Goethe's World View
Epilogue to the New Edition of 1918
It was said by critics of this book immediately after its publication that it does not give a picture of Goethe's “world view” but only of his “view of nature.” I do not think that this judgment comes from a justified point of view, even though, looked at externally, the book deals almost exclusively with Goethe's ideas about nature. For I believe that in the course of what has been said I have shown that these ideas about nature rest upon a quite definite way of looking at the phenomena of the world. And in my opinion I have indicated in the book itself that taking a point of view toward the phenomena of nature such as Goethe had can lead to definite views about psychological, historical, and still wider phenomena of the world. What expresses itself in Goethe's view of nature about a particular area is, in fact, a world view, not a mere view of nature which a person could also have whose thoughts have no significance for a wider picture of the world. On the other hand, however, I believed I should not present anything in this book other than what can be said in direct connection with the realm which Goethe himself worked through out of the totality of his world view. To sketch the picture of the world which arises out of Goethe's literary works, out of his ideas on an history, etc. is of course altogether possible and certainly of the greatest possible interest. A person who is attentive to the stance of this book will not, however, seek in it any such world picture. Such a person will recognize that I set myself the task of resketching that pan of the Goethean world picture for which in his own writings there are statements which emerge in an unbroken sequence from each other. I have indeed also indicated in many places the points at which Goethe got stuck in this unbroken development of his world picture, but which,he did successfully achieve in certain realms of nature. Goethe's views about the world and life show themselves to the broadest extent. How these views emerge out of his own particular world view, however, is not observable in his works outside the area of natural phenomena in the same way that it is within this area. In these other areas what Goethe's soul had to manifest to the world becomes observable; in the area of his ideas about nature there becomes visible how the basic impulse of his spirit achieved, step by step, a world view up to a certain boundary. Precisely through the fact that one does not for once go further in sketching Goethe's thought-work than to present what developed within him as a conceptually cohesive part of a world view, light will be shed upon the particular coloration of what otherwise reveals itself in his life's work. Therefore I did not want to paint the picture of the world which speaks out of Goethe's life work as a whole but rather that part which comes to light with him in the form in which one brings a world view to expression in thought. Views which well up in a personality, however great that personality may be, are not yet parts of a world view picture which is cohesive in itself and which the personality himself conceives to be a coherent whole. But Goethe's nature ideas are just such a cohesive part of a world view picture. And, as illumination for natural phenomena, these ideas are not merely a view of nature but rather a part of a world view.
The fact that I have also been reproached with respect to this book for changing my views after its publication does not surprise me since I am not unfamiliar with the presuppositions which move a person to make such judgments. I have expressed myself about this search for contradictions in my books in the preface to the first volume of my Riddles of Philosophy and in an article in the journal, Das Reich (“Spiritual Science as Anthroposophy and Contemporary Epistemology”). This kind of search is possible only for critics who completely fail to recognize how in fact my world view must proceed in order to grasp the different areas of life. I do not want to go into this question in a general way again here but rather will just briefly state a few things about this book on Goethe. I consider the anthroposophically oriented spiritual science which I have been presenting in my books for sixteen years to be a way of knowing the spiritual world content accessible to man; and a person who has enlivened within himself Goethe's ideas on nature as something right for him and, starting there, strives for experiences of knowledge about the spirit realm, must come to this way of knowing. I am of the view that this spiritual science presupposes a natural science which corresponds to the Goethean one. I not only mean by this that the spiritual science presented by me does not contradict this natural science. For I know how little it signifies for there to be only no logical contradiction between different assertions. In spite of this they could in reality be utterly incompatible. But rather I believe I have insight into the fact that Goethe's ideas about the realm of nature, if really experienced, must necessarily lead to the anthroposophical knowledge presented by me, if a person does something which Goethe did not yet do, which is to lead experiences in the realm of nature over into experiences in the realm of spirit. The nature of these latter experiences is described in my spiritual scientific works. This is the reason for also reprinting now, after the publication of my spiritual scientific books, the essential content of this present book, which I brought out for the first time in 1897, as my recapitulation of the Goethean world view. I consider all the thoughts presented in it to be still valid today, unchanged. I have only in individual places made changes which do not pertain to the configuration of thoughts but only to the style of individual expressions. And the fact that after twenty years one would want to make a few stylistic changes here and there in a book can, after all, seem comprehensible. Otherwise, what is different in the new edition from the previous one are only some expansions, not changes, of the content. I believe that a person who is seeking a natural scientific foundation for spiritual science can find it through Goethe's world view. Therefore it seems to me that a book about Goethe's world view can also be of significance for someone who wants to concern himself with anthroposophically oriented spiritual science. But the stance of my book is that it wants to consider Goethe's world view entirely for itself, without reference to actual spiritual science. (One will find in my book, Goethe's Faust and the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake, something of what there is to say about Goethe from the particularly spiritual scientific point of view.)
Supplementary note: A critic of this book of mine on Goethe believed he had found a special trove of “contradictions,” when he placed what I say about Platonism in this book (in the first edition of 1897) beside a statement I made at almost exactly the same time in my introduction to volume four of Goethe's natural scientific writings (Kuerschner edition): “The philosophy of Plato is one of the most sublime edifices of thought that has ever sprung from the spirit of mankind. It is one of the saddest signs of our time that the Platonic way of looking at things is regarded in philosophy as the exact opposite of healthy reason.” It is indeed difficult for certain minds to grasp that each thing, when looked at from different sides, presents itself differently. It will be easy to see that my different statements about Platonism do not represent any real contradiction to anyone who does not get stuck at the mere sound of the words but who goes into the different relationships into which I had to bring Platonism, through its own being, at this or that time. It is on the one hand a sad sign when Platonism is regarded as going against healthy reason because only that is considered to be in accordance with reason which stays with mere sense perception as the sole reality. And it does go against a healthy view of idea and sense world to change Platonism in such a way that through it an unhealthy separation of idea and sense perception is brought about. Someone who cannot enter into this kind of thinking penetration of the phenomena of life remains, with what he grasps, always outside of reality. Someone — as Goethe expresses it — who plants a concept in the way in order to limit a rich life's content has no sense for the fact that life unfolds in relationships which work differently in different directions. It is more comfortable, to be sure, to set a schematic concept in the place of a view of the fullness of life; with such concepts one can indeed judge easily and schematically. But one lives, through such a process, in abstractions without being. Thus human concepts turn into abstractions, which one believes can be treated in the intellect in the same way that things treat each other. But these concepts are much more like pictures which one receives of a thing from different sides. The thing is one; the pictures are many. And it is not focusing on one picture that leads to a view of the thing but rather looking at several pictures together. Unfortunately I now had to see how strongly many critics are inclined to construct contradictions out of such a consideration of a phenomenon from different points of view, which strives to merge with reality. Because of this I felt moved, with respect to the passages on Platonism in this new edition, first of all to change the style of presentation and thus to make even more definite what seemed to me twenty years ago really to be clear enough in the context in which it stands; secondly, by directly placing the statement from my other book beside what is said in this book, to show how both statements stand in total harmony with each other. In doing so I have spared anyone who still has a taste for finding contradictions in such things the trouble of having to gather them from two books.