29 August 1921, Stuttgart
In the course of eight lectures given at the recent Congress at Stuttgart, Rudolf Steiner explained what effect the agnosticism of the last century had upon the whole life of humanity today. As a result of natural science agnosticism taught that humanity was only able to spin round the world a web of ‘causality’. What lies at the back, what is unknown, what cannot be reached by our senses — all this must for ever remain hidden from human wisdom; and most especially does everything psycho-spiritual withdraw itself from the reach of knowledge.
Agnosticism has seized hold of science, education and social life, and it affects millions of men who very often are quite unaware of the fact. It then lays hold of the realm of ideas, separating this from the world of true reality upon which alone humanity should have its stand; thus creating an inner division which weakens the soul forces of men. Through this division, licence is given to all the lower instincts, as we can recognize to be prominently the case in the world today. The realm of feeling also becomes unsatisfied; unfertilized by ideas it degenerates, hardens and becomes sentimental, or else it is engulfed in the life of elementary instincts. This shows itself particularly in art, which is either sweetly unreal or else is naturalistic. True art creates its own style, and true style can only come from men's supersensible experiences. Agnosticism robs us of the truths which must live in art.
Upon our will power, also, it has had an evil influence, for it has killed moral impulses and has allowed what is instinctive to become master. Thus do we find today that thinking is lax, feeling is dulled, and willing is made void through disbelief; and, as a result, what is animal in man rises to the surface. In the religious life also men feel a void, and seek support in organized streams like that of the Catholic Church, or else in some oriental direction. These, however, can no longer give to men the right content because they have their life in past ages.
In modern industry we can see an immediate effect of scientific thought. Here men do not live within what they practise. Modern systems of labour consist in ruling out the human side of man and making him into a machine.
Void also today as a fruit of disbelief are all social impulses, and all these facts work back on men and have led them to a certain ‘easy-going’ condition of their social life.
If one wishes to compare or contrast the ascending with the declining powers of the day, one observes that the life of expression is not sufficiently active and does not carry on with enthusiasm what is required. People would rather not take up any new piece of work; they prefer asking if its need is already established, rather than trying to prove its worth in life.
In the world of education, teachers try to place things before children in such a way that they need not be altered when the children grow up. But what is presented to children should be so given that it develops with the child during the course of its life.
It is in these facts that we can see how the seeds of agnosticism bear fruit in the life of man.