The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

Preface to the Revised Edition, 1918

THERE are two fundamental problems in the life of the human soul, to which everything tends that is to be discussed in this book. One of these problems concerns the possibility of attaining to such a view of the essential nature of man as will serve as a support for whatever else comes to meet him by way of life or of science, which, he feels, cannot support itself and is liable to be driven, by doubt and criticism, into the realm of uncertainties. The other problem is this: Is man, as voluntary agent, entitled to attribute freedom to himself, or is freedom a mere illusion begotten of his inability to recognize the threads of necessity on which his volition, like any natural event, depends? It is no artificial tissue of theories which provokes this question. In a certain mood it presents itself quite naturally to the human soul. And it is easy to feel that the soul would lack something of its full stature which has never once confronted with the utmost seriousness of inquiry the two possibilities — freedom of the will or necessity. This book is intended to show that the experiences which the second problem causes man's soul to undergo, depend upon the position he is able to take up towards the first problem. An attempt is made to prove that there is a view concerning man's being which can support the rest of knowledge; and, further, an attempt to point out how with this view we gain a complete justification for the Idea of free will, provided only that we have first discovered that region of the soul in which free volition can unfold itself.

The view to which we here refer is one which, once gained, is capable of becoming part and parcel of the very life of the soul itself. The answer given to the two problems will not be of the purely theoretical sort which, once mastered, may be carried about as a conviction preserved by memory. Such an answer would, for the whole manner of thinking adopted in this book, be no real answer at all. The book will not give a ready-made and conclusive answer of this sort, but point to a field of experience in which man's own inward soul activity supplies a living answer to these questions at every moment when he needs one. Whoever has once discovered the region of the soul where these questions unfold, will find precisely in his actual acquaintance with this region all that he needs for the solution of these two problems. With the knowledge thus acquired, he may then, as desire or destiny impels him, adventure further into the breadths and depths of this unfathomable life of ours. Thus it would appear that there is a kind of knowledge which proves its justification and validity by its own inner life as well as by the kinship of its own life with the whole life of the human soul.

This is what I thought of the contents of this book when I first wrote it twenty-five years ago. To-day, once again, I have to set down similar sentences if I am to characterize the leading thoughts of my book. At the original writing I contented myself with saying no more than was in the strictest sense connected with the two fundamental problems which I have outlined. If anyone should be astonished at not finding in this book as yet any reference to that region of the world of spiritual experience of which I have given an account in my later writings, I would ask him to bear in mind that it was not my purpose at that time to set down the results of spiritual research, but first to lay the foundations on which such results can rest. The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity contains no special results of this spiritual sort, as little as it contains special results of the natural sciences. But what it does contain is, in my judgment, indispensable for anyone who desires a secure foundation for such knowledge. What I have said in this book may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my researches into the Spiritual Realm. But anyone who finds something to attract him in my inquiries into the Spiritual Realm may well appreciate the importance of what I was here trying to do. It is this: to show that open-minded consideration simply of the two problems which I have indicated and which are fundamental for every kind of knowledge, leads to the view that man lives in the midst of a genuine Spiritual World.

The aim of this book is to demonstrate, prior to our entry upon spiritual experience, that knowledge of the Spiritual World is justified. This justification is so conducted that it is never necessary, in order to accept the present arguments, to cast furtive glances at the experiences on which I have dwelt in my later writings. All that is necessary is that the reader should be willing and able to adapt himself to the manner of the present discussions.

Thus it seems to me that in one sense this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on strictly spiritual scientific matters. Yet in another sense it seems to be most intimately connected with them. These considerations have moved me now, after a lapse of twenty-five years, to republish the contents of this book in the main without essential alterations. I have only made additions of some length to a number of chapters. The misunderstandings of my argument with which I have met seemed to make these more detailed elaborations necessary. Changes of text have been made only where it appeared to me that I had said clumsily what I meant to say a quarter of a century ago. (Only ill-will could find in these changes occasion to suggest that I have changed my fundamental conviction.)

For many years my book has been out of print. In spite of the fact, which is apparent from what I have just said, that my utterances of twenty-five years ago about these problems still seem to me just as relevant to-day, I hesitated a long time about the completion of this revised edition. Again and again I have asked myself whether I ought not, at this point or that, to define my position towards the numerous philosophical views which have been put forward since the publication of the first edition. Yet my preoccupation in recent years with researches into the purely Spiritual Realm prevented my doing as I could have wished. However, a survey, as thorough as I could make it, of the philosophical literature of the present day has convinced me that such a critical discussion, tempting though it would be in itself, would be out of place in the context of what my book has to say. All that, from the point of view of the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, it seemed to me necessary to say about recent philosophical tendencies may be found in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy [Not yet published in English (yes, it is now — e.Ed).]


April, 1918.