The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Goethe's World View
GA 6

Part V: Goethe and Hegel

Goethe's contemplation of the world goes only to a certain limit. He observes light and color phenomena and advances as far as the archetypal phenomenon (Urphaenomen); he tries to find his bearings within the manifoldness of the plant's being and arrives at his sensible-supersensible archetypal plant. From the archetypal phenomenon or the archetypal plant he does not ascend to higher principles of explanation. He leaves that up to the philosophers. He is content when “he finds himself upon the empirical heights, from which he can look back upon experience in all its levels, and can at least look forward into the realm of theory if not enter it.” Goethe goes to the point in his contemplation of the real where the ideas confront him. To determine the connection in which ideas stand to one another and how, within the ideal realm, one thing proceeds from another, are tasks which first begin upon the empirical height where Goethe stopped. “The idea is eternal and unique,” he believes. “That we also use the plural is not appropriate. Everything of which we can become aware and about which we can speak are only manifestations of the idea.” But since the idea, in the phenomenon, arises after all as a multiplicity of individual ideas, such as idea of the plant, idea of the animal, these must then let themselves be led back to a basic form in the same way that the plant lets itself be led back to the leaf. The individual ideas are also different only in their manifestation; in their true being they are identical. It is therefore just as much in keeping with the Goethean world view to speak of a metamorphosis of ideas as of a metamorphosis of plants. The philosopher who tried to present this metamorphosis of ideas is Hegel. Through this he is the philosopher of the Goethean world view. He takes his start from the simplest idea, from pure “being.”

Within this being the true shape of world phenomena conceals itself completely. Then rich content becomes a bloodless abstraction. Hegel has been reproached for deriving the whole content-filled world of ideas from pure being. But pure being contains “as idea” the entire world of ideas, just as the leaf contains as idea the entire plant. Hegel follows the metamorphoses of the idea from pure abstract being up to the level at which the idea becomes directly real phenomenon. He considers the phenomenon of philosophy to be this highest level. For, in philosophy, the ideas which are at work in the world are beheld in their own inherent shape. To express this in Goethe's way one could say that philosophy is the idea in its greatest expansion; pure being is the idea in its uttermost contraction. The fact that Hegel sees in philosophy the most complete metamorphosis of the idea shows that true attentiveness to himself is as far removed from him as from Goethe. A thing has attained its highest metamorphosis when it brings forth its full content in perception, in immediate life. But philosophy contains the world's content of ideas not in the form of life but rather in the form of thoughts. The living idea, the idea as perception, is given only to human self-observation. Hegel's philosophy is not a world view of freedom, because it does not seek the world content in its highest form upon the ground of the human personality. On this ground all content becomes entirely individual. Hegel does not seek this individual but rather the general, the genus. For this reason he also does not place the origin of the moral into the human individual but rather into the world order lying outside man which is supposed to contain the moral ideas. The human being does not give himself his own moral goal but rather has to make himself a pan of the moral world order. The single, the individual is for Hegel precisely the bad, if it persists in its singleness. Only within the whole does it first receive its value. This is the attitude of the bourgeoisie, Max Stirner asserts, “and its poet, Goethe, like its philosopher, Hegel, knew how to glorify the dependency of the subject upon the object, obedience to the objective world, and so on.” There again another one-sided way of picturing things is presented. Hegel, like Goethe, lacks the perception (Anschauung) of freedom, because the perception of the innermost being of the thought world escapes them both. Hegel definitely feels himself to be the philosopher of the Goethean world view. On February 20, 1821 he writes to Goethe, “The simple and abstract, what you quite aptly call the archetypal phenomenon, this you put first, and then show the concrete phenomena as arising through the participation of still other influences and circumstances, and you direct the whole process in such a way that the sequence proceeds from the simple determining factors to the composite ones, and, thus arranged, something complex appears in all its clarity through this decomposition. To seek out the archetypal phenomenon, to free it from other extraneous chance surroundings — to grasp it abstractly, as we call it — this I consider to be a task for a great spiritual sense for nature, just as I consider that procedure altogether to be what is truly scientific in gaining knowledge in this field.” “... But may I now also still speak to you about the particular interest which the archetypal phenomenon, lifted out in this way, has for us philosophers, namely that we can put such a preparation precisely to philosophical use! — If, namely, in spite of everything, we have finally led our initially oyster-like, gray, or completely black absolute out toward the air and light, so that it desires them, then we need windows in order to lead it out fully into the light of day; our schemata would disperse into mist if we were to transfer them directly into the colorful confused society of a resistant world. Here is where your archetypal phenomena now stand us in excellent stead; in this twilight, spiritual and comprehensible through its simplicity, visible or graspable through its sense-perceptibility — the two worlds greet each other: our abstruse existence and the manifest one.”

Even though Goethe's world view and Hegel's philosophy correspond completely to each other, still a person would be quite mistaken if he were to place the same value upon the thought achievements of Goethe and those of Hegel. The same way of picturing things lives in both. Both want to avoid self-perception. But Goethe carried out his reflections in areas in which this lack of perception does not have a harmful effect. Even if he never did see the world of ideas as perception, he did nevertheless live in the world of ideas and allowed his observations to be permeated by it. Hegel viewed the world of ideas as perception, as individual spiritual existence, just as little as Goethe did. But he carried out his reflections precisely on the world of ideas. In many directions his reflections are therefore awry and untrue. If Hegel had carried out observations about nature, then they would have become every bit as valuable as those of Goethe; if Goethe had wanted to set up a philosophical thought structure, then that sure view of true reality would certainly have forsaken him which guided him in his considerations of nature.