The Relationship between Goethe and Hegel
Summary of a Lecture
1 September 1921
At the same time that the
Philosophy of Freedom
appeared there also came out Haeckel's
Monism as a Link between Religion and Science.
saw that here was a sure ground from whence the investigator can penetrate
into the spiritual worlds. All investigation must be formed on monistic
lines. But what is to be understood by monism? How can nature and spirit
be grasped in a monistic way? Upon these questions Haeckel, the great
experimentalist, was quite elementary. From Goethe we can get a better
answer. He shows that nature must be understood poetically, for art
is the revealer of nature's secrets. The world is not fitted to
surrender its nature to merely logical thinking.
It was in his investigation
of the plant world that Goethe was especially great. One can understand
why this was so if one notes that Goethe, in a certain sense, was on
the road to becoming a sculptor. The leaning towards sculpture, existing
in the depths of his nature, made him a modeller in his working out
Metamorphosis of the Plant.
What is plastic in plant
formation he grasped through this unexpressed talent for sculpture.
One cannot look plastically upon animal and human form in the same way
that one can regard the plant world. This comes to expression in the
fact that we are repelled by plastic reproductions of plants, which
is not the case in regard to human and animal forms. The plant is really
a work of art in Nature, so that one is not able to transcend its natural
form, and on this account the plant does not allow itself to be reproduced
In Goethe, however, there
lived a restrained, hidden plastic faculty which did not culminate in
him in sculpture, but which appears in his dramas. He could not give
it shape in clay, but in nature he finds something which satisfies his
instinct for what is plastic and this is the world of plants. In inorganic
nature we measure, count and weigh, and this breaks up form. Goethe
saw the plant as a unity. He saw this unity as that which Anthroposophy
calls the plant's etheric body. We find this etheric also in men
and animals and the sculptor aims at bringing it to expression in the
sculptured form. Yet someone who, like Goethe, holds back his talent
in regard to the plastic art, can through this restraint discover certain
secrets in nature. In this way Goethe arrived at his doctrine of the
metamorphosis of plants.
In a similar, if in a more
naive, way did Haeckel look upon the animal world. In him also existed
‘imaginative thinking,’ and this he applied to animals.
He spoke of the ‘soul’ in the animal world, and by this
he meant that whoever during many years had watched the lower animals
must perceive this ‘germ soul.’ There is consequently a
certain relationship between the outlook of Haeckel upon animals (soul)
and the outlook of Goethe upon plants (form).
Now it is particularly
interesting to notice that Haeckel also, in a dilettante way, was
something of a painter, and this proclivity gave him an understanding
for what the animal world conjures to the surface as colour. He has
produced the book
Nature's Art Forms.
He lived with colour as Goethe lived with form. What belongs to animals
has a far more intimate connection with colour than what is expressed in
form in the plant world. The colour of flowers belongs to what is outer,
to sun and air, but with animals colour is bound up with what is of the
soul, of the instincts, and so on. In Anthroposophy this is named the
‘astral body.’ Haeckel's understanding of the animal kingdom
is thus connected with his latent talent for painting. He did not conduct
his studies in any outward way but, like Goethe, from a latent feeling
for art. Nietzsche could not press on to all this for lack of nature
knowledge, and so he could not have the right relation to his epoch.
Anthroposophy maintains a
due regard to this nature knowledge, and, when anything is spoken from
out the springs of Spiritual Science, it must always be referred to
that other fount. Agnostic methods of thinking must be put aside in
all research, but what Rudolf Steiner induces is a closer agreement
with Haeckel in so far as he was the first to create a philosophy adapted
to our period. What Goethe accomplished for botany and Haeckel for zoology,
Rudolf Steiner achieves for anthropology.