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Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy

Materialism/Anthroposophy: Lecture X

Dornach, April 29, 1921

In recent days, we have dealt with the development of European civilization and we shall try to add a number of considerations to what has been said. In this, it is always our intention to bring about an understanding of what plays into human life in the present age from the most diverse directions and leads to comprehension of the tasks posed by our time.

When you look at individual human life, it can indeed give you a picture of mankind's development. Nevertheless, you must naturally take into consideration here what has been mentioned in regard to the differences between the development of the individual and the overall development of humanity. I have repeatedly called attention to the fact that whereas the individual gets older and older, mankind as a whole becomes younger and younger, advancing, as it were, to the experience of younger periods of life. While keeping in mind that in this regard the life of the whole human community and that of the individual are direct opposites, at least for the sake of clarification, we can still say that individual human life can be a picture for us of the life of all humanity. If we then view the single human life in this way, we find that a quite specific sum of experiences belongs with each period of life. We cannot teach a six year-old child something we can teach a twelve-year-old; in turn, we cannot expect that the twelve-year-old approaches things with the same comprehension as a twenty-year-old. In a sense, the human being has to grow into what is compatible with individual periods in life. It is the same in the case of humanity as a whole.

True, the individual cultural epochs we have to point out based on insight into humanity's evolution — the old Indian, the old Persian, the Egypto-Chaldean, the Greco-Roman epoch and then the one to which we ourselves belong — have quite specific cultural contents and the whole of mankind has to grow into them. But just as the individual can fall behind his potential of development, so certain segments of mankind can do the same. This is a phenomenon that must be taken into consideration, particularly in our age, since humanity is now moving into the evolutionary state of freedom. It is, therefore, left up to mankind itself to find its way into what this and the following epoch put forward. It is, as it were, left up to human discretion to remain behind what is posed as goals. If an individual lags behind in this regard, he is confronted by others who do find their way properly into their tasks of evolution. They then have to carry him along, in a manner of speaking. Yet, in a certain sense, this can frequently signify a somewhat unpleasant destiny for such a person when he has to become aware that in a certain way he remains behind the others who do arrive at the goal of evolution.

This can also take place in the life of nations. It is possible that some nations achieve the goal and that others remain behind. As we have seen, the goals of the various nations also differ from each other. First of all, if one nation attains its goal and the other falls short of what it is supposed to accomplish, then something is lost that could only have been achieved by this laggard nation. On the other hand, this backsliding nation will adopt much that is really not suitable for it. It appropriates contents it receives by imitating other nations that do attain their goal. Such things do take place in the evolution of mankind, and it is of particular significance for the present age to pay attention to them.

Today, we shall summarize a number of things, familiar to us from other aspects, and throw light on them from a certain standpoint. We know that the time from the eighth pre-Christian century until the fifteenth century A.D. is the time of the development of the intellectual or rational soul among the civilized part of humanity. This development of the intellectual or rational soul begins in the eighth pre-Christian century in southern Europe and Asia Minor. We can trace it when we focus upon the beginnings of the historical development of the Greek people. The Greeks still possess much of what can be termed the development of the sentient soul that was particularly suited to the third post-Atlantean age, the Egypto-Chaldean epoch. That whole period was devoted to the development of the sentient soul.

During those times, human beings surrendered to the impressions of the external world, and through these impressions of the outer world they received at the same time everything they then valued as insights and that they let flow into the impulses of their will. With all their being people were in a condition where they experienced themselves as members of the whole cosmos. They questioned the stars and their movements when it was a matter of deciding what to do, and so on. This experiencing of the surrounding world, this seeing of the spiritual in all details of the outer world, was the distinguishing feature of the Egyptians at the height of their culture. This is what existed in Asia Minor and enjoyed a second flowering among the Greeks. The ancient Greeks certainly possessed this faculty of free surrender to the outer surroundings, and this was connected with a perception of the elemental spirit beings within the outer phenomena.

Then, however, something developed among the Greeks, which Greek philosophers call “nous,” namely, a general world intellect. This then remained the fundamental quality of human soul developments until the fifteenth century. It attained a kind of high point in the fourth Christian century and then diminished again. But this whole development from the eighth pre-Christian century up until the fifteenth century actually developed the intellect. However, if we speak of “intellect” in this period, we really have to disregard what we term “intellect” in our present age. For us, the intellect is something we carry within ourselves, something we develop within ourselves, by virtue of which we comprehend the world. This was not so in the case of the Greeks, and it was still not so in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, when people spoke about the intellect. Intellect was something objective; the intellect was an element that filled the world. The intellect arranged the individual world phenomena. People observed the world and its phenomena and told themselves: It is the universal intellect that makes one phenomenon follow the other, places the individual phenomena into a greater totality, and so forth. People attributed to the human brain no more than the fact that it shared in this general universal intelligence.

When we work out of modern physics and physiology and speak about light, we say that the light is within us. But even in his naive mind nobody would believe that light is only in our heads. Just as little as today's naive consciousness claims that it is dark outside and light exists only in the human head would a Greek or even a person of the eleventh or twelfth century have said that the intellect was only in his head. Such a person said, The intellect is outside, permeating the world and bestowing order on everything. Just as the human being becomes aware of light owing to his perceptions, so he becomes aware of the intellect. The intellect lights up in him, so to speak.

Something important was connected with this emergence of cosmic intelligence within the human cultural development. Earlier, when the cultural development ran its course under the influence of the sentient soul, people did not refer to a uniform principle encompassing the whole world. They spoke of the spirits of plants, of spirits that regulate the animal kingdom, of water spirits and spirits of the air, and so on. People referred to a multitude of spiritual entities. It was not merely polytheism, the folk religion, that spoke of this multitude. Even in those who were initiates, the awareness was definitely present that they were dealing with a multitude of actual beings in the world outside. Due to the dawn of the rational soul age, a sort of monism developed. Reason was viewed as something uniform that enveloped the whole world. It was not until then that the monotheistic character of religion developed, although a preliminary stage of it existed in the third post-Atlantean epoch. But what we should record scientifically concerning this era — from the eighth pre-Christian to the fifteenth century A.D. — is the fact that it is the period of the developing world intellect and that people had quite different thoughts about the intellect than we have nowadays.

Why did people think so differently about the intellect? People thought differently about the intellect because they also felt differently when they tried to grasp something by means of their intellect. People went through the world and perceived objects through their senses; but when they thought about them, they always experienced a kind of jolt. When they thought about something, it was as if they were experiencing a stronger awakening than they sensed in the process of ordinary waking. Thinking about something was a process still experienced as different from ordinary life. Above all, when people thought about something, they felt that they were involved in a process that was objective, not merely subjective. Even as late as the fifteenth century — and in its aftereffect even in still later times — people had a certain feeling in regard to the more profound thinking about things, a feeling people today do not have anymore. Nowadays human beings do not have the feeling that thinking about something should be carried out in a certain mood of soul. Up until the fifteenth century, people had the feeling that they produced only something evil if they were not morally good and yet engaged in thinking. In a sense, they reproached themselves for thinking even though they were bad persons. This is something we no longer experience properly. Nowadays people believe, In my soul I can be as bad as I want to be, but I can engage in thinking. Up to the fifteenth century, people did not believe that. They actually felt that it was a kind of insult to the divine cosmic intelligence to think about something while in an immoral soul condition. Hence, already in the act of thinking, they saw something real; in a manner of speaking, they viewed themselves as submerged with their soul in the overall cosmic intellect.

What was the reason for that? This came about because in this period from the eighth pre-Christian century to the fifteenth century A.D., and particularly in the fourth century, human beings predominantly employed their etheric body when they engaged in thinking. It was not that they decided to activate the ether body. But what they did sense — their whole soul mood — brought the etheric body into movement when thinking occurred. We can almost say: During that age, human beings thought with their etheric body. And the characteristic thing is that in the fifteenth century people began to think with their physical bodies. When we think, we do so with the forces the etheric body sends into the physical body. This is the great difference that becomes evident when we look at thinking before and after the fifteenth century. When we look at thinking prior to that time, it runs its course in the etheric body (see drawing, light-shaded crosshatching); in a sense, it gives the etheric body a certain structure. If we look at thinking now, it runs its course in the physical body (dark). Each such line of the ether body calls forth a replica of itself, and this replica is then found in the physical body.

Diagram 1

Since that time, what occurs in human beings when they think is, as it were, an impression of the etheric activity as though of a seal on the physical body. The development from the fifteenth to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was mainly that human beings increasingly have taken their thinking out of the etheric body, that they adhere to this shadow image brought about in the physical body by the actual thought impulses originating in the etheric body. We therefore deal with the fact that in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch people really think with the physical body but that this is merely a shadow image of what was once cosmic thinking; hence, since that time, only a shadow image of cosmic thinking dwells in mankind.

You see, everything that has developed since the fifteenth century, all that developed as mathematics, as modern natural science and so on, is fundamentally a shadow image, a specter of former thinking; it no longer contains any life. People today actually have no idea of how much more alive an element thinking was in former times. In those ancient days, the human being actually felt refreshed while thinking. He was glad when he could think, for thinking was a refreshment of soul for him. In that age, the concept did not exist that thinking could also be something tiring. Human beings could become tired out by something else, but when they could truly think, they experienced this as a refreshment, an invigoration for the soul; when they could live in thoughts, they also experienced something of a sense of grace bestowed on them.

Now, this transition in the soul condition has occurred. In what appears as thinking in modern times, we are confronted with something shadowy. This is the reason for the difficulty in motivating a human being to any action through thinking — if I may put it like this. One can tell people all sorts of things based on thinking, but they will not feel inspired. Yet this is the very thing they must learn. Human beings must become aware of the fact that they possess shadow images in their current thinking. They have to realize that it must not be allowed to remain thus; that this shadow image, i.e. modern thinking, has to be enlivened so that it can turn into Imagination. It becomes evident, for example, in such books as my Theosophy or my An Outline of Occult Science that the attempt is always made to change modern thinking into Imagination, that pictures are driven everywhere into our thinking so that thinking can be aroused to Imagination, hence, to life. Otherwise, humanity would be laid waste completely. We can disseminate arid scholarliness far and wide, but this dry scholarliness will not become inflamed and rouse itself to will-filled action, if Imaginative life does not once more enter into this shadowy thinking, this ghost of thinking which has invaded mankind in recent times.

This is indeed the profound and fateful challenge for modern civilization, namely, that we should realize that, on the one hand, thinking tends to become a shadowy element into which human beings increasingly withdraw and that, on the other hand, what passes over into the will actually turns only into a form of surrender to human instincts. The less thinking is capable of taking in Imagination, the more will the full interest of what lives outside in society be abandoned to the instincts. Humanity of former times, at least in the epochs that bore the stamp of civilization — you have been able to deduce that from the previous lectures — possessed something, out of the whole human organism that was spiritual. Modern human beings only receive something spiritual from their heads; in regard to their will, they thus surrender to their impulses and instincts. The great danger is that human beings turn more and more into purely head-oriented creatures, that in regard to acting in the outer world out of their will, they abandon themselves to their instincts. This then naturally leads to the social conditions that are now spreading in the East of Europe [1] and also infect us here everywhere. This comes about because thinking has become but a shadow image. One cannot stress these things often enough.

It is on the basis of precisely such profound insight that the significant strivings of anthroposophically oriented spiritual science will be understood. Its aim is the shadow image once again become a living being, so that something will be available again to mankind that can take hold of the whole human being. This, however, cannot take place if thinking remains a shadow image, if Imaginations do not enter into this thinking once more. Numbers, for example, will have to be imbued again with life in the way I outlined when I pointed to the sevenfold human being, who is actually a nine-membered being, where the second and the third, the sixth and the seventh parts unite in such a way as to become in each case a unity, and where seven is arrived at when one sums up the nine parts. It is this inner involvement of what was once bestowed on man from within that must be striven for. We have to take very seriously what is characterized in this regard by anthroposophically oriented spiritual science.

From a different direction, an awareness came about of the fact that thinking is becoming shadow like; for that reason, a method was created in Jesuitism that from a certain aspect, brings life into this thinking. The Jesuit exercises are designed to bring life into this thinking. But they accomplish this by renewing an ancient form of life, above all, not by moving in the direction of and working through Imagination, but through the will, which particularly in Jesuit exercises plays an important role. We should realize — yet realize it far too little — how in a community such as the Jesuit order all aspects of the life of soul become something radically different from what is true of ordinary people. Basically, all other human beings of the present possess a different condition of soul than those who become Jesuits. The Jesuits work out of a world will; that cannot be denied. Consequently, they are aware of certain existing interrelationships; at most, such interrelationships are noticed also by some other orders that in turn are fought tooth and nail by the Jesuits. But it is this significant element whereby reality enters into the shadowy thinking that turns a Jesuit into a different kind of person from the others in our modern civilization. These think merely in shadow images and therefore are actually asleep mentally, since thinking no longer takes hold of their organism and does not really permeate their nervous system.

Nobody, I believe, has ever seen a gifted Jesuit who is nervous, whereas those imbued with modern scholarliness and education increasingly suffer from nervousness. When do we become nervous? When the physical nerves make themselves felt. Something then makes itself felt that, from a physical standpoint, has no right at all to make itself felt, for it exists merely to transmit the spiritual. These matters are intimately connected with the wrongness of our modern education. And from a certain standpoint of imbuing thinking with life — a standpoint we must nevertheless definitely oppose — Jesuitism is something that goes along with the world, even though, like a crab, it goes backwards. But at least it moves, it does not stand still, whereas the form of science in vogue today basically does not comprehend the human being at all.

Here, I would like to draw your attention to something. I have already mentioned repeatedly that it is actually painful to witness again and again that modern human beings, who can think all sorts of things and are so very clever, do not stand in a living manner with a single fiber of their lives in the present age, that they do not see what is going on around them, indeed, that they are unaware of what is happening around them and do not wish to participate in it. That is different in the case of the Jesuit. The Jesuit who activates his whole being is well aware of what vibrates through the world today. As evidence, I would like to read to you a few lines from a current Jesuit pamphlet from which you can deduce what sort of life pulsates in it:

For all those who are serious about the fundamental Christian principles, those to whom the welfare of the people is truly a concern of the heart, whose soul was once profoundly touched by the words of the Savior, “Miseror super turbam,” [2] for all those the time has now come when, borne by the ground swell of the Bolshevist storm tide, they can work with much greater success for the people and with the people. There is no room for timidity. Hence, as a matter of policy, we advocate the all out struggle against “capitalism,” against the exploitation of the people and profiteering at their expense, stricter emphasis on the duty to work even for the higher classes, the procurement of decent housing for millions of fellow citizens, even if such procurement necessitates making use of palaces and larger houses, utilization of natural resources and energy gained from water and air for the general welfare, not for trusts and syndicates, enhancement and education of the masses of people, participation by all segments of the people in government and administration, utilization of the concept of the system of soviets for the purpose of developing class representation having equal rights alongside parliamentary mass representation in order to prevent “the isolation of the masses from the state apparatus” as censured justifiably by Lenin ... God has given the goods of the earth to all human beings, not to a few so they can live on the fat of the land while millions languish in poverty, which is degrading both physically and morally ... [Note 1]

You see, this is the fiery mind that does sense something of what is happening. Here is a person who, in the rest of his book, sternly opposes Bolshevism and naturally wishes to have nothing to do with it. But, unlike somebody who has made himself comfortable in a chair today and is oblivious to the conflagration in the world all around him, he does not remain in such a position. Instead, he is aware of what is happening and knows what he wants because he sees what is going on.

People have gone so far as to merely think about the affairs of the world, and otherwise let things run their course. This is what has to be stressed again and again, namely, that the human being has more in him than mere thoughts with which to think about things while really not paying attention to the world's essential nature. As an example we need only indicate the Theosophical Society. It points to the great initiates who exist somewhere, and indeed, it can do so with justification. But it is not a matter of the initiates' existence; what is important is the manner in which those who refer to them speak of them. Theosophists imagine that the great initiates rule the world; in turn, they themselves sit down and produce good thoughts, which they let stream out in all directions. Then they talk of world rule, of world epochs, of world impulses. However, when the point is reached where something real, such as anthroposophy, has to live within the actual course of world events because it could not be otherwise, people find that uncomfortable since then they cannot really remain sitting on their chairs but have to experience what goes on in the world.

It must be strongly emphasized that the intellect has turned into a shadow in humanity, that it was earlier experienced in the etheric body and has now slipped, so to speak, into the physical body where it leads only a subjective existence. However, it can be brought to life through Imagination. Then it leads to the consciousness soul, and this consciousness soul can be grasped as a reality only when it senses the ego descends out of soul-spiritual worlds into incarnation and then passes through the gate of death into soul-spiritual worlds. When this inner soul-spiritual nature of the ego is comprehended, then the shadow image of the intellect can in fact be filled with reality. For it is through the ego that this has to be accomplished.

It is necessary to realize that living thinking exists. For what is it that people know since the fifteenth century? They know only logical thinking, not living thinking. This, too, I have pointed out repeatedly. What is living thinking? I shall take an example close at hand. In 1892, I wrote the The Philosophy of Freedom. This book has a certain content. In 1903, I wrote Theosophy; again, it has a certain content. In Theosophy, mention is made of the etheric body, the astral body, and so on. In Philosophy of Freedom, there is no mention of that. Now those who are only familiar with the logical, dead thinking come and say, Yes, I read the Philosophy of Freedom; from it, I cannot extract any concept of the etheric and astral body; it is impossible; I cannot find these concepts from the concepts contained in the book. But this is the same as if I were to take a small, five-year-old boy and fashioned him into a man of sixty by pulling him upwards and sideways to make him taller and wider!

I cannot put a mechanical, lifeless process in place of something living. But picture the Philosophy of Freedom as something alive — which indeed it is — and then imagine it growing. From it, then develops what only a person who tries to cull or pick out something from concepts will not figure out. All objections concerning contradictions are based on just this, namely, that people cannot understand the nature of living thinking as opposed to the dead thinking that dominates the whole world and all of civilization today. In the world of living things, everything develops from within, A formerly black-haired person who has white hair has acquired the latter not because the hair has been painted white; it has turned white from within. Things that grow and wane develop from within, and so it is also in the case of living thinking. Yet, today, people sit down and merely try to form conclusions, try to sense outward logic. What is logic? Logic is the anatomy of thinking, and one studies anatomy by means of corpses. Logic is acquired through the study of the corpse of thinking. It is certainly justified to study anatomy by means of corpses. It is just as justified to study logic through the corpses of thinking. But one will never comprehend life by means of what has been observed on the corpse!

This is what is important today and what really matters if we wish with all our soul to take part in a living way in what actually permeates and weaves through the world. This side of the matter has to be pointed out again and again, because insofar as the positive world development and evolution of mankind are concerned, we need to invigorate a thinking that has become shadowy. This process of thinking becoming shadow-like reached its culmination in the middle of the nineteenth. century. For that reason, the things that, so to say, beguiled humanity most of them fall into that period. Although in themselves these things were not great, if placed in the right location, they appear great.

Take the end of the 1850's. Darwin's Origin of the Species, [Note 2] Karl Marx's The Principles of Political Economy, [Note 3] as well as Psycho-Physics by Gustav Theodor Fechner, [Note 4] a work in which the attempt is made to discover the psychic sphere by means of outward experiments, were published then. In the same year, the captivating discovery of spectral analysis by Kirchhoff [Note 5] and Bunsen [Note 6] is introduced; it demonstrates, as it were, that wherever one looks in the universe the same materiality is discovered. It is as if everything were being done in the middle of the nineteenth century to beguile human beings into believing that thinking must remain subjective and shadow-like, that it must not interfere in the world outside so that they could not possibly imagine that there might be reason, nous, in the cosmos, something that lives in the cosmos itself.

This is what caused this second half of the nineteenth century to be so unphilosophical. Basically, this is also what made it so devoid of deeds. This is what caused the economic relationships to become more and more complicated while commerce became enlarged into a world economy so that the whole earth in fact turned into one economic sphere, and particularly this shadow-like thinking was unable to grasp the increasingly complex and overwhelming reality. This is the tragedy of our modern age. The economic conditions have become more and more complex, weighty, and increasingly brutal; human thinking remained shadowy, and these shadows certainly could no longer penetrate into what goes on outside in the brutal economic reality.

This is what causes our present misery. Unfortunately, if a person actually believes that he is more delicately organized and has need of the spirit, he may possibly get into the habit of making a long face, of speaking in a falsetto voice and of talking about the fact that he has to elevate himself from brutal reality, since the spiritual basically can be grasped only in the mystical realm. Thinking has become so refined that it has to withdraw from reality, that it perishes right away in its shadowy existence if it tries to penetrate brutal reality. Reality in the meantime develops below in conformity with the instincts; it proliferates and brutalizes. Up above, we see the bloated ideas of mysticism, of world views and theosophies floating about; below, life brutally takes its course. This is something that must stop for the sake of mankind. Thinking must be enlivened; thought has to become so powerful that it need not withdraw from brutal reality but can enter into it, can live in it as spirit. Then reality will no longer be brutal. This has to be understood.

What is not yet understood in many different respects is that a thinking in which universal being dwells cannot but pour its force over everything. This should be something that goes without saying. But it appears as a sacrilege to this modern thinking if a form of thinking appears on the scene that cannot help but extend to all different areas. A properly serious attitude in life should be comprised of the realization: In thinking, we have been dealing with a shadow image, and rightly so, but the age has now arrived when life must be brought once again into this shadow image of thought in order that from this form of thought life, from this inner life of soul, the outer physical, sensory life can receive its social stimulus.

Tomorrow, we shall continue with this.


Translator's Notes:

1. This is a reference to what was happening in Russia.

2. Latin for “I have compassion on the crowd” (Matthew 15:32).

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