Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wisdom: the spiritual foundation of morality

from The Spiritual Foundation of Morality. Lecture 3 of 3.
Rudolf Steiner, May 30, 1912:

...Let us now ask: How can the sentient soul turn to one side or the other, away from what is right? The sentient soul is that quality in man which enables him to perceive the objective world, to take it into himself, to take part in it, not to pass through the world ignorant of all the diversified objects it contains, but to go through the world in such a way that he forms a relationship with them. All this is brought about by the sentient soul. We find one side to which man can deviate with the sentient soul when we enquire: What makes it possible for man to enter into relationship with the objective world? It is what may be called interest in the different things, and by this word “interest” something is expressed which in a moral sense is extremely important. It is much more important that one should bear in mind the moral significance of interest than that one should devote oneself to thousands of beautiful moral axioms, which may be only paltry and hypocritical. Let it be clearly understood that our moral impulses are in fact never better guided than when we take a proper interest in objects and beings. In our last lecture we spoke in a deeper sense of love as an impulse, and in such a way that we cannot now be misunderstood if we say that the usual, oft-repeated declamation “love, love, and again love” cannot replace the moral impulse contained in what may be described by the word interest.

Let us suppose that we have a child before us. What is the condition primary to our devotion to this child? What is the first condition to our educating the child? It is that we take an interest in it. There is something unhealthy or abnormal in the human soul if a person withdraws himself from something in which he takes an interest. It will more and more be recognized that the impulse of interest is a quite specially golden impulse in the moral sense the further we advance to the actual foundations of morality and do not stop at the mere preaching of morals. Our inner powers are also called forth as regards mankind when we extend our interests, when we are able to transpose ourselves with understanding into beings and objects.

Even sympathy is awakened in the right manner if we take an interest in a being; and if, as anthroposophists, we set ourselves the task of extending our interests more and more and of widening our mental horizon, this will promote the universal brotherhood of mankind. Progress is not gained by the mere preaching of universal love, but by the extension of our interests further and further, so that we come to interest ourselves increasingly in souls with widely different characters, racial and national peculiarities, with widely different temperaments, and holding widely differing religious and philosophical views, and approach them with understanding. Right interest, right understanding, calls forth from the soul the right moral action.

Here also we must hold the balance between two extremes. One extreme is apathy, which passes everything by and occasions immense moral mischief in the world. An apathetic person only lives in himself, obstinately insisting on his own principles, and saying: This is my standpoint. In a moral sense this insistence upon a standpoint is always bad. The essential thing is for us to have an open mind for all that surrounds us. Apathy separates us from the world, while interest unites us with it. The world loses us through our apathy: in this direction we become unmoral. Thus we see that apathy and lack of interest in the world are morally evil in the highest degree.

Anthroposophy is something which makes the mind ever more active, helps us to think with greater readiness of what is spiritual and to take it into ourselves. Just as it is true that warmth comes from the fire when we light a stove, so it is true that interest in humanity and the world comes when we study spiritual science. Wisdom is the fuel for interest, and we may say, although this may perhaps not be evident without further explanation, that Anthroposophy arouses this interest in us when we study those more remote subjects: the teachings concerning the evolutionary stages through Saturn, Sun, and Moon; the meaning of karma; and so on. It really comes about that interest is produced as the result of anthroposophical knowledge, while from materialistic knowledge comes something which in a radical manner must be described as apathy and which, if it alone were to hold sway in the world, would, of necessity, do untold harm.

See how many people go through the world and meet this or that person, but really do not get to know him, for they are quite shut up in themselves. How often do we find that two people have been friends for a long time and then suddenly there comes a rupture. This is because the friendship had a materialistic foundation and only after the lapse of time did they discover that they were mutually unsympathetic. At the present time very few people have the “hearing” ear for that which speaks from man to man; but Anthroposophy should bring about an expansion of our perceptions, so that we shall gain a “seeing” eye and an open mind for all that is human around us and so we shall not go through the world apathetically, but with true interest.

We also avoid the other extreme by distinguishing between true and false interests, and thus observe the happy mean. Immediately to throw oneself, as it were, into the arms of each person we meet is to lose oneself passionately in the person; that is not true interest. If we do this, we lose ourselves to the world. Through apathy the world loses us; through uncontrolled passion we lose ourselves to the world. But through healthy, devoted interest we stand morally firm in the center, in the state of balance.

In the third post-Atlantean age of civilization, that is, in the Chaldaic-Egyptian age, there still existed in a large part of humanity on Earth a certain power to hold the balance between apathy and the passionate intoxicating devotion to the world; and it is this which in ancient times, and also by Plato and Aristotle, was called wisdom. But people looked upon this wisdom as the gift of superhuman beings, for up to that time the ancient impulses of wisdom were active. Therefore, from this point of view, especially relating to moral impulses, we may call the third post-Atlantean age the age of instinctive wisdom. You will perceive the truth of what was said last year, though with a different intention, in the Copenhagen lectures on The Spiritual Guidance of Man and Mankind. In those lectures we showed how, in the third post-Atlantean age, mankind still stood nearer to the divine spiritual powers. And that which drew mankind closer to the divine spiritual powers was instinctive wisdom.

Thus it was a gift of the gods to find at that time the happy mean in action, between apathy and sensuous passionate devotion. This balance, this equilibrium, was at that time still maintained through external institutions. The complete intermingling of humanity which came about in the fourth age of post-Atlantean development through the migrations of various peoples did not yet exist. Mankind was still divided into smaller peoples and tribes. Their interests were wisely regulated by nature, and were so far active that the right moral impulses could penetrate; and on the other hand, through the existence of blood kinsmanship in the tribe, an obstacle was placed in the way of passion. Even today one cannot fail to observe that it is easiest to show interest within blood-relationship and common descent, but in this there is not what is called sensuous passion. As people were gathered together in relatively small tracts of country in the Egypto-Chaldaic age, the wise and happy mean was easily found.

But the idea of the progressive development of humanity is that that which originally was instinctive, which was only spiritual, shall gradually disappear and that man shall become independent of the divine spiritual powers. Hence we see that even in the fourth post-Atlantean age, the Graeco-Latin age, not only the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, but also public opinion in Greece, considered wisdom as something which must be gained, as something which is no longer the gift of the gods, but after which man must strive. According to Plato, the first virtue is wisdom, and according to him, he who does not strive after wisdom is unmoral.

We are now in the fifth post-Atlantean age. We are still far from the time when the wisdom instinctively implanted in humanity as a divine impulse will be raised into consciousness. Hence in our age people are specially liable to err in both the directions we have mentioned, and it is therefore particularly necessary that the great dangers to be found at this point should be counteracted by a spiritual conception of the world, so that what man once possessed as instinctive wisdom may now become conscious wisdom. The Anthroposophical Movement is to contribute to this end.

The gods once gave wisdom to the unconscious human soul, so that it possessed this wisdom instinctively, whereas now we have first to learn the truths about the cosmos and about human evolution. The ancient customs were also fashioned after the thoughts of the gods.

We have the right view of Anthroposophy when we look upon it as the investigations of the thoughts of the gods. In former times these flowed instinctively into man, but now we have to investigate them, to make the knowledge of them our own. In this sense Anthroposophy must be sacred to us; we must be able to consider reverently that the ideas imparted to us are really something divine, and something which we human beings are allowed to think and reflect upon as the divine thoughts according to which the world has been ordered. When Anthroposophy stands in this aspect to us we can then consider the knowledge it imparts in such a way that we understand that it has been given us so as to enable us to fulfill our mission. Mighty truths are made known to us when we study what has been imparted concerning the evolutions of Saturn, Sun, and Moon, concerning reincarnation, and the development of the various races, etc. But we only assume the right attitude toward it when we say: The thoughts we seek are the thoughts wherewith the gods have guided evolution. We think the evolution of the gods. If we understand this correctly we are overwhelmed by something that is deeply moral. This is inevitable. Then we say: In ancient times man had instinctive wisdom from the gods, who gave him the wisdom according to which they fashioned the world, and morality thus became possible. But through Anthroposophy we now acquire this wisdom consciously. Therefore we may also trust that in us it shall be transformed into moral impulses, so that we do not merely receive anthroposophical wisdom, but a moral stimulus as well.