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The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception

Notes to the New Edition, 1924

On-line since: 20th March, 2002

Notes to the New Edition, 1924

1. Page 10:

“This literature . . . “: The attitude lying behind this assessment of the nature of philosophical literature and of the interest shown it arose out of the intellectual approach of scientific endeavor around the middle of the 1880's. Since then phenomena have come to light in the face of which this assessment no longer seems valid. One need think only of the brilliant insights that Nietzsche's thoughts and feelings have given into broad areas of life. And in the battles that took place and are taking place even today between materialistically thinking monists and the defenders of a spiritually oriented world view, there live both a striving of philosophical thinking for a life-filled content, and also a deep general interest in the riddles of existence. Paths of thought, such as those of Einstein springing from the world view of physics, have almost become the subject of universal conversation and literary expression.

But in spite of this the motives out of which this assessment was made back then are also still valid today. If one were to put this assessment into words today, one would have to formulate it differently. Since it appears again today almost as something ancient, it is quite appropriate to say how much this assessment is still valid.

Goethe's world view, the epistemology of which is to be - sketched in this book, takes its start from what the whole human being experiences. With respect to this experience, thinking contemplation of the world is only one side. Out of the fullness of human existence thought-configurations rise, as it were, to the surface of soul life. One part of these thought-pictures constituted an answer to the question: What is the knowing activity of man? And this answer turns out to be such that one sees: Human existence reaches its potential only when it becomes active in knowing. Soul life without knowledge would be like a human organism without a head; i.e., it would not be at all. Within the inner life of the soul there grows a content which, just as the hungering organism demands nourishment, demands perception from outside; and, in the outer world, there is a content of perception which does not bear its essential being within itself, but which first reveals this essential being when the cognitive process connects this perceptual content with the soul content. In this way the cognitive process becomes a part in the formation of world reality. The human being works along creatively with this world reality through his knowing activity. And if a plant root is unthinkable without the fulfillment of its potential in the fruit, so by no means only man but the world itself would not be complete unless knowing activity took place. In his activity of knowing man does not do something for himself alone; rather he works along with the world in the revelation of real existence. What is in man is ideal semblance; what is in the world of perception is sense semblance; the inter-working of the two in knowing activity first constitutes reality.

Seen in this way epistemology becomes a part of life. And it must be seen in this way when it is joined to the breadth of life of Goethean soul experience. But even Nietzsche's thinking and feeling do not connect themselves with this breadth of life. And still less so does that which otherwise has arisen as philosophically oriented views of life and of the world since the writing of what was characterized in this book as “The Point of Departure.” All these views, after all, presuppose that reality is present somewhere outside of the activity of knowing, and that in the activity of knowing, a human, copied representation of this reality is to result, or perhaps cannot result. The fact that this reality cannot be found by knowing activity—because it is first made into reality in the activity of knowing—is experienced hardly anywhere. Those who think philosophically seek life and real existence outside of knowing activity; Goethe stands within creative life and real existence by engaging in the activity of knowing. Therefore even the more recent attempts at a world view stand outside the Goethean creation of ideas. Our epistemology wants to stand inside of it, because philosophy becomes a content of life thereby, and an interest in philosophy becomes necessary for life.

2. Page 11:

“The task of science is not to pose questions”: Questions of knowing activity arise through the human soul organization in contemplation of the outer world. Within the soul impulse of the question there lies the power to press forward into the contemplation in such a way that this contemplation, together with the soul activity, brings the reality of what is contemplated to manifestation.

3. Page 20:

“This first activity of ours . . . can be called pure experience.”: It is evident from the whole bearing of this epistemology that the point of its deliberations is to gain an answer to the question, What is knowledge? In order to attain this goal we looked, to begin with, at the world of sense perception on the one hand, and at penetration of it with thought, on the other. And it is shown that in the interpenetration of both, the true reality of sense existence reveals itself. With this the question, What is the activity of knowing? is answered in principle. This answer becomes no different when the question is extended to the contemplation of the spiritual. Therefore, what is said in this book about the nature of knowledge is valid also for the activity of knowing the spiritual worlds, to which my later books refer. The sense world, in its manifestation to human contemplation, is not reality. It attains its reality when connected with what reveals itself about the sense world in man when he thinks. Thoughts belong to the reality of what the senses behold; but the thought-element within sense existence does not bring itself to manifestation outside in sense existence but rather inside of man. Yet thought and sense perception are one existence. Inasmuch as the human being enters the world and views it with his senses, he excludes thought from reality; but thought then just appears in another place: inside the soul. The separation of perception and thought is of absolutely no significance for the objective world; this separation occurs only because man places himself into the midst of existence. Through this there arises for him the illusion that thought and sense perception are a duality. It is no different for spiritual contemplation. When this arises—through soul processes that I have described in my later book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment — it again constitutes only one side of spiritual existence; the corresponding thoughts of the spirit constitute the other side. A difference arises only insofar as sense perception completes itself, attains reality, through thoughts upward, in a certain way, to where the spiritual begins, whereas spiritual contemplation is experienced in its true being from this beginning point downward.* The fact that the experience of sense perception occurs through the senses that nature has formed, whereas the experience of spiritual contemplation occurs through spiritual organs of perception that are first developed in a soul way, does not make a principle difference.

* Ein Unterschied tritt nur insofern auf, als die Sinneswahrnehmung durch den Gedanken gewissermaßen nach oben zum Anfang des Geistigen hin in Wirklichkeit vollendet, die geistige Anschauung von diesem Anfang an nach unten hin in ihrer wahren Wesenheit erlebt wird.

It is true to say that in none of my later books have I diverged from the idea of knowing activity that I developed in this one; rather I have only applied this idea to spiritual experience.

4. Page 21:

With respect to the essay “Nature”: In my writings in connection with the “Goethe Society,” I have tried to show that this essay has its origin in the fact that Tobler — who was in contact with Goethe in Weimar at the time this essay came into being — after conversations with Goethe, wrote down ideas that lived in Goethe as ones he recognized. What he wrote down then appeared in the Tiefurt Journal, which at that time was circulated only in a handwritten form. One finds in Goethe's writings a much later essay about this earlier publication. There Goethe states expressly that he does not remember whether the essay was his but that it contains ideas that were his at the time of its appearance. In my discussion in the writings of the “Goethe Society,” I attempted to show that these ideas, in their further development, flowed into the whole Goethean view of nature. There have subsequently been published arguments claiming for Tobler the full rights of authorship for this essay “Nature.” I do not wish to enter into the controversy on this question. Even if one credits Tobler with full originality in this essay, the fact still remains that these ideas did live in Goethe at the beginning of the 1780's and did so in such a way that — even according to his own admission — they prove to be the starting point of his comprehensive view of nature. Personally I have no reason to abandon my own view in this regard, which is that the ideas arose in Goethe. But even if they did not do so, they experienced in his spirit an existence that has become immeasurably fruitful. For the observer of the Goethean world view they are not of significance in themselves, but rather in relation to what has become of them.

5. Page 32:

“Manifestation to the senses”: In this discussion there is already an allusion to the contemplation of the spiritual of which my later writings tell, in the sense of what is said in the above note to page 20.

6. Page 33:

“The situation would be entirely different . . . “: This discussion does not contradict contemplation of the spiritual; rather it points to the fact that for sense perception one can attain its essential being not, so to speak, by piercing the perception and penetrating to an existence behind it into its essential being, but rather by going back to the thought-element that manifests within man.

7. Page 83:

“Goethe's essay `The Experiment as Mediator Between Subject and Object'”: It is interesting to know that Goethe wrote yet another essay in which he developed further his thoughts in the first essay about experimentation. We can reconstruct this second essay from Schiller's letter of January 19, 1798. There Goethe divides the methods of science into: common empiricism, which stays with the external phenomena given to the senses; rationalism, which builds up thought-systems upon insufficient observation, which, therefore, instead of grouping the facts in accordance with their nature, first figures out certain connections artificially, and then in fantastic ways reads something from them into the factual world; and finally rational empiricism, which does not stop short at common experience, but rather creates conditions under which experience reveals its essential being. [This note was to the first edition. To this, Rudolf Steiner added the further note in the second edition to the effect that the essay he “here assumed hypothetically, was actually discovered later in the Goethe-Schiller Archives and was included in the Weimar edition of Goethe's works.”]

8. Page 95:

“This difference underlies . . . methods of inorganic science”: One will find the “mystical approach” and “mysticism” spoken of in different ways in my writings. One can see in every case, from the context, that there is no contradiction among these different ways such as one has tried to fancy there. One can form a general concept of “mysticism.” According to it, mysticism comprises what one can experience of the world through inner soul experience. This concept, first of all, cannot be disputed. For there is such an experience. And it reveals not only something about man's inner being but also something about the world. One must have eyes in which certain processes occur, in order to experience something about the realm of color. But through this one experiences not only something about the eye but also about the world. One must have an inner soul organ in order to experience certain things about the world.

But one must bring the full clarity of concepts into the experiences of the mystical organ if knowledge is to arise. There are people, however, who wish to take refuge in what is “inward” in order to flee the clarity of concepts. They call “mysticism” that which wants to lead knowledge out of the light of ideas into the darkness of the world of feeling— the world of feeling not illuminated by ideas. My writings everywhere speak against this mysticism; every page of my books, however, was written for the mysticism that holds fast to the clarity of ideas in thinking and that makes into a soul organ of perception that mystical sense which is active in the same region of man's being where otherwise dim feelings hold sway. This sense is for the spiritual completely like what the eye or ear is for the physical.

9. Page 111:

“Philosophy of spiritual activity (Freiheit)”: The ideas of this philosophy have been developed further in my later Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894)*.

* Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, Anthroposophic Press, 1986

10. Page 113:

“Psychology, ethnology, and history are the major forms of the humanities”: after having worked through the different areas of what I call “anthroposophy,” I would now have to add anthroposophy to these were I writing this little book today. Forty years ago, as I was writing it, there stood before my mind's eye as “psychology” — in an unusual sense of the word, to be sure — something that included within itself the contemplation of the whole “spirit world” (pneumatology). But one should not infer from this that I wanted to exclude this “spirit world” from man's knowledge back then.




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