Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Riddles of Philosophy: Rudolf Steiner's Prefaces to the Editions of 1923, 1918, and 1914

"The actuality of thinking is life."  —Aristotle

Preface to the 1923 Edition

When, on the occasion of its second edition in 1914, I enlarged my book World and Life Conceptions of the Nineteenth Century, the result was the present volume, The Riddles of Philosophy. In this book I intend to show those elements of world conceptions that appear historically and that move the contemporary observer of these riddles to experiences of greater depth of consciousness as he encounters the feelings with which they were experienced by the thinkers of the past. Such a deepening of the feelings is of profound satisfaction to one who is engaged in a philosophical struggle. What he in his own mind is striving for is strengthened through the fact that he sees how this endeavor took shape in earlier thinkers on whom life bestowed viewpoints that may be close to, or far from, his own. In this way I intend in this book to serve those who need a presentation of the development of philosophy as a supplement to their own paths of thought. Such a supplement will be valuable to anyone who, in his own mode of thinking, wishes to feel himself at one with the intellectual work of mankind, and who would like to see that the work of his own thoughts has its roots in a universal need of the human soul. He can grasp this when he allows the essential elements of the historical world conceptions to unfold before his eye.
For many observers, however, such a display has a depressive effect. It causes doubt to invade their minds. They see thinkers of the past contradicting their predecessors and contradicted by their successors in turn. It is the intention in my account of this process to show how this depressing aspect is extinguished by another element. Let us consider two thinkers. At first glance the contradiction of their thoughts strikes us as painful. We now take these thoughts under a closer inspection. We find that both thinkers direct their attention to entirely different realms of the world. Suppose one thinker had developed in himself the frame of mind that concentrates on the mode in which thoughts unfold in the inner weaving of the soul. For him it becomes a riddle how these inward soul processes can become decisive in a cognition concerning the nature of the external world. This point of departure will lend a special color to all his thinking. He will speak in a vigorous manner of the creative activity of the life of thought. Thus, everything he says will be colored by idealism. A second thinker turns his attention toward the processes accessible to external sense perception. The thought processes through which he holds these external events in cognitive perception do not themselves in their specific energy enter the field of his awareness. He will give a turn to the riddles of the universe that will place them in a thought environment in which the ground of the world itself will appear in a form that bears semblance to the world of the senses.
If one approaches the historical genesis of the conflicting worldviews with presuppositions that result from such a thought orientation, one can overcome the deadening effect these world perspectives have on each other and raise the point of view to a level from which they appear in mutual support.
Hegel and Haeckel, considered side by side, will at first sight present the most perfect contradiction. Penetrating into Hegel's philosophy, one can go along with him on the path to which a man who lives entirely in thoughts is bound. He feels the thought element as something that enables him to comprehend his own being as real. Confronted with nature, the question arises in him of the relation in which it stands toward the world of thought. It will be possible to follow his turn of mind if one can feel what is relatively justified and fruitful in such a mental disposition. If one can enter into Haeckel's thoughts, one can again follow him part of the way. Haeckel can only see what the senses grasp and how it changes. What is and changes in this way he can acknowledge as his reality, and he is only satisfied when he is able to comprise the entire human being, including his thought activity, under this concept of being and transformation. Now let Haeckel look on Hegel as a person who spins airy meaningless concepts without regard to reality. Grant that Hegel, could he have lived to know Haeckel, would have seen in him a person who was completely blind to true reality. Thus, whoever is able to enter into both modes of thinking will find in Hegel's philosophy the possibility to strengthen his power of spontaneous, active thinking. In Haeckel's mode of thought he will find the possibility to become aware of relations between distant formations of nature that tend to raise significant questions in the mind of man. Placed side by side and measured against one another in this fashion, Hegel and Haeckel will no longer lead us into oppressive skepticism but will enable us to recognize how the striving shoots and sprouts of life are sent out from very different corners of the universe.
Such are the grounds in which the method of my presentation has its roots. I do not mean to conceal the contradictions in the history of philosophy, but I intend to show what remains valid in spite of the contradictions.
That Hegel and Haeckel are treated in this book to reveal what is positive and not negative in both of them can, in my opinion, be criticized as erroneous only by somebody who is incapable of seeing how fruitful such a treatment of the positive is.
Let me add just a few more words about something that does not refer to the content of the book but is nevertheless connected with it. This book belongs to those of my works referred to by persons who claim to find contradictions in the course of my philosophical development. In spite of the fact that I know such reproaches are mostly not motivated by a will to search for truth, I will nevertheless answer them briefly.
Such critics maintain that the chapter on Haeckel gives the impression of having been written by an orthodox follower of Haeckel. Whoever reads in the same book what is said about Hegel will find it difficult to uphold this statement. Superficially considered, it might, however, seem as if a person who wrote about Haeckel as I did in this book had gone through a complete transformation of spirit when he later published books like Knowledge of the Higher World and Its Attainment, An Outline of Occult Science, etc.
But the question is only seen in the right light if one remembers that my later works, which seem to contradict my earlier ones, are based on a spiritual intuitive insight into the spiritual world. Whoever intends to acquire or preserve for himself an intuition of this kind must develop the ability to suppress his own sympathies and antipathies and to surrender with perfect objectivity to the subject of his contemplation. He must really, in presenting Haeckel's mode of thinking, be capable of being completely absorbed by it. It is precisely from this power to surrender to the object that he derives spiritual intuition. My method of presentation of the various world conceptions has its origin in my orientation toward a spiritual intuition. It would not be necessary to have actually entered into the materialistic mode of thinking merely to theorize about the spirit. For that purpose it is sufficient simply to show all justifiable reasons against materialism and to present this mode of thought by revealing its unjustified aspects. But to effect spiritual intuition one cannot proceed in this manner. One must be capable of thinking idealistically with the idealist and materialistically with the materialist. For only thus will the faculty of the soul be awakened that can become active in spiritual intuition.
Against this, the objections might be raised that in such a treatment the content of the book would lose its unity. I am not of that opinion. An historical account will become the more faithful the more the phenomena are allowed to speak for themselves. It cannot be the task of an historical presentation to fight materialism or to distort it into a caricature, for within its limits it is justified. It is right to represent materialistically those processes of the world that have a material cause. We only go astray when we do not arrive at the insight that comes when, in pursuing the material processes, we are finally led to the conception of the spirit. To maintain that the brain is not a necessary condition of our thinking insofar as it is related to sense perception is an error. It is also an error to assume that the spirit is not the creator of the brain through which it reveals itself in the physical world through the production and formation of thought.

Source: http://wn.rsarchive.org/GA/GA0018/English/AP1973/GA018_pref1923.html

Preface to the 1918 Edition

The thoughts from which the presentation of the content of this book have grown and that form its basic support have been indicated in the Preface of the 1914 edition following this. To what was said then, I should like to add something connected with a question that lives more or less consciously in the soul of one who turns to a book on the riddles of philosophy. It is the question of the relation of philosophical contemplation to immediate life. Every philosophical thought that is not demanded by this life is condemned to remain barren even if it should attract for a while a few readers of contemplative inclination. A fruitful thought must have its roots in the processes of development that mankind as a whole has to undergo in the course of its historical evolution. Whoever intends to depict the history of the evolution of philosophical thought from any kind of viewpoint can, for this purpose only, rely on such thoughts as are demanded by life itself. They must be thoughts that, when carried into the conduct of life, will penetrate man in such a way that he gains from them energies capable of directing his knowledge. They must become his advisors and helpers in the task of his existence. Because mankind needs such thoughts, philosophical worldviews have come into existence. If it were possible to master life without them, man would never have been inwardly justified to think of the “Riddles of Philosophy.” An age that is unwilling to think such thoughts shows through this fact merely that it does not feel the need to form human life in such a way that it can really unfold itself in all directions according to its original destination. But for such a disinclination, a heavy penalty must be paid in the course of human evolution. Life remains undeveloped in such ages, and men do not notice their sickly state because they are unwilling to recognize the demands that nevertheless continue to exist deeply seated within them and that they just fail to satisfy. A following age shows the effect of such a neglect. The grandchildren find in the formation of a stunted life something that was caused by the omission of the grandparents. This omission of the preceding age has turned into the imperfect life of the later time into which the grandchildren find themselves placed. In life as a whole, philosophy must rule. It is possible to sin against this demand, but it is inevitable that this sin will produce its effects.
We shall only understand the course of the development of philosophical thought, the existence of the “Riddles of Philosophy,” if we have a feeling for the significance that the philosophical contemplation of the world possesses for a whole, full human existence. It is out of such a feeling that I have written about the development of the riddles of philosophy. I have attempted to show through the presentation of this development that such a feeling is inwardly justified.
Against this feeling there will emerge from the outset in the minds of some readers a certain dampening objection that at first sight seems to be based on fact. Philosophical contemplation is supposed to be a necessity of life, but in spite of this, the endeavor of human thought in the course of its development does not produce clear-cut and well-defined solutions to the riddles of philosophy. Rather are they ambiguous and apparently contradictory. There are many historical analyses that attempt to explain the only too apparent contradictions through superficially formed ideas of evolution. They are not convincing. To find one's way in this field, evolution must be taken much more seriously than is usually the case. One must arrive at the insight that there cannot be any thought that would be capable of solving the riddles of the universe once and for all times in an all-comprehensive way. Such is the nature of human thinking that a newly found idea will soon transform itself in turn into a new riddle. The more significant the idea is, the more light it will yield for a certain time; the more enigmatic, the more questionable it will become in a following age.
Whoever wants to view the history of human thought development from a fruitful point of view must be able to admire the greatness of an idea in one age, and yet be capable of producing the same enthusiasm in watching this idea as it reveals its shortcoming in a later period. He must also be able to accept the thought that the mode of thinking to which he himself adheres will be replaced in the future by an entirely different one. This thought must not divert him from recognizing fully the “truth” of the view that he has conquered for himself. The disposition of mind that is inclined to believe that thoughts of an earlier time have been disposed of as imperfect by the “perfect” ones of the present age is of no help for understanding the philosophical evolution of mankind.
I have attempted to comprehend the course of human thought development by grasping the significance of the fact that a following age contradicts philosophically the preceding one. In the introductory exposition, Guiding Thoughts of the Presentation, I have stated which ideas make such a comprehension possible. The ideas are of such a nature that they will necessarily find a great deal of resistance. At first acquaintance they will have the appearance of something that just occurred to me and that I now wanted to force in a fantastic manner on the whole course of the history of philosophy. Nevertheless, I can only hope that one will find that the ideas are not thought up as preconceived and then superimposed on the view of philosophical development, but that they have been obtained in the same way in which the natural scientist finds his laws. They have their source in the observation of the evolution of philosophy. One has no right to reject the results of an observation because they are in disagreement with ideas that one accepts as right because of some kind of inclination of thought without observation. Opposition to my presentation will be based on the superstitious denial of the existence of forces in human history that manifest themselves in certain specific ages, and dominate effectively the development of human thought in a meaningful and necessary way. I had to accept such forces because the observation of this development had proved their existence to me, and because this observation made apparent to me the fact that the history of philosophy will only become a science if one does not shrink back from recognizing forces of this kind.
It seems to me that it is only then possible to gain a tenable attitude toward the riddles of philosophy, fruitful for life at the present time, if one knows the forces that dominated the ages of the past. In the history of thought, more than in any other branch of historical reflection, it is necessary to let the present grow out of the past. For in the comprehension of those ideas that satisfy the demand of the present, we have the foundation for the insight that spreads the right light over the past. The thinker who is incapable of obtaining a philosophical viewpoint that is adequate to the dominating impulses of his own age will also be unable to discover the significance of the intellectual life of the past. I shall here leave the question undecided whether or not in some other field of historical reflection a presentation can be fruitful that does not at least have a picture of the present situation in this field as a foundation. In the field of the history of thought, such a procedure would be meaningless. Here the object of the reflection must necessarily be connected with the immediate life, and this life, in which thought becomes actual as practice of life, can only be that of the present.
With these words I have meant to characterize the feeling out of which this presentation of the riddles of philosophy grew. Because of the short time since the last edition, there is no occasion for change or additions to the content of the book.

Source: http://wn.rsarchive.org/GA/GA0018/English/AP1973/GA018_pref1918.html

Preface to the 1914 Edition

I did not have the feeling that I was writing a “centennial book” to mark the beginning of the century when I set about to outline the World and Life Conceptions of the Nineteenth Century, which appeared in 1901. The invitation to present this book as a contribution to a collection of philosophical works only provided me with the challenge to sum up results of the philosophical developments since the age of Kant, at which I had arrived long ago, and which I had meant to publish. When a new edition of the book became necessary and when I reexamined its content, I became aware of the fact that only through a considerable enlargement of the account as it was originally given could I make completely clear what I had intended to show. I had at that time limited myself to the characterization of the last one hundred and thirty years of philosophical development. Such a limitation is justifiable because this period indeed constitutes a well-rounded totality that is closed in itself and could be portrayed as such even if one did not mean to write a “centennial book.” But the philosophical views of the last century lived within me in such a way that, in presenting its philosophical problems, I felt resounding as undertones in my soul the solutions that had been attempted since the beginning of the course of the history of philosophy. This sensation appeared with greater intensity as I took up the revision of the book for a new edition. This indicates the reason why the result was not so much a new edition but a new book.
To be sure, the content of the old book has essentially been preserved word for word, but it has been introduced by a short account of the philosophical development since the sixth century B.C. In the second volume the characterization of the successive philosophies will be continued to the present time. Moreover, the short remarks at the end of the second volume, entitled Outlook, have been extended into a detailed presentation of the philosophical possibilities of the present. Objections may be raised against the composition of the book because the parts of the earlier version have not been shortened, whereas the characterization of the philosophies from the sixth century B.C. to the nineteenth century A.D. has only been given in the shortest outline. But since my aim is to give not only a short outline of the history of philosophical problems but to discuss these problems and the attempt at their solution themselves through their historical treatment, I considered it correct to retain the more detailed account for the last period. The way of approach in which these questions were seen and presented by the philosophers of the nineteenth century is still close to the trends of thought and philosophical needs of our time. What precedes this period is of the same significance to modern soul life only insofar as it spreads light over the last time interval. The Outlook at the end of the second volume had its origin in the same intention, namely, that of developing through the account of the history of philosophy, philosophy itself.
The reader will miss some things in this book that he might look for in a history of philosophy — the views of Hobbes and others, for instance. My aim, however, was not to enumerate all philosophical opinions, but to present the course of development of the philosophical problems. In such a presentation it is inappropriate to record a philosophical opinion of the past if its essential points have been characterized in another connection.
Whoever wants to find also in this book a new proof that I have “changed” my views in the course of years will probably not even then be dissuaded from such an “opinion” if I point out to him that the presentation of the philosophical views that I gave in the World and Life Conceptions has, to be sure, been enlarged and supplemented, but that the content of the former book has been taken over into the new one in all essential points, literally unchanged. The slight changes that occur in a few passages seemed to be necessary to me, not because I felt the need after fifteen years of presenting some points differently, but because I found that a changed mode of expression was required by the more comprehensive connection in which here and there a thought appears in the new book, whereas in the old one such a connection was not given. There will, however, always be people who like to construe contradictions among the successive writings of a person, because they either cannot or else do not wish to consider the certainly admissible extension of such a person's thought development. The fact that in such an extension much is expressed differently in later years certainly cannot constitute a contradiction if one does not mean by consistency that the latter expression should be a mere copy of the earlier one, but is ready to observe a consistent development of a person. In order to avoid the verdict of “change of view” of critics who do not consider this fact, one would have to reiterate, when it is a question of thoughts, the same words over and over again.

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