Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Case for Anthroposophy
GA 21

II. The Philosophical Bearing of Anthroposophy

No-one, who aims at achieving a radical relation between his own thought and contemporary philosophical ideas, can avoid the issue, raised in the first paragraph of this book, of the existential status of the psyche. This he will have to justify not only to himself, but also in the light of those ideas. Now many people do not feel this need, since they are acquainted with the authentically psychic through immediate inner experience (Erleben) and know how to distinguish that from the psychic apprehension (Erfahren) effected through the senses. It strikes them as an unnecessary, perhaps an irritating, intellectual hair-splitting. And if they are positively averse, the more philosophically minded are often unwilling for a different reason. They are unwilling to concede to inner soul experiences any other status than that of subjective apprehensions without cognitive significance. They are little disposed therefore to ransack their philosophical concepts for those elements in them that could lead on to anthroposophical ideas. These repugnances, coming from opposite sides, make the exposition extraordinarily difficult. But it is necessary. For in our time the only kind of ideas to which cognitive validity can be assigned are such as will bear the same kind of critical examination as the laws of natural science must satisfy, before they can claim to have been established.

To establish, epistemologically, the validity of anthroposophical ideas, it is first of all necessary to conceive as precisely as possible the manner in which they are experienced. This can be done in several very different ways. Let us attempt to describe two of them. The first way requires that we observe the phenomenon of memory. Rather a weak point incidentally in current philosophical theory; for the concepts we find there concerning memory throw very little light on it. I take my departure from ideas which I have, in point of fact, reached by anthroposophical methods, but which can be fully supported both philosophically and physiologically. Limitations of space will not permit of my making good this assertion in the present work. I hope to do so in a future one.1I have not been able to trace where, if at all, this intention was carried out—- Editor I am convinced, however, that anyone who succeeds in candidly surveying the findings of modern physiological and psychological science will find that they support the following observations.

Representations stimulated by sense-impressions enter the field of unconscious human experience. From there they can be brought up again, remembered. Representations themselves are a purely psychic reality; but awareness of them in normal waking life is somatically conditioned. Moreover the psyche, bound up as it is with the body, cannot by using its own forces raise representations from their unconscious to their conscious condition. For that it requires the forces of the body. To the end of normal memory the body has to function, just as the body has to function in the processes of its sense-organs, in order to bring about representations through the senses. If I am to represent a sensory event, a somatic activity must first come about within the sense organs; and, within the psyche, the representation appears as its result. In the same way, if I am to remember a representation or idea, an inner somatic activity (in refined organs), an activity polarically counter to the activity of the senses, must occur; and, as a result, the remembered representation comes forth. This representation is related to a sensory event which was presented to my soul at some time in the past. I represent that event to myself through an inner experience, to which my somatic organisation enables me.

Keep clearly in mind the character of such a memory-presentation, and with its help you approach the character of anthroposophical ideas. They are certainly not memory-presentations, but they issue in the psyche in a similar way. Many people, anxious to form ideas about the spiritual world in a less subtle way, find this disappointing. But the spiritual world cannot be experienced any more solidly than a happening in the sense world apprehended in the past but no longer present to the sight. In the case of memory we have seen that our ability to remember such a happening comes from the energy of the somatic organisation. To the experience of the existentially psychic, on the other hand, as distinct from that of memory, this energy can make no contribution. Instead, the soul must awaken in itself the ability to accomplish with certain representations what the body accomplishes with the representations of the senses, when it implements their recall. The former—elicited from the depths of the psyche solely through the energy of the psyche, as memory-presentations are elicited from the depths of human nature through its somatic organisation—are representations related to the spiritual world. They are available to every soul. What has to be won, in order to become aware of them, is the energy to elicit them from the depths of the psyche by a purely psychic activity. As the remembered representations of the senses are related to a past sense-impression, so are these others related to a nexus between the psyche and the domain of spirit, a nexus which is not via the sense-world. The human soul stands towards the spiritual world, as the whole human being stands towards a forgotten actuality. It comes to the knowledge of that world, if it brings, to the point where they awake, energies which are similar to those bodily forces that promote memory. Thus, ideas of the authentically psychic depend for their philosophical validation on the kind of inquiry into the life within us that leads us to find there an activity purely psychic, which yet resembles in some ways the activity exerted in remembering.

A second way of forming a concept of the purely psychic is as follows. The attention may be directed to what anthropological observation has to say about the willing (operant) human being. An impulse of will that is to be carried into effect has as its ground the mental representation of what is to be willed. The dependence of this representation on the bodily organisation (nervous system) can be physiologically discerned. Bound up with the representation there is a nuance of feeling, an affective sympathy with the represented, which is the reason why this representation furnishes the impulse for a willed act. But from that point on psychic experience disappears into the depths; and the first thing that reappears in consciousness is the result. What is next represented, in fact, is the movement we make in order to achieve the represented goal. (Theodor Ziehen puts all this very clearly in his physiological psychology.) We can now perhaps see how, in the case of a willed act, the conscious process of mental representation is suspended in regard to the central moment of willing itself. That which is psychically experienced in the willing of an operation executed through the body, does not penetrate normal consciousness. But we do see plainly enough that that willing is realised through an act of the body. What is much harder to see is, that the psyche, when it is observing the laws of logic and seeking the truth by connecting ideas together, is also unfolding will. A will which is not to be circumscribed within physiological laws. For, if that were so, it would be impossible to distinguish an illogical—or simply an a-logical—chain of ideas from one which follows the laws of logic. (Superficial chatter around the fancy that logical consequence could be a property the mind acquires through adapting itself to the outer world, need not be taken seriously.) In this willing, which takes place entirely within the psyche, and which leads to logically grounded convictions, we can detect the permeation of the soul by an entirely spiritual activity.

Of what goes on in the will, when it is directed outwards, ordinary ideation knows as little as a man knows of himself when he is asleep. Something similar is true of his being regulated by logic in the formation of his convictions; he is less fully conscious of this than he is of the actual content of such convictions. Nevertheless anyone capable of looking inward, albeit only in the anthropological mode, will be able to form a concept of the co-presence of this being-regulated-by logic to normal consciousness. He will come to realise that the human being knows of this being-regulated, in the manner that he knows while dreaming. It is paradoxical but perfectly correct to say: normal consciousness knows the content of its convictions; but it only dreams of the regulation by logic that is extant in the pursuit of these convictions. Thus we see that, in ordinary-level consciousness, the human being sleeps through his willing, when he unfolds and exercises his will in an outward direction; he dreams his willing, when, in his thinking, he is seeking for convictions. Only it is clear that, in the latter instance, what he dreams of cannot be anything corporeal, for otherwise logical and physiological laws would coincide. The concept to be grasped is that of the willing that lives in the mental pursuit of truth. That is also the concept of an existentially psychic.

From both of these epistemological approaches, in the sense of anthroposophy, to the concept of the existentially psychic (and they are not the only possible ones), it becomes evident how sharply this concept is divorced from visions, hallucinations, mediumship or any kind of abnormal psychic activity. For the origin of all these abnormalities must be sought in the physiologically determinable. But the psychic, as anthroposophy understands it, is not only something that is experienced in the mode of normal and healthy consciousness; it is something that is experienced, even while representations are being formed, in total vigilance—and is experienced in the same way that we remember a happening undergone earlier in life, or alternatively in the same way that we experience the logically conditioned formation of our convictions. It will be seen that the cognitive experience of anthroposophy proceeds by way of representations and ideas that maintain the character of that normal consciousness with which, as well as with reality, the external world endows us; while at the same time they add to it endowments leading into the domain of the spirit. By contrast the visionary, hallucinatory, etc. type of experience subsists in a consciousness that adds nothing to the norm, but actually takes away from it by eliminating some faculties already acquired; so that there the level of consciousness falls below the level that obtains in conscious sense-perception.

For those of my readers who are acquainted with what I have written elsewhere2For example, in Occult Science: an Outline, pp. 45-8 and 336. concerning recollection and memory I would add the following. Representations that have entered the unconscious and are subsequently remembered are to be located, so long as they remain unconscious, as representations within that component of the human body which is there identified as a life-body (etheric body). But the activity, through which representations anchored in the life-body are remembered, belongs to the physical body. I emphasise this in case some, who jump hastily to conclusions, should construe as an inconsistency what is in fact a distinction made necessary by this particular context.