Friday, May 1, 2015

The Case for Anthroposophy: Reply to a favorite objection

From Riddles of the Soul, a collection of essays published by Rudolf Steiner in 1917.
There is one objection often brought against anthroposophy, which is no less understandable than it is impermissible; understandable against the psychological background of those who advance it and impermissible because it traverses the whole spirit of anthroposophical research. I find it quite trivial, because the answer to it is readily available to anyone who follows with genuine understanding the literature written from the anthroposophical point of view. Only because it is always cropping up again do I repeat here some of the observations I added in 1914 to the sixth edition of my book Theosophy. It ought to be possible (so runs the objection) for the alleged findings of anthroposophical observation to be “proved” by strictly scientific, that is experimental, methods. The idea is that a few people, who maintain that they can achieve such results, should be confronted with a number of other people under strictly controlled experimental conditions, whereupon the “spiritual researchers” would be asked to declare what they have “seen” in the examining persons. For the experiment to succeed, their findings would have to coincide or at all events to share a high enough percentage of similarity to each other. It is, perhaps, not surprising that someone whose knowledge of anthroposophy does not include having understood it should keep on making demands of this kind. Their satisfaction would save him the trouble of working his way through to the actual proof, which consists in acquiring, as it is open to everyone to do, the ability to see for himself. But anyone who has really understood anthroposophy will have sufficient insight to realize that an experiment engineered on these lines is about as apt a way of getting results through genuinely spiritual intuition as stopping the clock is of telling the time. The preliminaries leading up to the conditions under which spiritual observation is possible have to be furnished by the psyche itself and by the total disposition of the psyche. External arrangements of the kind that lead to a natural-scientific experiment are not so furnished. For instance, one part of that same disposition must of necessity be, that the will-impulse prompting to an observation is exclusively and without reservation the original impulse of the person to make the observation. And that there should not be anything in the artificial external preparations that exerts a transforming influence upon that innermost impulse. At the same time — and it is surprising how this is nearly always overlooked — given these psychological conditions, everyone can procure the proofs for anthroposophy for himself; so that the “proofs” are in fact universally accessible. It will of course be indignantly denied; but the only real reason for insisting on “external proofs” is the fact that they can be obtained in reasonable comfort, whereas the authentically spiritual-scientific method is a laborious and disconcerting one.
What Brentano wanted was something very different from this demand for comfortable experimental verification of anthroposophical truths. He wanted to be able to work in a psychological laboratory. His longing for this facility frequently crops up in his writings, and he made repeated efforts to bring it about. The tragic intervention of circumstance obliged him to abandon the idea. Just because of his attitude to psychological questions he would have produced, with the help of such a laboratory, results of great importance. If the object is to establish the best conditions for obtaining results in the field of anthropological psychology (which extends just as far as those “boundaries of knowledge”, where anthropology and anthroposophy encounter one another), then the answer is the kind of psychological laboratory Brentano envisaged. In such a laboratory there would be no need to hunt for ways of inducing manifestations of “intuitive consciousness” experimentally. The experimental techniques employed there would soon show how human nature is adapted for that kind of “seeing” and how the intuitive is entailed by the normal consciousness. Everyone who holds the anthroposophical point of view longs, as Brentano did, to be able to work in a genuine psychological laboratory; but for the present such a possibility is ruled out by the prejudices against anthroposophy that still prevail.


From GA21, Riddles of the Soul. Available from Mercury Press:

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