Rudolf Steiner: "Theoretical discussion of the spiritual world is no less painful than holding your finger over a flame."
Modern Man and His World Conception. The Riddles of Philosophy, Part 2, Chapter 7
The Austrian thinker Bartholomaeus Carneri (1871 – 1909) attempted to open wide perspectives of world conception and ethics on the ground of Darwinism. Eleven years after the appearance of Darwin's Origin of Species, he published his work Morality and Darwinism (1871), in which he used the new world of ideas as the basis of an ethical world conception in a comprehensive way. (Compare his books Foundation of Ethics, 1881, Man as His Own Purpose, 1878, and Modern Man, Essays on Life Conduct, 1891.) Carneri tries to find in the picture of nature the elements through which the self-conscious ego is conceivable within this picture. He would like to think this world picture so wide and so comprehensive as to contain the human soul within its scope. He aims at the reunion of the ego with the mother ground of nature, from which it has become separated. He represents in his world conception the opposite tendency to the philosophy for which the world becomes an illusion of the imagination and which, for that reason, renounces all connection with the reality of the world so far as knowledge is concerned.
Carneri rejects all moral philosophy that intends to proclaim for man other moral commandments than those that result from his own nature. We must remember that man is not to be understood as a special being beside all other things of nature but that he is a being that has gradually developed from lower entities according to purely natural laws. Carneri is convinced that all life is like a chemical process. “The digestion in man is such a process, as well as the nutrition of the plant.” At the same time, he emphasizes that the chemical process must be raised to a higher form of evolution if it is to become plant or animal.
Life is a chemical process of a special kind; it is the individualized chemical process, for the chemical process can reach a point where it can maintain itself without certain conditions . . . that it formerly needed.
It is apparent that Carneri observes that lower processes are transformed into higher ones, that matter takes on higher forms of existence through the perfection of its functions.
As matter, we conceive the substance insofar as the properties that result from its divisibility and its motion affect our senses physically, that is to say, as mass. If this division or differentiation goes so far as to produce phenomena that are no longer sensually perceptible but only perceptible to our thinking, we say the effect of the substance is spiritual.
Also, morality does not exist as a special form of reality; it is a process of nature on a higher level. Therefore, the question cannot be raised: What is man to do to comply with some special moral commandment that is valid for him? We can only ask: What appears as morality when the lower processes develop into the higher spiritual ones?
While moral philosophy proclaims certain moral laws and commands that they are to be kept so that man may be what he ought to be, our ethics develops man as he is. It wants to do no more than to show him what he may at some time become. While the former moralizing philosophy knows of duties to be enforced by punishments, our ethics uphold an ideal from which any compulsion would merely distract because it can be approached only on the path of knowledge and of freedom.
As the chemical process individualizes itself into a living being on a higher level, so on a still higher level, life is transformed into self-consciousness. The entity that has become self-conscious no longer merely looks out into nature; it looks back into itself.
The awakened self-consciousness constituted, if conceived dualistically, a break with nature, and man felt himself separated from nature. This breach existed only for him, but for him it was complete. It had not developed as suddenly as it is taught in Genesis, just as the days of creation must not be taken literally as days. But with the completion of self-consciousness, the breach was a fact and with the feeling of boundless lonesomeness that overcame man in this state, his ethical development began.
Up to a certain point nature leads life. At this point, self-consciousness arises, man comes into existence. “His further development is his own work and what keeps him on the course of progress is the power and the gradual clarification of his wishes.” Nature takes care of all other beings, but it endows man with desires and expects him to take care of their fulfillment. Man has within himself the impulse to arrange his existence in agreement with his wishes. This impulse is his desire for happiness:
This impulse is unknown to the animal. It knows only the instinct for self-preservation; to develop that instinct into the desire for happiness, the human self-consciousness is necessary as a fundamental condition.
The striving for happiness is the basis of all action:
The martyr who sacrifices his life, be it for his scientific conviction or for his belief in God, aims for nothing but his happiness. He finds it in the first case in his loyalty of conviction, and in the second case he expects it in a better world. To everyone happiness is the last aim, and no matter how different the picture may be that the individual has of this happiness, it is to every sentient living being the beginning and the end of all his thinking and feeling.
As nature gives man only the need for happiness, this image of happiness must have its origin within man himself. Man creates for himself the pictures of his happiness. They spring from his ethical fantasy. Carneri finds in this fantasy the new concept that prescribes the ideals of our action to our thinking. The “good” is, for Carneri, “identical with progressive evolution, and since evolution is pleasure . . . happiness not merely constituted the aim but also the moving element that drives toward that aim.”
Carneri attempted to find the way that leads from the natural order to the sources of morality. He believed he had found the ideal power that propels the ethical world order as spontaneously from one moral event to the next as the material forces on the physical level develop formation after formation and fact after fact.
Carneri's mode of conception is entirely in agreement with the idea of evolution that does not permit the notion that a later phase of development is already pre-formed in an earlier one, but considers it as a really new formation. The chemical process does not contain implicitly animal life, and happiness develops as an entirely new element on the ground of the animal's instinct for self-preservation. The difficulty that lies in this thought caused a penetrating thinker, W. H. Rolph, to develop the line of reasoning that he set down in his book Biological Problems, an Attempt at the Development of a Rational Ethics (1884). Rolph asks himself: “What is the reason that a form of life does not remain at a given stage but develops progressively and becomes more perfect?” This problem presents no difficulty for a thinker who maintains that the later form is already implicitly contained in the earlier one. For him, it is quite clear that what is at first implicit will become explicit at a certain time. But Rolph was not willing to accept this answer. On the other hand, however, he was also not satisfied with the “struggle for existence” as a solution of the problem. If a living being fights only for the satisfaction of its necessary needs, it will, to be sure, overpower its weaker competitors, but it will itself remain what it is. If one does not want to attribute a mysterious, mystical tendency toward perfection to this being, one must seek the cause of this perfection in external, natural circumstances. Rolph tries to give an explanation by stating that, whenever possible, every being satisfies its needs to a greater extent than is necessary.
Only by introducing the idea of insatiability does the Darwinian principle of perfection in the struggle for life become acceptable, for it is only thus that we have an explanation for the fact that the creature acquires, whenever it can do so, more than it needs for maintaining its status quo, and that it grows excessively whenever the occasion is given for it. (Biological Problems)
What takes place in this realm of living beings is, in Rolph's opinion, not a struggle for acquisition of the necessary means of life but a “struggle for surplus acquisition.” “While the Darwinist knows of no life struggle as long as the existence of the creature is not threatened, I consider this struggle as ever present. It is simply primarily a struggle for life, a struggle for the increase of life, not a struggle for existence.” Rolph draws from these natural scientific presuppositions the conclusions for his ethics:
Expansion of life, not its mere preservation, struggle for advantage, not for existence, is the rallying cry. The mere acquisition of life's necessities and sustenance is not sufficient; what must also be gained is comfort, if not wealth, power, and influence. The search and striving for continuous improvement of the condition of life is the characteristic impulse of animal and man. (Biological Problems)
Rolph's thoughts stimulated Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) to produce his own ideas of evolution after having gone through other phases of his soul life. At the beginning of his career as an author, the idea of evolution and natural science in general had been far from his thoughts. He was at first deeply impressed by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and from him he adopted the conception of pain as lying at the bottom of all existence. Unlike Schopenhauer and Eduard van Hartmann, Nietzsche did not seek the redemption from this pain in the fulfillment of moral tasks. It was his belief rather that the transformation of life into a work of art that leads beyond the pain of existence. Thus, the Greeks created a world of beauty and appearance in order to make this painful existence bearable. In Richard Wagner's musical drama he believed he found a world in which beauty lifts man beyond pain. It was in a certain sense a world of illusion that was quite consciously sought by Nietzsche in order to overcome the misery of the world. He was of the opinion that, at the root of the oldest Greek culture, there had been the will of man to forget the real world through a state of intoxication.
Singing and dancing man manifests himself as a member of a higher community. He has forgotten to walk and to speak and, in his dance, he is about to fly up into the air. (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872)
With these words Nietzsche describes and explains the cult of the ancient worshipers of Dionysus, in which he saw the root of all art. Nietzsche maintained of Socrates that he had overpowered this Dionysian impulse by placing reason as judge over them. The statement “Virtue is teachable” meant, according to Nietzsche, the end of a comprehensive, impulsive culture and the beginning of a much feebler phase dominated by thinking. Such an idea arose in Nietzsche under the influence of Schopenhauer, who placed the untamed, restless will higher than the systematizing thought life, and under the influence of Richard Wagner who, both as a man and as an artist, followed Schopenhauer. But Nietzsche was, by his own inclination, also a contemplative nature. After having surrendered for awhile to the idea of the redemption of the world through beauty as mere appearance, he felt this conception as a foreign element to his own nature, something that had been implanted in him through the influence of Richard Wagner, with whom he had been connected by friendship. Nietzsche tried to free himself from this trend of ideas and to come to terms with a conception of reality that was more in agreement with his own nature. The fundamental trait of his character compelled him to experience the ideas and impulses of the development of a modern world conception as a direct personal fate. Other thinkers formed pictures of a world conception and the process of this formative description constituted their philosophic activity. Nietzsche is confronted with the world conceptions of the second half of the nineteenth century, and it becomes his destiny to experience personally all the delight but also all the sorrows that these world conceptions can cause if they affect the very substance of the human soul. Not only theoretically but with his entire individuality at stake, Nietzsche's philosophical life developed in such a way that representative world conceptions of modern times would completely take hold of him, forcing him to work himself through to his own solutions in the most personal experiences of life.
How can one live if one must think that the world is as Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner imagine it to be? This became the disturbing riddle for him. It was not, however, a riddle for which he sought a solution by means of thinking and knowledge. He had to experience the solution of this problem with every fibre of his nature. Others think philosophy; Nietzsche had to live philosophy. The modern life of world conception becomes completely personal in Nietzsche. When an observer meets the philosophies of other thinkers, he feels inclined to judge: This is one-sided, that is incorrect, etc. With Nietzsche such an observer finds himself confronted with a world conception within the life of a human being, and he sees that one idea makes this human being healthy while another makes him ill. For this reason, Nietzsche becomes more and more a poet as he presents his picture of world and life. It is also for this reason that a reader who cannot agree with Nietzsche's presentation insofar as his philosophy is concerned, can still admire it because of its poetic power.
What an entirely different tone comes into the modern history of philosophy through Nietzsche as compared to Hamerling, Wundt, and even Schopenhauer! These thinkers search contemplatively for the ground of existence and they arrive at the will, which they find in the depths of the human soul. In Nietzsche this will is alive. He absorbs the philosophical ideas, sets them aglow with his ardent will-nature, and then makes something entirely new out of them: A life through which will-inspired ideas and idea-illumined will pulsate. This happens in Nietzsche's first creative period, which began with his Birth of Tragedy (1870), and had its full expression in his four Untimely Meditations: David Strauss Confessor and Author; On the Use and Disadvantage of History for Life; Schopenhauer as Educator; Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. In the second phase of his life, it was Nietzsche's destiny to experience deeply what a life and world conception based exclusively on the thought habits of natural science can be to the human soul. This period is expressed in his works Human, All Too Human (1878), The Dawn of Day (1881), and Gay Science (1882).
Now the ideals that inspired Nietzsche in his first period have cooled; they appear to him as bubbles of thought. His soul now wants to gain strength, to be invigorated in its feeling by the “reality” of the content that can be derived from the mode of conception of natural science. But Nietzsche's soul is full of life; the vigor of this inner life strives beyond anything that it could owe to the contemplative observation of nature. The contemplation of nature shows that the animal becomes man. As the soul feels its inner power of life, the conception arises: The animal bore man in itself; must not man bear within himself a higher being, the superman? Nietzsche's soul experiences in itself the superman wresting himself free from man. His soul revels in lifting the modern idea of evolution that was based on the world of the senses to the realm that the senses do not perceive, a realm that is felt when the soul experiences the meaning of evolution within itself. “The mere acquisition of life's necessities and sustenance is not sufficient; what must also be gained is comfort, if not wealth, power, and influence. The search and striving for a continuous improvement of the condition of life is the characteristic impulse of animal and man.” This conviction, which in Rolph was the result of contemplative observation, becomes in Nietzsche an inner experience, expressed in a grandiose hymn of philosophic vision. The knowledge that represents the external world is insufficient to him; it must become inwardly increasingly fruitful. Self-observation is poverty. A creation of a new inner life that outshines everything so far in existence, everything man is already, arises in Nietzsche's soul. In man, the superman is born for the first time as the meaning of existence. Knowledge itself grows beyond what it formerly had been; it becomes a creative power. As man creates, he takes his stand in the midst of the meaning of life. With lyrical ardor Nietzsche expresses in his Zarathustra (1884) the bliss that his soul experiences in creating “superman” out of man. A knowledge that feels itself as creative perceives more in the ego of man than can be lived through in a single course of life; it contains more than can be exhausted in such a single life. It will again and again return to a new life. In this way the idea of “eternal recurrence” of the human soul thrusts itself on Nietzsche to join his idea of “superman.”
Rolph's idea of the “enhancement of life” grows in Nietzsche into the conception of the “Will to Power,” which he attributes to all being and life in the world of animal and of man. This “Will to Power” sees in life “an appropriation, violation, overpowering of the alien and weaker being, its annexation or at least, in the mildest case, its exploitation.” In his book Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche sang his hymn of praise to his faith in the reality and the development of man into “superman.” In his unfinished work Will to Power, Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values, he wanted to reshape all conceptions from the viewpoint that no other will in man held higher sway than the will for power.
The striving for knowledge becomes in Nietzsche a real force that comes to life in the soul of man. As Nietzsche feels this animation within himself, life assumes in him such an importance that he places it above all knowledge and truth that has not been stirred into life. This again led him to renounce all truth and to seek in the will for power a substitute for the will for truth. He no longer asks “Is what we know true?” but rather “Is it sustaining and furthering life?”
“What matters in all philosophizing is never ‘the truth’ but something entirely different, let us call it health, the future, power, life . . .” What man really strives for is always power; he only indulged himself in the illusion that he wanted “truth.” He confused the means with the end. Truth is merely a means for the purpose. “The fact that a judgment is wrong is no objection to it.” What is important is not whether a judgment is true or not, but “the question to what degree it advances and preserves life, preserves a race, perhaps even breeds a race.” “Most thinking of a philosopher is done secretly by his instincts and thus forced into certain channels.” Nietzsche's world conception is the expression of a personal feeling as an individual experience and destiny.
In Goethe the deep impulse of modern philosophical life became apparent; he felt the idea come to life within the self-conscious ego so that with this enlivened idea this ego can know itself in the core of the world. In Nietzsche the desire exists to let man develop his life beyond himself; he feels that then the meaning of life must be revealed in what is inwardly self-created being, but he does not penetrate essentially to what man creates beyond himself as the meaning of life. He sings a grandiose hymn of praise to the superman, but he does not form his picture; he feels his growing reality but he does not see him. Nietzsche speaks of an “eternal recurrence,” but he does not describe what it is that recurs. He speaks of raising the form of life through the will to power, but where is the description of the heightened form of life? Nietzsche speaks of something that must be there in the realm of the unknown, but he does not succeed in going further than pointing at the unknown. The forces that are unfolded in the self-conscious ego are also not sufficiently strong in Nietzsche to outline distinctly a reality that he knows as weaving and breathing in human nature.
We have a contrast to Nietzsche's world conception in the materialistic conception of history and life that was given its most pregnant expression by Karl Marx (1818 – 83). Marx denied that the idea had any share in historical evolution. For him, the real factors of life constituted the actual basis of this evolution, and from them are derived opinions concerning the world that men have been able to form according to the various situations of life in which they find themselves. The man who is working physically and under the power of somebody else has a world conception that differs from that of the intellectual worker. An age that replaces an older economic form with a new one brings also different conceptions of life to the surface of history. If one wants to understand a historical age, one must, for its explanation, go back to its social conditions and its economic processes. All political and cultural currents are only surface-reflectings of these deeper processes. They are essentially ideal effects of real facts, but they have no share in those facts. A world conception, therefore, that is caused by ideal factors can have no share in the progressive evolution of our present conduct of life. It is rather our task to take up the real conflicts of life at the point at which they have arrived, and to continue their development in the same direction.
This conception evolved from a materialistic reversal of Hegelianism. In Hegel, the ideas are in a continuous progress of evolution and the results of this evolution are the actual events of life. What Auguste Comte derived from natural scientific conceptions as a conception of society based on the actual events of life, Karl Marx wants to attain from the direct observation of the economic evolution. Marxism is the boldest form of an intellectual current that starts from the historical phenomena as they appear to external observation, in order to understand the spiritual life and the entire cultural development of man. This is modern “sociology.” It in no way accepts man as an individual but rather as a member of social evolution. Man's conceptions, knowledge, action, and feeling are all considered to be the result of social powers under the influence of which the individual stands.
Hippolyte Taine (1828 – 93) calls the sum total of the forces determining every cultural event the “milieu.” Every work of art, every institution, every action is to be explained from preceding and simultaneous circumstances. If we know the race, the milieu, and the moment through and in which a human achievement comes into being, we have explained this work. Ferdinand Lassalle (1825 – 65), in his System of Acquired Rights (1861), showed how conditions of rights and laws, such as property, contract, family, inheritance, etc., arise and develop. The mode of conception of the Romans created a kind of law that differed from that of the Germans. In none of these thoughts is the question raised as to what arises in the human individual, what does he produce through his own inner nature? The question that is always asked is: What are the causes in the general social conditions for the life of the individual? One can observe in this thought tendency an opposite inclination to the one prevailing at the beginning of the nineteenth century with regard to the question of man's relation to the world. It was then customary to ask: What rights can man claim through his own nature (natural rights), or in what way does man obtain knowledge in accordance with his own power of reason as an individual? The sociological trend of thought, however, asks: What are the legal and intellectual concepts that the various social groupings cause to arise in the individual?
The fact that I form certain conceptions concerning things does not depend on my power of reasoning but is the result of the historical development that produced me. In Marxism the self-conscious ego is entirely deprived of its own nature; it finds itself drifting in the ocean of facts. These facts develop according to the laws of natural science and of social conditions. In this world conception the impotence of modern philosophy with regard to the human soul approaches a maximum. The “ego,” the self-conscious human soul, wants to find in itself the entity through which it can assert its own significance within the existence of the world, but it is unwilling to dive into its own depths. It is afraid it will not find in its own depths the support of its own existence and essence. It wants to derive its own being from an entity that lies outside its own domain. To do this, the ego follows the thought habits developed in modern times under the influence of natural science, and turns either to the world of material events or to that of social evolution. It believes it understands its own nature in the totality of life if it can say to itself “I am, in a certain way, conditioned by these events, by this evolution.”
Such philosophical tendencies show that there are forces at work in the souls of which they are dimly aware, but which cannot at first be satisfied by the modern habits of thought and research. Concealed from consciousness, spiritual life works in human souls. It drives these souls to go so deep into the self-conscious ego that this ego can find in its depths what leads to the source of world existence. In this source the human soul feels its kinship with a world entity that is not manifested in the mere phenomena and entities of nature. With respect to these phenomena and entities modern times have arrived at an ideal of research with which the scientist feels secure in his endeavor. One would now also like to feel this security in the investigation of the nature of the human soul. It has been shown above that, in leading thinkers, the striving for such security resulted in world pictures that no longer contain any elements from which satisfactory conceptions of the human soul could be derived. The attempt is made to treat philosophy according to the method of natural science, but in the process of this treatment the meaning of the philosophical question itself is lost. The task with which the human soul is charged from the very depth of its nature goes far beyond anything that the thinkers are willing to recognize as safe methods of investigation according to the modern habits of thought.
In appraising the situation of the development of modern world conception thus characterized, one finds as the most outstanding feature the pressure that the mode of thought of natural science has exerted on the minds of people ever since it attained its full stature. One recognizes as the reason for this pressure the fruitfulness, the efficiency, of this mode of thinking. An affirmation of this is to be found in the work of a natural scientist like T. H. Huxley (1825 – 95). He does not believe that one could find anything in the knowledge of natural science that would answer the last questions concerning the human soul. But he is convinced that our search for knowledge must confine itself to the limits of the mode of conception of natural science and we must admit that man simply has no means by which to acquire a knowledge of what lies behind nature. The result of this opinion is that natural science contains no insight concerning man's highest hopes for knowledge, but it allows him to feel that in this mode of conception the investigation is placed on secure ground. One should, therefore, abandon all concern for everything that does not lie within the realm of natural science, or one should consider it as a matter of belief.
The effect of this pressure caused by the method of natural science is clearly expressed in a thought current called pragmatism that appeared at the turn of the century and intended to place all striving for truth on a secure basis. The name “pragmatism” goes back to an essay that Charles Pierce published in the American journal Popular Science in 1878. The most influential representatives of this mode of conception are William James (1842 – 1910) in America and F. C. Schiller (1864 – 1937) in England, who uses the word “humanism.” Pragmatism can be called disbelief in the power of thought. It denies that thinking that would remain within its own domain is capable of producing anything that can be proved as truth and knowledge justifiable by itself. Man is confronted with processes of the world and must act. To accomplish this, thinking serves him in an auxiliary function. It sums up the facts of the external world into ideas and combines them. The best ideas are those that help him to achieve the right kind of action so that he can attain his purpose in accordance with the facts of the world. These ideas man recognizes as his truth. Will is the ruler of man's relation to the world, not thinking. James deals with this matter in his book The Will to Believe. The will determines life; this is its undeniable right. Therefore, will is also justified in influencing thought. It is, to be sure, not to exert its influence in determining what the facts are in a particular case; here the intellect is to follow the facts themselves. But it will influence the understanding and interpretation of reality as a whole. “If our scientific knowledge extended as far as to the end of things, we might be able to live by science alone. But since it only dimly lights up the edges of the dark continent that we call the universe, and since we must form, at our own risk, some sort of thought of this universe to which we belong with our lives, we shall be justified if we form such thoughts as agree with our nature — thoughts that enable us to act, hope, and live.”
According to this conception, our thought has no life that could possibly concentrate and deepen in itself and, in Hegel's sense, for example, penetrate to the source of existence. It merely emerges in the human soul to serve the ego when it takes an active part in the world with its will and life. Pragmatism deprives thought of the power it possessed from the rise of the Greek world conception. Knowledge is thus made into a product of the human will. In the last analysis, it can no longer be the element into which man plunges in order to find himself in his true nature. The self-conscious ego no longer penetrates into its own entity with the power of thinking. It loses itself in the dark recesses of the will in which thought sheds no light on anything except the aims of life. But these, as such, do not spring from thought. The power exerted by external facts on man has become excessively strong. The conscious ability to find a light in the inner life of thought that could illumine the last questions of existence has reached the zero point. In pragmatism, the development of modern philosophy falls shortest of what the spirit of this development really demands: that man may find himself as a thinking and self-conscious ego in the depths of the world in which this ego feels itself as deeply connected with the wellspring of existence as the Greek truth-seeker did through his perceived thought. That the spirit of modern times demands this becomes especially clear through pragmatism. It places man in the focal point of his world picture. In man, it was to be seen how reality rules in existence. Thus, the chief question was directed toward the element in which the self-conscious ego rests. But the power of thought was not sufficient to carry light into this element. Thought remained behind in the upper layers of the soul when the ego wanted to take the path into its own depth.
In Germany Hans Vaihinger (1852 – 1933) developed his Philosophy of As-If (1911) along the same lines as pragmatism. This philosopher regards the leading ideas that man forms about the phenomena of the world not as thought images through which, in the cognitive process, the soul places itself into a spiritual reality, but as fictions that lead him to find his way in the world. The “atom,” for instance, is imperceptible. Man forms the thought of the “atom.” He cannot form it in order to know something of a reality, but merely “as if' the external phenomena of nature had come to pass through compound actions of atoms. If one imagines that there are atoms, there will be order in the chaos of perceived natural phenomena. It is the same with all leading ideas. They are assumed, not in order to depict facts that are given solely by perception. They are invented, and reality is then interpreted “as if” the content of these imagined concepts really were the basis of reality. The impotence of thought is thus consciously made the center of this philosophy. The power of the external facts impresses the mind of the thinker so overwhelmingly that he does not dare to penetrate with his “mere thought” into those regions from which the external reality springs. But as we can only hope to gain an insight into the nature of man if we have spiritual means to penetrate into the characterized regions, there can be no possibility of approaching the highest riddles of the universe through the “As-If philosophy."
We must now realize that both “pragmatism” and the “As-If philosophy” have grown out of the thought practice of the age that is dominated by the method of natural science. Natural science can only be concerned with the investigation of the connection of external facts, of facts that can be observed in the field of sense perception. In natural science it cannot be a question of making the connections themselves, at which its investigation aims, sensually perceptible, but merely of establishing these connections in the indicated field. By following this basic principle, modern natural science became the model for all scientific cognition and, in approaching the present time, it has gradually been drawn into a thought practice that operates in the sense of “pragmatism” and the “As-If philosophy.” Darwinism, for instance, was at first driven to proclaim a line of evolution of living beings from the most imperfect to the most perfect and thus to conceive man as a higher form in the evolution of the anthropoid apes. But the anatomist Carl Gegenbaur pointed out as early as 1870 that it is the method of investigation applied to such an idea of evolution that constitutes the fruitful part of it. The use of this method of investigation has continued to more recent times, and one is quite justified in saying that, while it remained faithful to its original principle, it has led beyond the views with which it was originally connected. The investigation proceeded “as if” man had to be sought within the line of descent of the anthropoid apes. At the present time, one is not far from recognizing that this cannot be so, but that there must have been a being in earlier times whose true descendants are to be found in man, while the anthropoid apes developed away from this being into a less perfect species. In this way the original modern idea of evolution has proved to be only an auxiliary step in the process of investigation.
While such a thought practice holds sway in natural science, it seems quite justified for natural science to deny that, in order to solve world riddles, there is any scientific cognitive value in an investigation of pure thought carried out by means of a thought contemplation in the self-conscious ego. The natural scientist feels that he stands on secure ground when he considers thinking only as a means to secure his orientation in the world of external facts. The great accomplishments to which natural science can point at the turn of the twentieth century agree well with such a thought practice. In the method of investigation of natural science, “pragmatism” and the “As-If philosophy” are actually at work. If these modes of conception now appear to be special philosophical thought tendencies also, we see in this fact that modern philosophy has basically taken on the form of natural science.
For this reason, thinkers who instinctively feel how the demand of the spirit of modern world conception is secretly at work will quite understandably be confronted with the question: How can we uphold a conception of the self-conscious ego in the face of the perfection of the natural scientific method? It may be said that natural science is about to produce a world picture in which the self-conscious ego does not find a place, for what natural science can give as a picture of the external man contains the self-conscious soul only in the manner in which the magnet contains its energy. There are now two possibilities. We either delude ourselves into believing that we produce a serious statement when we say “Our brain thinks” and then accept the verdict that “the spiritual man” is merely the surface expression of material reality, or we recognize in this “spiritual man” a self-dependent essential reality and are thus driven out of the field of natural science with our knowledge of man. The French philosophers Emile Boutroux (1845 – 1921) and Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) are thinkers who accept the latter possibility.
Boutroux proceeds from a criticism of the modern mode of conception that intends to reduce all world processes to the laws of natural science. We understand the course of his thought if we consider that a plant, for example, contains processes that, to be sure, are regulated by laws effective also in the mineral world, but that it is quite impossible to imagine that these mineral laws themselves cause this plant life through their own content. If we want to recognize that plant life develops on the basis of mineral activity, we must presuppose that it is a matter of perfect indifference to the mineral forces if plant life develops from this basis. There must be a spontaneously creative element added to the mineral agencies if plant life is to be produced. There is, therefore, a creative element everywhere in nature. The mineral realm is there, but a creative element stands behind it. The latter produces the plant life based on the ground of the mineral world. So it is in all the spheres of natural order up to the conscious human soul, indeed, including all sociological processes. The human soul does not spring from mere biological laws, but directly from the fundamental creative element, and it assimilates the biological processes and laws to its own entity. The fundamental creative element is also at work in the sociological realm. This brings human souls into the appropriate connections and interdependence. Thus in Boutroux's book On the Concept of Natural Laws in the Science and Philosophy of Today (1895) we find:
Science shows us a hierarchy of laws, which we can, to be sure, bring closer and closer together but which we cannot blend into a single law. It shows us, furthermore, besides this relative dissimilarity of the laws, a mutual influence of these laws on each other. The physical laws affect the living being, but the biological laws are at work at the same time.
Boutroux turns his attention from the natural laws represented in the thinking of natural science to the creative process behind these laws. Emerging directly from this process are the entities that fill the world. The behavior of these entities to one another, their mutual effect on each other, can be expressed in laws that are conceivable in thought. What is thus conceived becomes, as it were, a basis of the natural laws for this mode of conception. The entities are real and manifest their natures according to laws. The sum total of these laws, which in the final analysis constitute the unreal and are attached to an intellectually conceived existence, constitutes matter. Thus, Boutroux can say:
Motion [what he means is the totality of everything that happens between entities according to natural laws] is, in itself, obviously as much an abstraction as thinking in itself. Actually, there are only living entities, their nature being halfway between the pure concepts of thinking and motion. These living entities form a hierarchy and activity circulates in them from above to below and from below to above. The spirit moves matter neither directly nor indirectly, for there is no raw matter and what constitutes the nature of matter is closely connected with what constitutes the nature of the spirit.
But if natural laws are only the sum total of the interrelation of the entities, then the human soul also does not stand in the world as a whole in such a way that it could be explained from natural laws; from its own nature it adds its manifestations to the other laws. With this step, freedom, the spontaneous self-revelation, is secured for the soul. One can see in this philosophical mode of thinking the attempt to gain clarity concerning the true essence of nature in order to acquire an insight into the relation of the human soul to it. Boutroux arrives at a conception of the human soul that can only spring from its self-manifestation. In former times, according to Boutroux, one saw in the mutual influences of the entities the manifestation of the “capriciousness and arbitrariness” of spiritual beings. Modern thinking has been freed from this belief by the knowledge of natural laws. As these laws exist only in the cooperative processes of the entities, they cannot contain anything that might determine the entities.
The mechanical natural laws that have been discovered by modern science are, in fact, the bond that connects the external world with the inner realm. Far from constituting a necessity, they are our liberators; they allow us to add to the contemplation in which the ancients were locked up, a science of action.
These words point to the demand of the spirit of modern world conception that has repeatedly been mentioned in this book. The ancients were limited to contemplation. To them, the soul was in the element of its true nature when it was in thought contemplation. The modern development demands a “science of action.” This science, however, could only come into being if the soul could, in thinking, lay hold of its own nature in the self-conscious ego, and if it could arrive, through a spiritual experience, at inner activities of the self with which it could see itself as being grounded in its own entity.
Henri Bergson tries to penetrate to the nature of the self-conscious ego in a different way so that the mode of conception of natural science does not become an obstacle in this process. The nature of thinking itself has become a world riddle through the development of the world conceptions from the time of the Greeks to the present age. Thought has lifted the human soul out of the world as a whole. Thus, the soul lives with the thought element and must direct the question to thought: How will you lead me again to an element in which I can feel myself really sheltered in the world as whole? Bergson considers the scientific mode of thinking. He does not find in it the power through which it could swing itself into a true reality. The thinking soul is confronted with reality and gains thought images from it. It combines these images, but what the soul acquires in this manner is not rooted within reality; it stands outside reality. Bergson speaks of thinking as follows:
It is understood that fixed concepts can be extracted by our thoughts from the mobile reality, but there is no means whatever of reconstituting the mobility of the real with the fixity of concepts. (Introduction to Metaphysics)
Proceeding from thoughts of this kind, Bergson finds that all attempts to penetrate reality by means of thinking had to fail because they undertook something of which thinking, as it occurs in life and science, is quite incapable: to enter into true reality. If, in this way, Bergson believes he recognizes the impotence of thinking, he does not mean to say that there is no way by means of which the right kind of experience in the self-conscious ego may reach true reality. For the ego, there is a way outside of thinking — the way of immediate experience, of intuition.
To philosophize means to reverse the normal direction of the workings of thought . . . Symbolic knowledge is relative through preexisting concepts, which goes from the fixed to the moving, but not so intuitive knowledge, which establishes itself in the moving reality and adopts the life itself of things. (Introduction to Metaphysics)
Bergson believes that a transformation of our usual mode of thinking is possible so that the soul, through this transformation, will experience itself in an activity, in an intuitive perception, in which it unites with a reality that is deeper than the one that is perceived in ordinary knowledge. In such an intuitive perception the soul experiences itself as an entity that is not conditioned by the physical processes that produce sensation and movement. When man perceives through his senses, and when he moves his limbs, a corporeal entity is at work in him, but as soon as he remembers something a purely psychic-spiritual process takes place that is not conditioned by corresponding physical processes. Thus the whole inner life of the soul is a specific life of a psychic-spiritual nature that takes place in the body and in connection with it, but not through the body. Bergson investigated in detail those results of natural science that seemed to oppose his view. The thought indeed seems justified that our physical functions are rooted in bodily processes when one remembers how, for instance, the disease of a part of the brain causes an impediment of speech. A great many facts of this kind can be enumerated. Bergson discusses them in his book Matter and Memory, and he decides that all these facts do not constitute any proof against the view of an independent spiritual-psychical life.
In this way, modern philosophy seems through Bergson to take up its task that is demanded by the time, the task of a concentration of the experience of the self-conscious ego, but it accomplishes this step by declaring thought as impotent. Where the ego is to experience itself in its own nature, it cannot make use of the power of thinking. The same holds for Bergson insofar as the investigation of life is concerned. What must be considered as the driving element in the evolution of the living being, what places these beings in the world in a series from the imperfect to the perfect, we cannot know through a thoughtful contemplation of the various forms of the living beings. But if man experiences himself in himself as psychical life, he stands in the element of life that lives in those beings and knows itself in him. This element of life first had to pour itself out in innumerable forms to prepare itself for what it later becomes in man. The effusion of life (elan vital), which arouses itself into a thinking being in man, is there already manifested in the simple living entity. In the creation of all living beings it has so spent itself that it retains only a part of its entire nature, the part, to be sure, that reveals itself as the fruit of all previous creations of life. In this way, the entity of man exists before all other living beings, but it can live its life as man only after having ejected all other forms of life, which man then can observe from without as one form among all others. Through his intuitive knowledge Bergson wants to vitalize the results of natural science so that he can say:
It is as if a vague and formless being, whom we may call, as we will, man or superman, had sought to realize himself, and had succeeded only by abandoning a part of himself on the way. The losses are represented by the rest of the animal world, and even by the vegetable world, at least in what these have that is positive and above the accidents of evolution. (Creative Evolution)
From lightly woven and easily attainable thoughts like this, Bergson produces an idea of evolution that had been expressed previously in a profound mode of thought by W. H. Preuss in his book Spirit and Matter (1882). Preuss also held that man has not developed from the other natural beings but is, from the beginning, the fundamental entity, which had first to eject his preliminary stages into the other living beings before he could give himself the form appropriate for him on Earth. We read in the above-mentioned book:
The time should have come . . . to establish a theory of origin of organic species that is not based solely on one-sidedly proclaimed theorems from descriptive natural science, but is also in agreement with the other natural laws that are at the same time the laws of human thinking. What is necessary is a theory that is free from all hypothesizing and that rests solely on strict conclusions from natural scientific observations in the widest sense of the word; a theory that saves the concept of the species according to the actual possibility, but at the same time adapts Darwin's concept of evolution to its own field and tries to make it fruitful. The center of this new theory is man, the species unique on our planet: Homo sapiens. It is strange that the older observers began with the objects of nature and then went astray to such an extent that they did not find the way that leads to the human being. This aim had been attained by Darwin only in an insufficient and unsatisfactory way as he sought the ancestor of the lord of creation among the animals, while the naturalist should begin with himself as a human being in order to proceed through the entire realm of existence and of thinking and to return finally to humanity. . . . It was not by accident that the human nature resulted from the entire terrestrial evolution, but by necessity. Man is the aim of all telluric processes and every other form that occurs beside him has borrowed its traits from him. Man is the first-born being of the entire cosmos. . . . When his germinating state (man in his potentiality) had come into being, the remaining organic substance no longer had the power to produce further human possibilities. What developed thereafter became animal or plant. . . .
Such a view attempts to recognize man as placed on his ground by the development of modern world conception, that is to say, outside nature, in order to find something in such a knowledge of man that throws light on the world surrounding him. In the little-known thinker from Elsfleth, W. H. Preuss, the ardent wish arises to gain a knowledge of the world at once through an insight into man. His forceful and significant ideas are immediately directed to the human being. He sees how this being struggles its way into existence. What it must leave behind on its way, what it must slough off, remains as nature with its entities on a lower stage of evolution surrounding man as his environment. The way toward the riddles of the world in modern philosophy must go through an investigation of the human entity manifested in the self-conscious ego. This becomes apparent through the development of this philosophy. The more one tries to enter into its striving and its search, the more one becomes aware of the fact that this search aims at such experiences in the human soul that do not only produce an insight into the human soul itself, but also kindles a light by means of which a certain knowledge concerning the world outside man can be secured. In looking at the views of Hegel and related thinkers, more recent philosophers came to doubt that there could be the power in the life of thought to spread its light beyond the realm of the soul itself. The element of thought seemed not strong enough to engender an activity that could explain the being and the meaning of the world. By contrast, the natural scientific mode of conception demanded a penetration into the core of the soul that rested on a firmer ground than thought can supply.
Within this search and striving the attempts of Wilhelm Dilthey (1833 – 1911) take a significant position. In writings like his Introduction to the Cultural Sciences and his Berlin Academy treatise, Contributions to the Solution of the Problem of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Right (1890), he offered expositions that are filled with all the philosophical riddles that weigh on the modern development of world conception. To be sure, the form of his presentation, which is given in the modern terminology used by scholars, prevents a more general impression being created by what he has to say. It is Dilthey's view that through the thoughts and imaginations that appear in his soul man cannot even arrive at the certainty that the perceptions of the senses correspond to a reality independent of man. Everything that is of the nature of thought, ideation, and sense perception is picture. The world that surrounds man could be a dream without a reality independent of him if he were exclusively dependent on such pictures in his awareness of the real world. But not only these pictures present themselves in the soul. In the process of life the soul is filled with will, activity, and feeling, all of which stream forth from it and are recognized as an immediate experience rather than intellectually. In willing and feeling the soul experiences itself as reality, but if it experienced itself only in this manner, it would have to believe that its own reality were the only one in the world. This assumption could be justified only if the will could radiate in all directions without finding any resistance. But that is not the case. The intentions of the will cannot unfold their life in that way. There is something obtruding itself in their path that they have not produced but that must nevertheless be accepted by them.
To “common sense” such a thought development of a philosopher can appear as hairsplitting. The historical account must not be deflected by such judgment. It is important to gain an insight into the difficulty that modern philosophy had to create for itself in regard to a question that seems so simple and in fact superfluous to “common sense,” that is, if the world man sees, hears, etc., may rightly be called real. The “ego” that had, as shown above in our historical account of the development of philosophical world riddles, separated itself from the world, strives to find its way back into the world from what appears in its own consciousness as a state of loneliness. It is Dilthey's opinion that this way cannot be found back into the world by saying that the soul experiences pictures (thoughts, ideas, sensations), and since these pictures appear in our consciousness they must have their causes in a real external world. A conclusion of this kind would not, according to Dilthey, give us the right to speak of a real external world, for such a conclusion is drawn within the soul according to the needs of this soul, and there is no guarantee that there really is in the external world what the soul believes in following its own needs. Therefore, the soul cannot infer an external world; it would expose itself to the danger that its conclusion might have a life only within the soul but without any significance for an external world. Certainty concerning an outer world can be gained by the soul only if this external world penetrates into the inner life of the “ego,” so that within this “ego” not only the “ego” but also the external world itself unfolds its life. This happens, according to Dilthey, when the soul experiences in its will and its feeling something that does not spring from within. Dilthey attempts to decide from the most self-evident facts a question that is for him a fundamental problem of all world conception. A passage like the following may illustrate this:
As a child presses his hand against a chair in order to move it, he measures his power against the resistance; his own life and the object are experienced together. But now let the child be locked up. It is in vain that he rattles against the door; now his entire excited will becomes aware of the compulsion of an overwhelming powerful external world that hinders and restricts, and compresses, as it were, his own self-willed life. The desire to escape from the displeasure and to gratify his impulses is followed by the consciousness of obstruction, displeasure, and dissatisfaction. What the child thus experiences follows him through his entire adult life. The resistance becomes pressure. We seem to be everywhere surrounded by walls of actual facts through which we cannot break. The impressions remain, no matter how much we would like to change them; they vanish although we strive to cling to them; impulses of motion directed by the idea of avoiding something that causes pain are, under certain circumstances, always followed by emotions that hold us within the realm of pain. Thus, the reality of the external world grows, so to speak, progressively more dense around us.
Why is such a reflection, which seems unimportant for many people, developed in connection with the highest problems of philosophy? It seems hopeless to gain an insight into man's position in the world as a whole from such points of departure. What is essential, however, is the fact that philosophy arrived at reflections of this kind on its way, to use Brentano's words once more, to “gain certainty for the hopes of Plato and Aristotle concerning the continued life of our better part after the dissolution of our body.” To attain sure knowledge of this kind seems to become more difficult the more the intellectual development advances. The “self-conscious ego” feels itself more and more ejected from the world; it seems to find in itself less and less the elements that connect it with the world in a way different from that of our “body,” which is subject to “dissolution.” While this “self-conscious ego” searched for a certain knowledge concerning its connection with an eternal world of the spirit, it lost the certainty of an insight in its connection with the world as revealed through the perception of the senses. In our discussion of Goethe's world conception, it was shown how Goethe searched for such experiences of the soul that carry it into a reality lying behind sense perception as a spiritual world. In this world conception the attempt is made to experience something within the soul through which it no longer lives exclusively within its own confines in spite of the fact that it feels the experienced content as its own. The soul searches for world experiences in itself through which it participates with its experience in an element that it cannot reach through the mediation of the mere physical organs. Although Dilthey's mode of reflection may appear to be quite unnecessary, his efforts must be considered as belonging to the same current of philosophical development. He is intent on finding an element within the soul that does not spring from the soul but belongs to an independent realm. He would like to prove that the world enters the experience of the soul. Dilthey does not believe that such an entrance can be accomplished by the thought element. For him, the soul can assimilate in its entire life content, in will, striving, and feeling, something that is not only soul but part of the real external world. We recognize a human being in our soul as real not by forming a representative thought picture of the person we see before us, but by allowing his will and his feeling to enter into our own will and sentiment. Thus a human soul, in Dilthey's opinion, acknowledges a real external world not because this outer world conveys its reality through the thought element, but because the soul as a self-conscious ego experiences inwardly in itself the external world. In this manner he is led to acknowledge the spiritual life as something of a higher significance than the mere natural existence. He produces a counterbalance to the natural scientific mode of conception with his view, and he even thinks that nature as a real external world can be acknowledged only because it can be experienced by the spiritual part of our soul. The experience of the natural is a subdivision of our general soul experience, which is of a spiritual nature, and spiritually our soul is part of a general spiritual development on Earth. A great spiritual organism develops and unfolds in cultural systems in the spiritual experience and creative achievement of the various peoples and ages. What develops its forces in this spiritual organism permeates the individual human souls. They are embedded in the spiritual organism. What they experience, accomplish, and produce receives its impulses not from the stimulations of nature, but from the comprehensive spiritual life. Dilthey's mode of conception is full of understanding for that of natural science. He often speaks in his discussions of the results of the natural scientists, but, as a counterbalance to his recognition of natural development, he insists on the independent existence of a spiritual world. Dilthey finds the content of a science of the spiritual in the contemplation of the cultures of different peoples and ages.
Rudolf Eucken (1864 – 1926) arrives at a similar recognition of an independent spiritual world. He finds that the natural scientific mode of thought becomes self-contradictory if it intends to be more than a one-sided approach to reality, if it wants to proclaim what it finds within the possible grasp of its own knowledge as the only reality. If one only observed nature as it offers itself to the senses, one could never obtain a comprehensive conception of it. In order to explain nature, one must draw on what the spirit can experience only through itself, what it can never derive from external observation. Eucken proceeds from the vivid feeling that the soul has of its own spontaneous work and creation when it is occupied in the contemplation of external nature. He does not fail to recognize in which way the soul is dependent on what it perceives through its sense organs and how it is determined through everything that has its natural basis in the body. But he directs his attention to the autonomous regulating and life-inspiring activity of the soul that is independent of the body. The soul gives direction and conclusive connection to the world of sensations and perceptions. It is not only determined by stimuli that are derived from the physical world but it experiences purely spiritual impulses in itself. Through these impulses the soul is aware that it has its being in a real spiritual world. Into its experiences and creations flow the forces from a spiritual world to which it belongs. This spiritual world is directly experienced as real in the soul that knows itself as one with that world. In this way, the soul sees itself, according to Eucken, supported by a living and creative spiritual world. It is his opinion that the thought element, the intellectual forces, are not powerful enough to fathom the depths of this spiritual world. What streams from the spiritual world into man pours itself into his entire comprehensive soul life, not only into his intellect. This world of the spirit is endowed with the character of personality of a substantial nature. It also impregnates the thought element but it is not confined to it. The entire soul may feel itself in a substantial spiritual connection.
Eucken, in his numerous writings, knows how to describe in a lofty and emphatic way this spiritual world as it weaves and has its being: The Struggle for a Spiritual Content of Life (1896), Truth Content of Religion (1901), Basic Outlines of a New Life Conception, Spiritual Currents of the Present Time, Life Conceptions of the Great Thinkers, and Knowledge and Life. In these books he tries to show from different points of view how the human soul, as it experiences itself and as it understands itself in this experience, is aware of being permeated and animated by a creative, living spiritual substance of which it is a part and a member. Like Dilthey, Eucken describes, as the content of the independent spiritual life, what unfolds in the civilizations of humanity in the moral, technical, social, and artistic creations of the various peoples and ages.
In a historical presentation as is herein attempted, there is no place for criticism of the described world conceptions. But it is not criticism to point out how a world conception develops new questions through its own character, for it is thus that it becomes a part of the historical development. Dilthey and Eucken speak of an independent spiritual world in which the individual human soul is embedded. Their theory of this spiritual world, however, leaves the following questions open: What is this spiritual world and in what way does the human soul belong to it? Does the individual soul vanish with the dissolution of the body after it participated within that body in the development of the spiritual life manifested in the cultural creations of the different peoples and ages? One can, to be sure, answer these questions from Dilthey's and Eucken's point of view by saying that what the human soul can know in its own life does not lead to results with respect to these questions. But this is precisely what can be said to characterize such world conceptions: that they lead, through their mode of conception, to no means of cognition that could guide the soul or the self-conscious ego beyond what can be experienced in connection with the body. In spite of the intensity with which Eucken stresses the independence and reality of the spiritual world, what the soul experiences according to his world conception of this spiritual world, and in connection with it, is experienced through the body. The hopes of Plato and Aristotle, so often referred to in this book, with regard to the nature of the soul and its independent relation to the spiritual world are not touched by such a world conception. No more is shown than that the soul, as long as it appears within the body, participates in a spiritual world that is quite rightly called real. What it is in the spiritual world as an independent spiritual entity cannot be discussed within this philosophy. It is characteristic of these modes of conception that they do, to be sure, arrive at a recognition of a spiritual world and also of the spiritual nature of the human soul. But no knowledge results from this recognition concerning the position of the soul, the self-conscious ego, in the reality of the world, apart from the fact that it acquires a consciousness of the spiritual world through the life of the body.
The historical position of these modes of conception in the development of philosophy appears in its right light if one recognizes that they produce questions that they cannot answer with their own means. They maintain emphatically that the soul becomes in itself conscious of a spiritual world that is independent of itself. But how is this consciousness acquired? Only through the means of cognition that the soul has in and through its existence in the body. Within this form of existence a certainty of a real spiritual world arises. But the soul finds no way to experience its own self-contained entity in the spirit outside the body. What the spirit manifests, stimulates, and creates within the soul is perceived by it as far as the physical existence enables it to do so. What it is as a spirit in the spiritual world and, in fact, whether or not it is a separate entity within that world, is a question that cannot be answered by the mere recognition of the fact that the soul within the body can be conscious of its connection with a living and creative spiritual world. To obtain an answer of this kind it would be necessary for the self-conscious human soul, while it advances to a knowledge of the spiritual world, to become aware of its own mode of life in the world of the spirit, independent of the conditions of its bodily existence. The spiritual world would not only have to enable the soul entity to recognize its reality but it would have to convey something of its own nature to the soul. It would have to reveal to the soul in what way it is different from the world of the senses and in what manner it allows the soul entity to participate in this different mode of existence.
A feeling for this question lives in those philosophers who want to contemplate the spiritual world by directing their attention toward something that cannot, according to their opinion, be found within the mere observation of nature. If it could be shown that there is something with regard to which the natural scientific mode of conception would prove to be powerless, then this could be considered to guarantee the justification of assuming a spiritual world. A mode of thought of this kind had already been indicated by Lotze (compare in Part II Chapter VI of this volume). It found forceful representatives later in Wilhelm Windelband (1848 – 1915), Heinrich Rickert (1863 – 1936), and others. These thinkers are of the opinion that there is an element entering into the world conception that is inaccessible to the natural scientific mode of thought. They consider this element to be the “values” that are of decisive importance in human life. The world is no dream but a reality if it can be shown that certain experiences of the soul contain something that is independent of this soul. The actions, endeavors, and will impulses of the soul are no longer sparks that light up and vanish in the ocean of existence, if one must recognize that there is something that endows them with values independent of the soul. Such values, however, the soul must acknowledge for its will impulses and its actions just as much as it must recognize that its perceptions are not merely produced by its own effort. Action and will impulses of man do not simply occur like facts of nature; they must be considered from the point of view of a legal, moral, social, aesthetic, or scientific value. It is quite right to insist that during the evolution of civilizations in different ages and of different peoples, man's views concerning the values of right, morality, beauty, and truth have undergone changes. If Nietzsche could speak of a “revaluation of all values,” it must be acknowledged that the value of actions, thoughts, and will intentions is determined from without in a similar way to the way perceptual ideation receives the character of reality from without. In the sense of the “philosophy of values” one can say: As the pressure or resistance of the natural external world make the difference between an idea that is a mere picture of fantasy or one that represents reality, so the light and approbation that fall on the soul life from an external spiritual world decide whether or not an impulse of the will, an action, and a thought endeavor have a value in the world as a whole or are only arbitrary products of the soul. As a stream of values, the spiritual world flows through the lives of men in the course of history. While the human soul feels itself as living in a world determined by values, it experiences itself in a spiritual element. If this mode of conception were seriously carried out, all statements that man could make concerning the spiritual would have to take on the form of value judgments. The only thing one could then say about anything not revealed in nature, and therefore not to be known through the natural scientific mode of conception, would be in which way and in what respect it possessed an independent value in the whole of the world. The question would then arise: If one disregards everything in the human soul that natural science has to say about it, is it then valuable as a member of the spiritual world, and does it have a significant independent value? Can the riddles of philosophy concerning the soul be solved if one cannot speak of its existence but only of its value? Will not the philosophy of values always be forced to adopt a language similar to that of Lotze when he speaks of the continuation of the soul?
Since we consider every being only as a creature of God, there is no fundamentally valid right on which the individual soul, for instance as a “substance,” could base its claim in order to demand an eternal, individual, continued existence. Perhaps we can only maintain that every being will be preserved by God as long as its existence is of a valuable significance for the whole of His world plan. . . . (Compare in Part II Chapter VI of this volume.)
Here the “value” of the soul is spoken of as its decisive character. Some attention, however, is also paid to the question of how this value may be connected with the preservation of existence. One can understand the position of the philosophy of value in the course of the development of philosophy if one considers that the natural scientific mode of conception is inclined to claim all knowledge of existence for itself. If that is granted, philosophy can do nothing but resign itself to the investigation of something else, and such a “something else” is seen in these “values.” The following question, as an unsolved problem, can be found in Lotze's statement: Is it at all possible to go no further than to define and characterize values and to renounce all knowledge concerning the form of existence of the values?
* * *
Many of the most recent schools of thought prove to be attempts to search within the self-conscious ego, which in the course of the philosophical development feels itself more and more separated from the world, for an element that leads back to a reunion with the world. The conceptions of Dilthey, Eucken, Windelband, Rickert, and others are such attempts. They want to do justice both to the demands of natural science and to the contemplation of the experience of the soul so that a science of the spirit appears as a possibility beside the science of nature. The same aims are followed by the thought tendencies of Herman Cohen (1842 – 1918) (compare in Part II Chapter IV of this volume), Paul Natorp (1854 – 1924), August Stadler (1850 – 1910), Ernst Cassirer (1874 – 1945), Walter Kinkel (born 1871), and others who share their philosophical convictions. In directing their attention to the processes of thinking itself, they believe that in this highest activity of the self-conscious ego the soul gains hold on an inner possession that allows it to penetrate into reality. They turn their attention to what appears to them as the highest fruit of thinking. A simple example of this would be the thinking of a circle in which specific representative thought pictures of any circle are disregarded entirely. As much can be embraced in this way by pure thinking as can be encompassed by the power of our soul through which we can penetrate into reality. For what we can think in this way manifests its own nature through thinking in the consciousness of man. The sciences strive to arrive, by means of their observations, experiments, and methods, at such results concerning the world as can be seized in pure thinking. They will have to leave the fulfillment of this aim to a far distant future, but one can nevertheless say that insofar as they endeavor to have pure thought, they also strive to convey the true essence of things to the possession of the self-conscious ego. When man makes an observation in the sensual external world, or in the course of historical life, he has, according to this conception, no true reality before him. What the observation of the senses offers is merely the challenge to search for a reality, not a reality in itself. Only when, through the activity of the soul, a thought appears, so to speak, to reveal itself at the very place where the observation has been made is the living reality of the observed object integrated into real knowledge. The progressively developing knowledge replaces with thought what has been observed in the world. What the observation showed in the beginning was there only because man with his senses, with his everyday imagination, realizes at first for himself the nature of things in his own limited way. What he has at his disposal in this way has significance only for himself. What he substitutes as thought for the observation is no longer troubled by his own limitation. It is as it is thought, for thought determines its own nature and reveals itself according to its own character in the self-conscious ego. Thought does not allow the ego to determine its character in any way.
There lives in this world conception a subtle feeling for the development of thought life since its first philosophical flowering within Greek intellectual life. It was the thought experience that gave to the self-conscious ego the power to be vigorously conscious of its own self-dependent entity. In the present age this power of thought can be experienced in the soul as the impulse that, seized within the self-conscious ego, endows this ego with the awareness that it is not a mere external observer of things but that it lives essentially in an intimate connection with their reality. It is in thought itself that the soul can feel it contains a true and self-dependent reality. As the soul thus feels itself interwoven with thought as a content of life that breathes reality, it can again experience the supporting power of the thought element as this was experienced in Greek philosophy. It can be experienced again as strongly as it was felt in the philosophy that took thought as a perception. It is true that in the world conception of Cohen and kindred spirits, thought cannot be considered as a perception in the sense of Greek philosophy. But in this conception the inner permeation of the ego with the thought world, which the ego acquired through its own work, is such that this experience includes, at the same time, the awareness of its reality.
The connection with Greek philosophy is emphasized by these thinkers. Cohen expresses himself on this point as follows: “The relation that Parmenides forged as the identity of thinking and being must persist.” Another thinker who also accepts this conception, Walter Kinkel, is convinced that “only thinking can know being, for both thinking and being are, fundamentally understood, one and the same.” It is through this doctrine that Parmenides became the real creator of scientific idealism (Idealism and Realism).
It is also apparent from the presentations of these thinkers how the formulation of their thoughts presupposes the centuries-long effect of the thought evolution since the Greek civilization. In spite of the fact that these thinkers start from Kant, which could have fostered in them the opinion that thought lives only within the soul, outside true reality, the supporting power of thought exerts itself in them. This thought has gone beyond the Kantian limitation and it forces these thinkers who contemplate its nature to become convinced that thought itself is reality, and that it also leads the soul into reality if it acquires this element rightly in inner work and, equipped with it, seeks the way into the external world. In this philosophical mode of thinking thought proves intimately connected with the world contemplation of the self-conscious ego. The fundamental impulse of this thought tendency appears like a discovery of the possible service that the thought element can accomplish for the ego. We find in the followers of this philosophy views like these: “Only thinking itself can produce what may be accepted as being.” “Being is the being of thinking” (Cohen).
Now the question arises: Can these philosophers expect of their thought experience, which is produced through the conscious work in the self-conscious ego, what the Greek philosopher expected of it when he accepted thought as a perception? If one believes that one perceives thought, one can be of the opinion that it is the real world that reveals it. As the soul feels itself connected with thought as a perception, it can consider itself as belonging to the element of the world that is thought, indestructible thought, while the sense perception reveals only destructible entities. The part of the human being that is perceptible to the senses can then be supposed to be perishable, but what emerges in the human soul as thought makes it appear as a member of the spiritual, the true reality. Through such a view the soul can conceive that it belongs to a truly real world. This could be achieved by a modern world conception only if it could show that the thought experience not only leads knowledge into a true reality, but also develops the power to free the soul from the world of the senses and to place it into true reality. The doubts that arise in regard to this question cannot be counteracted by the insight into the reality of the thought element if the latter is considered as acquired by perception actively produced through the work of the soul. For, from what could the certainty be derived that what the soul produces actively in the world of the senses can also give it a real significance in a world that is not perceived by senses? It could be that the soul, to be sure, could procure a knowledge of reality through its actively produced thoughts, but that nevertheless the soul itself was not rooted in this reality. Also, this world conception merely points to a spiritual life, but it cannot prevent the unbiased observer from finding philosophical riddles at its end that demand answers and call for soul experiences for which this philosophy does not supply the foundations. It can arrive at the conviction that thought is real, but it cannot find through thought a guarantee for the reality of the soul.
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The philosophical thinking at which A. v. Leclaire (born 1848), Wilhelm Schuppe (1836 – 1913), Johannes Rehmke (1848 – 1930), von Schubert-Soldern (born 1852), and others arrived, shows how philosophical inquiry can remain confined to the narrow circle of the self-conscious ego without finding a possibility to make the transition from this region into the world where this ego could link its own existence to a world reality. There are certain differences among these philosophies, but what is characteristic of all of them is that they all stress that everything man can count as belonging to his world must manifest itself within the realm of his consciousness. On the ground of their philosophy the thought cannot be conceived that would even presuppose anything about a territory of the world if the soul wanted to transcend with its conceptions beyond the realm of consciousness. Because the “ego” must comprise everything to which its knowledge extends within the folds of its consciousness, because it holds it within the consciousness, it therefore appears necessary to this view that the entire world is within the limits of this awareness. That the soul should ask itself: How do I stand with the possession of my consciousness in a world that is independent of this consciousness, is an impossibility for this philosophy. From its point of view, one would have to decide to give up all questions of this kind. One would have to become blind to the fact that there are inducements within the realm of the conscious soul life to look beyond that realm, just as in reading one does not look for the meaning in the forms that are visible on the paper, but to the significance that is expressed by them. As in reading, it is a question not of studying the forms of the letters: as it is of no importance for the conveyed meaning to consider the nature of these forms themselves, so it could be irrelevant for an insight into true reality that within the sphere of the “ego” everything capable of being known has the character of consciousness.
The philosophy of Carl du Prel (1839 – 99) stands as an opposite pole to this philosophical opinion. He is one of the spirits who have deeply felt the insufficiency of the opinion that considers the natural scientific mode of conception to which so many people have grown accustomed to be the only possible form of world explanation. He points out that this mode of conception unconsciously sins against its own statements, for natural science must admit on the basis of its own results
that we never perceive the objective processes of nature but rather their effect on us, not vibrations of the ether but light, not air vibrations but sounds. We have then, so to speak, a subjectively falsified world picture, but this does not interfere with our practical orientation because this falsification shows no individual differences and proceeds in a constant manner and according to law. . . . Materialism itself has proved through natural science that the world transcends beyond our senses. It has undermined its own foundation and it has sawed off the branch on which it had been sitting. As a philosophy, however, it still continues to sit on that branch. Materialism, therefore, has no right at all to call itself a philosophy … . It has only the justification of a branch of knowledge; furthermore, the world, the object of its study, is a world of mere appearance. To try to build a world conception on this foundation is an obvious self-contradiction. The real world is entirely different, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, from the one that is known to materialism, and only the real world can be the object of a philosophy. (Carl du Prel, The Riddle of Man.)
Such objections are necessarily caused by the materialistically colored mode of thought of natural science. Its weakness is noticed by many people who share the point of view of du Prel. The latter can be considered as a representative of a pronounced trend of modern philosophy. What is characteristic of this trend is the way in which it tries to penetrate into the realm of the real world. This way still shows the aftereffect of the natural scientific mode of conception, although the latter is at the same time most violently criticized. Natural science starts from the facts that are accessible to the sensory consciousness. It finds itself forced to refer to a supersensible element, for only the light is sensually perceptible, not the vibrations of the ether. The vibrations then belong to a realm that is, at least, extrasensory in its nature. But has natural science the right to speak of an extrasensory element? It means to limit its investigations to the realm of sense perceptions. Is anyone justified to speak of supersensible elements who restricts his scientific endeavors to the results of the consciousness that is bound to the senses and therefore to the body?
Du Prel wants to grant this right of investigating the supersensible only to a thinker who seeks the nature of the human soul outside the realm of the senses. What he considers as the chief demand in this direction is the necessity to demonstrate manifestations of the soul that prove the soul is also active when it is not bound to the body. Through the body the soul develops its sensual consciousness. In the phenomena of hypnotism, hypnotic suggestion, and somnambulism, it becomes apparent that the soul is active when the sensual consciousness is eliminated. The soul life, therefore, extends further than the realm of consciousness. It is here that du Prel arrives at the diametrically opposite position to those of the characterized philosophers of the all-embracing consciousness who believe that the limits of consciousness define at the same time the entire realm of philosophy. For du Prel, the nature of the soul is to be sought outside the circle of this consciousness. If, according to him, we observe the soul when it is active without the usual means of the senses, we have the proof that it is of a supersensible nature.
Among the means through which this can be done, du Prel and many others count, besides the observation of the above-mentioned “abnormal” psychic phenomena, also the phenomena of spiritualism. It is not necessary to dwell here on du Prel's opinion concerning this field, for what constitutes the mainspring of his view becomes apparent also if one considers only his attitude toward hypnotism, hypnotic suggestion, and somnambulism. Whoever wants to prove the spiritual nature of the human soul cannot limit himself to showing that the soul has to refer to a supersensible world in its cognitive process. For natural science could answer that it does not follow that the soul is itself rooted in the supersensible realm because it has a knowledge of a supersensible world. It could very well be that knowledge of the supersensible could also be dependent on the activity of the body and thus be of significance only for a soul that is bound to a body. It is for this reason that du Prel feels it necessary to show that the soul not only knows the supersensible while it is itself bound to the body, but that it experiences the supersensible while it is outside the body. With this view, he also arms himself against objections that can be raised from the viewpoint of the natural scientific mode of thinking against the conceptions of Eucken, Dilthey, Cohen, Kinkel, and other defenders of a knowledge of a spiritual world. He is, however, not protected against the doubts that must be raised against his own procedure.
Although it is true that the soul can find an access to the supersensible only if it can show how it is itself active outside the sensual realm, the emancipation of the soul from the sensual world is not assured by the phenomena of hypnotism, somnambulism, and hypnotic suggestion, nor by all other processes to which du Prel refers for this purpose. In regard to all these phenomena it can be said that the philosopher who wants to explain them still proceeds only with the means of his ordinary consciousness. If this consciousness is to be useless for a real explanation of the world, how can its explanations, which are applied to the phenomena according to the conditions of this consciousness, be of any decisive significance for these phenomena? What is peculiar in du Prel is the fact that he directs his attention to certain facts that point to a supersensible element, but that he, nevertheless, wants to remain entirely on the ground of the natural scientific mode of thought when he explains those facts. But should it not be necessary for the soul to enter the supersensible in its mode of thinking when the supersensible becomes the object of its interest? Du Prel looks at the supersensible, but as an observer he remains within the realm of the sensual world. If he did not want to do this, he would have to demand that only a hypnotized person can say the right things concerning his experiences under hypnosis, that only in the state of somnambulism could knowledge concerning the supersensible be acquired, and that what the not-hypnotized, the non-somnambulist, must think concerning these phenomena is of no validity. If we follow this thought consistently, we arrive at an impossibility. If one speaks of a transposition of the soul outside the realm of the senses into another form of existence, one must intend to acquire the knowledge of this existence within that other region. Du Prel points at a path that must be taken in order to gain access to the supersensible. But he leaves the question open regarding the means that are to be used on this path.
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A new thought current has been stimulated through the transformation of fundamental physical concepts that has been attempted by Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955). The attempt is of significance also for the development of philosophy. Physics previously followed its given phenomena by thinking of them as being spread out in empty three-dimensional space and in one-dimensional time. Space and time were supposed to exist outside things and events. They were, so to speak, self-dependent, rigid quantities. For things, distances were measured in space. For events, duration was determined in time. Distance and duration belong, according to this conception, to space and time, not to things and events. This conception is opposed by the theory of relativity introduced by Einstein. For this theory, the distance between two things is something that belongs to those things themselves. As a thing has other properties, it has also the property of being at a certain distance from a second thing. Besides these relations that are given by the nature of things there is no such thing as space. The assumption of space makes a geometry that is thought for this space, but this same geometry can be applied to the world of things. It arises in a mere thought world. Things have to obey the laws of this geometry. One can say that the events and situations of the world must follow the laws that are established before the observation of things. This geometry now is dethroned by the theory of relativity. What exists are only things, and they stand in relations to one another that present themselves geometrically. Geometry thus becomes a part of physics — but then one can no longer maintain that their laws can be established before the observation of the things. No thing has any place in space but only distances relative to other things.
The same is assumed for time. No process takes place at a definite time; it happens in a time-distance relative to another event. In this way, temporal distances in the relation of things and spatial intervals become homogenous and flow together. Time becomes a fourth dimension that is of the same nature as the three dimensions of space. A process in a thing can be determined only as something that takes place in a temporal and spatial distance relative to other events. The motion of a thing becomes something that can be thought only in relation to other things.
It is now expected that only this conception will produce unobjectionable explanations of certain physical processes, while such processes lead to contradictory thoughts if one assumes the existence of an independent space and independent time.
If one considers that for many thinkers a science of nature was previously considered to be something that can be mathematically demonstrated, one finds in the theory of relativity nothing less than an attempt to declare any real science of nature null and void. For just this was regarded as the scientific nature of mathematics: that it could determine the laws of space and time without reference to the observation of nature. Contrary to this view, it is now maintained that the things and processes of nature themselves determine the relations of space and time. They are to supply the mathematical element. The only certain element is surrendered to the uncertainty of space and time observations.
According to this view, every thought of an essential reality that manifests its nature in existence is precluded. Everything is only in relation to something else.
Insofar as man considers himself within the world of natural things and events, he will find it impossible to escape the conclusions of this theory of relativity. But if he does not want to lose himself in mere relativities, in what may be called an impotence of his inner life, if he wants to experience his own entity, he must not seek what is “substantial in itself" in the realm of nature but in transcending nature, in the realm of the spirit.
It will not be possible to evade the theory of relativity for the physical world, but precisely this fact will drive us to a knowledge of the spirit. What is significant about the theory of relativity is the fact that it proves the necessity of a science of the spirit that is to be sought in spiritual ways, independent of the observation of nature. That the theory of relativity forces us to think in this way constitutes its value within the development of world conception.
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It was the intention of this book to describe the development of what may be called philosophical activity in the proper sense of the word. The endeavor of such spirits as Richard Wagner, Leo Tolstoi, and others had for this reason to be left unconsidered, significant as discussion of their contribution must appear when it is a question of following the currents that lead from philosophy into our general spiritual culture.
Related post: https://martyrion.blogspot.com/2021/02/earth-and-mystery-of-karma-connection.html
finger in a flame: 11/18/1923, GA 231
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