7 October 1922, Dornach
Yesterday I tried to characterize the spiritual life at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries; to describe it as I experienced it, and as it led to the writing of my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (The Philosophy of Freedom).
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity was to point to moral intuitions as that within man which, in the evolution of the world, should lead to the founding of the moral life of the future. In other words, through my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, I wanted to show that the time has come, if morality is to continue in the evolution of mankind, to make an appeal to what the individual is able to call forth from his inmost nature. I mentioned that the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity was published at a time when it was universally said that at last it had been recognized that moral intuitions were an impossibility and that any discussion about moral intuitions must once and for all be silenced. I therefore considered it essential to establish the reality of moral intuition. Thus there was a distinct cleft between what the age, among many of its most eminent minds considered to be truth, and what I was obliged to maintain as truth out of the principles of human evolution.
But on what is this difference really based? Let us look into the depths of man's life of soul, as we see it today in the West. In earlier times people also spoke of moral intuitions, that is to say, it was said that, as an individual entity, man could call forth from within himself independently of external life the impetus to action. But when the new age dawned, in the first third of the fifteenth century and more powerfully in subsequent centuries, what had been said about moral intuitions was no longer quite true. It was said: Morality cannot be established by the observation of external facts; men were no longer aware of a real light when they looked into their inner being. So they declared that moral intuitions were there, but that actually nothing more was known about them. For centuries statements were such that one might say: The thinking, which had been natural before the fifteenth century, moved onwards automatically and facts formerly justified had ceased to be so.
Traditions, of which I have spoken, persisted through the centuries and contributed towards such statements. Before the fifteenth century, men did not speak in indefinite terms as was current later, and this very indefiniteness was untruthful. When speaking of intuitions, of moral intuitions he spoke of that which rose up in his inner being, of which he had a picture as real as the world of Nature when he opened his eyes in the morning. Outside he saw Nature around him, the plants and the clouds; when he looked into his inner being, there arose the Spiritual, the Moral as it was given to him. The further we go back in evolution the more we find that the rising tip of an inner realm into human experience was a matter of course. These facts, as I have explained them to you, are the outcome of Spiritual Science; they may also be studied historically by considering external symptoms. In the days when speech, from being an inner reality was lapsing into untruthfulness, proof for the existence of God came into evidence.
Had anyone during the first centuries of Christianity spoken about proofs for the existence of God, as Anselm of Canterbury, people would not have known what was meant. In earlier times they would have known still less! For in the second or third century before Christ, to speak of proofs for the existence of God would have been as if someone sitting there in the first row were to stand up and I were to say: “Mr. X stands there,” and someone in the room were to assert “No, that must first be proved!” What man experienced as the divine was a Being of full reality standing before his soul. He was endowed with the faculty of perception for what he called divine; this God appears primitive and incomplete in the eyes of modern man. They could not get beyond the point they were then capable of reaching. But the men of that age had no desire to hear about proofs, for that would have seemed absurd. Man began to “prove” the existence of the divine when he had lost it, when it was no longer perceived by inner, spiritual perception. The introduction of proofs for the existence of God shows, if one looks at the facts impartially, that direct perception of the divine had been lost. But the moral impulses of that time were bound up with what was divine. Moral impulses of that time can no longer be regarded as moral impulses for today. When in the first third of the fifteenth century the faculty of perception of the divine-spiritual in the old sense was exhausted, perception of the moral also faded and all that remained was the traditional dogma of morals which men called “conscience.” But the term was always applied in the vaguest manner.
When, therefore, at the end of the nineteenth century it was said that all talk about moral intuitions must be silenced, it was the final consequence of a historical development. Until then human beings had a feeling, however dim, that such intuitions had once existed. But now they began to put themselves to the test. Intelligence had at least brought them to the point of being able to do this; they discovered that with the methods they were accustomed to use to think scientifically, they were unable to approach moral intuitions.
Let us consider the moral intuitions of olden times. History has become very threadbare in this respect. We have a history of outer events and in the nineteenth century a history of culture was established. But this age has been incapable of producing a history which takes man's inner life of soul into account; there is no knowledge of how the life of soul developed from the earliest times until the first third of the fifteenth century. But if we go back in time and consider what was spoken of as moral intuition, we find that it did not arise as a result of inner effort. For this reason the Old Testament, for instance, is right not to feel what figured then as moral intuition as begotten from within, but as divine commandments, coming to the soul from outside. And the further back we go the more the human being felt what he saw when he beheld the moral, to be a gift to his inner nature from some living divine being outside him. Moral intuitions held good as divine commands — not in a figurative or symbolic sense, but in an absolutely real sense.
There is a good deal of truth in contemporary religious philosophies when they allude to a primal revelation preceding the historical age on earth. External science cannot get much beyond, shall I say, a paleontology of the soul. Just as in the earth we find fossils, indicating an earlier form of life, so in fossilized moral ideas we find forms pointing back to the once living, God-given moral ideas. Thus we can get to the concept of primal revelation and say: This primal revelation faded out. Human beings lost the faculty for being conscious of primal revelation. And this loss reached its culminating point in the first third of the fifteenth century. Human beings perceived nothing when they looked within themselves. They preserved only the tradition of what they had once beheld. Religious communities gradually seized upon this tradition and turned its externalized content, this purely traditional content, into dogmas which people were expected merely to believe, whereas formerly they had living experience of their truth, though as coming from outside man.
This was the very significant situation at the end of the nineteenth century: Certain circles realized that the old intuitions, the God-given intuitions, were no longer there; that if a man wants to prove with his head the ideas of the people of old, moral intuitions simply disappear; science has silenced them. Human beings even when receptive are no longer capable of receiving moral intuitions. To be consistent, one would have had to become a kind of Spengler, and to say: — There are no moral intuitions; man in future will have no alternative but gradually to wither up — perhaps asking one's grandfather: “Have you heard that there were once moral intuitions, moral influences?” And the grandfather would answer: “One would have to search the libraries; at second or third-hand one might still glean some knowledge of moral intuitions but no longer from actual experience.” So there is no alternative but to wither up and become senile, not to have youth any more. — That would have been consistent. But people did not dare, for consistency was not an outstanding quality of the dawning age of the intellect.
Indeed, there were many things that one did not dare! If a judgment were pronounced it was only half given, as in the case of du Bois-Reymond [a leading German physiologist at the turn of the nineteenth century] who delivered a speech about the boundaries to the knowledge of Nature. He said that supernaturalism could not be mentioned in connection with natural science, for supernaturalism was faith and not knowledge. Science stops short at the supernatural — and nothing further was said by him on the subject. If mentioned, people got excited and said that this was no longer science; consistency was not a characteristic of the century then ending.
So, on one hand, there was the alternative of withering. The Spiritual passes over gradually into the life of soul, the life of soul into the physical. As a result, after some decades, souls would only have been able to ferret out antiquated moral impulses. After some years, not only the thirty-year-olds but also the twenty-year-olds would have been going about with bald heads, and the fifteen-year-olds with grey hair! This is a figurative way of speaking, but Spenglerism would have become an impulse carried into practice. That was one alternative.
The other alternative was to become fully conscious of the following: With the loss of the old intuitions we are facing Nothingness. What can be done? In this Nothingness to seek the “All”! Out of this very Nothingness try to find something that is not given, but which we ourselves must strenuously work for. This was no longer possible with passive powers of the past, but only with the strongest powers of cognition of this age: with the cognitional powers of pure thinking. For in acts of pure thinking, this thinking goes straight over into the will. You can observe and think, without exerting your will. You can carry out experiments and think: it does not pass right over into the will. You can do this without much effort. Pure thinking, by which I mean the unfolding of primary, original activity, requires energy. There the lightning-flash of will must strike directly into the thinking itself. But the lightning-flash of will must come from each single individual. Courage was needed to call upon this pure thinking which becomes pure will; it arises as a new faculty — the faculty of drawing out of the human individuality moral impulses which have to be worked for and are no longer given in the form of the old impulses. Intuitions must be called up that are strenuously worked for. Today what man works for in his inner being is called “phantasy.” Thus in this present age which has, apart from this, silenced inner work, moral impulses for the future must be produced out of moral phantasy, moral Imagination; the human being had to be shown the way from merely poetical, artistic phantasy, to a creative moral Imagination.
The old intuitions were always given to groups. There is a mysterious connection between primal revelation and human groups. It was always to groups of human beings in association that the old intuitions were given. The new intuitions must be produced in the sphere of each single, individual human soul; in other words, each single human being must be made the source of his own morality. This must be brought forth through the intuitions out of the Nothingness by which man is confronted.
That was the only possibility left, if as an honest man one was not willing to turn to a kind of Spenglerism — and to work in the Spengler way is far from alive. It was a question of finding a living reality out of the Nothingness which confronted men, and it goes without saying that at first one could only make a beginning. For a creative power in the human being had to be called upon, the creation, as it were, of an inner man within the outer man. In earlier times the outer man received moral impulses from outside. Now the human being has to create an inner man and with this inner man there came, or will come, the new moral intuition. So, out of the times themselves there had to be born a kind of Philosophy of Spiritual Activity — something that must inevitably be in sharp opposition to the times.
Let us complete this survey of the condition of the soul of modern man by considering another aspect. You see, as a preparation for intellectualism in western civilization, the consciousness of man's pre-earthly existence had for a long time been wiped out. Western civilization had lost it in very early times. So that in the West there was not this consciousness: “When I issue from the embryonic state of physical development something unites itself with me, something that descends from the heights of spirit and soul and permeates this physical earth-being.”
Now in this connection the following presents itself quite clearly to our vision. I have already given you a picture to elucidate it. I said that when we look at a corpse we know that it cannot have its form through the forces of nature, but must be the remains of a living human being. It would be foolish to speak about the human form as if it were itself something living. We must go back to what was the living human being. In the same way, looked at impartially, man's intellectual thinking presents itself as dead. People naturally will say: “Prove this for us.” It proves itself in the very beholding and the kind of proofs necessary for the side issues are indeed available. But to demonstrate it I would have to go into a good deal of philosophy and this lies outside the scope of our present task. To anyone looking at it without prejudice, intellectual thinking, out of which our whole modern civilization flows, bears the same relation to living thinking as the corpse to the living human being. Just as the corpse is derived from the living man, so the thinking we have today is derived from the living thinking of an earlier time. But upon sound reflection I must say to myself: “This dead thinking must have originated in a living thinking which was there before birth. The physical organism is the tomb of the living thinking, and the receptacle of dead thinking.”
But the strange fact is that during the first two periods of human life, up to the sixth, seventh or eighth years, to the end of the change of teeth, and then further, up to the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth years — that is to say, to the age of puberty — the human being has a thinking not yet entirely dead; but in process of dying. It was only living thinking in pre-earthly existence. During the first two periods of life it comes to the point of dying, and for modern man, since the first third of the fifteenth century, thinking is quite dead by the time of puberty. It is then the corpse of living thinking. It was not always so in the evolution of mankind. If we go back before the fifteenth century, it becomes evident that thinking still was something living. There existed livingly the kind of thinking which human beings today do not like because they feel as if ants were swarming in their brain. They do not like it when something is really alive within them. They want their head to behave in a quiet and comfortable way.
And the thinking in it, too, should take a peaceful course so that all one needs is to help things along with the laws of logic. But pure thinking — that is just as if an ant-heap were let loose in one's head, and that, people say, is not as it should be. At the beginning of the fifteenth century the human being was still able to endure living thinking. I am not saying this in order to criticize; that would be out-of-place, just as out-of-place as to criticize a cow because she is no longer a calf. It would have been the greatest disaster for humanity if this had not happened. There had to be human beings who could not endure having an ant-heap in their head! For what was dead had to be brought to life again in a different way.
And so it came about after the middle of the fifteenth century that human beings inwardly experienced a dead thinking once puberty was passed. They were filled out with the corpse of thinking. Go really deeply and seriously into this idea and you will understand that it is only since that time that an inorganic natural science could arise, because the human being began to grasp purely inorganic laws. Now for the first time man could grasp what is dead in the way striven for since Galileo and Copernicus. The living had first to die inwardly. When man was still inwardly alive in his thinking, he could not grasp the dead in an external way for the living kind of knowledge imparted itself to what was external. Natural science became increasingly pure science and nothing more, and this continued until, at the end of the nineteenth century, it was well-nigh only mathematics. That was the ideal towards which it strove — it strove to be Phoronomy, a kind of system of pure mechanics.
So, in the modern age, man began more and more to make what is dead into the actual object of knowledge. That was the whole aim. This lasted for some centuries; evolution took this direction. Men of genius like de Lamettrie, for example, anticipated the idea that the human being was really a machine. Yes, the human being who only wants to grasp what is dead avails himself of what is merely a machine within him, of what is dead within him. And this makes the development of natural science easy for modern man. For his thinking is dead by the time of puberty, whereas in earlier days he had God-given intuitions; thinking preserved the forces of growth within itself far beyond puberty. In later times, living thinking was lost; human beings in later life learnt nothing more; they simply repeated mechanically what they had assimilated in earlier youth.
You see, this suited the old, who held the control of culture in their hands: to comprehend a dead world with their dead thinking. On this dead thinking, science can be founded, but with it the young can never be taught and educated. And why? Because up to puberty the young preserve the livingness of thinking, in an unconscious way. And so, in spite of all the thought given today to principles of education, if rigidified objective science which comprehends only what is dead becomes the teacher of the living, the youthful feel it like a thorn in the flesh. This thorn enters their heart and they have to tear out from their heart what is living. Many still overlook what has had to come about out of the depths of human evolution: a definite cleavage between young and old. And this cleavage is due to the fact that the young cannot allow the dead thorn to be thrust into their living heart — the thorn which the head produces out of intellectualism. The young demand the livingness that can only come out of the Spirit as the result of strenuous effort by the individual. We are making a beginning in the sphere of moral intuitions.
A beginning has been made in what I have tried to present in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity in regard to this purely spiritual matter — for such are moral intuitions, striven for by the human individuality. Because one has dared to open one's mouth while others were saying that nothing should be said — the powers which ordained that one should be stopped from speaking of moral intuitions will themselves be silenced. And so I called upon the living, the purely Spiritual Science is dead. Science cannot make what is living flow from the mouth. And without this one cannot build on it. One must appeal to an inner livingness, and so begin to seek in the right way. The divine lies precisely in the appeal to the original, moral, spiritual intuitions. But if one has once grasped the spiritual then one can unfold the forces which enable one to grasp the Spiritual in wider spheres of cosmic existence. And that is the straight path from moral intuitions to other spiritual contents.
In my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, I have tried to show that knowledge of the super-sensible worlds is built up gradually out of Imaginative, Inspired and Intuitive experience. If we look at outer Nature, we reach first Imagination, then Inspiration, and lastly Intuition. In the moral world it is different. If in that world we reach picture-consciousness, Imaginations as such, then with Imaginations of Nature we have at the same time developed the faculty for moral intuitions. Already at the first stage we acquire what, in the other sphere, is not attained until the third stage. In the moral world, intuition follows immediately upon outer perception. In the world of Nature, however, there are two intermediate stages. So that if, in the moral world one speaks of intuitions not in mere phrases but honestly, truthfully, one simply cannot do otherwise than recognize these intuitions as being purely spiritual. But then one must work on to discover other realms of the Spirit. For qualitatively one has grasped in moral Intuition the same as the evolution of the natural world, filled with content by a book such as Occult Science.
But, my dear friends, we must proceed as follows. On the one hand, we must acknowledge that outer science by its very nature can only comprehend what is material; hence perception of the material is not only materialism but also phenomenalism. On the other, we must work to bring back life into what has been made into dead thinking by natural science.
Thus certain Bible words become alive on a higher level. I do not want to intersperse what I say in a sentimental way with words from the Bible but only to elucidate things for our better mutual understanding.
Why is it that today we no longer have any real philosophies? It is because thinking, as I have described it, has died; when based merely upon dead thinking, philosophies are dead from the very outset. They are not alive. And if like Bergson one seeks in philosophy for something living, nothing comes of it because, although spasmodic efforts are made, one cannot lay hold of the living. To grasp the living means first to attain vision. What we need to reach the living is what after our fifteenth year we can add to what has worked within us before our fifteenth year. This is not disturbed by our intellect. What works within us, a spontaneous, living wisdom — we must learn to carry this over into the dead thinking. Dead thinking must be permeated with forces of growth and with reality. For this reason — not out of sentimentality — I want to refer to the words. from the Bible: “Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
For it is always the Kingdom of Heaven that one is seeking. But if one does not become like the child before puberty, one cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Childlikeness, youthfulness, must be brought into dead thinking. Thereby it becomes alive, it comes once more to intuitions; thus we learn to speak out of the primal wisdom of the child. Out of a science of language such as Fritz Mauthner has written, moral intuitions not only become dumb, but actually all talk about the world is silenced. People ought to stop talking about the world because Mauthner proves that all talk about the world consists only of words and words are incapable of expressing reality!
Such thinking has made its appearance only since the first third of the nineteenth century. But supposing our words and concepts not only meant something but had real existence. Then indeed they would not be transparent; then, like clouded lenses before our eyes, they would conceal what is material; because they are realities they would hide the world from us. Something splendid would be made of man had he concepts and words which signify something in themselves! He would have been held fast by them. But concepts and words must be transparent so that we may reach things through them. It is imperative when the desire is almost universal to silence all talk about reality, that we learn to speak a new language.
In this sense we must return to childhood and learn a new language. The language we learn in the first years of childhood gradually becomes dead, because it is permeated by dead intellectual concepts. We must quicken it to new life. We must find something that strikes into what we are thinking, just as when we learnt to speak an impulse arose in us out of the unconscious. We must find a science that is alive. We should consider it a matter of course that the thinking which reached its apex in the last third of the nineteenth century silences our moral intuitions. We must learn to open our mouth by letting our lips be moved by the Spirit. Then we shall become children again, that is to say, we shall carry childhood on into our later years. And that we must do. If a youth movement wants to have truth and not only phraseology, then such a movement is imbued of necessity with the longing for the human mouth to be opened by the Spirit, a longing for the quickening of human speech by the Spirit which wells forth from the individual. As a first step, individual moral intuitions must be brought out of the human individuality; we shall see how as a result, the true Science of the Spirit, which makes all Anthropology into Anthroposophy, is born.