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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

XV. The Consequences of Monism

The explanation of the world as a unity, or what is meant here by monism, takes from human experience the principles it needs to explain the world. It likewise seeks the sources of man's actions within the world of observation, namely within the human nature accessible to our self-knowledge, and more particularly within moral imagination. Monism refuses to seek outside of this world, through abstract inferences, the ultimate foundations of the world which is present to perception and thinking. For monism, the unity which experienceable thinking observation brings to the varied multiplicity of perceptions is at the same time the unity which our human need for knowledge demands; and this need seeks entry into the physical and spiritual realms of the world through this unity. Whoever seeks, behind the unity sought in this way, yet another one only shows that he does not recognize the harmony which exists between what is found through thinking and what is demanded by our drive for knowledge. The single human individual is not really separated off from the world. He is a part of the world, and there exists in reality a connection—between this part and the totality of the cosmos—which is broken only for our perception. We see this part at first as a self-existent being, because we do not see the belts by which the fundamental powers of the cosmos turn the wheel of our life. Whoever remains at this standpoint regards a part of the whole as a being that really exists independently, regards it as the monad which receives information about the rest of the world in some way or other from outside. What is meant here by monism shows that this independence can be believed in only as long as what is perceived is not woven by thinking into the web of the conceptual world. If this is done, then this partial existence turns out to be a mere illusion of perception. Man can find his self-contained total existence in the universe only through the intuitive experience of thinking. Thinking destroys the illusion of perception and members our individual existence into the life of the cosmos. The unity of the conceptual world, which contains our objective perceptions, also takes up the content of our subjective personality into itself. Thinking gives us reality in its true form, as a self-contained unity, whereas the multiplicity of our perceptions is only an illusion due to our organization (see page 76ff.) The knowledge of what is real in contrast to what is illusion about perception has constituted in all ages the goal of thinking. Science has made great efforts to know perceptions as reality by discovering the lawful relationships among them. Where one was of the view, however, that the relationship ascertained by human thinking has only a subjective significance, one sought the true ground of unity in some object lying beyond our world of experience (an inferred God, will, absolute spirit, etc.)—And based on this belief, one strove to gain, in addition to knowledge about the relationships recognizable within our experience, yet a second knowledge which goes beyond our experience, and which reveals the relationship of experience to entities that are no longer experienceable (a metaphysics attained not through experience, but rather through deduction). The reason we can grasp world relationships through orderly thinking was seen from this standpoint to lie in the fact that a primal being had built the world according to logical laws, and the reason we act was seen to lie in the willing of the primal being. But one did not recognize that thinking encompasses both what is subjective and what is objective, and that in the union of perception and concept total reality is conveyed. Only so long as we look at the lawfulness permeating and determining our perceptions, in the abstract form of the concept, do we in fact have to do with something purely subjective. But the content of the concept, which with the help of thinking is gained in addition to the perception, is not subjective. This content is not taken from the subject, but rather from reality. It is that part of reality which perceiving cannot attain. It is experience, but not experience conveyed through perception. Whoever cannot picture to himself that the concept is something real, thinks only of the abstract form in which he holds the concept in his mind. But in such a separated state the concept is present only through our organization, in the same way that the perception is. Even the tree that one perceives has, isolated off by itself, no existence. It is only a part within the great mechanism of nature, and only possible in real connection with it. An abstract concept is by itself no more real than a perception by itself. The perception is the part of reality that is given objectively; the concept is the part given subjectively (through intuition, see page 84ff.) 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, which considers neither concept nor perception one-sidedly by itself, but rather the union of both.

That we live within reality (that the roots of our real existence extend down into reality), this even the most orthodox subjective idealist will not deny. He will only dispute the claim that we also reach ideally, with our knowing activity, into that which we really live through. With respect to this, monism shows that thinking is neither subjective nor objective, but rather a principle encompassing both sides of reality. When we observe and think, we carry out a process which itself belongs in the course of real happening. Through thinking, within the very realm of experience itself, we overcome the one-sidedness of mere perceiving. We cannot figure out the nature of what is real through abstract conceptual hypotheses (through purely conceptual thinking), but inasmuch as we find in addition to perceptions their ideas, we live within what is real. Monism does not seek, in addition to experience, anything unexperienceable (in the beyond), but rather sees in concept and perception what is real. It spins out of mere abstract concepts no metaphysics, because it sees in the concept by itself only the one side of reality and does not have to seek outside his world some unexperienceable higher reality. He refrains from seeking the absolutely real anywhere other than in experience, because he recognizes the content of experience itself as real. And he is satisfied with this reality, because he knows that thinking has the power to guarantee it. What dualism first seeks behind the world of observation, monism finds within this world itself. Monism shows that in our knowing activity we grasp reality in its true form, not in a subjective picture that, as it were, inserts itself between man and reality. For monism the conceptual content of the world is the same for all human individuals (see page 78ff.). page 78ff.). According to monistic principles one human individual regards another as a being of his own kind because it is the same world content which expresses itself in him. In the oneness of the world of concepts there are not, so to speak, as many concepts “lion” as there are individual people who think “lion,” but rather only one concept. And the concept which A adds to his perception of the lion is the same as that of B, only grasped by a different perceiving subject (see pages 79–80). Thinking leads all perceiving subjects to the common ideal oneness of all manifoldness. The oneness of the world of ideas expresses itself in them as in a multiplicity of individuals. As long as a person grasps himself merely through self-perception, he regards himself as this particular person; as soon as he looks toward the world of ideas lighting up in him and encompassing all particulars, he sees the absolutely real light up livingly within him. Dualism designates the divine primal being as that which permeates all men and lives in them all. Monism finds this universal divine life within reality itself. The ideal content of another person is also my own, and I see it as a different one only so long as I perceive; but no longer, however, as soon as I think. Every person encompasses with his thinking only a part of the total world of ideas, and to this extent individuals do also differ in the actual content of their thinking. But these contents exist in one self-contained whole which comprises the contents of thinking of all men. In his thinking, therefore, man grasps the universal primal being that permeates all men. Filled with the content of thought, his life within reality is at the same time life in God. The merely inferred unexperienceable “beyond” rests on the misunderstanding of those who believe that the “here” does not have the basis of its existence within itself. They do not recognize that through thinking they do find what they require as explanation for perception. Therefore no speculation has ever yet brought to light any content that has not been borrowed from the reality given us. The god assumed by abstract deduction is only the human being transferred into the beyond; the Will of Schopenhauer is only the human power of will made into an absolute; Hartmann's unconscious, primordial being, composed of idea and will, is a composition of two abstractions taken from experience. Exactly the same is to be said of all other principles, not based on experienceable thinking, of some “beyond.”

The human spirit, in truth, never passes out of or beyond the reality in which we live, and it is also not necessary for it to do so, since everything it needs to explain the world lies within this world. If philosophers finally declare themselves satisfied with their derivation of the world out of principles which they borrow from experience and transfer into some hypothetical “beyond,” the a similar satisfaction must also be possible when the same content is left in the “here” where, for experienceable thinking, it belongs. All going out of and beyond the world is only a seeming one, and principles transferred outside the world do not explain the world better than the principles lying within it. But thinking which understands itself also does not at all demand any such transcendence, since a thought content can only seek inside the world, not outside of it, for the perceptible content along with which it forms something real. Even the objects of imagination are only contents which first have validity when they become mental pictures which refer to some content of perception. Through this content of perception they incorporate themselves into reality. We can only think up the concepts of reality; in order to find reality itself, perceiving is also still necessary. A primal being of the world, for which a content is thought up, is, for a thinking which understands itself, an impossible assumption. Monism does not deny what is ideal; it in fact does not regard a content of perception which lacks its ideal counterpart as full reality; but it finds nothing in the whole domain of thinking which could make it necessary to step out of thinking's realm of experience by denying the objective spiritual reality of thinking. Monism sees, in a science which restricts itself to describing perceptions without pressing forward to their ideal complements, a half of something. But it regards in the same way, as half of something, all abstract concepts which do not find their complement in perception and do not fit in anywhere into the web of concepts that encompasses the observable world. Monism knows therefore no ideas which point toward something objective lying beyond our experience, and which supposedly form the content of a merely hypothetical metaphysics. Everything which mankind has brought forth in the form of such ideas is for monism an abstraction from experience whose creators overlook its source.

Just as little, by monistic principles, can the goals of our actions be taken from some “beyond” outside man. Insofar as they are thought, they must stem from human intuition. Man does not make the purposes of some objective primal being (in the beyond) into his individual purposes, but rather pursues purposes of his own, given him by his moral imagination. The human being looses from the one world of ideas the idea which is to be realized through some action, and lays it as the basis for his willing. In his actions, therefore, it is not the commandments instilled from the “beyond” into the “here” which express themselves, but rather human intuitions belonging to the world of the “here.” Monism knows no world director who sets the goals and direction of our actions from outside of ourselves. Man finds no kind of primal ground of existence in the beyond whose decrees he could discover in order to experience from it the goals toward which he has to steer in his actions. He is thrown back upon himself. He himself must give a content to his actions. When he seeks outside of the world in which he lives for determining factors of his willing, he then searches in vain. He must seek them—when he goes beyond the satisfying of his natural drives, for which mother nature has provided—within his own moral imagination, unless his desire for comfort prefers to let itself be determined by the moral imagination of others; that means he must give up all action or else act according to determining factors which he gives himself out of the world of his ideas, or which others give him out of that same world. Whenever he goes beyond living in his sensual drives and beyond carrying out the orders of other people, he is determined by nothing other than himself. He must act out of an impulse which he has given himself and which is determined by nothing else. Ideally this impulse is, to be sure, determined within the one world of ideas; but factually it can only be drawn out of that world by man and transferred into reality. Only within man himself can monism find the basis for the actual transferring of an idea into reality by man. In order for an idea to become an action, man first must want and will before it can happen. This kind of willing has its basis therefore only within man himself. Man is then the one ultimately determining his action. He is free.

First Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918

In the second part of this book the attempt was made to establish the fact that inner freedom is to be found in the reality of human action. For this it was necessary to isolate from the total domain of human actions those parts with respect to which, out of unprejudiced self-observation, one can speak of inner freedom. It is those actions which present themselves as realizations of ideal intuitions. No unprejudiced consideration will regard other actions as free. But, out of unprejudiced self-observation, man will indeed have to regard himself as able and inclined to advance upon the road to ethical intuitions and to their realization. This unprejudiced observation of the ethical being of man cannot by itself, however, establish any final judgment about inner freedom. For were intuitive thinking itself to spring from some other being, were its being not one resting upon itself, then the consciousness, flowing from what is ethical, of inner freedom would prove to be an illusory thing. But the second part of this book finds its natural support in the first. This presents intuitive thinking as experienced inner spiritual activity1Geistbetätigung of man. To understand, to experience, this being of thinking, however, is equivalent to knowledge of the freedom of intuitive thinking. And if one knows that this thinking is free, then one also sees the perimeter of the willing to which freedom must be ascribed. The acting human being will be regarded as free by anyone who, on the basis of inner experience, can ascribe to the intuitive thought experience its self-sustained being. Whoever is not able to do so will definitely not be able to find any indisputable way to the acceptance of inner freedom. The experience presented here finds within consciousness the intuitive thinking which does not have reality only within consciousness. And it finds therefore that freedom is the characteristic feature of actions flowing from the intuitions of consciousness.

Second Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918

What is presented in this book is built upon purely spiritual, experienceable, intuitive thinking, through which every perception is placed knowingly into reality. The book intends to present nothing more than can be surveyed out of the experience of intuitive thinking. But the intention was also to show what thought configurations this experienced thinking requires. And it requires that thinking not be denied as a self-sustaining experience within the cognitive process. It requires that one not deny thinking its ability, together with perception, to experience reality, and that one therefore not seek reality only within a world which lies outside this experience, which is only inferable, and in the face of which human thought activity is only something subjective.

Thus in thinking the element is characterized through which the human being enters spiritually into reality. (And no one really should confuse this world view, built upon experienced thinking, with any mere rationalism). But on the other hand it is fully evident from the whole spirit of what is presented here, that the perceptual element can be considered a reality for human knowledge only when it is grasped in thinking. The characterizing of something as reality cannot lie outside of thinking. It should therefore not be imagined, for example, that the senses' kind of perception establishes the only reality. The human being must simply await what will arise as perception along his life's path. The only question could be whether, from the point of view that results purely out of intuitively experienced thinking, it can justifiably be expected that man would be able to perceive, besides what is sense-perceptible, also what is spiritual. This can be expected. For although on the one hand intuitively experienced thinking is an active process taking place within the human spirit, on the other hand it is at the same time a spiritual perception grasped without any physical organ. It is a perception in which the perceiver himself is active, and it is an activity of the self which is also perceived. In intuitively experienced thinking man is transferred into a spiritual world also as perceiver. Within this world, whatever comes to meet him as perception in the same way that the spiritual world of his own thinking does, this the human being recognizes to be the world of spiritual perception.* This world of perception would have the same relation to thinking which the world of physical perception does on the side of the senses. The world of spiritual perception, as soon as man experiences it, cannot be anything foreign to him, because in intuitive thinking he already has an experience that bears a purely spiritual character. A number of books published by me after this one speak about such a world of spiritual perception. This Philosophy of Spiritual Activity lays the philosophical groundwork for these later books. For in this book the attempt is made to show that the experience of thinking, rightly understood, is already the experiencing of spirit. Therefore it seems to the author that a person will not stop short before entering the world of spiritual perception who can in full earnestness take the point of view of the author of this Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. What is presented in the author's later books cannot, it is true, be logically drawn—by deductive reasoning—out of the content of this book. From a living grasp of what is meant in this book by intuitive thinking, however, there will quite naturally result the further living entry into the world of spiritual perception.