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The Riddles of Philosophy

Riddles of Philosophy: Introductory Remarks to the 1914 Edition


Part II

Introductory Remarks
to the 1914 Edition

The description of the life of the philosophical spirit from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present time, which has been attempted in this second volume of The Riddles of Philosophy, cannot be of the same character as the survey of the works of the preceding thinkers. This survey had to remain within the most restricted circle of the philosophical problems. The last sixty years represent the age in which the mode of conception of natural science attempted, from different points of view, to shake the foundation on which philosophy formerly stood. During this time, the view arose that maintained that the results of natural science shed the necessary light on the question of man's nature, his relation to the world and other riddles of existence, which the intellectual work of philosophy had formerly sought to supply. Many thinkers who wanted to serve philosophy now tried to imitate the mode of investigation of natural science. Others laid the foundation for their world conception, not in the fashion of the old philosophical mode of thinking, but simply by taking over that basis from the mode of conception of natural science, biology or physiology. Those who meant to preserve the independence of philosophy believed it best to examine thoroughly the results of natural science in order to prevent them from invading the philosophical sphere. It is for this reason necessary, in presenting the philosophical life of this period, to pay attention to the views that, derived from natural science, have been introduced into world conceptions. The significance of these views for philosophy becomes apparent only if one examines the scientific foundations from which they are derived, and if one realizes for oneself the tendencies of scientific thinking according to which they were developed. This situation is given expression in this book by the fact that some parts of it are formulated almost as if a presentation of general natural scientific ideas, and not one of philosophical works, had been intended. The opinion appears to be justified that this method of presentation shows distinctly how thoroughly natural science has influenced the philosophical life of the present time.

A reader who finds it reconcilable to his mode of thinking to conceive the evolution of the philosophical life along the lines indicated in the introduction of the first volume of this book, and for which the more detailed account of the book has attempted to supply the foundation, will also find it possible to accept the indicated relation between philosophy and natural science in the present age as a necessary phase of its evolution. Through the centuries since the beginning of Greek philosophy this evolution tended to lead the human soul toward the experience of its inner essential forces. With this inner experience the soul became more and more estranged in the world that the knowledge of external nature had erected for itself. A conception of nature arose that is so exclusively concerned with the observation of the external world that it does not show any inclination to include in its world picture what the soul experiences in its inner world. This conception considers it as unjustified to paint the world picture in a way that it would show these inner experiences of the human soul as well as the results of the research of natural science. It characterizes the situation in which philosophy found itself in the second half of the nineteenth century, and in which many currents of thought can still be found in the present time. Such a judgment does not have to be artificially introduced to the study of the philosophy of this age. It can be arrived at by simply observing the facts. The second volume of this book attempts to record this new development, but it has also made it necessary to add to the second edition a final chapter that contains “A Brief Outline of an Approach to Anthroposophy.”

One can be of the opinion that this account does not belong in the framework of the whole book but, in the preface to the first volume, it was announced that the purpose of this presentation “is not only to give a short outline of the history of philosophical problems, but also to discuss these problems and the attempts at their solution through their historical treatment.” The view expressed in this book tries to show that many situations arising from the attempted solutions in the philosophy of the present tend to recognize an element in the inner experience of the human soul that manifests itself in such a way that the exclusive claim of natural science can no longer deny that element a place in the modern world picture. As it is the philosophical conviction of the author of this book that the account of the final chapter deals with soul experiences that are adequate to bring fulfillment to the search of modern philosophy, he feels he was justified in adding this chapter to his presentation. As a result of observation of these philosophies, it seems to the author to be basically characteristic of them and of their historical manifestation that they do not consistently continue their direction toward the goal they are seeking. This direction must lead toward the world conception that is outlined at the end of the book, which aims at a real science of the spirit. The reader who can agree with this can find in this conception something that supplies the solutions to problems that the philosophy of the present time poses without giving answers. If this is true, the content of the last chapter will also throw light on the historical position of modern philosophy.

The author of this book does not imagine that everyone who can accept the content of the final chapter must necessarily also seek a world conception that replaces philosophy by a view that can no longer be recognized as a philosophy by traditional philosophers. What this book means to show is that philosophy, if it arrives at the point where it understands itself, must lead the spirit to a soul experience that is, to be sure, the fruit of its work, but also grows beyond it. In this way, philosophy retains its significance for everyone who, according to his mode of thinking, must demand a secure intellectual foundation for the results of this soul experience. Whoever can accept these results through a natural sense for truth, is justified in feeling himself on secure ground even if he pays no special attention to a philosophical foundation of these results. But whoever seeks the scientific justification of the world conception that is presented at the end of the book, must follow the path of the philosophical foundation.

That this path, if it is followed through to its end, leads to the experience of a spiritual world, and that the soul through this experience can become aware of its own spiritual essence through a method that is independent of its experience and knowledge through the sense world, is what the presentation of this book attempts to prove. It was not the author's intention to project this thought as a preconceived idea into his observation of philosophical life. He wanted to search without bias for the conception expressed in this life itself. He has at least endeavored to proceed in this way. He believes that this thought could be best presented by speaking the language of a natural scientist, as it were, in some parts of the book. Only if one is capable of temporarily identifying oneself completely with a certain point of view is it possible to do full justice to it. By this method of deliberately taking the position of a world view, the human soul can most safely obtain the ability to withdraw from it again and enter into modes of conception that have their source in realms that are not comprised by this view of the world.

* * *

The printing of this second volume of The Riddles of Philosophy was about half finished before the great war that mankind is now experiencing broke out. It was finished just as this event began. This is only to indicate what outer events stirred and occupied my soul as the last thoughts included in this book passed before my inner eye.

Rudolf Steiner

September 1, 1914

Berlin



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