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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

On-line since: 6th February, 2006

Preface to the Revised Edition, 1918


Everything to be discussed in this book is oriented toward two root questions of human soul life. One question is whether a possibility exists of viewing the being of man in such a way that this view proves to be a support for everything else which, through experience and science, approaches him but which he feels cannot support itself and can be driven by doubt and critical judgment into the realm of uncertainty. The other question is this: Is man, as a being who wants and wills, justified in considering himself to be free, or is this inner freedom a mere illusion that arises in him because he does not see the threads of necessity upon which his willing depends just as much as any happening in nature? No artificial spinning out of thoughts calls forth this question. It comes before the soul quite naturally in a particular disposition of the soul. And one can feel that the soul would lack something of what it should be if it never once saw itself placed, with a greatest possible earnestness in questioning, before the two possibilities: freedom or necessity of the will. It is to be shown in this book that the soul-experiences which the human being has to undergo through the second question depend upon which point of view he is able to take with regard to the first. The attempt is made to show that there is a view of the being of man which can support his other knowledge; and furthermore, to indicate with this view a full justification is won for the idea of the freedom of the will, if only the soul region is first found in which free willing can unfold itself.

The view under discussion here with respect to both these questions presents itself as one which, once gained, can itself become a part of active soul life. A theoretical answer is not given which, once acquired, merely carries with it a conviction preserved by memory. For the way of picturing things which underlies this book, such an answer would be only a seeming one. No such fixed and final answer is given, but rather a region of experience of the soul is indicated, in which, through the inner activity of the soul itself, the question is answered anew in a living way at any moment that the human being needs it. For someone who has once found the region of the soul in which these questions evolve, the real view of this region gives just what he needs for both these riddles of life; then, with what he has achieved, he can travel on into the distances and depths of this enigmatical life as his need and destiny move him. — With this, a knowledge seems to be indicated which, through its own life and through the relatedness of its own life to the whole human soul life, proves its justification and worth.

This is how I thought about the content of this book as I wrote it down twenty-five years ago. Today also I must write such sentences when I want to characterize the thoughts toward which this book aims. I limited myself as I wrote at that time, not to say more than what is connected in the closest sense to the two root questions characterized above. If someone should be surprised about the fact that he does not yet find in this book any allusion to the region of the world of spiritual experience that is described by me in later books, I would ask him to bear in mind that at the time I did not want, in fact, to give a description of the results of spiritual research, but wanted rather first to build the foundation upon which such results can rest. Philosophy of Spiritual Activity contains no such specialized results; but what it does contain is indispensable, in my opinion, to anyone who is striving for certainty in such knowledge. What is said in the book can also be acceptable to those who, for one or another reason, which is valid for them, want to have nothing to do with the results of my spiritual-scientific research. But what is attempted here can also be of importance for a person who can regard these spiritual-scientific results as something to which he is drawn. It is this: to show how an unbiased consideration, extending solely to these two questions which lay the foundation for all knowing activity, leads to the view that the human being lives in the midst of a true spiritual world. What is striven for in this book is to justify a knowledge of the spiritual realm before entry into spiritual experience. And this justification is undertaken in such a way that one needs nowhere at all in these expositions to cast a sidelong glance at the experiences put forward by me later, in order to find what is said here acceptable, if one can or wants to enter into the nature of these expositions themselves.

So this book seems to me on the one hand then to occupy a position completely separate from my actual spiritual-scientific writings, and yet on the other hand to be most closely bound up with them also. All this has moved me now, after twenty-five years, to republish the content of the book in a virtually unchanged form. I have only made some additions to a number of chapters. The experiences I have had with people's misconceptions about what I had written made such detailed amplifications seem necessary to me. I have made only changes where what I wanted to say a quarter of a century ago seems to me today to be awkwardly expressed. (Only someone with ill will could possibly be moved by these changes to say that I have changed my basic conviction.)

The book has been out of print for many years already. Although it seems to me, as is apparent from what has just been said, that what I expressed twenty-five years ago about the two questions should still be expressed in the same way today, I hesitated for a long to time to prepare this new edition. I asked myself again and again whether, in this or that passage, I did not have to come to terms with the numerous philosophical views that have come to light since the appearance of the first edition. The demands of my purely spiritual-scientific research lately have prevented me from doing this in the way I would want. But now, after the most thorough possible survey of current philosophical work, I have convinced myself that, as tempting as such a task would be in itself, it is not something to be taken up on the context of what is meant to be said through my book. What seemed to me necessary to be said about more recent philosophical directions from the point of view taken in Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, may be found in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy.

April 1918

Rudolf Steiner




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