Translator's Notes:A. Note by translator: In German, the word for “childishness” is “Kindskoepfigkeit,” literally meaning “child-headedness.” Hence the references below to the head, etc.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Getting Real: Training Ourselves Toward Reality
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, August 15, 1920:
Today I would like to develop a number of themes, repeatedly presented as far as some of you are concerned. At the same time, this can serve as a preparation for what will have to be put forth tomorrow [ Note 32 ] concerning the formation of a social opinion. First of all I would like to call your attention to the manner in which we proceed within the sphere of present-day academic habits when debating and forming opinions concerning ideological questions. Our main concern is to decide logically: What is true and what is false? This specific mode of inquiry is something that must change today. Johann Gottlieb Fichte [ Note 33 ] put it beautifully: “One's philosophy depends on what sort of person one is.” Depending on a person's disposition, he forms a more materialistic or a more spiritualistic world conception, a realistic, idealistic, liberal or conservative, socialistic political world outlook; he develops a philistine or a progressive opinion concerning the emancipation of women. I could add indefinitely to the list. Opinions are formed and defended, because a person is convinced he possesses the only right view and that someone with an opposing idea is wrong. Right and wrong is something that is of special interest to us today in forming a judgment.
Already it can be observed — as we shall make clear presently — that we have the beginning of a transition from these “true and false” judgments to something entirely different. First, however, we shall try to clarify that the concepts of “true” and “false” did not always mean what they do today. Even as late as in the early days of Christianity, but particularly in ancient Egyptian and Chaldean times, not to mention the periods that preceded these cultural epochs, something quite different was applicable when one wished to form a judgment. Logic was not the determining factor. Instead one had the feeling that if a person judged something in a certain way it was healthy, if he formed an opinion in another way it was unhealthy. Just as we judge a person to be healthy because he is chubby-faced, rosy, and lively, and we judge someone to be sickly because he is emaciated, pale, and has circles under the eyes, it was said that an individual was healthy or sick depending on the way he made judgments. In the manner in which he formed opinions one saw an expression of the whole human organization just as we do in the chubby-faced or drawn, pale appearance. A person was judged more on what he himself actually was, less in regard to what he represented concerning his surroundings about which he developed for himself conceptions of right or wrong.
I have already emphasized for a number of you who were present earlier that in a certain sense we must return again to this way of looking at things. The course of human evolution is such that certain instinctive atavistic truths, originating from the ancient Mysteries, gradually became intellectualized and abstract. To this day we live in this intellectualism and abstraction. The new initiation science, on the other hand, which must become established, has to revert in a certain sense to the former feelings in full consciousness. Hence, in the future — although in a more or less distant future in regard to general humanity — there will be no dispute concerning whether an opinion is right or wrong, if one is seriously endeavoring to work for the progress of human civilization. An individual who searches for atoms and molecules in the external world, for example, instead of envisioning spiritual beings behind the sensory veil, will be considered to have pathological opinions. People will think that he is suffering from a certain sickness of soul that can be designated as a mental deficiency. The view that the external world is not a “phenomenon” in Goethe's sense, but that behind it something like real atoms and molecules are concealed, will be considered feebleminded. Such a view will be called mentally defective, not wrong, because people will find that it proceeds from an inadequate organization of the whole human being. It would also not be called wrong but childish to describe what arises out of the body's organization as a result of the metabolic processes — the combustion processes arising from the liver, the stomach, the blood circulation, and so on — as an exalted mystic does. It can be described accurately, but it is a matter of what standpoint one takes. However, if you consider it as something other than the flame that flares up out of the organization, it would be childish. I told you earlier that the word "childishness" has a different connotation on the other side of the threshold than on this side. [ Translator's Note A ] Seen from this side, you realize that the human being must mature in the course of his life between birth and death. He must become composed and sober and, unlike a child, cannot remain playful in his opinions. If, on the other hand, you look from yonder side of the threshold, from the supersensible world, into the sense world and observe the growing child, you see how the human being descended from the spiritual world and took hold of the physical body. You also see how the entity that descended works in a sculpturing manner on the corporeality in the physical world. In an entirely different way you then see that the soul-spiritual element is much more perfect than what we can develop in the life between birth and death as our reasoning power, our intellectuality.
I indicated earlier [ Note 34 ] that between birth and death the human being is capable of inwardly attaining to the wisdom which, out of the spiritual world, is actively involved in shaping the human brain and the remaining human organization. Philosophers such as Max Dessoir, [ Note 35 ] for example, took exception to these views, because when they mention the soul they have no idea what soul and spirit really are. Speaking from the other side of the threshold, “childishness” signifies that the soul-spiritual element of the child's head works on the physical head. What we designate as genius from this side of the threshold is nothing but the preservation of a portion of this “childishness,” “child-headedness,” throughout life. It is only when you retain too much of this childlike quality and you cannot realize how it surges forth out of the seething organism as the inner spark, the inner divine element, that genius turns into excessive “childheadedness,” namely, “childishness.” This is something that must be comprehended quite objectively. We must only be aware that on the other side these matters must be defined differently than on this side and that words receive another meaning. When we use the word “Kindskoepfigkeit” (childishness) on this side of the threshold, we really mean something negative. When we speak from the other side, we refer to the quality that remains in the human being in the right sense as genius and in the pathological sense as false mysticism.
Returning once again from the merely abstract and logical to reality, when we speak of right and wrong we refer to something that exists in the human being only as thought, a mere discrepancy between the inner and the outer realm, but when we speak of an unhealthy opinion, we indicate that something is amiss in the human being. This is the case, for example, when a person takes the world of phenomena to be a real, material world, or mysticism to be a direct divine manifestation within, instead of the flickering of organic processes. Knowledge, then, must become real, factual. This is the essential point toward which we will have to aim through spiritual science, namely, to refer to the factual, the real, once more, not simply the logical, when we speak of what comes from the human being.
As I said, even in the early ages of ancient Greece such talk of right and wrong in the modern logical sense would not have been understood. The old Greeks still spoke of healthy and unhealthy opinions. The followers of Platonism then gradually worked to achieve logic, which reached its culmination during Roman civilization and continued on into later periods.
Under certain suppositions, the judgments of right and wrong received a special expression in Scholasticism, judgments that were like an echo of the Roman manner of judging, only in a different area. People are still far from regaining a spiritual comprehension of healthy and unhealthy opinions in our time; instead, they aim in a different direction. They have worked their way to something entirely apart from man insofar as making judgments is concerned. When I say that a person makes healthy or unhealthy judgments, I refer to his organization. When I say: This person makes right or wrong judgments, I only make a statement about his condition of soul and frame of mind: I mean thereby that he is either a simpleton or an intelligent person, referring to characteristics of his. Lately, however, people have departed from that. Already a particular world conception has taken hold of a number of individuals. Among those who will not find their way to spiritual-scientific views this world conception will become popular, will become ever more and more widespread. It is something that proceeds from America but already makes itself felt in Europe, although, to begin with, only among the philosophers who always seem to have the edge on such matters. I am referring to so-called pragmatism. It is no longer concerned with right and wrong in the sense of the logic of antiquity: it maintains that right is what enables a person to adjust well to life. A person who maintains something that is not advantageous to him in life says that it is damaging. On the other hand, if he holds a view whereby he cleverly masters life, then he calls it something useful. Among pragmatists the views of right and wrong are considered so much nonsense, an illusion that people succumb to. An entire school of philosophy has sprung up around pragmatism, which, as I said, is more widely known in America than here, but is also beginning to show up in Europe in a variety of forms. This school of thought regards right and wrong as illusory, and believes that what is termed right or true is called that by man only because he finds it useful in life. Man judges something to be false or wrong because it is detrimental in life. In Germany, where people are always the most thorough in such matters, this view has attained quite a special development in the so-called “philosophy of the as-if.” [ Note 36 ] It originated from a man by the name of Vaihinger and has already found some popularity — I believe there is even an “as-if science,” or something like that. The latter says that we cannot assert that atoms and molecules exist. We can, however, say that we view the world with an eye to what is useful. It serves our purpose to view the world “as if” there were molecules and atoms; it is useful to us to view the world's course “as if” ethical ideals were made manifest. We behold the world “as if” it were ruled by a God. This “as-if” philosophy is quite characteristic of our times. It is the German version of American pragmatism, which has found disciples here. One of them, for example, is Wilhelm Jerusalem, [ Note 37 ] who has gone so far as to say that the qualifications "true" and "false" originally signified nothing else but something useful or disadvantageous in a dialectical sense. When we have to conclude that a person has a wrong idea about something, but this simultaneously helps him to become rich and well adjusted to life, these logicians come and say “His idea is true!” To us, this is an illusion. In reality it is not true, but something that is beneficial to him, which is then reinterpreted and called “true,” and whatever is disadvantageous is then considered incorrect, untrue.
In another passage by Jerusalem we find: "The evaluation which is subject to an interpretation carried out on the basis of usefulness or disadvantage, and the measure taken on the same basis, is nothing else but the origin of the concepts true and false." Sorry, I cannot read it to you differently; this is philosophical style!
It really is almost legal jargon. You can see that here the concepts true and false are traced back to the concepts of usefulness and disadvantage. This is absolutely the lowest level. We proceed from the concepts of healthy and pathological and then find the concepts of right and wrong. These concepts still adhere to man. One who has a right opinion is called intelligent, one who judges wrongly is called stupid. But it is at least something that still points to human qualities. Now we go so far that we find truth only in what is useful, wrong only in what is detrimental. This is the truth of the present! Philosophers put it into words; others actually judge accordingly, but they are just not aware of it. Particularly social opinions, when voiced, are expressed from none other than this standpoint.
Evolution must again continue in an upward direction. In the presence of truth we must be capable, first of all, of having a feeling, an inner experience, that in itself gives us a feeling of salubriousness. We must feel happy, so to say, in the face of truth and unhappy in the presence of the false. Our age demands this; we must strive for this in a healthy manner. We have to return again to the concepts of true and false, but with feeling.
This is what must take hold of humanity as inner cultural education, namely, that the concepts of true and false are not treated in the complacent manner customary today, but that man can have an inward part in truth and error. When one has insight into the necessities of the present age it is a very painful experience to see that people have gradually become so indifferent to one or the other assertion. Even just a century ago it was otherwise. You should have seen what would have happened if a gathering of people a hundred years ago had been told that, looked at from the other side, childishness signifies the same thing which, when seen from this side, is designated under certain circumstances as genius! A Wilhelm von Humboldt or a Fichte would have jumped up from their seats if something like this had been stated in those days, when man was still involved with all his being in such matters. Nowadays people do not get stirred up when one or another contention is made. The souls are asleep today. To have to encounter these sleeping souls at every step is something that fills one who comprehends the demands of our age with pain. As the most extreme result of this drowsiness in our age we now have the theosophical movement, whose followers wish to feel an inner sensual pleasure. They like matters expressed in such a way that everybody is gently calmed down more and more. A harmonious mood is supposed to pour over the listeners, gradually lulling everybody to sleep. It is just then, when everything can slowly, gently drift into sleep, that the eternal mystical element is felt!
This is what must change again. What we require is that our hearts leap in one or the other direction depending on the kind of assertion that is made. Then one will no longer analyze with mere logical neutrality whether something is right or wrong: one will feel well or sick depending on whether something is experienced as right or wrong. From that point, still further progress will be made. Spiritual science, however, has to cultivate this already now as an impulse that must penetrate us. We will have to return in full consciousness to where we judge something to be healthy or pathological. This, in turn, must affect the will. What we formerly experienced merely as true or false must now fill us inwardly with will, as it were. The will must be aroused. We must will the right; we must not will but rather destroy what is wrong, namely, what is sick. We must aspire to this change of attitude in man. It is not a matter merely of striving for another more or less correct view that can subsequently be discussed. Instead, we must aim for something that makes human beings sound inside. Our understanding must not merely aim for something concerning which we can then say that it is logically correct: it must lead to action, to reality, by means of which something happens.
It is life that is of importance to true, genuine spiritual science, not something that inhabits the head of a professor who today sits in his chair and with complete indifference holds forth on truth and error, till his listeners, vexed by his neutrality, could climb the walls. Certainly, many people would now interject that it is precisely inner calmness and tranquility that should be developed. Such matters must not be misunderstood. Inner calm and equanimity signify balance. This implies that we are capable of taking the side of the sound opinion, but that we are also able to develop the counter-forces so as to remain in balance in spite of taking sides, meaning that we always have ourselves under control. Conscious balance differs from drowsy inner balance. Thus you see that what we call an evolution in the spiritual-scientific sense must reach deeply into the innermost definitions of truth.
We cannot speak about man's faculties between death and a new birth if we do not become accustomed to using words in a way differing entirely from how it is done in today's spoken language. This is why people who wish to hear only what they already know will always find the language of spiritual science unintelligible. For not only would they have to accustom themselves to the fact that the words are connected in a different manner, but that a content other than the one heretofore understood is poured into the words. It is only when we thus look into human evolution that we acquire the ability to judge how different the human being was in prehistoric times, how he will change again in the far-off future, and how we must evaluate what presently confronts us in the intermediary stage of civilization. Our age is beset by such catastrophic dangers that it is imperative to come round to a real knowledge of man. At the moment, we in Europe find ourselves at a most important, decisive point. Most people have no inkling of what goes on in the complicated organism of public life. The present days are almost more significant for the continuing progress of European civilization than the days of the recent past. People will have to get used to the fact that the wish to cling to the old is destructive, and that only a firm reliance on the sources of spiritual science will lead us forward.
It is strange how a certain insight gained beyond the threshold in the spiritual worlds casts its shadows into this arch-materialistic age. Two or three years ago one became the subject of ridicule if one spoke about the impulses proceeding from certain secret Western societies that determine public affairs. I gave a whole series of lectures [ Note 38 ] here concerning these matters, and a number of you will have become familiar with their content in one way or another. One was laughed at, more or less, if one mentioned that public affairs are penetrated by forces whose origin is discovered when light is thrown upon certain secret societies that follow the traditions of ancient initiation wisdom but apply the latter in the wrong direction. Today, in a relatively short time, things have changed. For a week the sober English press, which is indeed not inclined to lend itself to special capers, has brought out articles about the existence of secret societies. Even though these articles deal with starting points that are nothing but what is put out by the Jesuits, one nonetheless must admit that even though the wind blows from quite the wrong corner it still catches people's attention. What is discussed for as long as a week with, let me say, philosophical exactitude indicates how thoroughly the world has changed in this regard in the last few years. People easily overlook it, however, when the sober English newspapers [ Note 39 ] print compilations today such as the one showing that in 1897 the world was confronted with something like a description of future events. Something like this appears in the columns on the left-hand side while on the right side appear the programs of the Bolshevists and current events. What was known already in 1897 is happening today; one can prove philologically that today's events correspond to the earlier forecast. Naturally, people point to these matters journalistically without having any knowledge about the deeper relationships; hardly anybody today senses what he is dealing with. What this is all about is that there are individuals, standing far in the background of what happens on the surface, who with a firm hand manipulate the strings leading to current events. Yet they wish to remain unknown and therefore transfer to others what would otherwise be traced back to them. What is printed is a fabrication, but a carefully calculated one, especially when its origins are considered, because it is designed to lay the blame on others so that mankind will not suspect those who are actually pulling the strings. As I said, today one must feel the responsibility to face what is actually taking place.
I said to many a person in 1914: It is not permissible to write the history of that catastrophic war, which began in 1914, in the manner in which such events were reported in former days simply by drawing on the archives. If one really wishes to comprehend what had its start in 1914, one must resort to the occult means of thinking. One has to clearly understand that some of the most eminent individuals who participated throughout the civilized world in bringing about the catastrophe, suffered from a benumbed, dimmed consciousness. Such moments, however, when people become benumbed in their consciousness, are the gateways through which the Ahrimanic powers enter the world, governing and taking charge. If a person occupies an important position but in a decisive moment suffers a dimming down of consciousness, he no longer rules; Ahriman rules through him. Spiritual forces extend their rule into this world, such as those I now refer to, in this case of Ahrimanic nature. The events of the last few years can only be understood if one is willing to trace these relationships in a spiritual-scientific manner. It will become increasingly impossible to comprehend what is happening throughout the civilized world unless one is ready to understand it on the basis of spiritual science. One can have endless discussions about what this or that person said three or four years ago or today. It is much more important to acquire a knowledge of man, so that it is possible to ascertain how sound or unsound a person was or is in a given position, for it depends on that whether benign or evil powers affect the course of events. It is true that the path to forming judgments in this manner is not strewn with roses. For when people are asked to form judgments in this manner concerning the interplay in the sense world of supersensory or subsensory powers, they are easily tempted to lose their heads in mystical arrogance.
He who would seriously nurture spiritual science requires not only the normal degree of sobriety but a higher form of it: no rapture, no losing of oneself, but a firm stand on a solid basis of reality. This is what is necessary. We must train ourselves toward reality if we wish to form judgments the way they really ought to be formed today.
It is a great danger when anyone says that his pronouncements are the result of higher powers, not of what he does or does not wish. Nothing but pure egotism is usually concealed behind that. Mystics who present themselves to the world as bearers of this or that spiritual entity are most frequently the biggest of egotists. This is why the first requirement on the path to a certain higher knowledge is the development of sobriety, the ability to disregard everything connected with egotism. As a rule, fanatical ecstasy is nothing but an alternate form of egotism. It is also particularly important that mankind cultivate a certain sense of humor on its path to spirituality. The world is far removed from such humor today. It is extraordinarily difficult to cope with the world's opinion in regard to these matters, because everything possible that organically exists and works in the depths of human nature adds its voice to it.
Perhaps a first indication has now been given of what has to be pointed out in order to stress the significance, on the one hand, of the path leading to the attainment of a spiritual opinion, and, on the other, the difficulty and danger of this path. We must be aware of these two aspects. We must not allow ourselves to be held back because of the dangers involved; we also may not become remiss in face of the efforts required truly to form an opinion in accordance with the spirit. These points must always be kept in mind when trying to understand the human being of the present time, and without understanding him in this way, we cannot arrive at a social opinion. Man must be comprehended in such a manner that he is fully appraised as a body, soul, and spirit; that not only his life between birth and death but also his life between death and a new birth is taken into consideration. Basically, judgments such as “useful” or “detrimental” have no validity for the life between death and a new birth; the opinions “healthy” or “unhealthy” make much sense for that period. There, human souls are either “healthy” or “unhealthy” due to the after-effects of earthly life. To consider the concepts "useful" or “damaging” as “right” or “wrong” in the sense that we explained it here implies limiting all world observation merely to a physical world. The existence in the present of pragmatism and a philosophy of the “as-if” is the surest sign that people have no feeling at all for what lies across the threshold from the physical world in the spiritual realm.
A sound social view, however, will only come about on the basis of this initiation science. Let us take one area of the threefold social organism, held by some to be the most material and prosaic, namely, the economic life. We know that the economy will only develop in a healthy direction when it evolves under the principle of associations. What does that imply? It means that in the future, people will in no way acquire an economic opinion for themselves through the single individuality. Of course, epistemologically it will stem from the individuality, but it will not be developed by it. To a properly evolved mankind of the future, the forming of an economic opinion merely out of the individuality will seem like the famous sleeper, depicted by Jean Paul, who wakes up in the middle of the night in a dark room, sees nothing, hears nothing, and ponders what time it is, trying to figure this out by thinking about it. One must be in harmony with one's surroundings if one wishes to form an idea of what time it is in the middle of the night. And in the future, if one is to arrive at an economic opinion — concerning, for example, prices, or the number of workers that can be employed in a certain branch of the economy — one will have to be in close contact with associations, those active in production in this particular branch and those representing its consumers. As a result of such cooperation between associations it will be possible to form a valid judgment. The way one tries to do it today, proceeding from the individuality, is the same thing as what the above-mentioned fellow does who has been asleep and attempts to calculate all by himself what time it is. Recent events have demonstrated how far one gets with an opinion that is not based on associative experience.
I have cited another example as well to a number of you already. In the nineteenth century learned discussions were held concerning the usefulness of the gold standard. From the middle well into the last third of the nineteenth century, representatives from all the parliaments of Europe, as well as from any number of practical spheres, always found the most beautiful and ingenious reasons why a gold standard should replace bimetalism. [ Note 40 ] What did they expect from it? They claimed that the gold standard would bring about free trade. What happened in reality? Protective tariffs everywhere — the opposite of what all those smart economists and parliamentarians had predicted! I am not trying to be funny when I say “those smart people.” They were all in error, yet I am not calling them stupid or foolish; they really were smart. They did not have economic experience, however; for this sort of experience cannot be fabricated out of thin air or developed through pondering. It can only be attained when, in associative connections, one draws lines from one area to another. Just as we read time from the clocks, so from the associations we shall read the basics for an economic judgment that can lead to actions.
What does all this signify? You will recall my frequent references to the existence of a kind of group opinion, a group soul, at a certain starting point of our human evolution. Whole groups of people instinctively judged and felt alike. Indeed, languages would never have developed if people had not formed opinions as groups. There even existed a group memory, as I have outlined in some of my lecture cycles. [ Note 41 ] Thus humanity's evolution proceeded from groups, from instinctive group opinions. It then descended to its lowest point, and will ascend again through associations, but consciously this time by uniting people once again in groups, in associations, that support and base themselves on their economic judgment. People once again ascend to an associative opinion. However, this will be accomplished by the conscious forming of such groups; what happened formerly out of atavistic instinct will now happen in full consciousness. Here you again have one of the reasons that can be given on the basis of spiritual science for the necessity of a social development such as set forth in my book Towards Social Renewal. [ Note 13 ] These matters are of such a nature that they can be established with absolute mathematical certainty if one turns to the sources of true perception. These matters are not made public recklessly and lightly; they are brought up from the very foundations of human life. What is necessary for our time is to build a world in a social manner that is based on insight into human nature. We cannot advance without that. All talk about leftist or rightist politics, all dogmatic dictates that men have for believing in a God, everything from a philistine to a liberal conception of women's rights, from the most reactionary to the Bolshevistic side, remains empty talk without such insight, talk not founded on reality, which will lead only into destruction. Reality will only be grasped by means of spiritual experience. Then, however, one must be capable of entering into a true knowledge of the human being. One must be able to see how this associative element, required in the economic life with full consciousness, will result in an ascending development in respect to what had been lost of the atavistic, instinctive judgment during the descent. We deal here with true, genuine, totally discernible science; a science that is as lucid as the Pythagorean theorem, even though today's scientists pay little heed to its lucidity. Yet we must have a sufficient number of human beings who can comprehend the crystal clarity of those judgments which alone are the only ones able to lead from our decline to an ascent by drawing on the sources of spiritual science.
I intended all this as a sort of introduction also for tomorrow, when we are going to speak in lectures and free discussions about the forming of social judgments and the necessities of doing that in the present-day social conditions.