Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
Appendix II. Revised Introduction to the Edition of 1894
THE following chapter reproduces, in all essentials, the pages which stood as a sort of “Introduction” in the first edition of this book. Inasmuch as it rather reflects the mood of thought out of which I composed this book twenty-five years ago, than has any direct bearing on its contents, I print it here as an “Appendix.” I do not want to omit it altogether, because the suggestion keeps cropping up that I want to suppress some of my earlier writings on account of my later works on the Science of Spirit.
Our age is one which is willing to seek truth nowhere but out of the depths of human nature. [Only the very first opening sentences (in the first edition) of this argument have been altogether omitted here, because they seem to me to-day wholly irrelevant. But the rest of the chapter seems to me even to-day relevant and necessary, in spite, nay, because, of the natural scientific manner of thinking of our contemporaries.] Of the following two well-known paths described by Schiller, it is the second which to-day will be found most useful:
Wahrheit suchen wir beide, du aussen im Leben, ich innen
In dem Herzen, und so findet sie jeder gewiss.
Ist das Auge gesund, so begegnet es aussen dem Schöpfer;
Ist es das Herz, dann gewiss spiegelt es innen die Welt.
Truth seek we both — Thou in the life without thee and around;
I in the heart within. By both can Truth alike be found.
The healthy eye can through the world the great Creator track;
The healthy heart is but the glass which gives Creation back.
E. BULWER LYTTON.
A truth which comes to us from without bears ever the stamp of uncertainty. Conviction attaches only to what appears as truth to each of us in our own hearts.
Truth alone can give us confidence in developing our individual powers. He who is tortured by doubts finds his powers lamed. In a world the riddle of which baffles him, he can find no aim for his activity.
We no longer want to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths which we do not wholly comprehend. But the individuality which seeks to experience everything in the depths of its own being, is repelled by what it cannot wholly look through. Only that knowledge will satisfy us which springs from the inner life of the personality, and submits itself to no external norm.
Again, we do not want any knowledge which has encased itself once and for all in frozen formulas, and which is preserved in encyclopædias valid for all time. Each of us claims the right to start from the facts that lie nearest to hand, from his own immediate experiences, and thence to ascend to a knowledge of the whole universe. We strive after certainty in knowledge, but each in his own way.
Our scientific theories, too, are no longer to be formulated as if we were unconditionally compelled to accept them. None of us would wish to give a scientific work a title like Fichte's A Pellucid Account for the General Public concerning the Real Nature of the Newest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Readers to Understand. Nowadays there is no attempt to compel anyone to understand. We claim no acknowledgment or agreement from anyone who is not driven to a certain view by his own needs. We do not seek nowadays to cram facts of knowledge even into the immature human being, the child. We seek rather to develop his faculties in such a way that his understanding may depend no longer on our compulsion, but on his will.
I am under no illusion concerning these characteristics of the present age. I know how much of a stereotypical attitude which lacks all individuality is prevalent everywhere. But I know also that many of my contemporaries strive to order their lives in the direction I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It does not pretend to offer the “only possible” way to Truth, it describes the path chosen by one whose heart is set upon Truth.
The reader will be led at first into somewhat abstract regions, where thought must draw sharp outlines, if it is to reach secure conclusions. But he will also be led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am fully convinced that one cannot do without soaring into the ethereal realm of concepts, if one's experience is to penetrate life in all directions. He who is limited to the pleasures of the senses misses the sweetest enjoyments of life. The Oriental sages make their disciples live for years a life of resignation and asceticism before they impart to them their own wisdom. The Western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices as a preparation for science, but it does require a sincere willingness to withdraw oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life, and to betake oneself into the realm of pure thought.
The spheres of life are many, and for each there develop special sciences. But life itself is one, and the more the sciences strive to penetrate deeply into their separate spheres, the more they withdraw themselves from the vision of the world as a living whole. There must be one supreme knowledge which seeks in the separate sciences the elements for leading man back once more to the fullness of life. The scientific specialist seeks in his studies to gain a knowledge of the world and its workings. This book has a philosophical aim: science itself is here infused with organic life. The special sciences are stages on the way to the science intended here. A similar relation is found in the arts. The composer in his work employs the rules of the theory of composition. This latter is an accumulation of principles, knowledge of which is a necessary presupposition for composing. In the act of composing, the rules of theory become the servants of life, of reality. In exactly the same way philosophy is an art. All genuine philosophers have been artists in concepts. Human Ideas have been the material of their art, and scientific method their artistic technique. Abstract thinking thus gains concrete individual life. Ideas turn into life-forces. We have no longer merely a knowledge about things, but we have now made knowledge a real self-determining organism. Our consciousness, real and active, has risen beyond a mere passive reception of truths.
How philosophy, as an art, is related to freedom; what freedom is; and whether we do, or can, participate in it — this is the principal problem of my book. All other scientific discussions are put in only because they ultimately throw light on these questions which are, in my opinion, the most immediate concern of mankind. These pages offer a “Philosophy of Freedom.”
All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity did it not strive to enhance the existential value of human personality. The true value of the sciences is reached only by showing the human range of their results. The final aim of an individual can never be the cultivation of any single faculty, but only the development of all capacities which slumber within us. Knowledge has value only in so far as it contributes to the all-round unfolding of the whole nature of man.
This book, therefore, does not conceive the relation between science and life in such a way that man must bow down before the Idea and devote his powers to its service. On the contrary, it shows that he takes possession of the world of Ideas in order to use them for his human aims, which transcend those of mere science.
Man must be able to confront the Idea and experience it; or else he will fall into its bondage.