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Anthroposophy's Contribution to the Most Urgent Needs of Our Time

A Lecture by
Rudolf Steiner
Stuttgart, September 5th, 1921
GA 78

This is the 7th of 8 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Stuttgart, in 1921. It is also known as: The Gulf Between a Causal Explanation of Nature and the Moral World Order. The title of this series of lectures is: Anthroposophy, Root and Fruit. The lectures were published in German as: Anthroposophie, ihre Erkenntniswurzeln und Lebensfruchte. Mit einer Einleitung ueber den Agnostizismus als Verderber echten Menschentums.

This lecture appears in the book: Fruits of Anthroposophy.

It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From GA# 78.

Copyright © 1977
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contribution to the most

urgent needs of our time


R U D O L F   S T E I N E R



Lecture given by Rudolf Steiner at Stuttgart on September 5th, 1921. Published in agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung in a translation by F. Hough. The German text is contained in Anthropososophie ihre Erkenntniswurzeln and Lebensfriichte, Blbl. No. 78.

The most significant question in the spiritual life of our time, which casts its shadow over the whole of our culture, is of such a nature that it already affects every man's feeling life to some extent. Yet its answer can only be found on the path leading from ordinary objective knowledge to super-sensible cognition by means of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. Each soul must ask himself this significant question, when, in genuine concern for the being of man, he contrasts, with a complete lack of bias, the conception of the moral, ethical life that is possible today, with the interpretation of life that stems with good reason from a natural scientific world conception. What is more, in our day the question of morality is of the greatest urgency because we live in that period of time when what is ethical is at the same time social, and today every man experience the urgency of the social question.

Let us consider what the soul learns about existence in conformity with today's thinking as it is shaped by natural science. In the attempt to reach a true natural science, man is led to consider the objects of the world in their necessity, in their causal connections. This results in a world outlook which must necessarily extend these causal connections to comprise everything that is within the world order, including man. Today, in so far as we wish to understand man by means of natural science, we take it as a foregone conclusion that we apply that same cognition that we are accustomed to use when considering natural appearances outside man, and we then attempt to extend in more or less audacious hypotheses, what natural science has learnt from what is lying nearest to us, that we are able to observe, to cover world facts and world beings. We construct hypotheses about the beginning and the end of the world, out of our natural scientific theories of knowledge. Then we come with this natural scientific knowledge to the point where if we are consistent we must say, ‘We may not come to a halt before human freedom.’ I have already indicated this problem.

A man who seeks a strictly uniform explanation of the world, simply out of a desire for consistency, and has to decide between assuming a freedom which is really given empirically in immediate human experience, and that all-powerful natural necessity which must be deduced from what mankind has learned through established ways of thinking and knowing, will opt for natural necessity. He will declare the experience of freedom to be an illusion, and will extend the area of natural necessity to include the most intimate experiences of the human being, so that mankind will be fully enmeshed in the web of natural necessity. And in the same way he will assess in the light of this hypothetical world conception the nature of the beginning and the end of the earth. He takes those laws and interconnections produced by physics and chemistry etc., and builds out of them such hypotheses as the nebular hypothesis, that is, the Kant-Laplace theory of the beginning of the earth. Then, out of the second principle, the teaching about mechanical heat, he constructs hypotheses about the heat death in which the earth will perish.

In this way one can extend into the most intimate details of the human being, as well as to the boundaries of the world-all, the contemporary explanation of natural appearances, as they surround us in the world in which we wander between birth and death, without disputing its fruitfulness. But then, if we reach a certain degree of self-perception, we ask ourselves, “In that case, wherein lies the dignity of man, wherein exists true human worth?” Here we come to the point where we turn our gaze to the moral world, to that which seems to be an ethical, moral impulse. We feel that it is only in carrying out a moral ideal, permeated with religious fervour, that we can achieve an existence fully worthy of mankind. We could not call ourselves fully human if we did not think that motive was active in us which we describe as ‘moral’, which streams into the social life, and seems to be inwardly vibrating in us with what we call the Divine in the world order. But for a modern man who in all honesty adopts the viewpoint from which he surveys mechanical causality, the necessary order of nature, there is no bridge leading from the natural order, which according to a certain way of knowledge must include man himself, to that other order, which is moral, and which is bound up with what man must consider to be his entire dignity, his entire worth.

In most recent times, to be sure, a certain expedient has been devised in order to bridge this chasm which has opened up between the two components of our human make-up. It has been said that we can only regard as truly scientific that which will explain the whole world in terms of natural necessity, including man, and including the beginning and the end of the world. And from this standpoint scientific validity is given to nothing that cannot be absorbed without contradiction into a thinking spun out of this natural order. But yet, a realm has been established with an entirely different kind of certainty, with the certainty of belief. Man looks within on that which shines in us as a moral light, and says to himself. “No scientific knowledge can guarantee in any way the significance of this moral sphere, but man must find within himself a certainty of belief. He must recognise out of the Subjective that in a certain way his Being is connected with that realm which is permeated with moral necessity.”

At first, many people may well find reassurance if they discriminate clearly between what man can know and what he can believe, and can persuade themselves that this separation gives a certain comfort, a feeling of security in life. But if we probe deeply enough, not with a partial thinking, but with all that thought can experience if it unites itself with the full power of the human soul and spirit, then we must come to the following conclusion: if the realm of natural necessity is as man has grown accustomed to consider it in the course of the last hundred years, then in the face of this there is no possibility of preserving the realm of morality. This must be said, because the moral realm simply shows nowhere the power to be a match for the realm of natural order. We need only consider how the thought must arise with a certain inner justification out of the contemplation of heat entropy — I say expressly, must arise — that once all the remaining earth forces have changed into heat, this heat cannot change itself back into any other force, and that then the earth as such will succumb to what is called ‘the heat death.’ Thus there is no possibility for an honest thinker who must hold fast to the current way of thinking about natural causality, other than to say to himself: of this earth which has succumbed to heat death there remains a huge field of corpses, not only including all men but with them all moral ideals. They must disappear into the lifeless, if, in recognising the sole validity of natural necessity we accept that the earth is to succumb to ‘the heat death.’

For a man who faces the world without prejudice, this reflection produces an experience that even takes from him the certainty of a moral world order, and above all leaves him in a situation where he must see the world as split asunder, so that he can only say to himself: “Moral ideas rise up out of natural necessity like foam bubbles, and like foam bubbles, they vanish.” For, according to natural necessity, what is connected in the innermost being of man with human worth and dignity cannot be acknowledged as having real existence. How shall I say? Granted that one accepts a formal division between knowledge and belief, yet, even if one has already found a certainty of belief, against the necessary exactions of science, certainty of belief can give no inner guarantee for the reality of what is moral.

This not only affects man's theoretical ideas. If a man intends to live honestly, he must work with it into his deepest world experiences, and there take hold of it through events which lie deep in the subconscious, disturbing that which gives inner security, which makes it possible for a man to have a stable connection with the world, not only by means of thinking but also through experience. And a man who has a feeling for such connections could say to himself: What is called up in such an uncanny way out of the depths of human life in this twentieth century, like a devastating wave, proceeds when all is said and done out of the harmony — or one could say the disharmony — of all that the individual has experienced about himself. For our frightful catastrophic time is born finally out of the innermost condition of the human heart and soul. Such an inner division as I have described to you does not appear only on the surface of the soul-life, as a theoretic world-conception. It sinks down to the depths out of which comes the instinctive life, the life of conscience. And so this dichotomy throws up into the world-order discrepant feelings, disorder, producing a framework for what is unsocial rather than fostering what is more truly social.

Certainly, many men do not yet give full weight to what I have described today. But the consequences can already be foreseen, if we follow with only a little lack of prejudice the trend of human spiritual development in the last centuries, and especially in very recent times, and see to what moral exhaustion, to what kind of social form this division in the human soul must lead in the very near future. An answer will never be found to the burning question, ‘Why do we live in such distressing times?’ if one does not try to seek the foundation man has need of in the depths of human life itself.

Confronting what I have here described is that knowledge of the world which may be striven for through anthroposophical spiritual science, by means of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. We shall see how anthroposophical spiritual science enables man to come to terms with what I have shown today to be the most urgent problem of the present and the near future, and what precisely in this way it seems to him that he will be able to know. I have shown you the path which spiritual science takes by means of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. I cannot give each exercise here in detail, but you can find this in my books which I have often mentioned here. I have drawn attention to the way in which each exercise on the path to imaginative knowledge gives the soul a conscious content in the same way as our everyday consciousness is impregnated with a content when it lives in memory. Behind what rises up in the form of memories, consciously or unconsciously invoked, lies our physical and etheric organisation. What takes place there, rises up into consciousness. What our physical organisation produces in our ordinary memory is brought about in a purely soul-spiritual way through carrying out the exercises given in my books. Through them one reaches ideas, which in a purely formal way are like memory ideas, but which refer to an outer objective content, not to an entirely personal experience. By this means we prepare ourselves through Imagination for the knowledge of a truly objective spiritual world.

Then, in order to reach to Inspiration, we must not only practise in a soul-spiritual way the production of ideas which are like remembered thoughts, but we must work in such a way that the spirit-soul also practises forgetting, to some extent, as it were throwing out these imaginations from the consciousness which has been now attained. We must practise no longer having, yes, the unreal imaginations. We must deliberately distance them from our consciousness, so that, if I may so express it, this consciousness has a certain emptiness. If we reach this stage, then by means of all these practices we are able to strengthen the Ego to the point where we find ourselves within the manifestations of an objective, super-sensible world. In place of the former subjective imaginations, objective imaginations light up in our consciousness, and this lighting up of such objective Imaginations which in fact do not come from ourselves, but from spiritual objectivity, this is in reality Inspiration. We reach right to the boundary of the super-sensible, that reveals itself to us in its outer appearance through these Imaginations. Exactly in the same way as in our sense-perceptible world, if we only let the whole man be active in sense perception, we convince ourselves through the reality of this sense world, of the underlying objective outer world, so now the Imaginations we have attained give us plenary conviction of the super-sensible world whose expression they are.

Now it is a question of pursuing this way of knowledge to the next stage. This we reach in that we not only push the forgetting so far that we throw out the Imaginations, but we go yet a stage further. When a man reaches the Imaginative world, he sees first his own life in its progression. He lives consciously not only in the moment, but in the whole of his life as far back as to his birth. If he is then able to go still further back, through Inspiration, then he extends his survey to the life before birth, as far as to the perception of a super-sensible world out of which he came into the sense world through birth or conception. The spiritual field of vision extends over that world which we have lived through before birth and conception and shall live through when we have gone through the Portal of death. This prospect of the super-sensible world to which we belong is reached by means of Inspired cognition.

If we now strive even further, not only to expunge those Imaginations whose details remain within the horizon of the Imaginative world but also to wipe out the imagination of our whole life as man, that means, if we have acquired the forces to thrust out what is united with our Ego through the experiences we have had since our birth, and what is also added to it through the fact that the horizon has widened to include a spiritual world, then we have reached the stage not of weakening our Ego, but, just through forgetting ourselves, of first really and truly strengthening it. And through this we come gradually into the reality of the spiritual, the super-sensible world. We ourselves live together with the reality of the super-sensible world. We reach the point of recognising the appearance of previous earth lives as something which our Ego shows us at different stages. Then, if we have developed the capacity to forget this Ego in its present stage, that means, to thrust out its imaginative content, we reach the stage of perceiving the eternal Ego.

The matters discussed by anthroposophical spiritual science are not drawn out of some blue haze of mysticism, rather the way to reach this particular knowledge can be indicated step by step. It is in no sense an outer way. It is inward in its entire journey, but it is such that it leads to the perception of a truly objective yet super-sensible reality. And in that we raise ourselves in this way to real intuitive knowledge, we first obtain a true insight into what is in fact our own thinking, our ideation, that we employ in ordinary life, with which we mix our sense-perceptions. One reaches to full, complete reality when to a certain extent one can create an idea for oneself, an empirical idea, in the way I have attempted to describe in my book The Philosophy of Freedom. There I have tried to make known that pure thinking, that very thinking that can live in us before we have fully united the thinking with some outer perception. I have shown that this pure thinking itself can be perceived as an inner soul content. But what is in accordance with its being first lets itself be known when true intuition enters the soul through the higher way of knowledge. Then a man can certainly penetrate into his own thinking. Then he lives for the first time within his own thoughts, by means of intuition, for this intuition arises through the fact that a man lives within the super-sensible with his own being, that he plunges into the super-sensible.

And so one learns to recognise something, the experience of which is a kind of destiny of knowledge. One experiences something that is full of potency, if one lives intuitively in the Nature of knowing. One understands then how man is organised materially as man; one learns to know to what extent this material organisation is in control; but one perceives also through intuition that this control only extends so far as to serve as a support, at most a ground out of which thinking can unfold itself, but that the material process itself must be broken down where true thinking appears. To the same degree in which the material events can be reduced can that gain ground in us which now occupies the place where matter is destroyed, that is, thinking, ideation.

I know all the objections that can be brought against the proposition that I put forward here, but intuitive knowledge leads one to realise that in the place where thinking unfolds itself a nothingness of material can be seen. It leads one so far as to say, ‘In that I think, I am not, if I allow the material being, that as a rule man regards as authoritative, to be considered the only being to have validity.’ First matter must withdraw itself from the organism and make room for the thoughts, the ideas, then these thoughts and ideas can develop within man. Thus, in that place where we perceive thinking in its reality, we see the destruction of material existence. Therein we perceive how matter goes over into nothingness.

Here is where we stand on the boundary of the laws of the conservation of matter and energy. One must recognise how far these laws of matter and energy extend, so that one can summon up the courage to contradict them when this is necessary. One can never penetrate the nature of thinking in an unprejudiced way to the place where matter destroys itself, if one acknowledges the law of conservation to be absolute, if one does not know that what prevails in the sphere which we survey outwardly in the physical and chemical fields etc., is yet not valid where our thinking takes place on the platform of our human organisation. If it were not necessary out of a certain basis to place this knowledge before the world today, one would not expose oneself to all the mockery and objections that must come quite understandably from those who, according to well-known hypotheses, regard the laws of the conservation of matter and energy as absolute, valid without exception.

But just as through Intuition one learns to know the relationship between thinking and the matter which surrounds us in the physical world, so through intuition one learns to recognise the connection of Inspiration, that Inspiration which is so powerful in Spirit, with the human feeling and rhythmic system. In the nerve-sense being physical substance is annihilated. By this means the nerve-sense system can be the basis for thinking, for ideation. The second system in man is the rhythmic system. With this the feeling life is psychically connected, as is the thinking life with the nerve-sense system. The connection of the objective world outside man which we approach through Inspiration shows us that through Inspiration we become aware of a World Being which plays into us as the sense world plays into us through thinking. This inspired world plays into us through the breathing process, which carries its rhythm right into the brain processes and into the rest of the organism.

Now one learns to recognise what lives within the human being as rhythm. This will not destroy matter, as in the case of the thinking process, but it will retard life so that it must for ever stimulate itself anew. The usual purely mechanical breathing rhythm provides an inner rhythmic basis for this retardation and renewal, which is certainly a two-fold process of breathing and feeling. When the soul-feeling events unite with the physical breathing rhythm we perceive this union as an Inspiration, as a Being which lives objectively in Inspiration and can be perceived through Intuition. In short we learn in this way to recognise the whole connection between the feeling and the rhythmic system in man. We recognise that here a complete annulment of matter does not take place as in the nerve system, but there is a damping down of matter. Thus we learn step by step to ‘see through’ the human being. And in this way we look into the feeling life of man and see what can only be there through the fact that in the rhythmic events life can always be held back and will stimulate itself anew.

Thus we see a second power working in the human being, in that we perceive the harmony of the slowing down and the renewal of life. We see the significance of man's entire rhythmic life, and how it is bound up with his whole being, body and soul. And as we survey this second element in man, it will certainly become clear to us that man bears in himself a real force, which is in rhythmic interchange with an outer force active in the super-sensible. And we could also survey in a similar way the metabolic limb system. In that we raise ourselves to Inspiration, Intuition and Imagination we see, soul-spiritually, what is active in man as a real though unconscious force. Our customary objective knowledge gives us only the forms. Through it we are as it were only observers of the world. That, however, which we reach through Imagination, Intuition and Inspiration we have first as a free inner soul product, obtained from super-sensible knowledge, from something which is objective in man, through which we can see clearly how the human will works in moral deeds. If we have first recognised that pure thinking involves a breaking down of matter, and is connected above all with a death-bringing process, through and through a process working in matter in a backward direction, then one comes to the point of being able to recognise that everything which appears as soul-willing is connected with the up-building processes, the processes of growth. These growths, these up-building processes, the activities of the organs and the reproductive process in us, damp down our ordinary consciousness of the depths of the human organism, and the will arises out of those depths of the human being to which the ordinary consciousness does not reach. Thus, as thinking lives in the death process, willing lives in what is growing, thriving, fructifying.

We then perceive further, through Intuition, how out of the digestive system, through the will when it has its motive in pure thinking, substance in the human organism is pushed into the place where the breaking down process takes place. Thinking as such breaks down, but willing builds up. Indeed this building up activity is such that from the beginning of life right up to death this process is latent in the human organism. An up-building process is certainly there. In that we bring our moral motives, in the sense of my The Philosophy of Freedom to true, free moral intuition, we live such a human life that, out of its organism, through the will process substance is placed where substance has been destroyed. Man becomes inwardly creative, inwardly up-building. In other words, we see within the cosmos, in the human organism, nothingness filled with new creating in a fully material sense. This means nothing else than that in so far as a man consistently follows the way of anthroposophical knowledge he reaches the stage where within man the pure moral ideals are world-building forces reaching right into materiality.

Here we have certainly a place where the moral world itself becomes creative, where something arises out of human morality which guarantees its own reality since it bears itself within itself, since it creates itself. And then we learn through Intuition really to know the outer world. We see how the mineral kingdom is caught up in a death-bringing process, a wasting-away that we have well learned to recognise as a corresponding process in our own thinking. And in the same way we learn to recognise how this wasting-away process draws into itself plant and animal life. Then we do not look to a heat death (an idea which has validity within certain limits, but is somewhat one-sided), but we look to the wasting-away of the entire world, which is permeated with minerality, and which is all around us. We see this, which we recognise as the world of causal necessity, in its transitoriness, and we recognise the world which we build up out of pure moral ideas as that which arises from the ground of the other, dying world.[See Man as Symphony of the Creative Word, Lecture VI, penultimate paragraph. Ed.] In other words, we now recognise how the moral world is connected with the world order of physical causality. We have in the pure moral will of the human being something which conquers causality in man, and therefore for the whole world.

Whoever thinks honestly about the causal explanation of nature finds in its domain no place in the world where it does not prevail. And because it prevails, a power must arise which destroys its validity. This is the moral world, recognised within the general nature Of man, which contains within itself the power to break through natural causality, not, to be sure, through working miracles, but through a course of development. For that which finds a place within the human being where causality can be destroyed, sets itself there within him as a means of destroying causality. It is of prime significance for the world of the future. Nevertheless, we now see here the reality of human willing which enters into an alliance with pure thinking. For through it we obtain — and this is the most beautiful life fruit of anthroposophical scientific knowledge — an insight into the value of man in the cosmos, through which we also can feel the dignity, the high office of man within the cosmos.

Things in the world are not so interrelated as with our abstract ideas we often think they are. No, they cohere as realities, and one powerful reality is the following. It is true that not everyone today is able as yet to attain to Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. But as spiritual investigators we take with us through all these stages of knowledge that thinking which develops one thought out of another with inner necessity. This thinking each man can experience now if he will give himself freely to it. And it stems from this, that the results of spiritual knowledge, when once they are found, can always be proved afterwards, by means of pure thinking, since the spiritual investigator takes this pure thinking into the whole of his life of ideation.

Knowledge of human worth, feeling for human dignity, willing in love for humanity: These are the most beautiful life fruits nurtured in man when he assimilates what is bestowed on him by spiritual science.

For this spiritual science works through the will, so that it can reach up to what I have described in my Philosophy of Freedom as moral intuition. And its power streams into human life as the moral ideal. The moral intuitions are gradually permeated with what indeed is love, so that we can become men who act freely out of love springing from our individuality. Thereby Spiritual Science approaches an ideal stemming from Goethe's time. It spoke most clearly through his friend Schiller. When Schiller familiarised himself with Kantian philosophy, he learnt much from Kant about theoretic philosophy, but he could not always accept Kant's moral philosophy. In this Kantian moral philosophy Schiller found a numbing conception of duty, presented by Kant in such a way that duty seemed to stand there in its own right as a natural power, working compulsively on man. Schiller experienced the worth and dignity of man, and would not accept the idea that to be virtuous a man must submit to spiritual compulsion. Schiller gave utterance to this beautiful saying: ‘Gladly do I serve my friend, yet, alas, I act from inclination, so it often vexes me that I am not dutiful.’ For in the Kantian sense, Schiller meant, one must even try first to suppress all liking for one's friend, and then do what one does for him out of a rigid conception of duty.

That the connection of man with morality must be other than this, Schiller revealed as far as it was possible to do so in his time, in his Letters concerning the Aesthetic Education of Mankind, where he wished to show how duty must sink down so that it becomes inclination, how inclination must rise up so that the content of duty becomes congenial. Duty must sink down, natural instinct must rise up in free men, who do out of their inclination what benefits the whole of humanity. And in that man looks for where moral intuition is rooted in the human being, in that he looks for what is the real driving, ethical motive in moral intuition, he finds it at its highest in love purified by spirit. There, where this love has become spiritual, there it draws into itself moral intuitions; and a man is moral because he loves duty, because it is something that comes out of the Individuality itself as a directly active power.

It was this that brought me, in The Philosophy of Freedom, to place against the Kantian moral philosophy a direct antithesis drawn from Anthroposophy. The Kantian thesis says: ‘Duty! Thou sublime and mighty name, that dost embrace nothing charming or ingratiating, but requirest submission,’ thou that ‘settest up a law ... before which all inclinations are dumb, even though they secretly work against it.’

Through such a conception of duty man can never be so spiritualized in his inmost being that he becomes a free creator of his moral activity. Out of this attempt to penetrate the human being by means of anthroposophical knowledge of man, I placed in my Philosophy of Freedom against this stiff Kantian idea what you find there: ‘Freedom, thou friendly, human name, beloved of all who are virtuous, in thee is contained what my humanity values most, which makes me servant to none, thou who settest up no law, but awaitest what my virtuous love itself will recognise as a law because it feels itself unfree against every law that is forced upon it.’

So I believed I must speak in The Philosophy of Freedom of how moral human worth shines out in fullest splendour when it is one with human freedom, and is rooted in true human love. For one can show by means of anthroposophy how this love of duty can become in the widest sense love for mankind and therefore, as we will further consider, can become a true ferment in the social life. What arises today as the most urgent, the most hotly discussed social question can only be resolved if man bestirs himself to recognise the connection between freedom, love, the human being, spiritual and natural necessity.

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