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The Riddles of Philosophy

RoP: Modern Idealistic World Conceptions (Pt2 Ch6)


Part II

Chapter VI

Modern Idealistic World Conceptions

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the mode of conception of natural science was blended with the idealistic traditions from the first half, producing three world conceptions that show a distinctive individual physiognomy. The three thinkers responsible for this were Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817 – 81), Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801 – 87), and Eduard von Hartmann (1842 – 1906).

In his work, Life and Life-force, which appeared in 1842 in Wagner's Handwörterbuch der Physiologic, Lotze opposed the belief that there is in living beings a special force, the life force, and defended the thought that the phenomena of life are to be explained exclusively through complicated processes of the same kind as take place in lifeless nature. In this respect, he sided entirely with the mode of conception of modern natural science, which tried to bridge the gap between the lifeless and the living. This attitude is reflected in his books that deal with subjects of natural science, General Pathology and Therapy as Mechanical Sciences (1842) and General Physiology of the Physical Life (1851). With his Elements of Psychophysics (1860) and Propaedeutics of Esthetics (1876), Fechner contributed works that show the spirit of a strictly natural scientific mode of conception. This was now done in fields that before him had been treated almost without exception in the sense of an idealistic mode of thinking. But Lotze and Fechner felt that need to construct for themselves an idealistic world of thought that went beyond the view of natural science. Lotze was forced to take this direction through the quality of his inner disposition. This demanded of him not merely an intellectual observation of the natural law in the world, but challenged him to seek life and inwardness of the kind that man feels within himself in all things and processes. He wanted to “struggle constantly against the conceptions that acknowledge only one half of the world, and the less important one at that, only the unfolding of facts into new facts, of forms into new forms, but not the constant reconversion of all those externalities into elements of inner relevance, into what alone has value and truth in the world, into bliss and despair, admiration and disgust, love and hatred, into joyful certainty and doubtful yearning, into all the nameless forms of suspense and fear in which life goes on, that alone deserves to be called life.”

Lotze, like many others, has the feeling that the human picture of nature becomes cold and drab if we do not permeate it with the conceptions that are taken from the human soul (compare above pages . . . ) What in Lotze is caused by his inner disposition of feeling, appears in Fechner as the result of a richly developed imagination that has the effect of always leading from a logical comprehension of things to a poetic interpretation of them. He cannot, as a natural scientific thinker, merely search for the conditions of man's becoming and for the laws that will cause his death again. For him, birth and death become events that draw his imagination to a life before birth and to a life after death. Fechner writes in his Booklet on Life after Death:

Man lives on earth not once, but three times. His first stage of life is a continuous sleep; the second, an alternation between sleeping and waking; the third, an eternal waking. In the first stage, man lives in solitude and in the dark; in the second, he lives in fellowship and as a separate being side by side and among others in a light that reflects the surface for him; in the third stage, his life interweaves with that of other spirits to a higher life in the highest spirit, and his sight penetrates the essence of the finite things. In the first phase, the body develops from its germ and produces the organs for the second; in the second phase, the spirit develops from its germ and produces its organ for the third; and in the third phase, the divine germ that lies in the spirit of every human being develops. It can be dimly felt and instinctively apprehended by a genius pointing toward a realm beyond, which is dark for us but bright as day for the spirit of the third phase. The transition from the first phase of life to the second is called birth; the transition from the second to the third is called death.

Lotze has given an interpretation of the phenomena of the world that is in keeping with the needs of his inner disposition in his works, Microcosm (1858 – 64), Three Books of Logic (1874) and Three Books of Metaphysics (1879). The notes taken from the lectures he gave on the various fields of philosophy also have appeared in print. He proceeds by following the strictly natural, law-determined course of the world and by interpreting this regularity in the sense of an ideal, harmonious, soul-filled order and activity of the world-ground. We see that one thing has an effect on another, but one could not produce the effect on the other if fundamental kinship and unity did not exist between them. The second thing would have to remain indifferent to the activity of the first if it did not possess the ability to behave in agreement with the action of the first and to arrange its own activity accordingly. A ball can be caused to move by another ball that hits it only if it meets the other ball with a certain understanding, so to speak, if it finds within itself the same understanding of motion as is contained in the first. The ability to move is something that is contained in the first ball as well as in the second, as common to both of them. All things and processes must have such common elements. That we perceive them as things and events is caused by the fact that we, in our observation, become acquainted only with their surface. If we were able to see their inner nature, we would observe not what separates them but what connects them to form a great world totality. There is only one being in our experience that we do not merely know from without but from within, that we cannot merely look at, but into, that our sight can penetrate. This is our own soul, the totality of our own spiritual personality. But since all things must possess a common element in their inner being, so they must also have in common with our soul the element that constitutes our soul's inner core. We may, therefore, conceive the inner nature of things as similar to the quality of our own soul. The world ground that rules as the common element of all things can be thought by us in no other way than as a comprehensible personality after the image of our own personality.

Our heart's ardent desire to grasp the highest that it may divine can be satisfied by no other form of existence than that of the personality, no other form can be seriously considered. This aspiration of our heart is so much guided by the conviction that the living, self-possessed and self-enjoying form of the ego is the undeniable prerequisite and the only home of all good and all values. It is so much filled with a silent disdain of all existence that appears lifeless, that we always find the early phases of religion, when it is given to myth making, occupied with the attempt to transfigure the natural reality into a spiritual one. It has, however, never felt a need to reduce something that is spiritually alive to a blind reality as its firmer ground.

Lotze expresses his own feeling with regard to the things of nature as follows:

I do not know them, these dead masses of which you speak; for me everything is life and inner alertness; rest and death are nothing but a dull transitory appearance of an ever active inner weaving.

If natural processes, as they appear in the observation, are only such dull transitory shadows, then one cannot expect to find their deepest essence in the regularity that presents itself to the observation, but in the “ever active weaving” of all inspiring, all comprehensive personality, its aims and purposes. Lotze, therefore, imagines that in all natural activity a personality's moral purpose is manifested toward which the world is striving. The laws of nature are the external manifestation of an all pervading ethical order of the world. This ethical interpretation of the world is in perfect harmony with what Lotze says concerning the continuous life of the soul after death:

We have no other thought at our disposal than the general idealistic conviction that every created thing or being will remain in existence whose continuation is essential for the meaning of the world. Everything that serves only in a transitory phase of the course of the world will at some time cease to exist. That this principle does not justify certain rash applications need scarcely be mentioned. We certainly do not know the merits that would be adequate to earn the claim for eternal existence for one being, nor the defects that would deny it to others. (Three Books of Metaphysics)

At the point where Lotze's reflections touch the realm of the great enigmatic problems of philosophy, his thoughts show an uncertain and wavering character. One can notice that he does not succeed in securing from his two sources of knowledge, natural science and psychological self-observation, a reliable conception concerning man's relation to the course of the world. The inner force of self-observation does not penetrate to a thinking that could justify the ego feeling itself as a definite entity within the totality of the world. In his lectures, Philosophy of Religion, we read:

The belief in immortality has no other sure foundation than the need for religion. For this reason it also impossible to state anything beyond a simple metaphysical statement concerning the nature of continued existence. Such a statement would be: As we regard every entity to be merely a creature of God, there is no fundamentally valid right that the individual soul could claim, for instance, as a substance, to demand eternal individual existence. We can merely maintain that every entity is preserved by God only as long as its existence has a valuable significance for the totality of His world plan . . .

The indefinite character of such principles expresses the extent to which Lotze's ideas can penetrate into the realm of the great philosophical problems.

* * *

In his little book, Life after Death, Fechner says of the relation of man to the world:

What does the anatomist see when he looks into man's brain? A tangle of white fibres, the meaning of which he cannot fathom. What does he see in himself? A world of lights, sounds, thoughts, reminiscences, fantasies, sentiments of love and hatred. In this way you must imagine the relationship of the side of the world that you see as you are externally confronted with it, to what this world sees in itself, and you must not demand that the inside and the outside of the world should show a greater similarity than in yourself, who is only a part of it. It is only the fact that you are a part of this world that allows you to see within yourself a part of what the world experiences inwardly.

Fechner imagines that the world spirit stands in the same relation to the world of matter as the human spirit does to the human body. He then argues: Man speaks of himself when he speaks of his body, but he also speaks of himself when he deals with his spirit. The anatomist who investigates the tangle of dead brain fibres is confronted with the organ that once was the source of thoughts and imaginations. When the man, whose brain the anatomist observes, was still alive, he did not have before him in his mind the fibres of his brain and their physical function, but a world of mental contents. What has changed then when, instead of a man who experiences his inner soul content, the anatomist looks at the brain, the physical organ of that soul? Is it not in both cases the same being, the same man that is inspected? Fechner is of the opinion that the object is the same, merely the point of view of the observer has changed. The anatomist observes from outside what was previously viewed by man from inside. It is as if one looks at a circle first from without and then from within. In the first case, it appears convex, in the second, concave. In both cases, it is the same circle. So it is also with man. If he looks at himself from within, he is spirit; if the natural scientist looks at him from without, he is body, matter.

According to Fechner's mode of conception, it is of no use to ponder on how body and spirit effect each other, for they are not two entities at all; they are both one and the same thing. They appear to us only as different when we observe them from different viewpoints. Fechner considers man to be a body that is spirit at the same time. From this point of view it becomes possible for Fechner to imagine all nature as spiritual, as animated. With regard to his own being, man is in the position to inspect the physical from within and thus to recognize the inside directly as spiritual. Does not the thought then suggest itself that everything physical, if it could be inspected from within, would appear as spiritual? We can see the plant only from without, but is it not possible that it, too, if seen from within, would prove to be a soul? This notion grew in Fechner's imagination into the conviction that everything physical is spiritual at the same time. The smallest material particle is animated, and the combination of particles to form more perfect material bodies is merely a process viewed from the outside. There is a corresponding inner process that would, if one could observe it, present itself as the combination of individual souls into more comprehensive souls. If somebody had the ability to observe from within the physical processes of our earth with the plants, animals and men living on it, the totality would appear to him as the soul of the earth. So it would also be with the solar system, and even with the whole world. The universe seen from without is the physical cosmos; seen from within, it is the all-embracing spirit, the most perfect personality, God.

A thinker who wants to arrive at a world conception must go beyond the facts that present themselves to him without his own activity. But what is achieved by this going beyond the results of direct observation is a question about which there are the most divergent views. Kirchhoff expressed his view (compare above, to Part II Chapter III) by saying that even through the strictest science one cannot obtain anything but a complete and simple description of the actual events. Fechner proceeds from an opposite viewpoint. It is his opinion that this is “the great art, to draw conclusions from this world to the next, not from reasons that we do not know nor from presuppositions that we accept, but from facts with which we are acquainted, to the greater and higher facts of the world beyond, and thereby to fortify and support from below the belief that depends on higher viewpoints and to establish for it a living relationship toward life. (The Booklet on Life after Death) According to this opinion, Fechner does not merely look for the connection of the outwardly observed physical phenomena with the inwardly experienced spiritual processes, but he adds to the observed soul phenomena others, the earth spirit, the planetary spirit, the world spirit.

Fechner does not allow his knowledge of natural science, which is based on a firm foundation, to keep him from raising his thoughts from the world of the senses into regions where they envisage world entities and world processes, which, if they exist, must be beyond the reach of sense perception. He feels stimulated to such an elevation through his intimate contemplation of the world of the senses, which reveals to his thinking more than the mere sense perception would be capable of disclosing. This “additional content” he feels inclined to use in imagining extrasensory entities. In his way, he strives thus to depict a world into which he promises to introduce thoughts that have come to life. But such a transcendence of sensory limits did not prevent Fechner from proceeding according to the strictest method of natural science, even in the realm that borders that of the soul. It was he who created the scientific methods for this field.

Fechner's Elements of Psychophysics (1860) is the fundamental work in this field. The fundamental law on which he based psychophysics states that the increase of sensation caused in man through an increase of external impressions, proceeds proportionately slower than the intensification of the stimulating impressions. The greater the strength of the stimulus at the outset, the less the sensation grows. Proceeding from this thought, it is possible to obtain a measured proportion between the external stimulus (for instance, the strength of physical light) and the sensation (for instance, the intensity of light sensation). The continuation of this method established by Fechner has resulted in the elaboration of the discipline of psychophysics as an entirely new science, concerned with the relation of stimuli toward sensations, that is to say, of the physical to the psychical.

Wilhelm Wundt, who continued to work in Fechner's spirit in this field, characterizes the founder of the science of psychophysics in an excellent description:

Probably none of his other scientific achievements show in such a splendid way the rare combination of gifts that were at Fechner's disposal as do his psychophysical works. To produce a work like his Elements of Psychophysics, it was necessary to be intimately acquainted with the principles of the exact method of mathematical physics and at the same time to possess an inclination to probe the most profound problems of being, a combination that was realized only in him. For this purpose he needed the originality of thinking that enabled him to adapt freely the inherited research methods to fit his own needs, and the courage never to show any hesitation to proceed along new and untrodden paths. The observations of E. H. Weber, which were admirable for their ingenious simplicity but limited in their scope, the isolated and often more arbitrary than deliberately devised experimental methods and results of other physiologists — these formed the modest material out of which he built a new science.

Important insights into the interrelation between body and soul have resulted from the experimental method suggested by Fechner. Wundt characterizes this new science in his Lectures on the Human and Animal Soul (1863) as follows:

I shall show in the following exposition that the experiment is the chief instrument in psychology. It leads us from the facts of consciousness to those processes that prepare the conscious life in the dark background of the soul. Self-observation provides, as does observation in general, merely the composite phenomena. It is only through the experiment that we free the phenomenon of all accidental circumstances to which it is bound in nature. Through the experiment we produce the phenomenon synthetically out of the conditions we ourselves control. Change these conditions and we thereby also change, in a measurable way, the phenomenon itself. In this way, it is always the experiment that leads us to the laws of nature because only in the experiment can we observe simultaneously the causes and the results.

It is doubtless only in a borderline territory of the field of psychology that the experiment is really fruitful, that is, in the territory where the conscious processes lead to the backgrounds of the soul life where they are no longer conscious but material processes. The psychical phenomena in the proper sense of the word can, after all, only be obtained by a purely spiritual observation. Nevertheless, E. Kräpelin, a psychophysicist, is fully justified when he says “that the young science will always be capable of maintaining its independent position side by side with the other branches of the natural sciences and particularly the science of physiology” (Psychological Works, published by E. Kräpelin, Vol. I, part 1, page 4).

* * *

When Eduard von Hartmann published his Philosophy of the Unconscious in 1869 he did not so much have in mind a world conception based on the results of modern natural science but rather one that would raise to a higher level the ideas of the idealistic systems of the first half of the nineteenth century, since these appeared to him insufficient in many points. It was his intention to free these ideas of their contradictions and to develop them completely. It seemed to him that Hegel's, Schelling's and Schopenhauer's thoughts contained potential truths that would only have to be fully developed. Man cannot be satisfied by merely observing facts if he intends to know things and processes of the world. He must proceed from facts to ideas. These ideas cannot be considered to be an element that our thinking arbitrarily adds to the facts. There must be something in them that corresponds to the things and events. This corresponding element cannot be the element of conscious ideas, for these are brought about only through the material processes of the human brain. Without a brain there is no consciousness. We must, therefore, assume that an unconscious ideal element in reality corresponds to the conscious ideas of the human mind.

Hartmann, like Hegel, considers the idea as the real element in things that is contained in them beyond the perceptible, that is to say, beyond the accessible to sense observation. But the mere content of the ideas would never be capable of producing a real process within them. The idea of a ball cannot collide with the idea of another ball. The idea of a table cannot produce an impression on the human eye. A real process requires a real force. In order to gain a conception of such a force, Hartmann borrows from Schopenhauer. Man finds in his soul a force through which he imparts reality to his thought and to his decisions. This force is the will. In the form in which it is manifest in the human soul the will presupposes the existence of the human organism. Through the organism it is a conscious will. If we want to think of a force as existing in things, we can conceive of it only as similar to the will, the only energy with which we are immediately acquainted. We must, however, think of this will as something without consciousness. Thus, outside man an unconscious will rules in things that endows them with the possibility of becoming real. The world's content of idea and will in their combination constitutes its unconscious basis.

Although the world, without doubt, presents a logical structure because of its content of ideas, it nevertheless owes its real existence to a will that is entirely without logic and reason. Its content is endowed with reason; that this content is a reality is caused by unreason. The rule of unreason is manifested in the existence of the pain by which all beings are tortured. Pain out-balances pleasure in the world. This fact, which is to be philosophically explained from the non-logical will element, Eduard von Hartmann tries to establish by careful investigations of the relation of pleasure and displeasure in the world. Whoever does not indulge in illusions but observes the evils of the world objectively cannot arrive at any other result than that there is much more displeasure in the world than pleasure. From this, we must conclude that non-being is preferable to being. Non-being, however, can be attained only when the logical-reasonable idea annihilates being. Hartmann, therefore, regards the world process as a gradual destruction of the unreasonable will by the reasonable world of ideas. It must be the highest moral task of man to contribute to this conquest of the will. All cultural progress must aim at this final conquest. Man is morally good if he participates in the progress of culture, if he demands nothing for himself but selflessly devotes himself to the great work of liberation from existence. He will without doubt do that if he gains the insight that pain must always be greater than pleasure and that happiness is for this reason impossible. Only he who believes happiness to be possible can maintain an egotistic desire for it. The pessimistic view of the preponderance of pain over pleasure is the best remedy against egotism. Only in surrendering to the world process can the individual find his salvation. The true pessimist is led to act unegotistically.

What man does consciously, however, is merely the unconscious, raised into consciousness. To the conscious contribution of human work to the cultural progress, there corresponds an unconscious general process consisting of a progressive emancipation of the primordial substance of the world from will. The beginning of the world must already have served this aim. The primordial substance had to create the world in order to free itself gradually with the aid of the idea from the power of the will.

Real existence is the incarnation of the godhead. The world process is the history of the passion of the incarnate God and at the same time the path for the redemption of the God crucified in the flesh. Morality is the cooperating work for the shortening of this path of passion and redemption. (Hartmann, Phenomenology of the Moral Consciousness, 1879, Page 871.)

Hartmann elaborated his world conception in a series of comprehensive works and in a great number of monographs and articles. These writings contain intellectual treasures of extraordinary significance. This is especially the case because Hartmann knew how to avoid being tyrannized by his basic thoughts in the treatment of special problems of science and life, and to maintain an unbiased attitude in the contemplation of things. This is true to a particularly high degree in his Phenomenology of the Moral Consciousness in which he presents the different kinds of human doctrines of morality in logical order. He gives in it a kind of “natural history” of the various moral viewpoints, from the egotistical hunt for happiness through many intermediate stages to the selfless surrender to the general world process through which the divine primordial substance frees itself from the bondage of existence.

Since Hartmann accepts the idea of purpose for his world conception, it is understandable that the mode of thinking of natural science that rests on Darwinism appears to him as a one-sided current of ideas. To Hartmann the idea tends in the whole of the world process toward the aim of non-being, and the ideal content is for him purposeful also in every specific phase. In the evolution of the organism Hartmann sees a purpose in self-realization. The struggle for existence with its process of natural selection is for him merely auxiliary functions of the purposeful rule of ideas (Philosophy of the Unconscious, 10. Ed., Vol. III, Page 403).

* * *

The thought life of the nineteenth century leads, from various sides, to a world conception that is characterized by an uncertainty of thought and by an inner hopelessness. Richard Wahle declares definitely that thinking is incapable of contributing anything to the solution of “transcendent” questions, or of the highest problems, and Eduard von Hartmann sees in all cultural work nothing but a detour toward the final attainment of the ultimate purpose — complete deliverance from existence. Against the currents of such ideas, a beautiful statement was written in 1843 by the German linguist, Wilhelm Wackernagel in his book, On the Instruction in the Mother Tongue. Wackernagel says that doubt cannot supply the basis for a world conception; he considers it rather as an “injury” that offends not only the person who wants to know something, but also the things that are to be known. “Knowledge,” he says, “begins with confidence.”

Such confidence for the ideas that depend on the research methods of natural science has been produced in modern times, but not for a knowledge that derives its power of truth from the self-conscious ego. The impulses that lie in the depths of the development of the spiritual life require such a powerful will for the truth. Man's searching soul feels instinctively that it can find satisfaction only through such a power. The philosophical endeavor strives for such a force, but it cannot find it in the thoughts that it is capable of developing for a world conception. The achievements of the thought life fail to satisfy the demands of the soul. The conceptions of natural science derive their certainty from the observation of the external world. Within one's soul one does not find the strength that would guarantee the same certainty. One would like to have truths concerning the spiritual world concerning the destiny of the soul and its connection with the world that are gained in the same way as the conceptions of natural science.

A thinker who derived his thoughts as much from the philosophical thinking of the past as from his penetration of the mode of thinking of natural science was Franz Brentano (1828 – 1912). He demanded of philosophy that it should arrive at its results in the same manner as natural science. Because of this imitation of the methods of natural science, he hoped that psychology, for instance, would not have to renounce its attempts to gain an insight into the most important problem of soul life.

But for the hopes of a Plato and Aristotle to attain sure knowledge concerning the continued life of our better part after the dissolution of our body, the laws of the association of ideas, the development of convictions and opinions and of the origin and development of pleasure and love would be anything but a true compensation. If this new natural scientific method of thinking would really bring about the elimination of the problem of immortality, this would have to be considered as significant for psychology.

This is Brentano's statement in his Psychology from the Empirical Standpoint, (1870, page 20).

Symptomatic of the weakness of a psychology that intends to follow the method of natural science entirely is the fact that such a serious seeker after truth as Franz Brentano did not write a second volume of his psychology that would really have taken up the highest problems after the first volume that dealt only with questions that had to be considered as “anything but a compensation for these highest questions of the soul life.” The thinkers of that time lacked the inner strength and elasticity of mind that could do real justice to the demand of modern times. Greek thought mastered the conception of nature and the conception of the soul life in a way that allowed both to be combined into one total picture. Subsequently, human thought life developed independently of and separated from nature, within the depths of the soul life, and modern natural science supplied a picture of nature. From this fact the necessity arose to find a conception of the soul life within the self-conscious ego that would prove strong enough to hold its own in conjunction with the image of nature in a general world picture. For this purpose, it is necessary to find a point of support within the soul itself that carried as surely as the results of natural scientific research. Spinoza believed he had found it by modeling his world conception after the mathematical method; Kant relinquished the knowledge of the world of things in themselves and attempted to gain ideas that were to supply, through their moral weight, to be sure, not knowledge, but a certain belief.

Thus we observe in these searching philosophers a striving to anchor the soul life in a total structure of the world. But what is still lacking is the strength and elasticity of thought that would form the conceptions concerning the soul life in a way to promise a solution for the problems of the soul. Uncertainty concerning the true significance of man's soul experiences arises everywhere. Natural science in Haeckel's sense follows the natural processes that are perceptible to the senses and it sees the life of the soul only as a higher stage of such natural processes. Other thinkers find that we have in everything the soul perceives only the effects of extra-human processes that are both unknown and unknowable. For these thinkers, the world becomes an “illusion,” although an illusion that is caused by natural necessity through the human organization.

As long as the art of looking around corners has not been invented, that is, to conceive without conceptions, the proud self-restrictions of Kant, that we can know of reality only that it is, not what it is, will have to be acknowledged as the final decision.

This is the judgment of Robert Zimmermann, a philosopher of the second half of the nineteenth century. For such a world conception the human soul, which cannot have any knowledge of its own nature of “what it is,” sails into an ocean of conceptions without becoming aware of its ability to find something in this vast ocean that could open vistas into the nature of existence. Hegel had been of the opinion that he perceived in thinking itself the inner force of life that leads man's ego to reality. For the time that followed, “mere thinking” became a lightly woven texture of imaginations containing nothing of the nature of true being. When, in the search for truth, an opinion ventures to put the emphasis on thinking, the suggested thoughts have a ring of inner uncertainty, as can be seen in this statement of Gideon Spicker: “That thinking in itself is correct, we can never know for sure, neither empirically nor logically . . .” (Lessing's Weltanschauung, 1883, page 5).

In a most persuasive form, Philipp Mainländer (1841 – 1876) gave expression to this lack of confidence in existence in his Philosophy of Redemption. Mainländer sees himself confronted by the world picture toward which modern natural science tends so strongly. But it is in vain that he seeks for a possibility to anchor the self-conscious ego in a spiritual world. He cannot achieve through this self-conscious ego what had first been realized by Goethe, namely, to feel in the soul the resurrection of an inner living reality that experiences itself as spiritually alive in a living spiritual element behind a mere external nature. It is for this reason that the world appears to Mainländer without spirit. Since he can think of the world only as having originated from the spirit, he must consider it as a remainder of a past spiritual life. Statements like the following are striking:

Now we have the right to give to this being the well-known name that always designates what no power of imagination, no flight of the boldest fantasy, no abstract thinking however profound, no intently devout heart, no enraptured and transported spirit ever attained: God. But this simple oneness is of the past; it is no longer. In a transformation of its nature, it has dispersed itself into a world of diversity. (Compare Max Seiling's essay, Mainländer.)

If, in the existing world, we find only reality without value or merely the ruins of value, then the aim of the world can only be its destruction. Man can see his task only in a contribution to this annihilation. (Mainländer ended his life by suicide.) According to Mainländer, God created the world only in order to free himself from the torture of his own existence. “The world is the means for the purpose of non-being, and it is the only possible means for this purpose. God knew that he could change from a state of super-reality into non-being only through the development of a real world of multiformity. (Philosophic der Erlösung)

This view, which springs from mistrust in the world, was vigorously opposed by the poet, Robert Hamerling (1830 – 89) in his posthumously published philosophical work, Atomism of Will. He rejects logical inquiries concerning the value or worthlessness of the world and starts from an original inner experience:

Almost all men with very few exceptions want to live at any price, no matter whether they are happy or unhappy. The main thing is not whether they are right in wanting this, but that they want this; this is simply undeniable. Yet the doctrinarian pessimists do not consider this decisive fact. They only balance, in learned reflections, pleasure and pain as life brings them in its particular instances. Since pleasure and pain are matters of feeling, it is feeling and not intellect that is decisive in striking the balance of pleasure and pain. This balance is actually to be found in all humanity, one can even say in everything that has life, and is in favor of the pleasure of existence. That everything alive wants to live and wants this under all circumstances, wants to live at any price, is the great fact against which all doctrinarian talk is powerless.

Hamerling then contemplates the thought: There is something in the depth of the soul that clings to existence, expressing the nature of the soul with more truth than the judgments that are encumbered by the mode of conception of modern natural science as they speak of the value of life. One could say that Hamerling feels a spiritual point of gravity in the depth of the soul that anchors the self-conscious ego in the living and moving world. He is, therefore, inclined to see in this ego something that guarantees its existence more than the thought structures of the philosophers. He finds a main defect in modern world conception in the opinion “that there is too much sophistry in the most recent philosophy directed against the ego,” and he would like to explain this “from the fear of the soul, of a special soul-entity or even a thing-like conception of a soul.” Hamerling points significantly to the really important question, “The ideas of the ego are interwoven with the elements of feeling. . . . What the spirit has not experienced, it is also incapable of thinking. . . .” For Hamerling, all higher world conception hinges on the necessity of feeling the act of thinking itself, of experiencing it inwardly. The possibility of penetrating into those soul-depths in which the living conceptions can be attained that lead to a knowledge of the soul entity through the inner strength of the self-conscious ego is, according to Hamerling, barred by a layer of concepts that originated in the course of the development of modern world conception, and change the world picture into a mere ocean of ideas. He introduces his philosophy, therefore, with the following words:

Certain stimuli produce odors within our organ of smell. Thus, the rose has no fragrance if nobody smells it. Certain air vibrations produce sounds in the ear. Sound then does not exist without an ear. A gunshot would not ring out if nobody heard it.

Such conceptions have in the course of modern thought development become so definite a part of thinking that Hamerling added to the quoted exposition the words:

If this, dear reader, does not seem plausible to you, if your mind stirs like a shy horse when it is confronted with this fact, do not bother to read another line; leave this book and all others that deal with philosophical things unread, for you lack the ability that is necessary for this purpose, that is, to apprehend a fact without bias and to adhere to it in your thoughts. (Atomism of Will)

Hamerling's last poetic effort was his Homunculus. In this work he intended to present a criticism of modern civilization. He portrayed in a radical way in a series of pictures what a humanity is drifting to that has become soulless and believes only in the power of external natural laws. As the poet of Homunculus, he knows no limit to his criticism of everything in this civilization that is caused by this false belief. As a thinker, however, Hamerling nevertheless capitulates in the full sense of the word to the mode of conception described in this book in the chapter, “The World as Illusion.” He does not hesitate to use words like the following.

The extended spatial corporeal world as such exists only insofar as we perceive it. Anyone who adheres to this principle will understand what a naive error it is to believe that there is, in addition to the impression (Vorstellung) that we call “horse” still another horse, which is actually the real horse and of which our inner impression is only a kind of copy. Outside of myself, let it be said again, there is only the sum total of those conditions that produce within my senses an idea (Anschauung) that I call horse.

With respect to the soul life, Hamerling feels as if nothing of the world's own nature could ever penetrate into the ocean of its thought pictures. But he has a feeling for the process that goes on in the depths of modern soul development. He feels that the knowledge of modern man must vigorously light up with its own power of truth within the self-conscious ego, as it had manifested itself in the perceived thought of the Greeks. Again and again he probes his way toward the point where the self-conscious ego feels itself endowed with the strength of its true being that is at the same time aware of standing within the spiritual life of the world. But he only senses this and thus fails to arrive at any further revelation. So he clings to the feeling of existence that pulsates within his soul and that seems to him more substantial, more saturated with reality than the mere conceptions of the ego, the mere thought of the ego. “From the awareness or feeling of our own being we gain a concept of being that goes far beyond the status of being merely an object of thought. We gain the concept of a being that not merely is thought, but thinks.”

Starting from this ego that apprehends itself in its feeling of existence, Hamerling attempts to gain a world picture. What the ego experiences in its feeling of existence is, according to him, “the atom-feeling within us” (Atomgefühl). The ego knows of itself, and it knows itself as an “atom” in comparison with the world. It must imagine other beings as it finds itself in itself: as atoms that experience and feel themselves. For Hamerling, this seems to be synonymous with atoms of will, with will-endowed monads. For Hamerling's Atomism of Will, the world becomes a multitude of will-endowed monads, and the human soul is one of the will-monads. The thinker of such a world picture looks around himself and sees the world as spiritual, to be sure, but all he can discover of the spirit is a manifestation of the will. He can say nothing more about it. This world picture reveals nothing that would answer the questions concerning the human soul's position in the evolutionary process of the world, for whether one considers the soul as what it appears before all philosophical thinking, or whether one characterizes it according to this thinking as a monad of will, it is necessary to raise the same enigmatic questions with regard to both soul-conceptions. If one thought like Brentano, one could say, “For the hopes of a Plato and Aristotle to attain sure knowledge concerning the continued life of our better part after the dissolution of our body, the knowledge that the soul is a monad of will among other monads of will is anything but a true compensation.”

In many currents of modern philosophical life one notices the instinctive tendency (living in the subconsciousness of the thinkers) to find in the self-conscious ego a force that is unlike that of Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz and others. One seeks a force through which this ego, the core of the human soul can be so conceived that man's position in the course and the evolution of the world can become revealed. At the same time, these philosophical currents show that the means used in order to find such a force have not enough intensity in order to fulfill “the hopes of a Plato and Aristotle” (in Brentano's sense) to do justice to the modern demands of the soul. One succeeds in developing opinions, for instance, concerning the possible relation of our perceptions to the things outside, or concerning the development and association of ideas, of the genesis of memory, and of the relation of feeling and will to imagination and perception. But through one's own mode of conception one locks the doors to questions that are concerned with the “hopes of Plato and Aristotle.” It is believed that through everything that could be thought with regard to these “hopes,” the demands of a strictly scientific procedure would be offended that have been set as standards by the mode of thinking of natural science.

The ideas of the philosophical thought picture of Wilhelm Wundt (1832 – 1920) aim no higher than their natural scientific basis permits. For Wundt, philosophy is “the general knowledge that has been produced by the special sciences” Wundt, System of Philosophy). By the methods of such a philosophy it is only possible to continue the lines of thought created by the special sciences, to combine them, and to put them into a clearly arranged order. This Wundt does, and thus he allows the general form of his ideas to become entirely dependent on the habits of conception that develop in a thinker who, like Wundt, is acquainted with the special sciences, that is, a person who has been active in some particular field of knowledge such as the psychophysical aspect of psychology. Wundt looks at the world picture that the human soul produces through sense experience and at the conceptions that are experienced in the soul under the influence of this world picture. The scientific method considers sense perceptions as effects of processes outside man. For Wundt, this mode of conception is, in a certain sense, an unquestioned matter of course. He considers as external reality, therefore, what is inferred conceptually on the basis of sense perceptions. This external reality as such is not inwardly experienced; it is assumed by the soul in the same way that a process is assumed to exist outside man that effects the eye, causing, through its activity, the sensation of light. Contrary to this process, the processes in the soul are immediately experienced. Here our knowledge is in no need of conclusions but needs only observations concerning the formation and connection of our ideas and their relation to our feelings and will impulses. In these observations we deal only with soul activities that are apparent in the stream of consciousness, and we have no right to speak of a special soul that is manifested in this stream of consciousness. To assume matter to be the basis of the natural phenomena is justifiable for, from sense perceptions, one must conclude, by means of concepts, that there are material processes. It is not possible in the same sense to infer a soul from the psychic processes.

The auxiliary concept of matter is . . . bound to the indirect or conceptual nature of all natural science. It is impossible to conceive how the direct and intuitive inner experience should demand such an auxiliary concept as well. . . . (Wundt, System of Philosophy).

In this way, the question of the nature of the soul is, for Wundt, a problem to which in the last analysis neither the observation of the inner experience nor any conclusions from these experiences can lead. Wundt does not observe a soul; he perceives only psychical activity. This psychical activity is so manifested that whenever it appears, a parallel physical process takes place at the same time. Both phenomena, the psychical activity and the physical process, are parts of one reality: they are in the last analysis the same thing; only man separates them in his observation. Wundt is of the opinion that a scientific experience can recognize only such spiritual processes as are bound to physical processes. For him, the self-conscious ego dissolves into the psychical organism of the spiritual processes that are to him identical with the physical processes, except that these appear as spiritual-psychical when they are seen from within.

But if the ego tries to find what it can consider as characteristic for its own nature, it discovers its will-activity. Only by its will does it distinguish itself as a self-dependent entity from the rest of the world. The ego thus sees itself induced to acknowledge in will the fundamental character of being. Considering its own nature, the ego admits that it may assume will-activity as the source of the world. The inner nature of the things that man observes in the external world remains concealed behind the observation. In his own being he recognizes the will as the essence and may conclude that what meets his will from the external world is of a nature homogeneous with his will. As the will activities of the world meet and affect one another, they produce in one another the ideas, the inner life of the units of will. This all goes to show how Wundt is driven by the fundamental impulse of the self-conscious ego. He goes down into man's own entity until he meets the ego that manifests itself as will and, taking his stand within the will-entity of the ego, he feels justified to attribute to the entire world the same entity that the soul experiences within itself. In this world of will, also, nothing answers the “hopes of Plato and Aristotle.”

Hamerling approaches the riddles of the world and of the soul as a man of the nineteenth century whose disposition of mind is enlivened by the spiritual impulses that are at work in his time. He feels these spiritual impulses in his free and deeply human being to which it is only natural to ask questions concerning the riddle of human existence, just as it is natural for ordinary man to feel hunger and thirst. Concerning his relation to philosophy, he says:

I felt myself above all as a human being, as a whole and full human being, and it was thus that the great problems of existence and life were my most intimate spiritual interest. I did not turn suddenly toward philosophy. It was not that I accidentally developed an inclination in that direction, nor because I wanted to try myself out in a new field. I have been occupied with the great problems of human knowledge from my early youth through the natural and irresistible bent that drives man in general to the inquiry of the truth and to the solution of the riddles of existence. Nor could I ever regard philosophy as a special science, which one could take up or neglect as one would statistics or forestry. But I always considered it to be the investigation of questions of the most intimate, the most important and the most interesting human concern. (Atomism of Will)

In the course that his philosophical investigations take, Hamerling becomes affected by forces of thought that had, in Kant, deprived knowledge of the power to penetrate to the root of existence and that led during the nineteenth century to the opinion that the world was an illusion of our mind. Hamerling did not surrender unconditionally to this influence but it does encumber his view. He searched within the self-conscious ego for a point of gravity in which reality was to be experienced and he believed he had found this point in the will. Thinking was not felt by Hamerling as it had been experienced in Hegel. Hamerling saw it only as “mere thinking” that is powerless to seize upon reality. In this way, Hamerling appraised the will in which he believed he experienced the force of being. Strengthened by the will apprehended in the ego as a real force, he meant to plunge into a world of will-monads.

Hamerling starts from an experience of the world riddles, which he feels as vividly and as directly as a hunger of the soul. Wundt is driven to these questions by the results to be found in the broad field of the special sciences of modern times. In the manner in which he raises his questions on the basis of these sciences, we feel the specific power and the intellectual disposition of these sciences. His answers to these problems are, as in Hamerling, much influenced by the directing forces of modern thought that deprive this form of thinking of the possibility to feel itself within the wellspring of reality. It is for this reason that Wundt's world picture becomes a “mere ideal survey” of the nature picture of the modern mode of conception. For Wundt also, it is only the will in the human soul that proves to be the element that cannot be entirely deprived of all being through the impotence of thinking. The will so obtrudes itself into the world conception that it seems to reveal its omnipotence in the whole circumference of existence.

In Hamerling and Wundt two personalities emerge in the course of the development of philosophy who are motivated by forces that attempt to master by thought the world riddles with which the human soul finds itself confronted through its own experience as well as through the results of science. But in both personalities these forces have the effect of finding within themselves nothing that would allow the self-conscious ego to feel itself within the source of reality. These forces rather reach a point where they can no longer uphold the contact with the great riddles of the universe. What they cling to is the will, but from this world of will nothing can be learned that would assure us of the “continued life of our better part after the dissolution of the body,” or that would even touch on the riddles of the soul and the world. Such world conceptions originate from the natural irrepressible bent “that drives man in general to the investigation of the truth and to the solution of the riddles of existence.” Since they use the means that, according to the opinion of certain temporary tendencies, appear as the only justifiable ones, they arrive at a mode of conception that contains no elements of experience to bring about the solution.

It is apparent that man sees himself at a given time confronted with the problems of the world in a definite form; he feels instinctively what he has to do. It is his responsibility to find the means for the answer. In using these means he may not be equal to the challenge presenting itself from the depths of the spiritual evolution. Philosophies that work under such conditions represent a struggle for an aim of which they are not quite consciously aware. The aim of the evolution of the modern world conception is to experience something within the self-conscious ego that gives being and reality to the ideas of the world picture. The characterized philosophical trends prove powerless to attain such life and such reality. Thought no longer gives to the ego or the self-conscious soul, the inner support that insures existence. This ego has moved too far away from the ground of nature to believe in such a guarantee as was once possible in ancient Greece. It has not as yet brought to life within itself what this ground of nature once supplied without demanding a spontaneous creativity of the soul.



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