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The Story of My Life

Chapter XIV


FOR an indeterminate length of time I again faced a task that was given me, not through any external circumstance, but through the inner processes of development of my views of life and the world. To the same cause was due the fact that I used for my doctor's examination at the University of Rostock my dissertation on the endeavour after “an understanding of human consciousness with itself.” External circumstances merely prevented me from taking the examination in Vienna. I had official credit for the work of the Realschule, not of the Gymnasium, though I had completed privately the Gymnasium course of study, even tutoring also in these courses. This fact barred me from obtaining the doctor's degree in Austria. I had grounded myself thoroughly in philosophy, but I was credited officially with a course of study which excluded me from everything to which the study of philosophy gives a man access.

Now at the close of the first phase of my life a philosophical work had fallen into my hands which fascinated me extraordinarily – the Sieben Bücher Platonismus(1) of Heinrich von Stein, who was then teaching philosophy at Rostock. This fact led me to submit my dissertation to the lovable old philosopher, whom I valued highly because of his book, and whom I saw for the first time in connection with the examination.

The personality of Heinrich von Stein still lives in my memory – almost as if I had spent much of my life with him. For the Seven Books of Platonism is the expression of a sharply stamped philosophical individuality. Philosophy as thought-content is not taken in this work as something which stands upon its own feet. Plato is viewed from all angles as the philosopher who sought for such a self-supporting philosophy. What he found in this direction is carefully set forth by Heinrich von Stein. In the first chapters of the book one enters vitally and wholly into the Platonic world conception. Then, however, Stein passes on to the breaking into human evolution of the Christ revelation. This actual breaking in of the spiritual life he sets forth as something higher than the elaboration of thought-content through mere philosophy.

From Plato to Christ as to the fulfilment of that for which men have striven – such we may designate the exposition of von Stein. Then he traces further the influence of world conceptions of Platonism in the Christian evolution.

Stein is of the opinion that revelation gave content from without to human strivings after a world-conception. There I could not agree with him. I knew from experience that the human being, when he comes to an understanding with himself in vital spiritual consciousness, can possess the revelation, and that this revelation can then attain to an existence in the ideal experience of man. But I felt something in the book which drew me on. The real life of the spirit behind the ideal life, even though in a form which was not my own, had set in motion an impulse toward a comprehensive exposition of the history of philosophy. Plato, the grea