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Spiritual Soul Instructions and Observation of the World

Schmidt Number: S-0731b

On-line since: 31st March, 2014

Course II - Lecture III


The Epistemological Basis
of Theosophy III

GA 52

March 16, 1904

In the preceding talks I have tried to outline the basic thoughts of the present theory of knowledge, as it is done at our universities, and as it is also done by those philosophers and thinking researchers who lean upon Schopenhauer, Kant and similar great German thinkers. I tried to show at the same time how the whole scientific development of the 19th century, whether the physical one, the physiological one and also the psychological one, accepted Kant’s epistemology or those forms of it which Schopenhauer or Eduard von Hartmann created. I have shown with it that basically that kind of epistemology which we can call illusionism which turns us completely to our own consciousness and makes the whole world a world of ideas seems to be the only right one. This seems to be so natural that one is regarded as philosophically under-age today, if one doubts the sentence: the world is my idea.

You may allow me now to speak about the spiritual, because I have brought forward almost all reasons to you which led to this illusionistic epistemology. I have shown the reasons which lead to the conclusion: the world is our idea; I have shown how everything that surrounds us is destroyed by the sensory-physiological approach, whether the world of temperature sensations, the sensations of touch et cetera. This percepts, ideas and concepts appear finally as being born by the human soul, as a self-product of the human being. The knowledge which tries to give reasons for this in all directions corresponds to Schopenhauer’s doctrine: the world is our idea — according to which there is no sky, but only an eye which sees it, no tones, but only an ear which hears them. Perhaps, you could believe that I wanted to disprove these different epistemological points of view. I have shown what they lead to, but do not understand this as a disproof of the different points of view. The theosophist knows no disproof. He does not position himself only on one point of view in philosophy. Those who have dedicated themselves to a philosophical system believe that this is the absolutely right one. Thus we can see fighting Schopenhauer, Hartmann, the Hegelians and the Kantians from this point of view. However, this can never be the point of view of the theosophist. The theosophist sees it differently. On the whole, there is for him also no quarrel of the different religious systems, because he realises that a core of truth forms the basis of each of them and that the quarrel of the Buddhists, the Muslims and the Christians is not justified. The theosophist also knows that in every philosophical system a core of knowledge is that in every system, so to speak, a level of human knowledge is hidden.

It cannot be a matter of disproving Kant or Schopenhauer. Who strives fairly can be mistaken, but the next best cannot simply come to disprove them. It must be clear to us that all these spirits strove for truth from their point of view, and that we find just the core of truth in the different philosophical systems. That is why it cannot be a matter for us who is right or who is wrong. Who positions himself firmly on his own point of view and then compares the points of view with each other and says that he can accept only this or that, is in terms of philosophical knowledge on the same point of view as a stamp collector. The loftiest recogniser has not even ascended the highest summit of insight. Each of us is on the ladder of development. Even the loftiest human being cannot recognise anything absolute of truth, of the world spirit. If we have climbed up a higher level of knowledge, we also have a relative judgment only which always increases, if we have climbed up an even higher summit.

If we have understood the foundations of the theosophical system, it appears to us as arrogance to speak about a philosopher if we cannot position ourselves for a test on his point of view, so that we can also prove the truth of his thoughts like he may do this himself. One can always be mistaken, but one may not position himself sophistically on the point of view that it is impossible to have an overview of another standpoint. I want to deliver an argument to you from the German spiritual development that it is possible to have an overview in such a way as I have characterised it.

In the sixties, Darwinism dawned, and it was immediately interpreted materialistically. The materialistic interpretation is an one-sidedness. But those who interpreted in such a way regarded themselves as infallible; the materialists of the sixties regarded themselves as infallible in their conclusions. Then The Philosophy of the Unconscious by Eduard von Hartmann appeared; I do not want to defend it. May it have its one-sidedness; nevertheless, I acknowledge that this point of view is far higher than that of Vogt, Haeckel and Büchner. Hence, the materialists regarded it as warmed up Schopenhauerianism. Then a new book appeared that disproved the Philosophy of the Unconscious with striking reasons. One believed that it could only be a scientist. “He should unveil his name,” Haeckel wrote, “and we call him one of ours.” Then the second edition appeared, and the author was called: Eduard von Hartmann himself. He showed that he could completely position himself on the standpoint of the naturalists. If he had set his name on the first edition, the writing would have fallen short of its goal. You see that the advanced human being can also position himself on the subordinated point of view and can present everything that is to be presented against the higher point of view. Nobody is allowed to dare, especially not from the theosophical point of view, to speak about a philosophical system if he is not aware to have understood this philosophical system from within.

That is why it does not concern the disproof of Kantianism and Schopenhauerianism. We must overcome these childhood illnesses of disproving. We have to show how they themselves lead beyond themselves if we look for their true core.

That is why we position ourselves again for a test on the standpoint of the subjectivist epistemology which leads to the principle: the world is my idea. — It wants to overcome the naive realism according to which that which stands before me is the true, while the epistemologists have found that everything that surrounds me is nothing but my ideas.

If one had to stop at this standpoint of epistemology, any basis for a theosophical construction of a view of life would be in vain. We know that our knowledge of the world is not only our ideas. If they were only subjective creations of our egos, we could not come beyond them. We could not recognise the true value of anything. We would never be able to consider the things as essential in the theosophical world view, but only as subjective creations of our egos. Thereby we would always be rejected to our egos. We could say that tidings of any higher world came to us if we get that which we only have from the depth of our conceptual life for ourselves, however, only if we have the manifestations of a truthful and real world in our subjective world. On that is based what we have to imagine as theosophy. Hence, theosophy can never be content with the sentence: the world is my idea.

We can see that Schopenhauer goes beyond the sentence: the world is my idea. There is still the other sentence of Schopenhauer which should complete the first one: The world is will. — Schopenhauer gets to it in no other way as the theosophist. He says: everything that is in the starry heaven is only my idea, but I do not recognise my own existence as an idea. I act, I will; this is a strength in the world in which I am and in myself, so that I know from myself what forms the basis of my idea. May be everything else that surrounds me an idea, I myself is my will. — Schopenhauer tried that way to gain the firm point which he could reach never actually. For this sentence is a self-annihilating sentence which has only to be thought logically through to the end to find out that it is a reductio ad absurdum as the mathematician calls it.

No little stone can be taken out of the construction which Schopenhauer put up. If we have sensations of touch, of temperature, we know that we have only ideas of our ego. Let us be consistent. How do we recognise ourselves? We see no real colour, but we know only that an eye is there which sees colour. Why do we know, however, that an eye sees that a hand is there which feels? Only because we perceive them as we perceive any other thing, a sensory impression if we want to recognise the outside world. Our self-knowledge is also tied to the same laws and rules to which the law of the outside world is tied.

As true as my world is my idea, it must be true that I myself am my idea with everything that is in me. Thus we are able to consider the entire philosophy of Schopenhauer, everything that is thought about the whole subjective and objective world as nothing but ideas. Be clear to yourselves about the fact that this can only be the true and real consequence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Then, however, he has also to admit that everything that he has ascertained about himself is only his idea. So we have mattered what the mathematician calls a reductio ad absurdum, like Baron Münchhausen pulled himself out of the swamp by his own mop of hair. We completely float in the air. We do not have any firm point. We have destroyed the naive realism; however, have shown at the same time that this leads us to nihilism. One has to find another point if this conclusion leads ad absurdum.

Schopenhauer did this himself. He said: if I want to come to the real, I am not allowed to stop at the idea, but I must progress to the will. Schopenhauer became a realist that way, admittedly, unlike Herbart. Herbart says: we have to look for the real in the unopposed. — That is why he put up many realities. Schopenhauer also puts up such realities.

Now it is true, really true that the world which surrounds me is appearance. But like the smoke points to fire, the appearance points to its being. Herbart tries to solve the problem monadologically, as well as Leibniz did; however, with Herbart it is coloured by Kantianism. Leibniz lived before Kant; he was still free of Kantian influence. Schopenhauer positions himself on the standpoint: I myself know myself as a willing one. This will of existence guarantees my being to me. I am will, and I manifest myself in the world as an idea. As well as I am will and manifest myself, also the remaining things are of the same kind, and they manifest themselves in the outside. As the ego is in me, the will also is in me, and in the outer things is the will of these things. — Thus Schopenhauer showed the way to self-knowledge, and he admitted implicitly that one can only recognise the things really if one is in their inside.

Indeed, if the naive realism is right that the things are outside us, have nothing to do with our egos and we are informed only by our ideas about the things outside us, if their being is outside us, then one cannot escape Schopenhauerianism at all. Then least of all the second part can be justified: the world is my will.

You will immediately understand this. Forming an idea can be compared with a seal and its impression. The “thing-in-itself” is like the seal, the idea is like the impression of the seal. Everything of the seal remains outside the substance which takes up the seal impression. The impression, the idea is quite subjective. I have nothing of the “thing-in-itself” in myself, as well as the seal itself never becomes part of the substance of the seal impression. That is the basic concept of the subjectivist view. Schopenhauer, however, says: I can only recognise a thing while I am inside it.

Julius Baumann says this also who hints at the teaching of reincarnation even if he is not a theosophist. But his way of thinking has led Julius Baumann to apply to epistemology. Even if this form of thinking got stuck in the elementary, he is on the way.

There is no other possibility to recognise a thing than to creep into it. This is not possible as long as we say that the thing is outside us and we know of it; then nothing can come into us. If we were able to enter the thing itself, we could recognise the being of the thing. This appears to a modern epistemologist to be the most absurd thought. But it seems only in such a way. Indeed, under the preconditions of the western epistemology it appears in such a way. But it did not always appear in such a way, above all not to those whose mind was not clouded by the principles of this epistemology.

However, one thing could be possible: perhaps, we have never come out of the things actually. Perhaps, we have never built up that strict dividing wall; we have burst that chasm which should separate us strictly from the things, according to Kant. Then the thought gets closer to us that we can be in the things. And this is the basic idea of theosophy. It is in such a way that our ego does not belong to us, is not enclosed in the narrow building as our organisation appears to us, but the single human being is only an appearance of the divine being of the world. It is as it were only a reflection, an outflow, a spark of the all-embracing ego. This is a viewpoint which had the mastery over the minds for centuries, before there was Kant’s philosophy. As far as that is concerned, the greatest spirits have never thought differently.

Johannes Kepler disclosed the construction of the planetary system to us and formed the idea that the planets circle in elliptical orbits round the sun. This is a thought which gives us insight in the being of the universe. Now I would like to read up his words to you, so that you see how he felt: “Several years ago the first aurora appeared to me, several weeks ago it became light to me and since some hours the sun shines. I wrote a book. Those who read the book and understand it are welcome to me, the others — I am not interested in them ...” A thought which waited for a long time, until it could light up in the head of a human being again. This is spoken out of the knowledge that that which is in our mind and which we recognise of the world is the same that produced the world; that the planets describe elliptical orbits not by chance but that they must be brought in by the creative spirit; that we are not loafers who only think about the universe, but that the contents of our mind is creative outdoors. That is why Kepler was convinced that he was only the human scene for that basic idea of the cosmic universe on which this thought, living in the cosmos and flowing through it, came to the fore to be recognised again.

Kepler would never have thought to say that that his knowledge of the universe was only his idea, but he would say: what I had recognised gives me information about that which is real outdoors in space. — If one had said to Kepler that this was only an idea but not objective outside, he would have said: do you think really that that which gives me information about other things exists only if I accept the information? — Then somebody who stands on the ground of subjectivist epistemology would have to say to himself if he stands before a telephone: the gentleman in Hamburg who calls me now is only my idea; I perceive him only as my idea.

This train of thought induces us to ask: how is it possible to really acknowledge the principle that we recognise the being only if we ourselves enter the being of the things if we can identify ourselves with the being? This is the epistemology of those who want to have a deeper and clearer standpoint compared with the modern view.

Hamerling wrote a good book: The Atomism of the Will. He is a serious thinker and has serious thoughts. They are written in Schopenhauer’s sense, but they are thoughts which try to come to the being of the things. Hamerling says: one thing is absolutely certain: nobody wants to deny his own existence, nobody will admit that he himself has only an imagined being that his being stops if he does no longer think. Also Schiller says once: yes, Descartes states: I think, therefore I am. But I have often not thought and, nevertheless, I have been there.

Hamerling tries to recover a similar attitude as Schopenhauer: I have also to award a feeling of existence to all other beings. The ego and the atoms are for him the antipodes. — Everything is always a little bit scanty, also Hamerling’s book. To escape from illusionism, he tries to explain this to himself in such a way that he says: we can only realise that being within which we are. — With all astuteness Hamerling tries to explain this. Fechner tries to replace the feeling of existence generally with feeling. Herbart — he said — would have done the mistake that he wants to come to reality by mere thinking. However, in doing so we do not come to the ego. Rather the ego rises out of the subsoil of feeling. He could have written like Schopenhauer: the world as feeling and idea. — Hamerling could have written: the world as atom, will and idea. — And Frohschammer wrote about imagination as the factor of world creation, guaranteeing the real being, like Schopenhauer about the will. He tried to show the whole nature outdoors as a product of imagination. — They all try to come out of the absurdity of Kant’s philosophy.

A subtle train of thought is now necessary, but everybody must have done it who wants to join in the discussion: what induces us generally to put up any sentence about our knowledge? Why do we feel called to say that the world is our idea or imagination or anything like that? Something must give us the possibility and ability to correlate us, our cognitive faculties and our powers of imagination with the world.

Imagine the contrast of the ego and the remaining world, that is, you should say how you recognise your ego and the remaining world. Take two contrasts: an accuser and a defender of a criminal. The one judges from the one, the other from the other point of view. It is not their task to be fully objective. Only the judge objectively standing above them can deliver a judgment. Imagine which arguments they put forward and also the judge who weighs both views objectively. Never can a single man solely decide, and just as little the ego only can decide which relation it has to the world. The single ego is subjective, it could never decide alone on its relation to the world. A theory of knowledge would never be possible if only the ego were on one side and the world on the other side. I have to gain an objective point of view in my thinking and exceed myself and the world that way. If I am completely within my thinking, then it is impossible as it is impossible for the thinking of the adherents of Kant and Schopenhauer. Imagine Kant sitting at his desk and judging only from himself. It is not possible to get an objective judgment this way. Only under one precondition it is possible that I can appoint my thinking as judge of myself and the world as it were: if it is anything that exceeds me.

Now the faintest self-contemplation already shows you that your thinking is something that exceeds you. It is not true that it is only an appearance, that two times two are four, and that any truth which appears with an absolute validity has validity only in your consciousness. You recognise that their objectiveness towers above their subjective validity, you acknowledge its validity. It has nothing to do with your ego that two times two are four. Nothing in the field of wisdom deals with your egos. Because you can rise up to an objective self-contained thinking, you can also judge objectively about the world. All thinkers already presuppose this sentence; otherwise they could not sit down at all and ponder over the world. If there were only two thoughts, namely: I am in the world, and: the world is in me, one could justify neither Kant’s nor Schopenhauer’s views. You have to admit that you are authorised to judge about truth. For within our thinking is something that is above our ego. Any philosopher admitted this who is not inhibited by Kantianism who impartially thinks monadologically. All philosophers who thought the true realities of the world in this sense thought them as spiritual. They thought them as something spiritual. If we go back to Giordano Bruno, to Leibniz, to those who have taken care to add qualities to the realities, you find out that they have thought monadologically that they have considered the thinking as coming from the primary source, from the spirit. If, however, spirit is that which constitutes the being of the things, then compared with this view Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s epistemologies are on the standpoint of naive realism.

I refer to my metaphor. Assume that nothing of the substance of the seal is transferred to the impression, but it would depend on the writing, on your name which is on the seal, on the spirit. Then you can say that nothing of the substance is transferred, but your name which is on the seal would be transferred; it is transferred from the world of the spirit. It is transferred in spite of all dividing walls which we have built up. Then one does not need to deny that Schopenhauer's epistemology is partly correct, but we go beyond the dividing walls. Keep all those materialistic considerations! Admit that nothing of the substance of the seal is transferred to the seal impression, but that the spirit is transferred, for it penetrates us in its true figure because we have our origin in it in truth. Because we are sparks of this world spirit, we live in it and recognise it again. We know precisely if the world spirit knocks at our eye, at our ear that it is not only our subjective feeling, but we look for something that is there outdoors. Thus we realise that the spirit looks for the mediators outside whom we have declared as the mediators of spirit. If it is certain that the world is spirit in its being, we can fully position ourselves on the standpoint which Kant and Schopenhauer take. All that is correct, but it does not go far enough. It is easy to adapt to Kant and Schopenhauer. But one has to get beyond them, because it is correct that the spirit lives in all things and that it turns to us giving its being. It really proves true in the theosophical sense what Baumann demands for a real knowledge of the things, namely we have to be in the being of the things. We are also inside the world spirit and are only its beings.

Today I have dressed the basic idea of this philosophy in images. You find a philosophical treatise on that in my Philosophy of Freedom, and you find the opposing points of view there, too. I have reported that Schopenhauer, Kant, the Neo-Kantians stand on the point of view that we do not get beyond the idea, and then that they stopped halfway overcoming the naive realism. But, because they start from the “thing-in-itself” and show that one cannot get out, they still get stuck in the naive realism, because they look for truth in the material. As well as all the modern epistemologists, even if they still believe to have got beyond the naive realism, stand with one leg on the naive realism because they do not give up founding everything on the material.

Theosophy only can lead us to the gate of knowledge. If we want to find the object of knowledge, it enables us to say that the true being of the world is spirit. From the moment when we come to this gate the further way is the spirit. The spirit forms the basis of the whole world.

I wanted to explain this once. I could do it only briefly and sketchy. The human being is indeed a seal impression of the world. However, his being is not in the material. We can recognise this being at any moment, because it is in the spirit. The spirit flows into the material, into us, like the name which is on the seal is transferred to the impression.

I believe to have shown that somebody can also position himself on the standpoint of the academic philosophy but have to understand it better than the academic philosophers themselves. Then everybody will also find the way to theosophy, even if he stands on an opposing point of view. You can stand on any point of view if you do not have a closed mind. From any philosophy you are able to find the way to theosophy.

You learn to overcome Schopenhauer best of all if you get to know him thoroughly. Most people know him only a little. But you have also to go into the being of the things, position yourself on his point of view. There are twelve volumes of Schopenhauer’s works which I published text-critically. So I have concerned myself with Schopenhauer for several years. That is why I believe to know something about him. But if you recognise and understand him really, you reach the theosophical point of view. Not through half knowledge, because this leads away from theosophy. A half of Western knowledge leads away from theosophy at first, leads to subjectivism, to idealism et cetera. However, let this become the whole knowledge, and then the West will also find the way to theosophy.

I have already named Julius Baumann. He knows what real knowledge is even if he has not still come to the great thing of theosophy. I think to have faintly shown it in outlines. For the real knowledge is contradictory to theosophy by no means. It is just that view which brings peace and tolerance everywhere. All these truths which I have given are steps to the real truth. Kant has moved some way, also Schopenhauer. The one more, the other less. They are on the way. However, it always concerns how far they have gone this way. Theosophy does also not dare to say that it is on the summit. The right way is the way itself, above all that which was inscribed on the Greek temples: recognise yourself (gnothi s’auton). We are one being with the world spirit. As well as we recognise our own being, we recognise the being of the universal spirit. “Rise of our spirit to the all-embracing spirit,” that is theosophy.


Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841), German philosopher, psychologist, founder of academic pedagogy

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), German mathematician and philosopher

Julius Baumann (1837–1916), German philosopher, professor in Göttingen

Robert Hamerling (1830–1889), Austrian poet

Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887), naturalist and philosopher, founder of psychophysics

Jakob Frohschammer (1821–1893), German theologian and philosopher

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