Anthroposophy has Something to Add to Modern Sciences
VII. The study of nature, social science and religious life seen in the light of spiritual science
15 October 1918, Zurich
Anthroposophically orientated spiritual science, which I had occasion to speak of here last week and this week, is pretty well none of the things which people who do not know it believe it to be. This may already have been apparent from the two previous lectures. Above all you will hear people who have only superficially considered this spiritual scientific approach say that the results, or let us say, for the moment, the results that have been referred to, of this approach have to be completely ignored in the light of present-day natural scientific insights.
You may also hear it said that in the light of the most significant, major and crucial issues in our present time — all of them more or less in the social sphere — something said to have been brought down from the spiritual world, said to be the result of supersensible insight, proves impractical and without significance. Finally there are a third group of people who will keep stressing that this spiritual science serves to draw people away from genuine, well-founded religious responses and feelings, that it contributes to the lack of religion in our time, and that it does in fact present considerable dangers in this respect.
Today I want to speak mainly about these three misconceptions concerning anthroposophically orientated spiritual science. The day after tomorrow I’ll then attempt to present a picture of historical development in more recent times from the point of view of this supersensible science.
To enter more deeply into the whole configuration of people’s thinking in our time, we simply must look at everything which in the course of the last three or four centuries, and especially the 19th century, has given natural scientific thinking the radical significance of which I have spoken sufficiently, I think, in the earlier lectures. We need to look at this origin of natural-scientific thinking because people think in this way not only in the natural sciences. All over the world any question is — quite justifiably — considered in some way in the light of natural science. So we may indeed say that in so far as we see that the historical development of recent times has in a wholly elementary way given people’s inner life a natural-scientific orientation, this orientation has its justification. On the other hand we may also say that spiritual science would immediately give itself bad marks if it were to enter into any kind of conflict with the natural-scientific thinking of recent times. It does not get into conflict, however; quite the contrary — natural-scientific thinking and hence the whole orientation of present-day thinking, in every aspect of life, will only gain a solid foundation if those taking the natural-scientific approach are prepared to base themselves on spiritual science, making it their foundation.
Wanting to consider this question, initially I would say in a negative way, we have to take a bit of a look at how not modern natural science, but the specific way of modern thinking in natural science has arisen. And we have to say that anyone who considers history not in an outer, superficial way but by asking himself: How did the most profound abilities humanity has, also in the soul, develop through the ages? Just as an individual person develops and we cannot say that he is inwardly the same at 30, 40 or 50 — how did humanity develop its ideas, its whole way of thinking, until they finally came to the ideas that tend to be dominant at the present time? Studying the evolution of the human mind without prejudice, one will find that in earlier times, and we may say until the 17th century, this humanity had different ideas on the inner life of man, on the divine principle in the world, and on nature. Going into this development more deeply we will also find confirmation in outer ways. Go back to earlier times and you’ll never find people looking at the outer world perceived through the senses, the natural world outside, and the ‘nature of the human soul’ as they called it, as separate from each other. Even in the 16th and on into the 17th century, writings on the natural order of things would always also include what people had to say about the nature of the human soul at the time. Indeed, in those days they had not only the teachings of theology that came through revelation but also a theologia naturalist 107 Theologia naturalis, also called ‘natural theology’ — understanding God on the basis of the natural world, the existence and nature of this world and of the human being; an important element in Greek philosophy, with Thomas Aquinas and in Enlightenment. a theology that wanted to derive its teachings, its view of life, from the nature of the human soul.
This is an outward sign of a significant fact. In earlier times, before the scientific thinking of more recent times arose, people had the ideas which at one and the same time could give a satisfactory explanation of the natural world and also say something about the inner life of human beings. Concepts of soul and spirit were not as separate then from those of nature and world as has been the case from the 17th and 18th centuries onwards, when modern scientific thinking came fully into its own. And those different concepts — this is the important point — were not established in an arbitrary way in those days and changed at will. The fact that concepts changed has to do with human powers of evolution that are a necessity in the course of that evolution as is the change in body and soul constitution in the process of individual human development as we grow older, moving on from childhood to old age.
The situation is that today we have arrived at concepts, through natural science, that will no longer serve if we want to use them directly to explain the life of the human psyche. This we have seen last week. Someone who is able to think in terms of modern science, doing so in a straight and honest way, accepting the inevitable consequences, must ask himself: If we gain insight into nature, what significance does this have for the evolution of modern humanity?
A satisfactory answer to this question can only be found if one is able to investigate natural science and establish its essential nature. If you base yourself from the beginning on the belief that natural science is all and everything when it comes to explaining the world, you will not find a satisfactory answer to this question. You need to be able to ask yourself: How does natural science relate to the whole of human evolution? Only this will give a clear idea of what natural science is able to achieve.
We need to be able, as it were, to study natural science itself in a natural scientific way. And here we may well point out that significantly, even great minds who considered the matter have come to the conclusion that natural science has natural limits, as it were, limits of which we spoke in the first lecture. Thoughtful people of our present age do feel that when they try to gain an overview of what natural science registers in its different fields, they have to say to themselves: With all these ideas, all the concepts which natural science provides on the basis of the strict methods of investigation we have, we do not really get to the natural need for insight that we have in our souls. They feel, in a way, that natural science exists and cannot be other than it is — leaving aside errors and exceptions, of course — but that exactly when it meets its ideal it cannot satisfy the most profound need for insight that human beings have with regard to the world of nature.
Perhaps I may put their feelings in the following paradoxical way. People are agreed — developments have gone that way in more recent times — that our ancestors were at a childlike level of knowledge until the more recent natural science brought a change. The ancients developed ideas out of a soul quality that was more or less given to fantasy. They had ideas in which they assumed all kinds of spiritual elements in the natural world, and they also developed their concepts in accord with this. It has been said that they looked for the forces that lay behind natural phenomena. But the ideas of the ancients were childlike, so that they did not find forces but only spectres of nature. And people who are proud of the achievements of modern science were to some extent arrogant when they looked back to those earlier thinkers, people of an earlier time on earth who sought to discover what lay behind the visible world of nature. And instead of the actual forces of nature, which are at last being discovered today, those ancients were looking for all kinds of spectres, spirits that had personal qualities and the like and were behind the phenomena of nature, spirits of which in the age of natural science one could only think that they have absolutely nothing to do with the natural order but arose from a power in the human soul that was unable to penetrate to the reality of nature, and therefore developed all kinds of ideas about the natural world.
Until quite recently this was a dogma which everyone thinking in terms of natural science would consider quite natural. Today, however, some individuals, whose views are certainly worth noting, are coming to realize: If we take a real look at our concepts of nature, not given to the prejudiced idea that we are able to grasp the essential nature of the natural world with those concepts of nature, but taking these concepts of nature as they are and waiting to see how they relate to what we really experience with regard to nature when we bring the whole human being into play and not only the intellect and skills of experimentation, then these concepts of nature are like those ancient spectres when compared to unbiased insight. There are people without prejudice today who say: The ancients thought up spectres out of their inner state of soul; but we are not really doing anything different, especially if we are real natural scientists. For the ideas of nature we imagine we have in our heads are just as unreal in relation to nature as the old spectres which natural scientists believed to be unreal.
This insight has its justification. And you find the justification by asking: How does the human being gain insight into nature? Initially we are at most observing nature, having no insight. And as we observe nature what we see has a very different kind of life to it than the life of the image we are able to have in our scientific ideas. If we meet the world of nature with eyes and ears, as whole human beings, which also includes the thinking mind, and do not only think in natural laws or do experiments in laboratories; if we observe nature as it presents, and think through the observations we make, then we live with nature. And when we begin to investigate nature, we cannot take the life from nature with us. Being unable to take the life from nature with us because as living beings at one with nature we are only in immediate living experience in our observation, we really make nature poorer when we try to grasp it with natural science, sucking it in, as it were. And when we want to gain real natural scientific insight, we make nature into a spectre in doing so. This is simply a fact and can be observed just as anything else is observed.
It is important, however, to have the courage to admit that this is the case and that in gaining insight into nature we really come to a kind of view that takes the image gained of nature as a spectre. We come to put this truth to our souls, saying that insight into nature is therefore something that takes us into something ghostly. In the hither and thither of gaining scientific insight into nature the human being behaves in such a way that he moves away from nature, from the observation of nature, and nurtures a ghost of nature.
There has been someone in more recent human history who has said what I have just been saying in a less open and therefore also less paradoxical way, but who had a profound feeling for this. This was Goethe. He already knew how to approach nature in this way, a way that was in harmony with itself. He was misunderstood as a result and considered an amateur in the field of science. Even today, it takes a lot of effort — I am allowed to say this because I have been trying for decades to get people of our time to develop an understanding of Goethe in this direction — to understand Goethe’s way of looking at nature.
What way is this? This way, which will be developed more and more and which may indeed still have been amateurish or imperfect in Goethe’s case, needs to be developed further in a truly scientific way. It will then lead to genuine insight into nature in all spheres. What is it? It is that we can approach the gaining of insight, in so far it moves away from nature itself and is more reflective — I spoke of this last week, but from a different point of view — in such a way that we use this reflection not only to give nature opportunity to present the human mind with its ghostly nature. Goethe did not seek to establish natural laws. These are always abstractions, something dead compared to living nature. Goethe sought to find pure phenomena, or archetypal phenomena, as he called them. He wanted to use human thinking not as something that might provide explanations for nature, discovering laws such as the conservation of energy or of matter, which are entirely thought up. No, Goethe sought to use thought to bring phenomena together in such a way that nothing of the human being himself would speak any more through these natural phenomena but the phenomena would speak purely out of themselves.
If we now progress from the instinctive quality of Goethe’s thought to gaming insight in full conscious awareness, in a reflective way, where does this take us? We will then answer the question in a way which is only possible with perception that goes beyond the senses. We will ask: What is it, really, which we observe in the natural world when we use our senses? It is a spectre of the kind I mentioned, a making ghostly. It is, of course, already there in the natural world, for we suck it out of it. But what else is there in the world of nature, apart from this, when we are in lively interchange with it, using our eyes and ears, giving ourselves up directly to the impressions gained through the senses?
Someone who trains his power to form ideas on the one hand and his powers of will on the other to develop supersensible perceptiveness will reach a point where he says to himself: ‘The supersensible is actually therein anything the senses perceive in the natural world around us.’ It is merely that we leave the supersensible aside, and indeed have to leave it aside when we seek insight into the natural world. Why? Because we human beings, being organized in our physical bodies the way we are whilst here on earth between birth and death, have transformed our own spiritual and eternal aspect into a body that is perceptible to the senses. We are not human by virtue of dwelling in a house of the supersensible that lives in us but by virtue of having entered, through birth or conception, from a supersensible world into the sensual sphere. The supersensible element which before this lived in a purely spiritual sphere has changed into a sensual body that lives to the full as something sensual and on death returns to the supersensible, as I have shown in the previous lecture.
Being human and therefore organized for the senses, observation of nature has to move away from the supersensible in us when it becomes scientific insight into nature. A truly supersensible way of thinking will thus tell us the following here. We come to realize that when we have nature before us in all the rich variety of light and colours, in many shades, and all the other phenomena perceived through the senses, something supersensible is revealed that is not separated from what we perceive through the senses; it is a supersensible element within the sensual. Yet when we look at it as human beings and seek to explain, we can only take from nature what we human beings — being sensual creatures that belong to sensuality between birth and death and not to the supersensible that comes to revelation in the sensual — are able to digest. Being organized in that way, we make our science of nature into a mere image of the sensual because of our own sensual nature. This image of the sensual must be a spectre, for the world of nature that surrounds us also has the supersensible within it.
Someone who truly develops the ability to observe the supersensible — you will also find the way described in my Occult Science or Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (How to Know Higher Worlds') — will say to himself: Supersensible aspects exist for everything in the universe outside. And if we go beyond the spectre which we have to create for ourselves in the image we have of nature, we come not to dead atoms, nor to energy or matter, but to a supersensible, spiritual aspect. This can and must make it possible for us to find a way of gaining supersensible insight.
Someone who gains insight into the way human beings relate to nature around them will not look for dead atoms, nor molecules, nor for something that is super-sensibly sensual, but for the truly supersensible. Supersensible investigation does not provide material bases for the colours and sounds that surround us. Instead you find spiritual, supersensible entities that are present everywhere in the natural world. If the study of nature is taken in the right sense, which is when it purely seeks to consider phenomena inwardly, in the Goethean way, you do not have something dead with regard to the truths that lie beyond the phenomena, but something that is alive and spiritual. It is particularly if you investigate the natural world honestly and consistently, if rational thinking and experimentation skills do not lead you to think that you can discern something relating to nature, but if you know that you can do no other but let nature become phenomenon, letting it express itself, then you will know that with these phenomena, which Goethe called ‘archetypal phenomena’, you have the supersensible immediately before you. It will then not be necessary to use laws of energy and matter to explain things. Instead you will find it becomes necessary to explain things out of the spiritual aspect. Essentially this leads to a view that is genuinely objective and unbiased, I would say a natural scientific study of the process of gaining insight into nature itself.
How does the science of the spirit, which seeks supersensible insight of its own accord, relate to this? If you follow the way to supersensible perception which I characterized for you last week, you will say: When a person transforms his ability to form ideas and powers of will and truly becomes able to perceive the supersensible in the way we see colours with our eyes and hear sounds with our ears; when a person sees this supersensible element the way he normally sees the sensual sphere in life, this transition to supersensible vision is truly like an awakening in the inner experience of the soul. And the spiritual investigator does indeed go through this living experience. We may say that just as in ordinary life someone wakes from the life of sleep and dreams and realizes that during his sleep and in the life of dreams he lived merely in images, and then knows how to connect his will with outward reality, the person with spiritual perception who advances to supersensible investigation will awaken from the world in which we are in our ordinary waking state. He will have another world before him that relates to the everyday world of the senses the way this everyday world of the senses relates to the world of dream images. It is an awakening. This can come to life in the soul.
The phenomena we have all around us in the world then become images relating to the higher, supersensible world, just as someone thinking in a healthy way will take dream images to be images of what we have in the world of the senses. Let me give an example to indicate how the everyday world perceived through the senses changes into a world of images for someone with spiritual perception. These things just have to be rightly understood, not in some kind of mystic dream, nor in any kind of nebulous way. In ordinary natural science the way of looking at the human being is to attach equal value to the head, the trunk, the extremities — with the part that continues in an inward direction, I mean now, so that from the morphological point of view everything sexual also belongs to the extremities. From the usual point of view, these three parts of human nature are something absolute, I would say, something of equal value. From the spiritual point of view, the human being who is before us as a creature perceived through the senses becomes the image of his higher, supersensible nature, just as everyday experiences turn into images when we dream of them. And when we thus consider the human being in the light of his eternal supersensible nature, our understanding of the human being will also change.
Bringing image nature into our search for insight completely changes human perceptiveness. Head and — to take just these two parts of human nature — extremities nature are then no longer equal in value, for in the configuration of the head, if studied exactly, you see something which in it forms resembles the life in the spirit that preceded the individual’s entrance into the world of the senses. And in the nature of the extremities you see what is there already as potential — embryonic as yet, but it will develop — for what the individual will be in the future, above all when he goes through the gate of death to enter into the supersensible world. It may still sound strange today, but this is what will develop from Goethe’s theory of metamorphosis if it is taken up in a truly spiritual-scientific way.
Goethe considered the changing form of an individual plant, the changing form of an individual animal or human being to be like images of a basic configuration. In a comprehensive spiritual theory of metamorphosis, the head will be seen as a metamorphosis of the person’s extremities, but in such a way that the one refers to the past, the other to the future. The human being’s external configuration will then be the image of what he is in spirit. And everything then becomes image of the supersensible, just as a dream becomes image when we enter into sleep. The human being’s reality in the supersensible sphere becomes image of this supersensible whilst he is awake in the sensual sphere, just as the sensual becomes image when he falls asleep. This is an immediate finding made in the supersensible, something I may call an empirical finding.
Let us now compare what this supersensible perception gains out of itself concerning the nature of the world and indeed the human being when it seeks to penetrate the nature of the human being. The human being and the whole of nature becomes image and this needs to be related to a supersensible reality. This does not entirely agree with anything a thinking modern natural scientist finds in final conclusion. He finds that his natural phenomenon turns into a spectre, an image. Supersensible insight shows that everything we perceive in the sphere of the senses must turn into image and needs to be related to something that is supersensible. In short, nothing brings us as much to a harmonious concept of the world as the discoveries made not as a modern natural scientist adhering to dogma but as a thinking natural scientist, someone who is able to observe his natural science itself in a natural scientific way. His findings will agree with anything the spiritual scientist has to say about the natural world in so far as it is open to observation. This is something that must come for humanity.
People need to be in a position where they can truly see how the way to the supersensible and the way to the sensual which is penetrated with thought come together. This alone will give a total image of the world that makes us not merely possessors of a ghostly reflection of nature but lets us realize, lets us admit that using the ordinary way of explaining nature we had to create such a ghostly reflection, yet at the same time shows us how we can go beyond this image of nature and enter into the supersensible realm of the spirit. This is the way in which natural-scientific thinking will also have to go if it is to go beyond the sphere into which it has to take itself of necessity, especially when meeting its own ideal. Contradictions arise when we believe we have grasped nature in the study of it but have really only taken hold of something that will not allow us to look down on the old ‘spectres’, for it is but spectre itself, and the spiritual reality must be sought behind it.
Insight in the spirit, of the kind which is meant here, thus is not in opposition to natural science. Quite the contrary, it provides natural science with the element that it must find to understand itself; it provides something which unconsciously is the goal of every true natural scientist’s search; it provides the element which alone can give satisfaction, for natural scientific investigation must by its very nature inevitably lead to dissatisfaction, especially if done in the accepted way.
If people will gradually perceive the true nature of supersensible insight they will find that natural science of the more recent kind can only survive if they complement it with the science of the spirit. People working in the field must themselves desire to have supersensible insight. This alone will bring true insight into nature, that is, access to the supersensible realm.
I only wanted to mention this briefly. One could give many lectures and show that the very idea of natural science demands a science of the spirit if it is not to come to nothing, with misunderstanding arising about the findings made in natural science. I just wanted to show that natural scientists must themselves look for this science of the spirit. Great triumphs have been celebrated in natural science, and tremendous advances have been made on the human road to knowledge. But if natural science continues along the way it is going now, it will go beyond itself and take us to the spirit. Today the situation is that only people who are able to think scientifically themselves should take a critical attitude to natural science, not taking a negative stance from either ignorance or antipathy, but a positive one. If I may make a personal remark, which I am only doing because it is perhaps connected with the factual situation, it is this. Many people have accused me of publishing some works in which intense efforts were made to justify 19th-century natural science, so that they are wholly based on natural science — as far as this is possible when using the natural scientific way of thinking. However, I would not be entitled to say a single word to you today or to other audiences where I take the direction I have taken today if I could not also say that I knew how to be very positive, wholly in agreement in so far as agreement is justifiable, with natural science. I think you have to know natural science and appreciate its achievements before you are allowed to speak about it. All the talk about natural science by ‘mystics’ or theosophists who know nothing about it is wholly inappropriate.
This, I think, will suffice to refer briefly to the first misapprehension suffered by people who know nothing about anthroposophically orientated spiritual science but who talk about it.
The second misapprehension is that people consider anything that goes in the direction of supersensible insight to be impractical and of no use in everyday life. A negative view is taken of this especially in the present time because present-day people are truly, in the fullest sense of the word, compelled to throw themselves into practical life. Well, let us consider this from just one aspect, though it is an important one, and that is the view taken of human social life. Scientific and other views of this have in fact become slogans and major themes in more recent times. Essentially the things that have happened in this field are also wholly in accord with the natural-scientific way of thinking. In my view it is not helpful for the people who want to be sociologists, being such in the right sense of the word for our time and wanting to establish a science of sociology, to try more and more to adopt ideas and concepts from natural science, applying them to human social life. I would actually consider this to be a great deal less helpful because theories really have very little significance when it comes to practical life in the real sense, something which is particularly evident from the supersensible point of view.
Think of everything Lasalle was thinking of when he developed the approach which he then presented in his famous lecture on science and the workers. 108 Lasalle, Ferdinand (1825–1864). Die Wissenschaft und die Arbeiter. Eine Verteidigungsrede vor dem Berliner Kriminalgericht gegen die Anklage, die besitzlosen Klassen zum Hass und zur Verachtung gegen die Besitzenden öffentlich aufgereizt zu haben. (Speech in defence made at the Berlin Criminal Law Court to counter the accusation of having publicly incited the unpropertied classes against property-owning people). Zurich 1863. His ideal was that human social life would need to be taken out of the instinctive sphere into a scientific approach, exactly through modern socialism. He believed that the proletariat needed to learn to think in scientific terms and that this would bring about a new age. We then saw how in Marxism, with its materialistic view of history, and with a thinking that was deliberately scientific, people tried to establish an approach on the basis of a theory that was to be taken up into human minds and would lead to social structures for the world. Well, people who today, when the last four years have swept across the world, are still unable to see that human minds will be little influenced by anything based on such theories, will no doubt come to see it in the decades which lie ahead. Theories really count for little when it comes to what we should really be considering here, and that is social community life, structuring it out of the human impulses in the most comprehensive sense possible. A great deal lies in these few words ‘structuring social relationships out of the human impulses.’
Again one might say a lot about the many attempts made to structure this social life in a way that would be worthy of humanity as it is now. I do, however, consider this less important. I would consider it much more important to consider that life has indeed taken on a structure, though this has led to the terrible world disaster we have seen evolve over the last four years. At least some of the causes that led to this terrible world disaster must be sought in the very real contradiction and opposition among the impulses into which human social life has driven itself in every part of the world.
People have rightly said that in earlier times — the very times when natural scientific thinking did not yet have the modern form I have been characterizing for you — life was corporate. They had trade and craft guilds, and a wide variety of ways that brought people together.
Then came the age of modern individualism with its ideal of human freedom. People felt they owed it to this ideal of freedom, to this impulse of individualism, to dissolve the old corporations. If you look at history you’ll find that they were gradually dissolved. You could see how economic life progressed, and how in recent times corporations have arisen again in life. I can’t and won’t go into detail, for otherwise one would have to show how step by step on the one hand corporate associations or unions such as consumer associations arose, and how people tried to cope with life partly by the old style of community life persisting or coming alive again. The old corporations have not returned, but new ones have arisen and are part of our social structure, including the trusts that have formed. I would attach much more value to this practical configuration of social life, as it has arisen, rather than to theories that people have developed on the subject.
However, the way it all came to be configured, even if we have to take account of a wide variety of interests coming into it, and other impulses in modern life, we nevertheless have to say that the modern corporation has evolved in many different spheres; something belonging to earlier times persists because it is still in accord with human instincts and will impulses. And the inmost impulse in the way people have configured the world — ‘configured’ is the operative word here, for it is not what people thought about it but how they have configured the world, creating communities, relating person to person, though unconsciously so — has again been the natural scientific thinking of more recent times, but in a quite specific way.
Looking back with understanding on what brought people together in the past, when they lived in trade and craft guilds — I do not, of course, defend them, knowing that it was right to get rid of them — and how they lived in those communities, we see a considerable difference from the element which brings them together today. A most outstanding characteristic — everyone who knows about these things has to admit this — of the old communities was that people understood one another both within such communities and from community to community. Of course, everything always only goes to a certain point in the world; but the people understood one another. Masters and journeymen understood one another, for the master knew what lived in the journeyman’s soul. They had a positive attitude to each other. Why? Because the instincts and impulses of will from which those communities arose still had a spiritual and soul element in them, a spiritual and soul element that was connected with the bodily element.
The element which brought it about in earlier times that people were able to look not only at the natural world with the ideas which they then had but also at the soul, with ideas that lived instinctively, unconsciously in human beings and made the natural world and the inner life into one, also lived in the instincts and brought it about that people were close through the blood — son connected with father, daughter with mother, or as a member of a nation or a guild — if there was a blood connection or some other interest, this meant that people demanded community out of their instincts, yet those instincts had inborn impulses of spirit and soul in them.
Then came the thinking that goes with natural scientific culture. Our more recent times have not been configured in their actual structure where human beings are concerned by anything but exactly the thinking that goes with natural science. It is because people came to think about nature in a way where they presented the phenomena in such a way, even if they did not admit to this, that with their ghostly content they no longer had anything to do with the human being. Because of this, the human being stands on his own. Earlier peoples were connected with the natural world. Lightning would flash out there, and thunder roll, with rain coming from the clouds. People of old would see a force of nature reflected in this. They would be aware of one drive or another within themselves and instinctively see such drives reflecting also the same as such a force of nature. They would act out of nature, as it were, for their perception of nature was such that they had not yet set themselves apart from it.
In the last few centuries, the human being was set apart from nature by the very fact of progressing to the pure natural phenomena. Perception of nature will finds its proper mission in the progress of human evolution when it does not provide absolute knowledge — which is today’s superstition, the natural-scientific superstition — but makes human beings free. We will only understand the mission which natural science has in the progress of human evolution when we see that it is nature’s task to teach us freedom.
In the more recent natural science, the human being has to set the natural phenomena apart, making himself remote from nature, and he therefore stands on his own as an individual. Before coming to the supersensible world by taking the supersensible way to which I have been referring so that he would relate to the world again — super-sensibly now, as he had done in a natural way in earlier times — before the human being entered on the road which he will have to take for the future, he was, as it were, poised wholly on the point of his individual person. Natural science placed him on the needle point of his individual nature. Natural science has determined the state of the human soul. It had taken up his instincts. Because of this modern people relate to one another not like the people of earlier times, through blood or guild, but as individuals, as persons. They have to find their associations and social communities in freedom. Initially they thus found them only from instinct, but their instincts in this direction were contradictory, because the time for instincts had passed. On the one hand people can no longer think in terms of instincts but must think consciously, letting natural science educate them in this. On the other hand people did not yet have the opportunity to make themselves part of the world again through supersensible perception. They thus became part of a new world, which they thought about, and related to the old world in a way in which they no longer thought about it. They transplanted the old instincts into a world which thanks to modern natural-scientific thinking was no longer present in their minds. It was because of this that the schism and contradiction arose in modern social life which we perceive if we see what lives at a deeper level of the soul for the humanity of more recent times.
Socialism, distinctly an ideal of humanity, was established with inadequate means. Why? Insight into nature does not place human beings in the world but sets them apart, with awareness of being an individual person growing all the time. Because of this, they can only form communities out of selfish instincts. Their thinking is different from anything created by instinct in communities. Disharmony results, with the consequence that a disharmonious social order must arise if you only have natural science and apply only natural-scientific concepts to the structuring of social life. A contradiction must arise, a living inner objection, and this will continue until humanity finally decides to say: In modern life in particular people inevitably create disharmony in establishing social order unless they bring supersensible insight into social community life, supersensible sentience and purpose. For as long as we do not relate person to person in such a way that we see in the other individual the image, the phenomenon, of the immortal human being, for as long as we do not see in every individual with whom we live in a social context an individual who does reflect a supersensible reality, for as long as we are not willing to add to the knowledge natural science can provide for sociology and social impulses, the insights gained from spiritual insight, modern social thinking, and above all modern social structures, with concepts applied in practice, will result in a life that must dissolve itself and lead to strife and disharmony.
Anyone who understands this inner connection will know how much the situation I have just outlined has influenced events in the last four years. I would not say that it was the only cause, but it did play quite a considerable, and indeed a very major role. Anyone who wants and seeks socialism, honestly so, must guide humanity to concepts that are not merely natural-scientific, for the element that lives and has its being in life from person to person is different from anything that can be found with the natural-scientific approach.
This is apparent in that there is a specific ideal in natural science, an ideal that is indeed justifiable. It is to do more and more experiments, with less and less description and observation. What is an experiment? Initially it is something made up by the rational mind, which actually takes us away from nature and — as I have shown in last week’s lecture — into the nothingness of person. Anything we show experimentally essentially only appears to have to do with the life of nature. In reality it has to do with the element in nature that is dying. This is evident if we try and apply anything gained in the experimental way of thinking to the configuration of social life. Anyone who wants to bring purely natural-scientific concepts, utterly honest, straight and indeed ideal natural-scientific concepts, into social life, brings something into life that does not lead to ascent, to life, but to social death. If humanity is not prepared to bring supersensible elements as well as natural-scientific knowledge to social life it will be found that with all social purpose, with all socialism, the structures created would bring disorder and decline.
A socialism that directs people away from the supersensible will create social structures of destruction, social structures that direct us elsewhere. At most people will use old things and bring out-of-date ideas to realization. For what has happened until now, not through social theories but through practical socialism? Has socialism led to a radical configuring of the world? Then people would not have accepted the old forms, which is what they have in fact been doing until now. Socialism in those old forms is rather like someone who disapproves of the crinoline, yet does not try and get beyond it but puts padding into it instead. And so we see people keeping the old forms, padding them out, in the social thinking of more recent times. For what do most of the leaders of our more recent socialism want? To gain power where others gained power, taking over power rather than giving it a new form.
I would say that this, too, is experimental proof, only in another aspect, that we can only speak of socialism if we also have the will to take humanity to the realm of the supersensible, to the impulses that we must give to modern humanity if they are to get out of the tendency to create the disasters to which purely natural-scientific impulses have taken them. In social life in particular, those impulses must be supersensible ones.
Spiritual science truly is not impractical in this field. For the time being one can only express regret that there are many people who deem themselves really practical, terribly practical, feel really pleased about their own life practice, and look down on the impractical people who want to introduce something to the world out of ideas, out of the spirit. Well, we know this element of middle-class thinking which today considers itself to be great in practical life and brutally rejects anything that might come from the spirit. This life practice will reduce itself to absurdity, to impossibility. For to be truly practical, we have to go for the whole of reality, not half or a quarter of it. If you have a horseshoe magnet and someone comes and says: ‘You can use it to attract other iron; it’s a magnet’ and you then say: ‘Oh no, the shape shows me it’s a horseshoe for shoeing a horse’, you are like someone who wants to organize social life only according to concepts that leave aside anything not perceptible to the senses. Someone who knows that for a true life practice you need the whole of reality and that includes the supersensible, is like someone who does not misuse a horseshoe magnet to shoe a horse but uses it as a magnet. This, then, is the second misapprehension of which I wanted to speak today, again just referring to it briefly.
The third concerns something that is entirely part of the inner life, having to do with the element which in many respects must be most sacred to people — religious life.
Very many people in that field speak ill of anthroposophically orientated spiritual science, among them above all official representatives, and also non-official representatives, of one positive religious confession or another, people who, of course, do not indulge in the authority principle, as people put it politely today. They speak ill of this spiritual science as something that would take people into irreligiosity, giving them apparent insight into the spirit rather than the element that will directly show the way by which they can come into the supersensible, religious sphere on the basis of their own essential nature. It would be tempting, but time is short and there are also other things to be considered, so I won’t talk about any particular religious confession but about inner religious feeling as such.
If we consider the true nature of gaining insight in the spirit as it is meant here, we will, I believe, very soon find that just as it is not impractical nor antisocial nor unscientific, so, too, it is not irreligious and not in the least liable to deflect anyone from profoundly religious feeling. Considering what has been said so far, we have to ask what the essence is of the newer form of supersensible insight which we seek to find through anthroposophy.
The essence is that the way that leads to supersensible investigation must ultimately reach an impersonal sphere. Just consider how radical I had to be last week in saying that the things human beings see by way of spirit lie before birth or after death, and that the essence of life between birth and death is that the human being has assumed material form. We may say that spiritual science, which through supersensible insight takes us to the truly immortal aspect, the indisputably immortal aspect of the human soul, can actually be in agreement with materialism in this area. In spiritual science we know that the material human being is a metamorphosis, a transformation of the spiritual, and that the spiritual gains from going down into the material abyss where it can develop freedom by the very fact of gaining insight into nature.
It is not a precondition that in doing their investigations human beings must move from the personal, from immediate experience here in the body, to the impersonal. Supersensible insight presupposes an inner state of mind that progressively enters into the impersonal in spirit, just as in earlier times human beings who did not yet have insight into nature were physically — physically in general terms — in the supersensible sphere.
We must make spiritual investigations in an impersonal way if we want the light of the spirit to shine into matter and substance. However, the more we make this supersensible way of investigation our own and the further we go with this method of investigation which demands an impersonal approach, the more do we feel something flowing out as if from the other pole of the human being, the will pole, and this is an immediate religious response. This immediate inner response also seeks to go towards the supersensible, but in such a way that our individual nature is not lost and that everything directly connected with our individual nature between birth and death can unite with the supersensible element.
If we know the right way of going into the supersensible through science, then an inner power, which makes itself known above all as a need to venerate the spiritual, points the way for us to the religious element. The true evolution on the way into the spiritual world through supersensible perception is that we feel driven more and more to deepen our religious life and actually come to understand what the religious life means to us. The science of the spirit inevitably takes us from the personal to the impersonal so that the light of the spirit may once again shine into the sensual world.
Religious life will thus inevitably be deepened if we approach the spirit in this way, for it is a deep-down part of our human nature that we not merely behold the spiritual as it shines out, full of wisdom, but venerate it. This veneration must come from our individual, personal nature, however. Anything seen in the spirit cannot enter into this region of human experience as it is but has to go through renewal, metamorphosis; it needs to change, to be transformed into something personal. When the human being is on the one side receiving the light of the spirit, he must go and venerate this spiritual principle and search for the place where he can find religious life, religious deepening.
On the other side, the side of representatives of religious life, it will also be necessary to see things in the right light. In early times it was said by people who professed themselves religious, and it is still being said to this day, that the old pagan approach had consisted in wanting to find the way to the divine through mere wisdom. Again and again we may, however, repeat, with full justification that wisdom does not reveal the divine in the world — not the divine, but certainly the supersensible element in which human beings have their immortality. The divine cannot, however, be recognized in its divine nature, for it needs to meet with an inner response of veneration. The spiritual must first find its way to the personal, a way to where the human being is an individual person. There he either comes to serve Jehovah by taking the route of studying nature — so that he perceives the spirit which from generation to generation is active as a supersensible principle in the blood — or he looks to the spirit which relates to his soul as the redeemer, and that is Christ Jesus ... [record of the lecture incomplete at this point].
Human beings must find the way to the sensual world, where they are in their individual nature. On the other hand they need the kind of understanding that not only says that wisdom will not reveal the divine because this needs veneration, but that the supersensible cannot be perceived out of wisdom alone, nor from religion alone. Religion must be complemented with vision of the supersensible, otherwise it will only appear to be adequate in a natural-scientific age, at the same time persisting with old views and turning against new ones. Religion, taken in the right way, is not threatened by the emergence of new truths, including those that are supersensible.
Many other misapprehensions exist. If religious people believe that supersensible perception could in some way be harmful, going against their own, justifiable endeavours, anyone who believes this is not taking account of the progressive evolution of humanity. Being part of modern evolution, where on the one hand we do not have any opportunity for finding the right kind of social life unless the way to the supersensible is taken, have we not also seen how this very natural-scientific thinking has made people abandon religion, so that taking up the natural-scientific approach made the individual go towards irreligiosity? [Part of lecture not taken down.] Present-day spiritual science addresses human nature more powerfully so that religious veneration may develop, unless people want to turn away from this, like some who are superficial in their natural science. Supersensible life must address the soul more strongly today, for the soul has gained greater conscious awareness and individuality. The power of religious life needs to be stronger if it wants to develop in its old form.
Another misapprehension in this particular field is that people think the science of the spirit, as it is meant here, would serve to create a sect or establish a religion. In the science of the spirit, one sees human evolution far too clearly for this. One knows that effective principles come into play consecutively in human evolution just as they do in the life of the individual. People cannot have the same inner attitudes when they are 40 as they had when they were 20. In the same way, humanity cannot have the same inner attitude in the 20th century as in earlier centuries and millennia.
In spiritual science one always considers reality and does not judge it by thought-up concepts. Because of this, one does not talk the way some people do today who want to establish a religion of the future in a scientific way; instead one knows that the time for creating religions has passed; it came to an end exactly when Christianity arose. The inner attitude in which humanity could be taken hold of by a religious inner experience which then had to be propagated was closely bound up with the state of the world as it was in earlier times. Today we, as humanity, have entered into an inner attitude that truly had to be developed by means of natural science, and in which one also seeks to penetrate into the supersensible sphere, using the approach of natural science, and in gaining this supersensible knowledge seeks to gain ever greater clarity concerning the principle which in religious ages came to revelation in a religious way, but can now no longer found religions itself. A true science of the spirit will help us to gain increasing insight into what was given to humanity by way of religion; it will also free this religious element from the bonds created by people who in their desire for power and other things took it in the wrong direction. I can only refer to this briefly, for it would take us too far to go into detail here.
With these brief references I merely wanted to indicate that spiritual science by its very nature can neither make people irreligious, nor can it found any kind of new religion or the like. All these things come up because people are not fully considering what the science of the spirit which is meant here is really intended for, yet people will insist on their views. We may thus also say that the attacks that are currently raining down on this anthroposophically orientated spiritual science, coming also from representatives of religious confessions, are due to misapprehensions and misinterpretations, which sometimes are quite deliberate. People who are serious about the religious life of humanity would have least reason to cast aspersions on the science of the spirit. For this will take humanity back to true religiosity, whereas the age of natural science on its own and merely positive religion that seeks to preserve traditions must inevitably take humanity away from true religion. Positive religion comes from a time when human beings related differently to the world. But people will not let themselves be pushed back, just as a 40-year-old cannot be 20 again.
A religious confession that resists supersensible insight of the recent kind will thus dig its own grave, however great the desire to consolidate by means of external power. Again and again I have to remind you, as I also did here in Zurich last year, that the Roman Catholic priest who gave his inaugural lecture as rector of a university on the subject of Galileo, 109 Laurenz Müllner, Die Bedeutung Galileis für die Philosophie, Inaugurationsrede gehalten am 8. November 1894 an der k. k. Universität Wien, Wien 1894. Reprinted in Anthroposophie, Zeitschrift für freies Geistesleben, vereinigt mit der Monatsschrift Die Drei, 16. Jg., 1. Buch, Okt.-Dez. 1933, S. 29-57; dort auch eine kleine Zusammenstellung ‘Rudolf Steiner über Laurenz Muellner’ (S. 25-28) und eine Photographic Muellners. drawing attention to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church, his own Church, went against Galileo in the past, continuing to do so until 1822, 110See note 38. was a much better representative of theology and religion. This was Professor Muellner, Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher. Beginning his rectorate at Vienna University, he had to stress that true religiosity, and indeed also true Roman Catholicism, should not go against advances in human knowledge, since every further advance in human knowledge only showed the marvels of the divine in the world in an even more magnificent and glorious light. That is a truly religious and also truly Christian way of thinking.
Just as some who have a true feeling for the religious element do not need to feel that external natural-scientific knowledge goes against this, so there is no need for them to feel this about insight into spheres beyond that of the senses, which actually and inevitably must take human beings straight back to religiosity, though this would be an independent religiosity that is anchored in the individual nature of a person. It would be reasonable to say, therefore, that one should take a very good look exactly at the attacks made on anthroposophical spiritual science from this direction; for they really and truly do not come from where people pretend they come from. They arise from the fear and from lack of interest which I have characterized as a general human attitude to the science of the spirit in the first of these lectures. One only has to read aright what is said in this respect. However, it will not be possible to get the people who write these things to change their minds, and we should not be so naive as to think that one can make them change their minds. Refutation would not help at all. What is more, it will be equally impossible to get the people for whom these things are usually written to see how wrong they are. Yet the progress of human evolution will not be held up for people who have an honest feeling for the things that the powers behind developments in more recent times have brought to human souls.
In today’s lecture — the day after tomorrow I will round it off with another, again very positive look at recent history considered in the light of spiritual science, which will take us directly into human life today and to the most burning questions we have today — I believe I have shown that the search for supersensible insight, which is the endeavour in the science of the spirit, is neither inimical to natural science nor impractical in social terms, let alone a danger to religious life. On the contrary, I believe I have shown that for those who are able to see clearly the powers which our present time must bring to the human soul, and especially the powers which the future will bring, will understand that spiritual-scientific knowledge is important for three burning questions of our time and the immediate future.
For centuries, and especially also today and even more so in future, science has been and will be at the heart of human endeavour. The question will arise as to what science can do for the extreme human need to find the supersensible world. The answer can only be given by a science that does not leave spiritual science aside.
Another burning question of today and the immediate future will be: How do we find the impulses that can configure our social life? The answer will have to be: Only insights gained through the science of the spirit go through the metamorphosis when they enter into human life that will enable them to lead to an immediately conscious social life from person to person and hence also to the social configuration of the human race around the globe.
And the third burning question will be: How can the inmost need, the need in the human soul to revere the divine in an age that through science has taken us to individual and personal awareness, be met by means of greater powers than those which people have been able to have in earlier times? Against the answer must be: This needs the supersensible vision which when it comes to the human individual in a living way, metamorphoses into the individual human nature, becoming personal within it. Such powers can only come from the supersensible through the science of the spirit, through supersensible perception that gives the knowledge and vision which modern religiosity needs. This should truly meet the deepest needs of the soul, indeed the very depths of soul for human beings in our present time and in the future.