Thursday, September 15, 2011
The Mission of Truth
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 22, 1909:
We were able to close our lecture on the Mission of Anger (illustrated in Prometheus Bound) with the saying of Heraclitus: “Never will you find the boundaries of the soul, by whatever paths you search for them; so all-embracing is the soul's being.” We came to know this depth in the working and interplay of the powers of the soul; and the truth of the saying came home to us especially when we turned our attention to the most deeply inward part of man's being. Man is most spiritual in his Ego, and that was our starting-point.
The Ego complements those other elements of man's being which he has in common with minerals, plants, and animals. He has his physical body in common with minerals, plants, and animals; his etheric body in common with animals and plants; his astral body in common with animals. Through his Ego he first becomes man in the true sense and is able to progress from stage to stage. It is the Ego that works upon the other members of his being; it cleanses and purifies the instincts, inclinations, desires, and passions of the astral body, and will lead the etheric and physical bodies on to ever-higher stages. But if we look at the Ego, we find that this high member of man's being is imprisoned, as it were, between two extremes.
Through his Ego, man is intended to become increasingly a being who has a firm center in himself. His thoughts, feelings, and will-impulses should spring from this center. The more he has a firm and well-endowed center in himself, the more will he have to give to the world; the stronger and richer will be his activities and everything that goes out from him. If he is unable to find this central point in himself, he will be in danger of losing himself through a misconceived activity of his Ego. He would lose himself in the world and go ineffectually through life. Or he may lapse into the other extreme. Just as he may lose himself if he fails to strengthen and enrich his Ego, so, if he thinks of nothing but developing his Ego, he may fall into the other extreme of selfish isolation from all human community. Here, on this other side, we find egoism, with its hardening and secluding influence, which can divert the Ego from its proper path. The Ego is confined within these two extremes.
In considering the human soul, we called three of its members the Sentient Soul, the Intellectual Soul ,and the Consciousness Soul. We also came to recognize — surprisingly, perhaps, for many people — that anger acts as a kind of educator of the Sentient Soul. A one-sided view of the lecture on the mission of anger could give scope for many objections. But if we go into the underlying significance of this view of anger, we shall find in it an answer to many important riddles of life.
In what sense is anger an educator of the soul — especially the Sentient Soul — and a forerunner of love? Is it not true that anger tends to make a man lose control of himself and engage in wild, immoral, and loveless behavior? If we are thinking only of wild, unjustified outbursts of anger, we shall get a false idea of what the mission of anger is. It is not through unjustified outbreaks of anger that anger educates the soul, but through its inward action on the soul.
Let us again imagine two teachers faced with children who have done something wrong. One teacher will burst into anger and hastily impose a penalty. The other teacher, though unable to break out into anger, is also incapable of acting rightly, with perfect tranquility, out of his Ego, in the sense described yesterday. How will the behavior of two such teachers differ? An outburst of anger by one of them involves more than the penalty imposed on the child. Anger agitates the soul and works upon it in such a way as to destroy selfishness. Anger acts like a poison on selfishness, and we find that in time it gradually transforms the powers of the soul and makes it capable of love. On the other hand, if a teacher has not yet attained inner tranquility and yet inflicts a coldly calculated penalty, he will — since anger will not work in him as a counteracting poison — become increasingly a cold egoist.
Anger works inwardly and can be regarded as a regulator for unjustified outbursts of selfishness. Anger must be there or it could not be fought against. In overcoming anger the soul continually improves itself. If a man insists on getting something done that he considers right and loses his temper over it, his anger will dampen the egoistic forces in his soul; it reduces their effective power. Just because anger is overcome and a man frees himself from it and rises above it, his selflessness will be enhanced and the selflessness of his Ego continually strengthened. The scene of this interplay between anger and the Ego is the Sentient Soul. A different interplay between the soul and other experiences takes its course in the Intellectual Soul.
Although the soul has attributes which it must overcome in order to rise above them, it must also develop inwardly certain forces which it should love and cherish, however spontaneously they may arise. They are forces to which the soul may initially yield, so that, when it finally asserts itself, it is not weakened, but strengthened, by the experience. If a man were incapable of anger when called upon to assert himself in action, he would be the weaker for it.
It is just when a man lovingly immerses himself in his own soul that his soul is strengthened and an ascent to higher stages of the Ego comes within reach. The outstanding element that the soul may love within itself, leading not to egoism but to selflessness, is truth. Truth educates the Intellectual Soul. While anger is an attribute of the soul that must be overcome if a man is to rise to higher stages, truth should be loved and valued from the start. An inward cultivation of truth is essential for the progress of the soul.
How is it that devotion to truth leads man upwards from stage to stage? The opposites of truth are falsehood and error. We shall see how man progresses in so far as he overcomes falsehood and error and pursues truth as his great ideal.
A higher truth must be the aim of man's endeavor, while he treats anger as an enemy to be increasingly abolished. He must love truth and feel himself most intimately united with it. Nevertheless, eminent poets and thinkers have rightly claimed that full possession of truth is beyond human reach. Lessing, for example, says that pure truth is not for men, but only a perpetual striving towards it. He speaks of truth as a distant goddess whom men may approach but never reach. When the nature of truth stirs the soul to strive for it, the soul can be impelled to rise from stage to stage. Since there is this everlasting search for truth, and since truth is so manifold in meaning, all we can reasonably say is that man must set out to grasp truth and to kindle in himself a genuine sense of truth. Hence we cannot speak of a single, all-embracing truth.
In this lecture we will consider the idea of truth in its right sense, and it will become clear that by cultivating a sense of truth in his inner life man will be imbued with a progressive power that leads him to selflessness.
Man strives towards truth; but when people try to form views concerning one thing or another, we find that in the most varied realms of life conflicting opinions are advanced. When we see what different people take for truth, we might think that the striving for truth leads inevitably to the most contradictory views and standpoints. However, if we look impartially at the facts, we shall find guidelines which show how it is that men who are all seeking truth arrive at such a diversity of opinions.
Let us take an example. The American multimillionaire Harriman, who died recently, was a rarity among millionaires in concerning himself with thoughts of general human interest. His aphorisms, found after his death, include a remarkable statement. He wrote: No man in this world is indispensable. When one goes, another is there to take his place. When I lay down my work, another will come and take it up. The railways will continue running, dividends will be paid; and so, strictly speaking, it is with all men.
This millionaire, accordingly, rose to the point of declaring as a generally valid truth — no man is indispensable!
Let us compare this statement with a remark by a man who worked for many years in Berlin and gained great distinction through his lecture courses on the lives of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Goethe — I mean the art-historian Herman Grimm. When Treitschke died, Herman Grimm wrote of him roughly as follows: Now Treitschke is gone, and people only now realize what he accomplished. No-one can take his place and continue his work in the same way. A feeling prevails that in the circle where he taught, everything is changed. Note that Herman Grimm did not add the words: so it is with all men.
Here we have two men, the American millionaire and Herman Grimm, who arrive at exactly opposite truths. How does this come about? If we carefully compare the two statements, we shall find a clue. Bear in mind that Harriman says pointedly: When I lay down my work, someone else will continue it. He does not get away from himself. The other thinker, Herman Grimm, leaves himself entirely out of account. He does not speak about himself, or ask what sort of opinions or truths others might gain from him. He merges himself in his subject. Anyone with a feeling for the matter will have no doubt as to which of the two spoke truth. We need only ask — who carried on Goethe's work when he laid it down? We can feel that Harriman's reflections suffer from the fact that he fails to get away from himself. Up to a point we may conclude that it is prejudicial to truth if someone in search of truth cannot get away from himself. Truth is best served when the seeker leaves himself out of the reckoning. Would it be true to say, then, that truth is already something that gives us a view (Ansicht) of things?
A view, in the sense of an opinion, is a thought which reflects the outer world. When we form a thought or reach a decision about something, does it follow that we have a true picture of it?
Suppose you take a photograph of a remarkable tree. Does the photograph give a true picture of the tree? It shows the tree from one side only, not the whole reality of the tree. No-one could form a true image of the tree from this one photograph. How could anyone who has not seen the tree be brought nearer to the truth of it? If the tree were photographed from four sides, he could collate the photographs and arrive finally at a true picture of the tree, not dependent on a particular standpoint.
Now let us apply this example to human beings. A man who leaves himself out of account when forming a view of something is doing much the same as the photographer who goes all around the tree. He eliminates himself by conscious action. When we form an opinion or take a certain view, we must realize that all such opinions depend on our personal standpoint, our habits of mind and our individuality. If we then try to eliminate these influences from our search for truth, we shall be acting as the photographer did in our example. The first condition for acquiring a genuine sense of truth is that we should get away from ourselves and see clearly how much depends on our personal point of view. If the American multimillionaire had got away from himself he would have known that there was a difference between him and other men.
An example from everyday life has shown us, that if a man fails to realize how much his personal standpoint or point of departure influences his views, he will arrive at narrow opinions, not at the truth. This is apparent also on a wider scale. Anyone who looks at the true spiritual evolution of mankind, and compares all the various “truths” that have arisen in the course of time, will find — if he looks deeply enough — that when people pronounce a “truth” they ought first of all to get away from their individual outlooks. It will then become clear that the most varied opinions concerning truth are advanced because men have not recognized to what extent their views are restricted by their personal standpoints.
A less familiar example may lead to a deeper understanding of this matter. If we want to learn more about beauty, we turn to aesthetics, which deals with the forms of beauty. Beauty is something we encounter in the outer world. How can we learn the truth about it? Here again we must free ourselves from the restrictions imposed by our personal characteristics.
Take for example the 19th-century German thinker Solger. He wished to investigate the nature of beauty in accordance with his idea of truth. He could not deny that we meet with beauty in the external world; but he was a man with a one-sided theosophical outlook, and this was reflected in his theory of aesthetics. His interest in a beautiful picture was confined to the shining through it of the only kind of spirituality he recognized. For him, an object was beautiful only in so far as the spiritual was manifest through it. Solger was a one-sided theosophist; he sought to explain sense-perceptible phenomena in terms of the supersensible; but he forgot that sense-perceptible reality has a justified existence on its own account. Unable to escape from his preconceptions, he sought to attain to the spiritual by way of a misconceived theosophy.
Another writer on aesthetics, Robert Zimmermann, came to an exactly opposite conclusion. As against Solger's misconceived theosophical aesthetics, Zimmermann based his aesthetics on a misconceived anti-theosophical outlook. His sole concern was with symmetry and anti-symmetry, harmony and discord. He had no interest in going beyond the beautiful to that which manifests through it. So his aesthetics were as one-sided as Solger’s. Every striving for truth can be vitiated if the seeker fails to recognize that he must first endeavor to get away from himself. This can be achieved only gradually; but the primary, inexorable demand is, that if we are to advance towards truth we must leave ourselves out of account and quite forget ourselves. Truth has a unique characteristic: a man can strive for it while remaining entirely within himself and yet — while living in his Ego — he can acquire something which, fundamentally speaking, has nothing to do with the egoistic ego.
Whenever a man tries in life to get his own way in some matter, this is an expression of his egoism. Whenever he wants to force on others something he thinks right and loses his temper over it, that is an expression of his self-seeking. This self-seeking must be subdued before he can attain to truth. Truth is something we experience in our most inward being — and yet it liberates us increasingly from ourselves. Of course, it is essential that nothing save the love of truth should enter into our striving for it. If passions, instincts, and desires, from which the Sentient Soul must be cleansed before the Intellectual Soul can strive for truth, come into it, they will prevent a man from getting away from himself and will keep his Ego tied to a fixed viewpoint. In the search for truth, the only passion that must not be discarded is love.
Truth is a lofty goal. This is shown by the fact that truth, in the sense intended here, is recognized today in one limited realm only. It is only in the realm of mathematics that humanity in general has reached the goal of truth, for here men have curbed their passions and desires and kept them out of the way. Why are all men agreed that three times three makes nine and not ten? Because no emotion comes into it. Men would agree on the highest truths if they had gone as far with them as they have with mathematics. The truths of mathematics are grasped in the inmost soul, and because they are grasped in this way, we possess them. We would still possess them if a hundred or a thousand people were to contradict us; we would still know that three times three makes nine because we have grasped this fact inwardly. If the hundred or thousand people who take a different view were to get away from themselves, they would come to the same truth.
What, then, is the way to mutual understanding and unity for mankind? We understand one another in the field of reckoning and counting because here we have met the conditions required. Peace, concord, and harmony will prevail among men to the extent that they find truth. That is the essential thing: that we should seek for truth as something to be found only in our own deepest being; and should know that truth ever and again draws men together, because from the innermost depth of every human soul its light shines forth.
So truth is the leader of mankind towards unity and mutual understanding, and also the precursor of justice and love. Truth is a precursor we must cherish, while the other precursor, anger, that we came to know yesterday, must be overcome if we are to be led by it away from selfishness. That is the mission of truth: to become the object of increasing love and care and devotion on our part. Inasmuch as we devote ourselves inwardly to truth, our true self gains in strength and will enable us to cast off self-interest. Anger weakens us; truth strengthens us.
Truth is a stern goddess; she demands to be at the center of a unique love in our souls. If man fails to get away from himself and his desires and prefers something else to her, she takes immediate revenge. The English poet Coleridge has rightly indicated how a man should stand towards truth. If, he says, a man loves Christianity more than truth, he will soon find that he loves his own Christian sect more than Christianity, and then he will find that he loves himself more than his sect.
Very much is implicit in these words. Above all, they signify that to strive against truth leads to humanly degrading egoism. Love of truth is the only love that sets the Ego free. And directly man gives priority to anything else, he falls inevitably into self-seeking. Herein lies the great and most serious importance of truth for the education of the human soul. Truth conforms to no man, and only by devotion to truth can truth be found. Directly man prefers himself and his own opinions to the truth, he becomes anti-social and alienates himself from the human community. Look at people who make no attempt to love truth for its own sake but parade their own opinions as the truth: they care for nothing but the content of their own souls and are the most intolerant. Those who love truth in terms of their own views and opinions will not suffer anyone to reach truth along a quite different path. They put every obstacle in the way of anyone with different abilities, who comes to opinions unlike their own. Hence the conflicts that so often arise in life. An honest striving for truth leads to human understanding, but the love of truth for the sake of one's own personality leads to intolerance and the destruction of other people's freedom.
Truth is experienced in the Intellectual Soul. It can be sought for and attained through personal effort only by beings capable of thought. Inasmuch as truth is acquired by thinking, we must realize very clearly that there are two kinds of truth. First we have the truth that comes from observing the world of Nature around us and investigating it bit by bit in order to discover its truths, laws, and wisdom. When we contemplate the whole range of our experience of the world in this way, we come to the kind of truth that can be called the truth derived from “reflective” thinking — we first observe the world and then think about our findings.
We saw yesterday that the entire realm of Nature is permeated with wisdom, and that wisdom lives in all natural things. In a plant there lives the idea of the plant, and this we can arrive at by reflective thought. Similarly, we can discern the wisdom that lives in the plant. By thus looking out on the world we can infer that the world is born of wisdom, and that through the activity of our thinking we can rediscover the element that enters into the creation of the world. That is the kind of truth to be gained by reflective thought.
There are also other truths. These cannot be gained by reflective thought, but only by going beyond everything that can be learnt from the outer world. In ordinary life we can see at once that when a man constructs a tool or some other instrument, he has to formulate laws that are not part of the outer world. For example, no-one could learn from the outer world how to construct a clock, for the laws of Nature are not so arranged as to provide for the appearance of clocks as a natural product. That is a second kind of truth: we come to it by thinking out something not given to us by observation or experience of the outer world. Hence there are these two kinds of truth, and they must be kept strictly apart, one derived from reflective thought and the other from “creative” thought.
How can a truth of this second kind be verified? The inventor of a clock can easily prove that he had thought it out correctly. He has to show that the clock does what he expects. Anything we think out in advance must prove itself in practice: it must yield results that can be recognized in the external world. The truths of Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy are of this kind. They cannot be found by observing external experience.
For example, no findings in the realm of outer Nature can establish the truth we have often dwelt on in connection with the immortal kernel of man's being: the truth that the human Ego appears again and again on Earth in successive incarnations. Anyone who wishes to acquire this truth must raise himself above ordinary experience. He must grasp in his soul a truth that has then to be made real in outer life. A truth of this kind cannot be proved in the same way as truths of the first kind, gained by what we have called reflective thought. It can be proven only by showing how it applies to life and is reflected there. If we look at life with the knowledge that the soul repeatedly returns and ever and again goes through a series of events and experiences between birth and death, we shall find how much satisfaction, how much strength and fruitfulness, these thoughts can bring. Or again, if we ask how the soul of a child can be helped to develop and grow stronger if we presuppose that an eternally existent soul is here working its way into a new life, then this truth will shine in on us and give proof of its fruitfulness in daily experience. Any other proofs are false. The only way in which a truth of this kind can be confirmed is by giving proof of its validity in daily life. Hence there is a vast difference between these two kinds of truth. Those of the second kind are grasped in the spirit and then verified by observing their influence on outer life.
What then is the educational effect of these two kinds of truth on the human soul? It makes a great difference whether a man devotes himself to truths that come from reflective thought or to those that come from creative thought. If we steep ourselves in the wisdom of Nature and create in ourselves a true reflection of it, we can rightly say that we have in ourselves something of the creative activity from which the life of Nature springs. But here a distinction must be made. The wisdom of Nature is directly creative and gives rise to the reality of Nature in all its fullness, but the truth we derive from thinking about Nature is only a passive image; in our thinking it has lost its power. We may indeed acquire a wide, open-minded picture of natural truth, but the creative, productive element is absent from it. Hence the immediate effect of this picture of truth on the development of the human Ego is desolating. The creative power of the Ego is crippled and devitalized; the Self loses strength and can no longer stand up to the world, if it is concerned only with reflective thoughts. Nothing else does so much to isolate the Ego, to make it withdraw into itself and look with hostility on the world. A man can become a cold egoist if he is intent only on investigating the outer world. Why does he want this knowledge? Does he mean to place it at the service of the Gods?
If a man desires only this kind of truth, he wants it for himself, and he will be on the way to becoming a cold egoist and misogynist in later life. He will become a recluse or will sever himself from mankind in some other way, for he wants to possess the content of the world as his own truth. All forms of seclusion and hostility towards humanity can be found on this path. The soul becomes increasingly dried up and loses its sense of human fellowship. It becomes ever more impoverished, although the truth should enrich it. Whether a man turns into a recluse or a one-sided eccentric makes no difference; in both cases a hardening process will overtake his soul. Hence we see that the more a man confines himself to this kind of reflective thought, the less fruitful his soul will be. Let us try to understand why this is so.
Consider the realms of nature and suppose that we have before us an array of plants. They have been formed by the living wisdom which calls forth their inherent productive power. Now an artist comes along. His soul receives the picture that Nature sets before him. He does not merely think about it; he opens himself to Nature's productive power and lets it work upon him. He creates a work of art which does not embody merely an act of thinking; it is imbued with productive power. Then comes someone who tries to get behind the picture and to extract a thought from it. He ponders over it. In this way its reality is filtered and impoverished. Now try to carry this process further. Once the soul has extracted a thought from the picture, it has finished with it. Nothing more can be done except to formulate thoughts about the thought — an absurd procedure which soon dries up.
It is quite different with creative thinking. Here a man is himself productive. His thoughts take form as realities in outer life; here he is working after the example of Nature herself. That is how it is with a man who goes beyond mere observation and reflective thinking and allows something not to be gained from observation to arise in his soul. All spiritual-scientific truths require a productive disposition in the soul. In the case of these truths all mere reflective thinking is bad and leads to deception. But the truths attainable by creative thought are limited, for man is weak in the face of the creative wisdom of the world. There is no end to the things from which we can derive truths by reflective thought; but creative thought, although the field open to it is restricted, brings about a heightening of productive power; the soul is refreshed and its scope extended. Indeed, the soul becomes more and more inwardly divine, in so far as it reflects in itself an essential element of the divine creative activity in the world.
So we have these two distinct kinds of truth, one reached by creative thought, the other by reflective thought. This latter kind, derived from the investigation of existent things or current experience, will always lead to abstractions; under its influence the soul is deprived of nourishment and tends to dry up. The truth that is not gained from immediate experience is creative; its strength helps man to find a place in the world where he can cooperate in shaping the future.
The past can be approached only by reflective thought, while creative thought opens a way into the future. Man thus becomes a responsible creator of the future. He extends the power of his Ego into the future, in so far as he comes to possess not merely the truths derived from the past by reflective thinking, but also those that are gained by creative thinking and point towards the future.
Herein lies the liberating influence of creative thinking. Anyone who is active in the striving for truth will soon find how he is impoverished by mere reflective thinking. He will come to understand how the devotee of reflective thinking fills his mind with phantom ideas and bloodless abstractions. Such a man may feel like an outcast, condemned to a mere savoring of truth, and may come to doubt whether his spirit can play any part in shaping the world. On the other hand, a man who experiences a truth gained by creative thinking will find that it nourishes and warms his soul and gives it new strength for every stage in life. It fills him with joy when he is able to grasp truths of this kind and discovers that in bringing them to bear on the phenomena of life he can say to himself: Now I not only understand what is going on there, but I can explain it in the light of having known something of it previously.
With the aid of spiritual-scientific truths we can now approach man himself. He cannot be understood merely by reflective thinking, but now we can comprehend him better and better, while our feeling of unity with the world and our interest in it are continually enhanced. We experience joy and satisfaction at every confirmation of spiritual-scientific truths that we encounter. This is what makes these truths so satisfying: we have first to grasp them before we can find them corroborated in actual life, and all the while they enrich us inwardly. We are drawn gradually into unity with the phenomena we experience. We get away more and more from ourselves, whereas reflective thinking leads to subtle forms of egoism. In order to find confirmation of truths gained by creative thinking we have to go out from ourselves and look for their application in all realms of life. It is these truths that liberate us from ourselves and imbue us in the highest degree with a sense of truth and a feeling for it.
Feelings of this kind have been alive in every genuine seeker after truth. They were deeply present in the soul of Goethe when he declared: “Only that which is fruitful is true” — a magnificent, luminous saying of far-reaching import. But Goethe was also well aware that men must be closely united with truth if they are to understand one another. Nothing does more to estrange men from one another than a lack of concern for truth and the search for truth. Goethe also said: “A false doctrine cannot be refuted, for it rests on a conviction that the false is true.” Obviously there are falsities that can be logically disproved, but that is not what Goethe means. He is convinced that a false viewpoint cannot be refuted by logical conclusions, and that the fruitful application of truth in practical life should be our sole guideline in our search for truth.
It was because Goethe was so wonderfully united with truth that he was able to sketch the beautiful poetic drama Pandora, which he began to write in 1807. Though only a fragment, Pandora is a ripe product of his creative genius — so powerful in every line that anyone who responds to it must feel it to be an example of the purest, grandest art. We see in it how Goethe was able to make a start towards the greatest truths — but then lacked the strength to go further. The task was too arduous for him to carry through; but we have enough of it to get some idea of how deeply he had penetrated into the problems of spiritual education. He had a clear vision of everything that the soul has to overcome in order to rise higher; he understood everything we learnt yesterday about anger and the fettered Prometheus, and have learnt today about that other educator of the soul, the sense of truth.
How closely related these two things are in their effects on the soul can be seen also in the facial expressions they call forth. Let us picture a man under the influence of anger, and another man upon whom truth is acting as an inward light. The first man is frowning — why? In such cases the brow is knitted because an excessive force is working inwardly, like a poison, to hold down a surplus of egoism which would like to destroy everything that exists alongside and separate from the man himself. In the clenched fist of anger we see the wrathful self closed up in itself and refusing to go forth into the outer world. Now compare this with the facial expression of someone who is discovering truth. When he perceives the light of truth, he too may frown, but in his case the wrinkled brow is a means whereby the soul expands, as though it would like to grasp and absorb the whole world with devoted love. Observe, too, the eyes of a man who is trying to overhear the world's secrets. His eyes are shining, as though to encompass everything around him in the outer world. He is released from himself; his hand is not clenched, but held out with a gesture that seeks to absorb the being of the world.
The whole difference between anger and truth is thus expressed in human physiognomy and gesture. Anger thrusts the human being deeper into himself. If he strives for truth, his being expands into the outer world; and the more united he becomes with the outer world, the more he turns away from the truths gained by reflective thinking to those gained by creative thinking. Therefore, Goethe in his Pandora brings into opposition with each other certain characters who can be taken to represent forces at work in the human soul. They are intended to express symbolically the relationships between the characteristics and capacities of the soul.
When you open Pandora, you come upon something remarkable and highly significant at the very start. On the side of Prometheus, the stage is loaded with tools and implements constructed by man. In all these, human energies have been at work, but in a certain sense it is all rough and ready. On the side of Epimetheus, the other Titan, there is a complete contrast. Here everything is perfectly finished; we see not so much what man creates, but a bringing together of what Nature has already produced. It is all the result of reflective thinking. Here we have combination and shaping, a symmetrical ordering of Nature's work. On the side of Prometheus, unsymmetry and roughness; on the side of Epimetheus, elegant and harmonious products of Nature, culminating in a view of a wonderful landscape. What does all this signify? We need only consider the two contrasted characters: Prometheus the creative thinker, Epimetheus the reflective thinker. With Prometheus we find the products mainly of creative thinking. Here, although man's powers are limited and clumsy, he is productive. He cannot yet shape his creations as perfectly as Nature shapes her own; but they are all the outcome of his own powers and tools. He is also deficient in feeling for scenes of natural beauty.
On the side of Epimetheus, the reflective thinker, we see the heritage of the past, brought into symmetrical order by himself. And because he is a reflective thinker, we see in the background a beautiful landscape which gives its own special pleasure to the human eye. Epimetheus now comes forward and discloses his individual character. He explains that he is there to experience the past, and to reflect upon past occurrences and the visible world. But in his speech he reveals the dissatisfaction that this kind of attitude can at times call forth in the soul. He feels hardly any difference between day and night. In brief, the figure of Epimetheus shows us reflective thinking in its most extreme form. Then Prometheus comes forward carrying a torch and emerging from the darkness of night. Among his followers are smiths; they set to work on the man-made objects that are lying around, while Prometheus makes a remarkable statement that will not be misunderstood if we are alive to Goethe's meaning. The smiths extoll productivity and welcome the fact that in the course of production many things have to be destroyed. In a one-sided way they extoll fire. A man who is an all-around reflective thinker will not praise one thing at the expense of another. He casts his eye over the whole. Prometheus, however, says at once:
In partiality let the active man
Find his pleasure
He extolls precisely the fact that to be active entails the acceptance of limitations. In Nature, the right is established when the wrong destroys itself. But to the smiths Prometheus says: Carry on doing whatever can be done. He is the creative man; he emerges with his torch from the darkness of night in order to show how from the depths of his soul the truth gained by his creative thinking comes forth. Unlike Epimetheus, he is far from a dreamlike feeling that night and day are all one. Nor does he experience the world as a dream. For his soul has been at work, and in its own dark night it has grasped the thoughts which now emerge from it. They are no dreams, but truths for which the soul has bled. By this means the soul advances into the world and gains release from itself; but at the same time it incurs the danger of losing itself. This does not yet apply to Prometheus himself, but when a man introduces one-sidedness into the world, the danger appears among his descendants.
Phileros, the son of Prometheus, is already inclined to love and cherish and enjoy the products of creative work, while his father Prometheus is still immersed in the stream of life's creative power. In Phileros we are shown the power of creative thinking developed in a one-sided way. He rushes out into life, not knowing where to search for enjoyment. Prometheus cannot pass on to his son his own fruitfully creative strength, and so Phileros appears incomprehensible to Epimetheus, who out of his own rich experience would like to counsel him on his headlong career.
We are then magnificently shown what mere reflective thinking involves. This is connected with the myth that Zeus, having fettered Prometheus to the rock, imposes Pandora, the all-gifted, on mankind.
Most beautiful and gifted she approached
The amazed watcher, moving with noble grace,
Her gracious look inquiring whether I,
Like to my sterner brother, would repel her,
But all too strongly were my heart-beats stirred,
With sense bemused my charming bride I welcomed.
Towards the mysterious dowry then I turned,
The earthen vessel, tall and shapely, stood
Prometheus had warned his brother against this gift from the gods. But Epimetheus, with his different character, accepts the gift, and when the earthen vessel is opened, all the afflictions that can befall mankind come pouring out. Only one thing is left in the vessel — Hope.
Who, then, is Pandora and what does she signify? Truly a mystery of the soul is concealed in her. The fruits of reflective thinking are dead products, an abstract reflection of the mechanical thoughts forged by Hephaestus. This wisdom is powerless in the face of the universally creative wisdom from which the world has been born. What can this abstract reflection give to mankind?
We have seen how this kind of truth can be sterile and can lay waste the soul, and we can understand how all the afflictions that fall on mankind come pouring out of Pandora's vessel. In Pandora we have to see truth without the powers of creativity, the truth of reflective thinking, a truth which builds up a mechanized thought-picture in the midst of the world's creative life. For the mere reflective thinker only one thing remains. While the creative thinker unites his Ego with the future and gets free from himself, the reflective thinker can look to the future only with hope, for he has no part in shaping it. He can only hope that things will happen. Goethe shows his deep comprehension of the myth by endowing the marriage of Epimetheus and Pandora with two children: Elpore (Hope) and Epimeleia (Care), who safeguards existing things. In fact, man has in his soul two offspring of dead, abstract, mechanically conceived truth. This kind of truth is unfruitful and cannot influence the future; it can only reflect what is already there. It leaves a man with nothing but the hope that what is true will duly come to pass. This is represented by Goethe with splendid realism in the figure of Elpore, who, if someone asks her whether this or that is going to happen, always gives the same answer: yes, yes. If a Promethean man were to stand before the world and speak of the future, he would say: “I hope for nothing. With my own forces I will shape the future.” But a reflective thinker can only reflect on the past and hope for the future; thus Elpore, when asked whether this or that will happen, replies always, yes, yes. We hear it again and again. In this way a daughter of reflective thinking is admirably characterized and her sterility is indicated.
The other daughter of this reflective thinking, Epimeleia, is she who cares for existing things. She sets them all in symmetrical order and can add nothing from her own resources. But all things which fail to develop are increasingly liable to destruction; hence we see how anxiety about them continually mounts, and how through mere reflective thinking a destructive element finds its way into the world. This is wonderfully well indicated by Goethe when he makes Phileros fall in love with Epimeleia. We see him, burnt up with jealousy, pursuing Epimeleia, until she takes refuge from him with the Titan brothers. Strife and dissension come simultaneously on to the scene. Epimeleia complains that the person she loves is the very one to seek her life.
Everything that Goethe goes on to say shows how deeply he had penetrated into the effects of creative thinking and reflective thinking on the soul. The creative thinking of the smiths is set in wonderful contrast to the outlook of the shepherds; whilst the latter take what Nature offers, the former work on the products of Nature and transform them. Therefore Prometheus says of the shepherds: they are seeking peace, but they will not find a peace that satisfies their souls:
Go your ways in peace; but peace
You will not find.
For a wish merely to preserve things as they are leads only to the unproductive side of Nature.
The truths which belong to creative thinking and reflective thinking respectively are thus set before us in the figures of Prometheus and Epimetheus, and in all the characters connected with them. They represent those soul-forces which can spring from an excessive, one-sided predilection for one or other way of striving after truth. And after we have seen how disastrous are the consequences of these extremes, we are shown finally the one and only remedy: the cooperation of the Titan brothers. The drama leads on to an outbreak of fire in a property owned by Epimetheus. Prometheus, who is prepared to demolish a building if it no longer serves its purpose, advises his brother to make all speed to the spot and do all he can to halt the destruction. But Epimetheus no longer cares for that; he is thinking about Pandora and is lost in his recollection of her. Interesting also is a dialogue between the brothers about her:
Her form sublime, from ancient dark emerging,
Came near me also. To make another like her,
Even Hephaestus would have failed in that.
Art thou, too, prating of this fabled birth?
From ancient gods, a mighty race, she springs:
Uranione, Hera's peer, and sister
Of Zeus himself.
And yet Hephaestus, for her rich adornment,
Made for her head a net of shining gold,
Weaving with subtle hand the finest threads.
In every sentence spoken by Prometheus we see how mechanized, abstract limitations obsess his mind. Then Eos, the Dawn, appears. She is an unlit being who precedes and heralds the sun, but also contains its light within herself already. She does not simply emerge from the darkness of night; she represents a transition to something which has overcome night. Prometheus appears with his torch because he has just come out of the night. The artificial light he carries indicates how his creative work proceeds from the night's darkness. Epimetheus can indeed admire the sunlight and its gifts, but he experiences everything as in a dream. He is an example of pure reflective thinking. The way in which light can escape the attention of a soul absorbed in creative activity is shown by what Prometheus says in the light of day. His people, he says, are called upon not merely to observe the Sun and the light, but to be themselves a source of illumination. Now Eos, Aurora, comes forward. She calls upon men to be active everywhere in doing right. Phileros, already having sought death, should unite with the forces which will make it possible for him to rescue himself. The smiths, who are working within the limits of their creative thinking, and the shepherds, who accept things as they are, are now joined by the fishermen. And we see how Eos gives them advice:
Morning of youth, dawning of day,
More beautiful than ever,
From the unfathomed ocean
I bring you now.
Awake, shake off your sleep,
You dwellers in the bay
By cliffs encircled,
You fishermen, arise,
And ply your craft.
With speed spread out your nets
Around the well-known waters,
A splendid catch is certain
When my voice cheers you on.
Swim, you swimmers! Dive, you divers!
Watch, you watchers on the heights!
May the shores and seas together
Swarm with swift abounding life!
Then we are shown in a wonderful way how Phileros is rescued on the surging flood and unites his own strength with the strength of the waves. The active creative power in him is thus united with the creative power in Nature. So the elements of Prometheus and Epimetheus are reconciled.
Thus Goethe offers a solution rich in promise, by showing how knowledge gained from nature by reflective thinking can be fired with productive energy by the creative thinking element. This latter acquires its rightful strength by receiving, in loyalty to truth, what the gods “up there” bestow:
Take note of this:
What is desirable, you feel down here;
What is to be given, they know up there.
You Titans make a great beginning,
But the way to the eternal good, the forever beautiful,
That is the work of the gods; they ensure it.
The union of Prometheus and Epimetheus in the human soul will bring salvation for them and for mankind. The whole drama is intended to indicate that through an all-around grasping of truth the entire human race, and not only individuals, will find satisfaction. Goethe wished to show that an understanding of the real nature of truth will unite humanity and foster love and peace among men. Then Hope, also, is transformed in the soul — Hope who says yes to everything but is powerless to bring anything about. The poem was to have ended with the transformed Elpore, Elpore thraseia, coming forward to tell us that she is no longer a prophetess but is to be incorporated into the human soul, so that human beings would not merely cherish hopes for the future but would have the strength to cooperate in bringing about whatever their own productive power could create. To believe in the transformation wrought by truth upon the soul — that is the whole perfected truth which reconciles Prometheus and Epimetheus.
Naturally, these sketchy indications can bring out only a little of all that can be drawn from the poem. The deep wisdom that called forth this fragment from Goethe will disclose itself first to those who approach it with the support of a spiritual-scientific way of thinking. They can experience a satisfying, redeeming power which flows out from the poem and quickens them.
We must not fail to mention a remarkably beautiful phrase that Goethe included in his Pandora. He says that the divine wisdom which flows into the world must work in harmony with all that we are able to achieve through our own Promethean power of creative thinking. The element that comes to meet us in the world and teaches us what wisdom is Goethe called the Word. That which lives in the soul and must unite itself with the reflective thinking of Epimetheus is the Deed of Prometheus. So the union of the Logos or Word with the Deed gives rise to the ideal that Goethe wished to set before us in his Pandora as the fruit of a life rich in experiences. Towards the end of the poem, Prometheus makes a remarkable statement: “A real man truly celebrates the deed.” This is the truth that remains hidden from the reflective thinking element in the soul.
If we open ourselves to this whole poem, we can come to realize the heroic yearning for development felt by men such as Goethe, and the great modesty which prevents them from supposing that by reaching a certain stage they have done enough and need not try to go further. Goethe was an apprentice of life up to his last day, and always recognized that when a man has been enriched by an experience he must overcome what he has previously held to be true.
When as a young man Goethe was beginning to work on Faust, and had occasion to introduce some translations from the Bible, he decided that the words “In the beginning was the Word” should be rendered as “in the beginning was the Deed”. At this same time he wrote a fragment on Prometheus. There we see the young Goethe as altogether active and Promethean, confident that simply by developing his own forces, not fructified by cosmic wisdom, he could progress. In his maturity, with a long experience of life behind him, he realized that it was wrong to underestimate the Word, and that Word and Deed must be united. In fact, Goethe revised parts of his Faust while he was writing his Pandora. We can understand how Goethe came by degrees to maturity only if we realize the nature of truth in all its forms.
It will always be good for man if he wrestles his way to realizing that truth can be apprehended only by degrees. Or take a genuine, honest, all-around seeker after truth who is called upon to bring forcibly before the world some truth he has discovered. It will be very good if he reminds himself that he has no grounds for pluming himself on this one account. There are no grounds at any time for remaining content with something already known. On the contrary, such knowledge as we have gained from our considerations yesterday and today should lead us to feel that, although the human being must stand firmly on the ground of the truth he has acquired and must be ready to defend it, he must from time to time withdraw into himself, as Goethe did. When he does this, the forces arising from the consciousness of the truth he has gained will endow him with a feeling for the right standards and for the standpoint he should make his own. From the enhanced consciousness of truth we should ever and again withdraw into ourselves and say, with Goethe: Much that we once discovered and took for truth is now only a dream, a dreamlike memory; and what we think today will not survive when we put it to a deeper test. The words often spoken by Goethe to himself in relation to his own honest search for truth may well be echoed by every man in his solitary hours:
A poor wight am I
Through and through.
My thoughts miss the mark,
My dreams, they are not true.
If we can feel this, we shall be in the right relationship to our high ideal, Truth.