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The Riddle of Man

Riddle of Man: Notes

On-line since: 5th October, 2006


Note from page 48:

Otto Willmann has written an excellent book dealing with The History of Idealism. With a far-reaching knowledge of his field, he points out the weaknesses and one-sidednesses that have come into the evolution of world views in the nineteenth century through the continuing effects of the Kantian formulation of questions and direction in thought. The depictions I gave in this present book sought within the life of the world views of the nineteenth century to find those impulses and streams through which thinkers have freed themselves from Kant's formulation of questions and direction in thought, and through which they have taken paths to which precisely they could do justice who judge the matter according to just such a far-reaching view as that underlying Willmann's book. Many views that wish to attach themselves to Kant in modern times, without sufficient insight into the preceding evolution of world views, revert in fact to views characterized correctly in the following words by Willmann to the effect “that according to Aristotle our knowledge begins with the things of the world and on the basis of sense perceptions only then forms the concept ... that this forming of concepts occurs through a creative act, in which the human spirit grasps the thought-element within the things ... One still always has to indicate to certain sense-bound and banal people that perceiving can never enhance itself to the point of being able to think, that sensations and feelings cannot bunch together into concepts, and that, on the contrary, perceiving and sensing must themselves be constituted by something, and constituted, in fact, on the basis of the thoughts existing in the things; ... only thoughts can grant us any necessitated and universal knowledge.” Someone who thinks in this way — if he frees himself from certain misapprehensions holding sway, understandably, among the adherents of Willmann's kind of thinking — can speak with comprehension and appreciation, even from Willmann's standpoint, of Schelling's and Hegel's direction in thought and of much that, like them, rums away from “sense-bound banality.” A time will also come when Willmann's kind of thinking will be judged with less bias in this direction than is now the case. This kind of thinking will then be just as correct in its appreciation of what, in the evolution of modern world views, has broken free of “sense-bound banality” as it is correct now in condemning views that have fallen prey to this and many other “banalities.”

Note from page 129:

If someone wanted to object that this presentation does not reckon with the findings of physiology relative to the senses, he would only show that he has not correctly estimated the implications of this presentation. Such a person could say: Out of the dark and silent world, configurations arise that continuously diversify and finally become organs through whose function the “dark ether waves,” for example, are transformed into light. But nothing is said by this that has not already been dealt with in our presentation. In the picture of the “dark world” the eye is also depicted; but through no eye can that be thought of as perceptible which through its own nature must be thought of as imperceptible.

One might also assert that our presentation does not reckon with the fact that the modern natural-scientific world picture no longer stands on the same ground as Du Bois-Reymond, for example, stood. One no longer expects as much as he and his scientific contemporaries did from a “mechanics of atoms,” from a “tracing back” of “all natural phenomena to the movements of the smallest particles of matter,” etc. These older theories are overcome by the views of E. Mach, by the physicist Max Planck and by others. Nevertheless, what has been said in this book also applies to these most recent views. That Mach, for example, wishes to build up the field of natural science upon sensation (Sinnesempfindung) compels him, in fact, to take up into his world picture only that element of nature which by its very being can never be thought of as perceivable. He does indeed take his start from sensation, but cannot return to it again, through his presentations, in a way that accords with reality. When Mach speaks of sensation, he is pointing to what is sensed; but, in thinking the object of sensation, he must separate it from the “I”. He does not notice now that in so doing he is thinking something that can no longer be sensed. He shows this through the fact that in his world of sensation the “I” concept flutters away entirely. For Mach, the “I” becomes a mythical concept. He loses the “I”. Because — in spite of the fact that he is not conscious of this — he is unconsciously compelled, after all, to think of his world of sensation as incapable of being sensed, his world of sensation casts out of itself that which does the sensing: the “I.” In this way Mach's view is precisely a proof of what has been presented here. And the views of Max Planck, the theoretical physicist, are the best example of the correctness of the above presentation. One can say, in fact, that the most recent thoughts about mechanics and electrodynamics are moving even more in the direction we have described here as necessary: out of the world of perception to sketch a picture of a world that is not perceivable.

Note from page 158:

In judging questions relative to world views, many people are particularly confused by their predilection for words they believe are thoughts but actually are only vague, soothing reflections. Much is gained when one is not unclear about the fact that words are like gestures that can merely point to their object, but whose actual content has nothing to do with the thought itself Oust as little as the word “table” has to do with a real table.) A little book that has just appeared, Cultural Superstition by Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm, speaks quite forcibly about this phenomenon in many areas. — Whoever grants validity to the viewpoint of seeing consciousness will find it particularly necessary to acknowledge fully what the natural-scientific way of picturing things also has to say about human soul phenomena. The prominent Viennese anthropologist Moritz Benedict has written (1894) a Psychology (Seelenkunde) — which from a certain viewpoint is outstanding — based on the natural-scientific way of picturing things. Because of the author's healthy sense for reality in judging human soul life, one can regard this Psychology in many ways as a positively classic work. And one can hold this view even if one must say to oneself that the viewpoint of seeing consciousness we have characterized in this book would be rejected quite decisively by the author of this Psychology, Those who think like this natural scientist, however, will not always have to maintain this rejection.

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