spiritual dualist (that is, the person who sees the absolute, the being-in-itself, as a spirituality with which man has no involvement with his conscious experience), turns man into a slave to the will of that absolute. Inner freedom, in materialism as well as in one-sided spiritualism, or in any metaphysical realism which infers something outside man as true reality and which does not experience this reality, is out of the question.

Both naive and metaphysical realism, to be consistent, must deny our inner freedom for one and the same reason, because they see in man only the one who executes or carries out principles forced upon him by necessity. Naive realism kills inner freedom through submission to the authority of a perceptible being, or to the one, conceived of by analogy as perceptible, or, finally, to the abstract inner voice which he interprets as “conscience”; the metaphysician who merely infers something outside man cannot acknowledge inner freedom, because he considers man to be mechanically or morally determined by a “being-in-itself.”

Monism has to recognize the partial validity of naive realism, because it recognizes the validity of the world of perception. Whoever is incapable of bringing forth moral ideas through intuition must receive them from others. Insofar as man receives his moral principles from outside, he is actually unfree. But monism ascribes to the idea the same significance as to the perception. The idea, however, can come to manifestation within the human individual. Insofar as man follows his impulses from this side, he feels himself to be free. Monism ascribes no validity, however, to the metaphysics which merely draws inferences, now, consequently, to impulses to action originating from so-called “beings-in-themselves.” Man can, according to the monistic view, act unfreely if he follows a perceptible outer compulsion; he can act freely if he obeys only himself. Monism can acknowledge no unconscious compulsion, hidden behind perception and concept. If someone asserts about an action of a fellowman that it is done unfreely, then he must show, within the perceptible world, the thing, or the person, or the establishment, which has motivated someone to his action; if the person making this assertion appeals to causes for the action outside of the perceptibly and spiritually real world, then monism cannot enter into such an assertion.

According to the monistic view man acts in part unfreely, in part freely. He finds himself to be unfree in the world of his perceptions, and makes real within himself the free spirit.

The moral commandments, which the merely inference-drawing metaphysician has to regard as flowing from a higher power, are, for the believer in monism, thoughts of men; the moral world order is for him neither a copy of a purely mechanical natural order, not of a world order outside man, but rather through and through the free work of man. The human being does not have to accomplish in the world the will of some being lying outside him, but rather his own will; he does not realize the decisions and intentions of another being, but rather his own. Behind the human being who acts, monism does not see the purposes of a world guidance outside himself which determines people according to its will; but rather human beings pursue, insofar as they are realizing intuitive ideas, only their own human purposes. And, indeed, each individual pursues his particular purposes. And, indeed, each individual pursues his particular purposes. For the world of ideas does not express itself in a community of people, but only in human individuals. What presents itself as the common goal of a whole group of people is only the result of single acts of will by individuals, and usually, in fact, by some chosen few whom the others follow as their authorities. Each of us is called upon to become a free spirit, just as each rose seed is called upon to become a rose.

Monism is therefore, in the sphere of truly moral action, a philosophy of inner freedom. Because monism is a philosophy of reality, it rejects the metaphysical, unreal restrictions upon the free spirit, just as much as it acknowledges the physical and historical (naive-real) restrictions of the naive person. Because monism does not regard man as a finished product which unfolds its full being at every moment of its life, for monism the dispute as to whether man as such is free or not amounts to nothing. Monism sees man as a self-developing being and asks whether, on this course of development, the stage of the free spirit can also be attained.

Monism knows that nature does not release man from her arms already complete as free spirit, but rather that she leads him to a certain stage from which, still as an unfree being, he develops himself further until he comes to the point where he finds himself.

Monism is clear about the fact that a being who acts out of physical or moral compulsion cannot be truly moral. It regards the transition through automatic behavior (according to natural drives and instincts) and through obedient behavior (according to moral norms) as necessary preliminary stages for morality, but sees the possibility of surmounting both transitional stages through the free spirit. Monism frees the truly moral world view in general from the fetters, within the world, of the naive maxims of morality, and from the maxims of morality, outside the world, of the speculative metaphysicians. Monism cannot eliminate the former from the world, just as it cannot eliminate perception from the world, and it rejects the latter because monism seeks within the world all the principles of explanation which it needs to illumine the phenomena of the world, and seeks none outside it. Just as monism refuses even to think about principles of knowledge other than those that exist for men (see pages 113–114), so it also rejects decisively the thought of moral principles other than those that exist for men. Human morality, like human knowledge, is determined by human nature. And just as different beings would understand as knowledge something totally different than we, so different beings would also have a different morality. Morality, for the adherent of monism, is a specifically human characteristic, and spiritual activity (Freiheit) the human way to be moral.

First Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918

A difficulty in judging what has been presented in the two preceding chapters may arise through the fact that one believes oneself to be confronted by a contradiction. On the one hand the experience of thinking is spoken of, which is felt to be of a universal significance equally valid for every human consciousness; on the other hand, the fact has been pointed to here that the ideas which are realized in our moral life and which are of the same nature as the ideas achieved by thinking, express themselves in an individual way in every human consciousness. Whosoever feels himself compelled to stop before this confrontation as thought before a “contradiction,” and whoever does not recognize that precisely in the living contemplation of this actually existing antithesis a part of the being of man reveals itself, to such a person, neither the idea of knowledge nor that of inner freedom can appear in the right light. For the view which believes its concepts to be merely drawn (abstracted) from the sense world, and which does not allow intuition to come into its own, the thought which is claimed here as a reality will remain a “mere contradiction.” For an insight which sees how ideas are intuitively experienced as a self-sustaining, real being, the fact becomes clear that man, within the world of ideas surrounding him, lives, in the act of knowing, into something which is one for all men, but that, when he borrows from the world of ideas the intuitions for his acts of will, he individualizes a member of this world of ideas through the same activity which he unfolds as a universal human activity in the spiritual-ideal process of the act of knowing. What appears to be a logical contradiction — the universal nature of the ideas of knowledge and the individual nature of the ideas of morality — is the very thing which, inasmuch as it is beheld in its reality, becomes a living concept. Therein lies a characteristic of man's being, that what is to be intuitively grasped within man moves like the living swing of a pendulum, back and forth between universally valid knowledge and individual experience of this universal element. Whoever cannot behold the one end of the pendulum swing in its reality, for him thinking remains only a subjective human activity; whoever cannot grasp the other end, for him, with man's activity in thinking, all individual life seems lost. For a thinker of the first sort, knowledge, for the other thinker, moral life, is an impenetrable phenomenon. Both will put forward all kinds of things to explain the one or the other, all of which miss the point, because actually the experienceability of thinking is either not grasped by them at all, or is misunderstood to be a merely abstracting activity.

Second Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918

On pages 162 and 163 materialism is discussed. I am well aware that there are thinkers — such as Th. Ziehen mentioned above — who would not call themselves materialists at all, but to whom, nevertheless, from the point of view presented in this book, this concept must be applied. The point is not whether someone says that for him the world is not restricted to merely material existence; that he is therefore no materialist. The point is rather whether he develops concepts which are applicable only to a material existence. Someone who states that “our actions are necessitated like our thinking,” has put forward a concept which is applicable merely to material processes, but not to action nor to being; and, if the thought his concept through to the end, he would, in fact, have to think materialistically. That he does not do this results only from that inconsistency which is so often the consequence of thinking which is not carried to its conclusion. — One often hears nowadays that the materialism of the nineteenth century has been done away with scientifically. In actual truth, however, it has not been so at all. It is just that one often does not notice today that one has no ideas other than those with which one can approach only what is material. Materialism cloaks itself now in this way, whereas in the second half of the nineteenth century, it displayed itself opening. The veiled materialism of the present day is no less intolerant toward a view that comprehends the world spiritually than the admitted materialism of the last century. Today's materialism only deceives many people who believe themselves able to reject a spiritually oriented world conception because, after all, the scientific one has “long since left materialism behind.”