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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

On-line since: 6th February, 2006




The Factors of Life

Let us recapitulate what we have won in the preceding chapters. The world approaches man as a multiplicity, as a sum of single things. One of these single things, a being among beings, is he himself. We designate this form of the world as simply given, and insofar as we do not develop this form through conscious activity, but rather find it before us, we call this perception. Within the world of perception, we perceive our own self. This self-perception would simply remain there as one perception among the many others, if there did not arise from the midst of this self-perception something which proves itself able to connect all perceptions, and therefore also the sum total of all other perceptions, with that of our self. This something which arises is no longer mere perception; it is also not, like perceptions, simply found before us. It is brought forth through our activity. It seems at first to be bound to what we perceive as our self. In its inner significance, however, it reaches out beyond the self. To the single perceptions it adds ideal characterizations which, however, relate to one another, which are founded in one whole. It characterizes ideally what is won through self-perception in the same way as all other perceptions, and places it as subject or “I” over against the objects. This something is thinking, and the ideal characterizations are concepts and ideas. Thinking manifests itself therefore at first in the perception of the self; it is, however, not merely subjective; for the self first designates itself as subject with the help of thinking. This relationship to itself in thinking is a life characteristic of our personality. Through it we lead a purely ideal existence. We feel ourselves through it to be thinking beings. This life characteristic would remain a purely conception (logical) one, if no other characteristics of our self supervened. We would then be beings whose life would be limited to the establishment of purely ideal relationships among our perceptions themselves, and between them and ourselves. If one calls this establishing of such a thought situation “cognizing,” and the condition of our self attained through it “knowing,” then, if the above supposition applies, we would have no regard ourselves as merely cognizing or knowing beings.

This presupposition, however, does not apply. We do not merely relate our perceptions to ourselves ideally, through the concept, but also through feeling, as we have seen. We are therefore not beings with a merely conceptual content to our lives. The naive realist, in fact, sees in the life of feeling a life of the personality more real than in the purely ideal element of knowing. And from his standpoint he is entirely right when he explains the matter to himself in this way. Feeling, from the subjective side, is at first exactly the same as what perception is from the objective side. According to the basic principle of naive realism that everything is real that can be perceived: feeling is therefore the guarantee of the reality of one's own personality The monism presented here must, however, confer upon feeling the same complement that it considers necessary for any perception, if perception is to represent full reality. For this monism, feeling is something real but incomplete which, in the first form in which it is given to us, does not yet contain its second factor: the concept or idea. Therefore feeling also arises everywhere in life, as perceiving does, before the activity of knowing. We feel ourselves at first as existing entities; and only in the course of gradual development do we struggle through to the point where, within our own dimly felt existence, the concept of our self arises for us. What for us only emerges later is, however, inseparably bound up with our feeling from the beginning. Because of this fact the naive person falls into the belief that in feeling, existence presents itself to him directly; in knowing, only indirectly. The cultivation of his feeling life will therefore seem to him more important than anything else. He will believe that he has grasped the connection of things only when he has taken it up into his feeling. He seeks to make not knowing, but rather feeling, into his means of knowledge. Since feeling is something altogether individual, something equivalent to perception, the philosopher of feeling makes a principle that has significance only within his personality into a world principle. He seeks to permeate the whole world with his own self. What the monism meant here strives to grasp with the concept, this the philosopher of feeling seeks to attain with his feeling, and sees his way of being with objects as the more direct one.

The tendency characterized here as the philosophy of feeling is often termed mysticism. The error of a mystical way of viewing things based on feeling alone consists in the fact that it wants to experience what it should know, that it wants to transform something individual, feeling, into something universal.

Feeling is a purely individual act, the relating of the outer world to our subject, insofar as this relationship finds its expression in a merely subjective experiencing.

There is still another manifestation of the human personality. The “I” lives along, through its thinking, with the general life of the world; through thinking, in a purely ideal (conceptual) way, it relates its perceptions to itself, and itself to its perceptions. In feeling, the “I” experiences a relationship of the object to itself as subject; in willing, the opposite is the case. In willing we likewise have a perception before us, namely that of the individual relationship of our self to what is objective. Whatever in my willing is not a purely ideal factor is just as much a mere object of perception as is the case with any thing in the outer world.

In spite of this, naive realism will believe that here again it has before itself a far more real existence than can be attained through thinking. It will see in willing an element within which it becomes directly conscious of a happening, of bringing something about, in contrast to thinking, which first grasps the happening in concepts. What the “I” accomplishes through this willing represents, for this way of viewing things, a process which is directly experienced. In willing, the adherent of this philosophy believes that he has really grasped world happening by one tip. While he can follow other happenings only through perception from outside, he believes that in his willing he experiences a real happening quite directly. The form of existence in which his will appears to him within the self becomes for him a real principle of reality. His own willing appears to him as a specific case of universal world happening; and this latter appears, therefore, as universal willing. Will becomes the world principle just as, in the mysticism of feeling, feeling becomes the knowledge principle. This way of viewing things is philosophy of will (thelism). Something which can only be experienced individually is made by this philosophy into the factor constitutive of the world.

Just as little as mysticism of feeling can be called science, can philosophy of will be so called. For both assert that they cannot make do with a conceptual penetration of the world. Both demand, besides the ideal principle of existence, a real principle as well. And this with a certain justification. But since we have, for this so-called real principle, only our perception as a means of grasping it, so this assertion of the mysticism of feeling and of the philosophy of will is identical with the view that we have two sources of knowledge: that of thinking and that of perceiving; and this latter presents itself in feeling and will as individual experience. Since what flows from the one source, the experiences, cannot be taken up by these world views directly into what flows from the other source, that of thinking, these two ways of knowledge, perceiving and thinking, continue to exist side by side without any higher mediation. Besides the ideal principle attainable through knowing, there is supposedly still a real principle of the world in addition, which is experienceable but not to be grasped in thinking. In other words: mysticism of feeling and philosophy of will are naive realism, because they subscribe to the proposition that what is directly perceived is real. Only, with respect to original naive realism, they commit in addition the inconsistency of making one particular form of perception (feeling, or willing as the case may be) into the only means of knowing existence, which they can do, after all, only if they subscribe in general to the basic proposition that what is perceived is real. Therefore they would also have to ascribe to outer perception an equal cognitive value.

Philosophy of will becomes metaphysical realism when it also transfers will into those spheres of existence in which — unlike in one's own subject — a direct experience of will is not possible. It assumes hypothetically a principle outside the subject, for which subjective experience is the sole criterion of reality. As metaphysical realism, the philosophy of will falls under the critique, presented in the following chapter, which overcomes and acknowledges the contradictory factor in any kind of metaphysical realm, which is that will is a universal world happening only insofar as it relates itself ideally to the rest of the world.

Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918. The difficulty in grasping thinking in its essential being by observing it lies in the fact that this essential being has all too easily slipped away already from the observing soul when the soul wants to bring this being into its line of vision. There then remains for the soul only the dead abstractness, the corpse of living thinking. If one looks only upon this abstractness, one can easily find oneself impelled, in the face of it, to enter into the “life-filled” element of the mysticism of feeling or else of metaphysics of the will. One can find it strange that someone should want to grasp, in “mere thought,” the essential being of reality. But whoever brings himself to the point of truly having life in his thinking will attain the insight that neither weaving in mere feelings nor looking upon the will element can even be compared to the inner wealth and to the peaceful, self-sustaining, yet inwardly moving experience within this life of thinking, let alone that these two could be ranked above it. It is precisely due to this wealth, to this inner fullness of experience, that thinking's counterpart in our usual state of soul appears dead, abstract. No other human soul activity is so easy to misapprehend as thinking. Willing, feeling: they warm the human soul, even in one's reliving of the original experiences. Thinking all too easily leaves one cold in this reliving; it seems to dry out one's soul life. But this is only the strongly manifesting shadow of thinking's reality — a reality which is woven through with light, and which delves down warmly into the phenomena of the world. This delving down occurs through a power that flows within the thinking activity itself, which is the power of love in spiritual form. One may not raise the objection that whoever, in this way, sees love within active thinking is transferring a feeling, love, into it. For this objection is in truth a confirmation of what is being maintained here. Whoever turns, namely to thinking in its essential being, will find in it both feeling and will, and these also in the depths of their reality; whoever turns away from thinking and toward “mere” feeling and willing only, will lose their true reality. Whoever wants to experience intuitively within thinking is also doing justice to experience of a feeling and will nature; the mysticism of feeling and the metaphysics of will, however, cannot do justice to the intuitive thinking penetration of existence. These last can all too easily come to the opinion that they stand within what is real, but that the intuitively thinking person, unfeeling and estranged from reality, forms with his “abstract thoughts” a shadowy, cold world picture.

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