[RSArchive Icon]
Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib

Highlight Words

Aspects of Human Evolution

Human Development, Contemporary Struggling People

Schmidt Number: S-3388

On-line since: 30th September, 2009

Lecture V

Berlin, July 3, 1917

As you may have realized, a basic feature of the various considerations in which we have been engaged in recent weeks is the effort to gather material that will help us understand the difficult times we live in. Such understanding can only come about through a completely new way of looking at things. It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that a healthy development of mankind's future depends upon a new understanding taking hold in a sufficiently large number of human beings.

I should like these discussions to be as concrete as possible, in the sense in which the word, the concept “concrete,” has been used in the lectures of past weeks. Great impulses at work in mankind's evolution at any given time take effect through this or that personality. Thus it becomes evident in certain human beings just how strong such impulses are at a particular time. Or, one could also say that it becomes evident to what extent there is the opportunity for certain impulses to be effective.

In order to describe certain characteristic aspects of our time I have here and elsewhere drawn attention to a man who died recently. Today I would like once more to speak about the philosopher Franz Brentano who died a short time ago in Zürich. [ Note 1 ] He was certainly not a philosopher in a narrow or pedantic sense. Those who knew him, even if only through his work, saw him as representing modern man, struggling with the riddle of the universe. Nor was Brentano a one-sided philosopher; what concerned him were the wider aspects of essential human issues. It could be said that there is hardly a problem, no matter how enigmatic, to which he did not try to find a solution. What interested him was the whole range of man's world views. He was reticent about his work and very little has been published. His literary remains are bound to be considerable and will in due course reveal the results of his inner struggles, though perhaps for someone who understands not only what Franz Brentano expressed in words but also the issues that caused him such inner battles, nothing actually new will emerge.

I would like to bring before you what in our problematic times a great personality like Franz Brentano found particularly problematic. He was not the kind of philosopher one usually meets nowadays; unlike modern philosophers he was first and foremost a thinker, a thinker who did not allow his thinking to wander at random. He sought to establish it on the firm foundation of the evolution of thought itself. This led to his first publication, a book dealing with Aristotle's psychology, the so-called “nus poetikos.” [ Note 2 ] This book by Brentano, which is long out of print, is a magnificent achievement in detailed inquiry. It reveals him as a man capable of real thinking; that is, he has the ability to formulate and elaborate concepts that have content. We find Franz Brentano, more especially in the second half of his book about Aristotle's psychology, engaged in a process of thinking of a subtlety not encountered nowadays, and indeed seldom at the time the book was written. What is especially significant is the fact that Franz Brentano's ideas still had the strength to capture and leave their mark in human souls. When people nowadays discuss things connected with the inner life, they generally express themselves in empty words, devoid of any real content. The words are used because historically they have become part of the language, and this gives the illusion that they contain thought, but thinking is not in fact involved.

Considering that everywhere in Aristotle one finds a distinct flaring up of the ancient knowledge so often described by us as having its origin in atavistic clairvoyance, it is rather odd that people who profess to read Aristotle today should ignore spiritual science so completely. When we speak today about ether body, sentient body, sentient soul, intellectual soul, consciousness soul, these terms are coined to express the life of soul and spirit in its reality, of which man must again become conscious.

Many of the expressions used by Aristotle are no longer understood. However, they are reminders that there was a time when the individual members of man's soul being were known; not until Aristotle did they become abstractions. Franz Brentano made great efforts to understand these members of man's soul precisely through that thinker of antiquity, Aristotle. It must be said, however, that it was just through Aristotle that their meaning began to fade from mankind's historical evolution. Aristotle distinguishes in man the vegetative soul, by which he means approximately what we call ether body, then the aesthetikon or sensitive soul, which we call the sentient or astral body. Next, he speaks of orektikon which corresponds to the sentient soul, then comes kinetikon corresponding to the intellectual soul, and he uses the term dianoetikon for the consciousness soul. Aristotle was fully aware of the meaning of these concepts, but he lacked direct perception of the reality. This caused a certain unclarity and abstraction in his works, and that applies also to the book I mentioned by Franz Brentano. Nevertheless, real thinking holds sway in Brentano's book. And when someone devotes himself to the power of thinking the way he did, it is no longer possible to entertain the foolish notion that man's soul and spirit are mere by-products arising from the physical-bodily nature. The concepts formulated by Brentano on the basis of Aristotle's work were too substantial, so to speak, to allow him to succumb to the mischief of modern materialism.

Franz Brentano's main aim was to attain insight into the general working of the human soul; he wanted to carry out psychological research. But he was also concerned with an all-encompassing view of the world based on psychology. I have already drawn your attention to the fact that Franz Brentano himself estimated that his work on psychology would fill five volumes, but only the first volume was published. It is fully understandable to someone who knew him well why no subsequent volumes appeared. The deeper reason lies in the fact that Brentano would not — indeed according to his whole disposition, he could not — turn to spiritual science. Yet in order to find answers to the questions facing him after the completion of the first volume of his Psychology he needed spiritual knowledge. But spiritual science he could not accept and, as he was above all an honest man, he abandoned writing the subsequent volumes. The venture came to a full stop and thus remains a fragment.

I would like to draw attention to two aspects of the problem in Brentano's mind. It is a problem which today every thinking person must consciously strive to solve. In fact, the whole of mankind, insofar as people do not live in animal-like obtuseness, is striving, albeit unconsciously, to solve this problem. People in general are either laboring in one direction or another for a plausible solution, or else suffering psychologically because of their inability to get anywhere near the root of the problem. Franz Brentano investigated and pondered deeply the human soul. However, when this is done along the lines of modern science one arrives at the point that leads from the human soul to the spirit. And there one may remain at the obvious, and recognize the human soul's activity to be threefold in that it thinks; i.e., forms mental pictures, it feels and it wills. Thinking, feeling and willing are indeed the three members of the human soul. However, no satisfactory insight into them is possible unless through spiritual knowledge a path is found to the spiritual reality with which the human soul is connected. If one does not find that path — and Franz Brentano could not find it — then one feels oneself with one's thinking, feeling and willing completely isolated within the soul. Thinking at best provides images of the external, spatial, purely material reality. Feeling at best takes pleasure or displeasure in what occurs in the spatial physical reality. Through the will, man's physical nature may appease its cravings or aversions. Without spiritual insight man does not experience through his thinking, feeling and willing any relationship with a reality in which he feels secure, to which he feels he belongs. That was why Brentano said: To differentiate thinking, feeling and willing in the human soul does not help one to understand it, as in doing so one remains within the soul itself. He therefore divided the soul in another way, and how he did it is characteristic. He still sees the soul as threefold but not according to forming mental pictures of thinking, feeling and willing. He differentiates instead between forming mental pictures, judging or assessing, and the inner world of fluctuating moods and feelings. Thus, according to Brentano, the life of the soul is divided into forming mental pictures, judgments, and fluctuating moods and feelings.

Mental pictures do not, to begin with, lead us out beyond the soul. When we form mental pictures of something, the images remain within the soul. We believe that they refer to something real, but that is by no means established. As long as we do not go beyond the mental picture, we have to concede that something merely imagined is also a mental picture. Thus, a mental picture as such may refer to something real or to something merely imagined. Even when we relate mental pictures to one another, we still have no guarantee of reality. A tree is a mental picture; green is a mental picture. To say, The tree is green, is to combine two mental pictures, but that in itself is no guarantee of dealing with reality, for my mental picture “green tree” could be a product of my fantasy.

Nevertheless, Brentano says: When I judge or make assessments I stand within reality, and I am already making a judgment, even if a veiled one, when I combine mental pictures as I do when I say, The tree is green. In so doing I indicate not only that I combine the two concepts “tree” and “green,” but that a green tree exists. Thus I am not remaining within the mental pictures, I go across to existence. There is a difference, says Brentano, between being aware of a green tree and being conscious that “this tree is green.” The former is a mere formulation of mental pictures, the latter has a basis within the soul consisting of acceptance or rejection. In the activity of merely forming mental pictures one remains within the soul, whereas passing judgment is an activity of soul which relates one to the environment in that one either accepts or rejects it. In saying, a green tree exists, I acknowledge not merely that I am forming mental pictures, but that the tree exists quite apart from my mental picture. In saying, centaurs do not exist, I also pass judgment by rejecting as unreal the mental picture of half-horse, half-man. Thus according to Brentano, passing judgment is the second activity of the human soul.

Brentano saw the third element within the human soul as that of fluctuating moods and feelings. Just as he regards judgment of reality to consist of acknowledgments or rejections, so he sees moods and feelings as fluctuating between love and hate, likes and dislikes. Man is either attracted or repelled by things. Brentano does not regard the element of will to be a separate function of the soul. He sees it as part of the realm of moods and feelings. The fact that he regards the will in this way is very characteristic of Brentano and points to a deeply rooted aspect of his makeup. It would lead too far to go into that now; all that concerns us at the moment is that Brentano did not differentiate will impulses from mere feelings of like or dislike. He saw all these elements as weaving into one another. When examining a will impulse to action, Brentano would be concerned only with one's love for it. Again, if the will impulse was against an action, he would examine one's dislike for it. Thus for him the life of soul consists of love and hate, acknowledgment and rejection, and forming mental pictures.

Starting from these premises Brentano did his utmost to find solutions to the two greatest riddles of the human soul, the riddle of truth, and the riddle of good. What is true (or real)? What is good? If one is seeking to justify the judgment of thinking about reality or unreality, the question arises, Why do we acknowledge certain things and reject others? Those we acknowledge we regard as truth; those we reject we regard as untruth. And that brings us straight to the heart of the problem: What is truth? The heart of the other problem concerning good and evil, good and bad, we encounter when we turn to the realm of fluctuating moods and feelings. According to Brentano, love is what prompts us to acknowledge an action as good, while hate is the rejection of an action as evil. Thus ethics, morality, and what we understand by rights, all these things are a province of the realm of moods and feelings. The question of good and evil was very much in Brentano's mind as he pondered the nature of man's life of feelings fluctuating between love and hate.

It is indeed extremely interesting to follow the struggle of a man like Brentano, a struggle lasting for decades, to find answers to questions such as What right has man to assess things, judging them true or false, acknowledge or reject them? Even if you examine all Brentano's published writings — and I am convinced that his as yet unpublished work will give the same result — nowhere will you find him giving any other answer to the question What is true? In other words: What justifies man to judge things except what he calls the “evidence,” the “visible proof”? He naturally means an inner visible proof. Thus Brentano's answer amounts to this: I attain truth if I am not inwardly blind, but able to bring my experiences before my inner eye in such a way that I can survey them clearly, and accept them, or by closer scrutiny perhaps reject them. Franz Brentano did not get beyond this view. It is significant indeed that a man who was an eminent thinker — which cannot be said about many — struggled for decades to answer the question What gives me the right to acknowledge or reject something, to regard it as true or false? All he reached was what he termed the evidence, the inner visible proof.

Brentano lectured for many years in Vienna on what in Austrian universities was known as practical philosophy, which really means ethics or moral philosophy. Just as Brentano was obliged to give these lectures, so the law students were obliged to attend them, as they were prescribed, compulsory courses. However, during his courses Brentano did not so much lecture on “practical philosophy,” as he did on the question How does one come to accept something as good or put something down as bad? Due to his original views, Franz Brentano did not by any means have an easy task. As you know, the problem of good is always being debated in philosophy. Attempts are made to answer the question: Have we any right to regard one thing as good and another as bad? Or the question may be formulated differently: Where does the good originate, where is its source, and what is the source of the bad or evil? This question is approached in all manner of ways. But all around Brentano, at the time when he attempted to discover the criterion of good, a peculiar moral philosophy was gaining ground, that of Herbart, one of the successors of Kant's. [ Note 3 ] Herbart's view of ethics, which others have advocated too but none more emphatically than he himself, was the view that moral behavior, in the last resort, depends upon the fact that certain relationships in life please us, whereas others displease us. Those that please us are good, those that displease us are bad. Man as it were is supposed to have an inborn natural ability to take pleasure in the good and displeasure in the bad. Herbart says, for example: Inner freedom is something which always, in every instance, pleases us. And what is inner freedom? Well, he says, man is inwardly free when his thinking and actions are in harmony. This would mean, crudely put, that if A thinks B an awful fellow but instead of saying so flatters him, then that is not an expression of inner freedom. Thinking and action are not in the harmony on which the ethical view of inner freedom is based. Another view on ethics is based on perfection. We are displeased when we do something we could have done better, whereas we are pleased when we have done something so well that the result is better, more perfect than it would have been through any other action. Herbart differentiates five such ethical concepts. However, all that interests us at the moment is that he based morality on the soul's immediate pleasure or displeasure.

Yet another principle of ethics is Kant's so-called categorical imperative, according to which an action is good if it is based on principles that could be the basis for a law applying to all. [ Note 4 ] Nothing could be more contrary to morality! Even the example Kant himself puts forward clearly shows his categorical imperative to be void of moral value. He says: Suppose you were given something for safekeeping, but instead you appropriated it. Such an action, says Kant, cannot be a basic principle for all to follow, for if everybody simply took possession of things entrusted to them, an orderly human society would be an impossibility. It is not difficult to see that in such a case, whether the action is good or bad cannot be judged on whether things entrusted to one are returned or not. Quite different issues come into question.

All the modern views on ethics are contrary to that of Franz Brentano. He sought deeper reasons. Pleasure and displeasure, he said, merely confirm that an ethical judgment has been made. As far as the beautiful is concerned, we are justified in saying that beauty is a source of pleasure, ugliness of displeasure. However, we should be aware that what determines us when it is a question of ethics, of morality, is a much deeper impulse than the one that influences us in assessing the beautiful. That was Brentano's view of ethics, and each year he sought to reaffirm it to the law students. He also spoke of his principle of ethics in his beautiful public lecture entitled “Natural Sanction of Law and Morality.” [ Note 5 ] The circumstances that led Franz Brentano to give this lecture are interesting. The famous legislator Ihering had spoken at a meeting about legal concepts being fluid, by which he meant that concepts of law and rights cannot be understood in an absolute sense because their meaning continually changes in the course of time. [ Note 6 ] They can be understood only if viewed historically. In other words, if we look back to the time when cannibalism was customary, we have no right to say that one ought not to eat people. We have no right to say that our concepts of morals should have prevailed, for our concepts would at that time have been wrong. Cannibalism was right then; it is only in the course of time that our view of it has changed. Our sympathy must therefore lie with the cannibals, not with those who refrained from the practice! That is, of course, an extreme example, but it does illustrate the essence of Ihering's view. The important point to him was that concepts of law and morality have changed in the course of human evolution which proves that they are in a state of flux.

This view Brentano could not possibly accept. He wanted to discover a definite, absolute source of morality. In regard to truth he had produced “the evidence” that what lights up in the soul as immediate recognition is true, i.e., what is correctly judged is true. To the other question, what is good, Brentano, again after decades of struggle, found an equally abstract answer. He said: Good and bad have their source in human feelings fluctuating between love and hate. What man genuinely loves is good; i.e., what is worthy of love is good. He attempted to show instances of how human beings can love rightly. Just as man in regard to truth should judge rightly, so in regard to the good he should love rightly.

I shall not go into details; I mainly want to emphasize that Brentano, after decades of struggle, had reached an abstraction, the simple formula that good is that which is worthy of love. Instead, it has to be said that Brentano's greatness does not lie in the results he achieved. You will no doubt agree that it is a somewhat meager conclusion to say, Truth is what follows from the evidence of correct judgment; the good is what is rightly loved. These are indeed meager results, but what is outstanding, what is characteristic of Brentano, is the energy, the earnestness of his striving. In no other philosopher will you find such Aristotelean sagacity and at the same time such deep inner involvement with the argument. The meager results gain their value when one follows the struggle it cost to reach them. It is precisely his inner struggles that make Franz Brentano such an outstanding example of spiritual striving. One could mention many people, including philosophers, who have in our time tried to find answers to the questions, What is truth? What is the good? But you will find their answers, especially those given by the more popular philosophers, far more superficial than those given by Brentano. That does not alter the fact that Brentano's answers must naturally seem meager fare to those who have for years been occupied with spiritual science. However, Brentano had also to suffer the destiny of modern striving man, lack of understanding; his struggles were little understood.

A closer look at Brentano's intensive search for answers to the questions, What is true? What is good? reveals a clarity and comprehensiveness in outlook seldom found in those who refuse spiritual science. What makes him exceptional is that without spiritual science no one has come as far as he did. Nowhere will you find within the whole range of modern philosophical striving any real answers concerning what truth is or what the good is. What you will find is confusion aplenty, albeit at times interesting confusion, for example in Windelband. [ Note 7 ] Professor Windelband, who taught for years at Heidelberg and Freiburg, could discover nothing in the human soul to cause man to accept certain things as true and reject others as false. So he based truth on assent, that is, to some extent on love. If according to our judgment of something we can love it, then it is true; conversely, if we must hate it, then it is untrue. Truth and untruth contain hidden love and hate. Herbartians, too, judge things to be morally good or morally bad according to whether they please or displease, a judgment which Brentano considered to be applicable only to what is beautiful or ugly.

Thus there is plenty of confusion, and not the slightest possibility of reaching insight into the soul's essential nature. All that is left is despair, which is so often all there is left after one has studied the works of modern philosophers. Naturally they do pose questions and often believe to have come up with answers. Unfortunately that is just when things go wrong; one soon sees that the answers, whether positive or negative, are no answers at all.

What is so interesting about Brentano is that, if only he had continued a little further beyond the point he had reached, he would have entered a region where the solutions are to be found. Whoever cannot get beyond the view ordinarily held of man will not be able to answer the questions What is true? What is false? It is simply not possible, on the one hand to regard man's being as it is regarded today, and on the other to answer such questions as What is the meaning of truth in relation to man? Nor is it possible to answer the question What is the good? You will soon see why this is so. But first I must draw your attention to something in regard to which mistaken views are held both ways, that is the question concerning the beautiful.

According to Herbart and his followers, good is merely a subdivision of beauty, more particularly beauty attributed to human action. Any questions concerning what is beautiful immediately reveal it to be a very subjective issue. Nothing is more disputed than beauty; what one person finds beautiful another does not. In fact, the most curious views are voiced in quarrels over the beautiful and the ugly, over what is artistically justified and what is not. In the last resort the whole argument as to whether something is beautiful or ugly, artistic or not, rests on man's individual nature. No general law concerning beauty will ever be discovered, nor should it be; nothing would be more meaningless. One may not like a certain work of art, but there is always the possibility of entering into what the artist had in mind and thus coming to see aspects not recognized before. In this way, one may come to realize that it was lack of understanding which prevented one from recognizing its beauty. Such aesthetic judgment, such aesthetic acceptance or rejection, is really something which, though subjective, is justified.

To confirm in detail what I have just said would take too long. However, you all know that the saying “taste cannot be disputed” has a certain justification. Taste for certain things one either has or has not; either the taste has been acquired already or not yet. We may ask, why? The answer is that every time we apply an aesthetic evaluation to something we have a twofold perception. That is an important fact discovered through spiritual investigation. Whenever you are inclined to apply the criterion of beauty to something, your perception of the object is twofold. Such an object is perceived in the first place because of its influence on the physical and ether bodies. This is a current that streams, so to speak, from the beautiful object to the onlooker, affecting his physical and ether bodies regardless whether a painting, a sculpture or anything else is observed. What exists out there in the external world is experienced in the physical and ether bodies, but apart from that it is experienced also in the I and astral body. However, the latter experience does not coincide with the former; you have in fact two perceptions. An impression is made on the one hand on the physical and etheric bodies and on the other an impression is also made on the I and astral body. You therefore have a twofold perception.

Whether a person regards an object as beautiful or ugly will depend upon his ability to bring the two impressions into accord or discord. If the two experiences cannot be made to harmonize, it means that the work of art in question is not understood; in consequence, it is regarded as not beautiful. For beauty to be experienced the I and astral body on the one hand, and the physical and ether body on the other must be able to vibrate in unison, must be in agreement. An inner process must take place for beauty to be experienced; if it does not, the possibility for beauty to be experienced is not present. Just think of all the possibilities that exist, in the experience of beauty, for agreement or disagreement. So you see that to experience beauty is a very inward and subjective process.

On the other hand what is truth? Truth is also something that meets us face to face. Truth, to begin with, makes an impression on the physical and ether bodies and you, on your part, must perceive that effect on those bodies. Please note the difference: Faced with an object of beauty your perception is twofold. Beauty affects your physical and ether bodies and also your I and astral body; you must inwardly bring about harmony between the two impressions. Concerning truth the whole effect is on the physical and ether bodies and you must perceive that effect inwardly. In the case of beauty, the effect it has on the physical and ether bodies remains unconscious; you do not perceive it. On the other hand, in the case of truth, you do not bring the effect it has on the I and astral body down into consciousness; it vibrates unconsciously. What must happen in this case is that you devote yourself to the impression made on the physical and ether bodies, and find its reflection in the I and astral body. Thus, in the case of truth or reality you have the same content in the I and astral body as in the physical and ether bodies, whereas in the case of beauty you have two different contents.

Thus the question of truth is connected with man's being insofar as it consists of the lowest members, the physical and ether bodies. Through the physical body we participate only in the external material world, the world of mere appearance. Through the ether body we participate solely in what results from its harmony with the whole cosmos. Truth, reality, is anchored in the ether body, and someone who does not recognize the existence of the ether body cannot answer the question Where is truth established? All he can answer is the question Where is that established which the senses reflect of the external world; where is the world of appearance? What the senses reflect in the physical body only becomes full reality, only becomes truth, when assimilated by the ether body. Thus the question concerning truth can only be answered by someone who recognizes the total effect of external objects on man's physical and ether bodies.

If Franz Brentano wanted to answer the question What is truth? he would have been obliged to investigate the way man's being is related to the whole world through his ether body. That he could not do as he did not acknowledge its existence. All he could find was the meager answer he termed “the evidence.” To explain truth is to explain the human ether body's relation to the cosmos. We are connected with the cosmos when we express truth. That is why we must continue to experience the ether body for several days after death. If we did not we would lose the sense for the truth, for the reality of the time between death and new birth. We live on earth in order to foster our union with truth, with reality. We take our experience of truth with us, as it were, in that we live for several days after death with the great tableau of the ether body. One can arrive at an answer to the question What is truth? only by investigating the human ether body.

The other question which Franz Brentano wanted to answer was What is the good? Just as the external physical object can become truth or reality for man only if it acts on his physical and etheric bodies, so must what becomes an impulse towards good or evil influence man's I and astral body. In the I and astral body it does not as yet become formulated into concept, into mental picture; for that to happen it must be reflected in the physical and etheric bodies. We have mental pictures of good and evil only when what is formless in the I and astral body is mirrored in the physical and ether bodies. However, what expresses itself externally as good or evil stems from what occurs in the I and astral body. Someone who does not recognize the I and astral body can know nothing about where in man the impulse to good or evil is active. All he can say is that good is what is rightly loved; but love occurs in the astral body. Only by investigating what actually happens in the astral body and I is it possible to attain concrete insight into good and evil. At the present stage of evolution the I only brings to expression what lives in the astral body as instincts and emotions. As you know, the human “I” is as yet not very far in its development. The astral body is further, but man is more conscious of what occurs in his I than he is of his astral body. As a consequence man is not very conscious of moral impulses, or, put differently, he does not benefit from them unless the astral impulses enter his consciousness. As far as the man of today is concerned, the original, primordial moral impetus is situated in his astral body, just as the forces of truth are situated in his ether body. Through his astral body man is connected with the spiritual world, and in that world are the impulses of good. In the spiritual world also holds sway what for man is good and evil; but we only know its reflection in the ether and physical bodies.

So you see it is only possible to attain concepts of truth, goodness and beauty when account is taken of all the members of man's being. To attain a concept of truth the ether body must be understood. Unless one knows that in the experience of beauty the ether and astral bodies distinctively vibrate in unison — the I and physical body do too, but to a lesser degree — it cannot be understood. A proper concept of the good cannot be attained without the knowledge that it basically represents active forces in the astral body.

Thus Franz Brentano actually came as far as the portal leading to the knowledge he sought. His answers appear so meager because they can be properly understood only if they are related to insight of a higher order. When he says of truth that it must light up and become directly visible to the eye of the soul, he should have been able to say more; namely, that to perceive truth rightly one must succeed in taking hold of it independently of the physical body. The ether body must be loosened from the physical body. This is because the first clairvoyant experience is that of pure thinking. You will know that I have always upheld the view, which indeed every true scientist of the spirit must uphold, that he who grasps a pure-thought is already clairvoyant. However, man's ordinary thinking is not a pure thinking, it is filled either with mental pictures or with fantasy. Only in the ether body can a pure thought be grasped, consequently whoever does so is clairvoyant. And to understand goodness one must be aware that it is part and parcel of what lives in the human astral body and in the I.

Especially when he spoke about the origin of good, Franz Brentano had an ingenious way of pointing to significant things; for example, that Aristotle had basically said that one can lecture on goodness only to those who are already habitually good. If this were true, it would be dreadful, for whoever is already in the habit of being good does not need lectures on it. There is no need to instruct him in what he already possesses. Moreover, if those words of Aristotle's were true, it follows that the converse is true also, that those not habitually good could not be helped by hearing about it. All talk about goodness would be meaningless; attempts to establish ethics would be futile. This is also a problem to which no satisfactory solution can be found unless sought in the light of spiritual science.

In general it cannot be said that our actions spring from pure concepts and ideas. But, as those who have studied The Philosophy of Freedom will realize, only an action that springs from a pure concept, a pure idea, can be said to be a free action, a truly independent action. [ Note 8 ] Our actions are usually based on instincts, passions or emotions, only seldom if ever on pure concepts. More is said about these matters in the booklet Education of the Child in the Light of Spiritual Science. [ Note 9 ] I have also elaborated on it in other lectures.

In the first two seven-year periods of life — the first lasting up to the change of teeth, to about the seventh year, the second lasting till puberty — a human being's actions are predominantly influenced by instincts, emotions and the like. Not till the onset of puberty does he become capable of absorbing thoughts concerning good and evil. So we have to admit that Aristotle was right up to a point. He was right in the sense that the instincts towards good and evil that are in us already during the first two periods of life, up to the age of 14, tend to dominate us throughout life. We may modify them, suppress them, but they are still there for the whole of our life. The question is, Does it help that with puberty we begin to understand moral principles, and become able to rationalize our instincts? It helps in a twofold manner, and if you have a feeling and sense for these things, you will soon see how essential it is that this whole issue is understood in our time.

Consider the following example: Let us say a human being has inherited good tendencies, and up to the age of puberty he develops them into excellent and noble inclinations. He becomes what is called a good person. At the moment I do not want to go into why he becomes a good person, but to examine more external aspects. His parents we must visualize as good, kind people and so, too, his grandparents. All this has the effect that he develops tendencies that are noble and kind, and he instinctively does what is right and good. But let us now assume that he shows no sign, after having reached puberty, of wanting to rationalize his natural good instincts; he has no inclination to think about them. The reason for this we shall leave aside for the moment. So up to the age of 14 he develops good instincts but later shows no inclination to rationalize them. He has a propensity for doing good and hardly any for doing bad. If his attention is drawn to the fact that certain actions can be either good or bad he will say, It does not concern me. He is not interested in any discussions about it; he does not want to lift the issue into the sphere of the intellect. As a grown man he has children — whether the person is man or woman makes of course no difference — and the children will not inherit his good instincts if he has not thought about them. The children will soon show uncertainty in regard to their instinctive life. That is what is so significant.

Thus, such a person may get on well enough with his own instincts, but if he has never consciously concerned himself about good and evil, he will not pass on effective instincts to his children. Furthermore, already in his next life he will not bring with him any decisive instincts concerning good and evil. It is really like a plant which may be an attractive and excellent herb, but if it is prevented from flowering no further plants can arise from it. As single plant it may be useful, but if the future is to benefit from further plants, it must reach the stages of flower and fruit. Similarly a human being's instincts may, unaltered, serve him well enough in his own life, but if he leaves them at the level of mere instincts, he sins against posterity in the physical as well as spiritual sense. You will realize that these are matters of extreme importance. And, as with the other issues, only spiritual science can enlighten us about them.

In certain quarters it may well be maintained that goodness is due solely to instincts; indeed, that can even be proved. But anyone who wants to do away with the necessity for thoughtful understanding of moral issues on this basis is comparable to a farmer who says: I shall certainly cultivate my fields, but I see no point in retaining grains for next year's sowing — why not let the whole harvest be used as foodstuff? No farmer speaks like that because in this realm the link between past and future is too obvious. Unfortunately, in regard to spiritual issues, in regard to man's own evolution, people do speak like that. In this area great misconceptions continuously arise because people are unwilling to consider an issue from many aspects. They arrive at a onesided view and disregard all others. One can naturally prove that good impulses are based on instinct. That is not disputed, but there are other aspects to the matter. Impulses for the good are instincts active in the I and astral body; as such they are forces acting across from the previous life. Consequently one cannot, without spiritual knowledge, come to any insight concerning the way human lives are linked together either now or in the course of man's evolution.

If we now pass from these more elementary aspects to some on a higher level, we may consider the following: On the average, people living today are in their second incarnation since the Christian chronology began. In their first life it was sufficient if they received the Christ impulse from their immediate environment in whatever way possible. In their present, or second incarnation that is no longer enough; that is why people are gradually losing the Christ impulse. Were people now living to return in their next incarnation without having received the Christ impulse anew they would have lost it altogether. That is why it is essential that the impulse of Christ find entry into human souls in the form presented by spiritual science. Spiritual science does not have to resort to historical evidence but is able to relate the Christ impulse directly to the kinds of issues we are continually discussing in our circles. This enables it to be connected with the human soul in ways that ensure it is carried over into future ages when the souls incarnate once more. We are now too far removed from the historical event to absorb the Christ impulse the way we did in our first incarnation after the Christ event. That is why we are going not only through an external crisis, but also an inner crisis in regard to the Christ impulse. Traditions no longer suffice. People are honest who say that there is no proof of historical Christ. But spiritual knowledge enables man to discover the Christ impulse once more as a living reality in human evolution. The course of external events shows the necessity for the Christ impulse to arise anew on the foundation of spiritual science.

We have been witnessing so very many ideals on which people have built their lives for centuries suffering shipwreck in the last three years. We all suffer, especially the more we are aware of all that has been endured these last three years. If the question is asked, What has suffered the greatest shipwreck? there is only one answer: Christianity. Strange as it may seem to many, the greatest loss has been to Christianity. Wherever you look you see a denial of Christianity. Most things that are done are a direct mockery of Christianity, though the courage to admit this fact is lacking. For example, a view widely expressed today is that each nation should manage its own affairs. This is advocated by most people, in fact by the largest and most valuable part of mankind. Can that really be said to be a Christian view? I shall say nothing about its justification or otherwise, but simply whether the idea is Christian or not. And is it Christian? Most emphatically it is not. A view based on Christianity would be that nations should come to agreement through human beings' understanding of one another. Nothing could be more unchristian than what is said about the alleged freedom, the alleged independence — which in any case is unrealizable — of individual nations. Christianity means to understand people all over the earth. It means understanding even human beings who are in realms other than the earth. Yet since the Mystery of Golgotha not even people who call themselves Christian have been able to agree with one another even superficially. And that is a dreadful blow, especially in regard to feeling for and understanding of Christianity. This lack has led to grotesque incidents like the one I mentioned, of someone speaking about German religion, German piety, which has as much sense as speaking about a German sun or a German moon.

These things are in reality connected with far-reaching misconceptions about social affairs. I have spoken about the fact that nowadays no proper concept of a state exists. When people who should know discuss what a state is or should be, they speak about it as if it were an organism in which the human beings are the cells. That such comparisons can be made shows how little real understanding there is. As I have often pointed out, what is lacking, what we need more than anything else, are concepts and views that are real and concrete, concepts that penetrate to the reality of things. The chaos all about us has been caused because we live in abstractions, in concepts and views that are alien to the reality. How can it be otherwise when we are so estranged from the spiritual aspect of reality that we deny it altogether? True concepts of reality will be attained only when the spirit in all its weaving life is acknowledged.

There was something tragic in Franz Brentano's destiny right up to his death — tragic, because he did have a feeling for the direction modern man's spiritual striving should take. Yet, had he been presented with spiritual science he would have rejected it, just as he rejected the works of Plotinus as utter folly, as quite unscientific. [ Note 10 ] There are, of course, many in the same situation; their spirit's flight is inhibited through the fact that they live in physical bodies belonging to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. This provokes the crisis we must overcome. Such things do, of course, have their positive side; to overcome something is to become stronger.

Not till the concrete concepts of spiritual science are understood and applied can things be done that are necessary for a complete revision of our understanding of law and morality, of social and political matters. It is precisely spirits like Brentano that bring home the fact that the whole question of jurisprudence hangs in the air. Without knowing the super-sensible aspect of man's being, such as the nature of the astral body, it is impossible to say what law is or what morality is. That applies also to religion and politics. If wrong, unrealistic ideas are applied to external, material reality, their flaws soon become apparent. No one would tolerate bridges that collapse because the engineer based his constructions on wrong concepts. In the sphere of morality, in social or political issues wrong concepts are not spotted so easily, and when they are discovered, people do not recognize the connection. We are suffering this moment from the aftereffect of wrong ideas, but do people see the connection? They are very far from doing so. And that is the most painful aspect of witnessing these difficult times. Every moment seems wasted unless devoted to the difficulties; at the same time one comes to realize how little people are inclined nowadays to enter into the reality of the situation. However, unless one concerns oneself with the things that really matter, no remedy will be found. It is essential to recognize that there is a connection between the events taking place now and the unreal concepts and views mankind has cultivated for so long. We are living in such chaotic times because for centuries the concepts of spiritual life that were at work in social affairs have been as unrealistic as those of an engineer who builds bridges that collapse. If only people would develop a feeling for how essential it is, when dealing with social or political issues, indeed with all aspects of cultural life, to find true concepts, reality-permeated concepts! If we simply continue with the same jurisprudence, the same social sciences, the same politics, and fill human souls with the same religious views as those customary before the year 1914, then nothing significant or valuable will be achieved. Unless the approach to all these things is completely changed, it will soon be apparent that no progress is being made. What is so necessary, what must come about is the will to learn afresh, to adjust one's ideas, but that is what there is so little inclination to do.

You must regard everything I have said about Franz Brentano as an expression of my genuine admiration for this exceptional personality. Such individuals demonstrate how hard one must struggle especially when it concerns an impulse to be carried over into mankind's future. Franz Brentano is an extremely interesting personality, but he did not achieve the kind of concepts, ideas, feelings or impulses that work across into future ages. Yet it is interesting that only a few weeks before his death he is said to have given assurances that he would succeed in proving that God exists. To do so was the goal of his lifelong scientific striving. Brentano would not have succeeded, for to prove the existence of God he would have needed spiritual science.

Before the Mystery of Golgotha, before mankind's age had receded to the age of 33, it was still possible to prove that God exists. Since then mankind's age has dropped to 32, then 31, later 30 and by now to 27. Man can no longer through his ordinary powers of thinking prove that God exists; such proof can be discovered only through spiritual knowledge. Saying that spiritual science is an absolute necessity cannot be compared to a movement advocating its policies. The necessity for spiritual science is an objective fact of human evolution.

Today I wanted to draw your attention once more to the absolute necessity for spiritual science and related philosophical questions. However, it will be fruitful only if you are prepared to enter into such questions. What mankind is strongly in need of at the present time is the ability to enter into exact, clear-cut concepts and ideas. If you want to pursue the science of the spirit, anthroposophy, theosophy — call it what you will — only with the unclear, confused concepts with which so much is pursued nowadays, then you may go a long way in satisfying egoistical longings, gratifying personal wishes. You will not, however, be striving in the way the present difficult times demand. What one should strive for, especially in regard to spiritual science, is to collaborate, particularly in the spiritual sense, to bring about what mankind most sorely needs. Whenever possible turn your thoughts, as strongly as you are able, to the question: What are human beings most in need of, what are the thoughts that ought to hold sway among men to bring about improvement and end the chaos? Do not say that others, better qualified, will do that. The best qualified are those who stand on the firm foundation of the science of the spirit. What must occupy us most of all is how conditions can be brought about so that human beings can live together in a civilized manner.

We shall discuss these things further next time.

The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com