Thursday, November 19, 2015
The Futility and Utility of Philosophy
"Imagine you have before you a reflective wall; it reflects back what is spread about the room--for example, a table. However, what you see is not the table, but rather the reflection of the table. Imagine you wanted to go into the reflection, take the table out, and put something in its place. You would not be able to do that, because you cannot put a plate or soup bowl on the reflected table. It is just as impossible to put a plate or a soup bowl on the reflected table as it is to derive the essence of the soul's immortality from what human beings experience on the physical plane and have around themselves in a waking state between birth and death. For the real soul is immortal. It is not its reflection, which we experience on the physical plane. Think about that.
Human beings yearn to know what is constantly hidden from them and which, while they are on the physical plane, shows them only a reflection. The philosophies of all ages have striven to draw reality out from the reflections; they have sought to prove immortality from reflections. They have taken on the duty, symbolically speaking, of fetching the table out of the reflection, putting it in the room, and placing plates and bowls upon it.
...Why should we take philosophy into consideration at all, since it concerns itself only with a futile effort of humanity?
But that is not how things are, not how things are at all! What we do when we immerse ourselves in what, from a certain point of view, is otherwise a futile struggle, is nonetheless something infinitely important, something that can be replaced with nothing else. Philosophy will perhaps always remain unfruitful as far as knowledge of the immortal nature of the soul, the spiritual world, and of the divine is concerned, but it will not remain unfruitful for the unfolding of certain human powers and the further development of certain human abilities. Just because philosophy as such proves unsuitable to reach the things I have mentioned--because it remains to a certain extent dull in relation to them--it strengthens the human soul all the more. And if it cannot deliver knowledge, it still--because it is a concentrated life of thought--prepares the soul to make itself suitable to penetrate the spiritual world. What we gain through the practice of philosophy raises us into the spiritual world more than anything else."
"...Just as an infant sucks nourishment from its mother's breast, so the human soul can suck the stuff of life for a new form of Earth experience--by knowing oneself within the spiritual order--from what spiritual science can open up for us."
--Rudolf Steiner, from a lecture given December 19, 1914 [from the lecture series "How to Achieve Existence in the World of Ideas," in Inner Reading and Inner Hearing, pp. 121-122, 131]