Course II - Lecture III
The Epistemological Basis
of Theosophy III
March 16, 1904
In the preceding talks I have tried to outline the basic thoughts
of the present theory of knowledge, as it is done at our universities, and as
it is also done by those philosophers and thinking researchers who lean upon
Schopenhauer, Kant and similar great German thinkers. I tried to show at the
same time how the whole scientific development of the 19th century, whether
the physical one, the physiological one and also the psychological one, accepted
Kant’s epistemology or those forms of it which Schopenhauer or Eduard
von Hartmann created. I have shown with it that basically that kind of epistemology
which we can call illusionism which turns us completely to our own consciousness
and makes the whole world a world of ideas seems to be the only right one. This
seems to be so natural that one is regarded as philosophically under-age today,
if one doubts the sentence: the world is my idea.
You may allow me now to speak about
the spiritual, because I have brought forward almost all reasons to you which
led to this illusionistic epistemology. I have shown the reasons which lead
to the conclusion: the world is our idea; I have shown how everything that surrounds
us is destroyed by the sensory-physiological approach, whether the world of
temperature sensations, the sensations of touch et cetera. This percepts, ideas
and concepts appear finally as being born by the human soul, as a self-product
of the human being. The knowledge which tries to give reasons for this in all
directions corresponds to Schopenhauer’s doctrine: the world is our idea
— according to which there is no sky, but only an eye which sees it, no
tones, but only an ear which hears them. Perhaps, you could believe that I wanted
to disprove these different epistemological points of view. I have shown what
they lead to, but do not understand this as a disproof of the different points
of view. The theosophist knows no disproof. He does not position himself only
on one point of view in philosophy. Those who have dedicated themselves to a
philosophical system believe that this is the absolutely right one. Thus we
can see fighting Schopenhauer, Hartmann, the Hegelians and the Kantians from
this point of view. However, this can never be the point of view of the theosophist.
The theosophist sees it differently. On the whole, there is for him also no
quarrel of the different religious systems, because he realises that a core
of truth forms the basis of each of them and that the quarrel of the Buddhists,
the Muslims and the Christians is not justified. The theosophist also knows
that in every philosophical system a core of knowledge is that in every system,
so to speak, a level of human knowledge is hidden.
It cannot be a matter of disproving
Kant or Schopenhauer. Who strives fairly can be mistaken, but the next best
cannot simply come to disprove them. It must be clear to us that all these spirits
strove for truth from their point of view, and that we find just the core of
truth in the different philosophical systems. That is why it cannot be a matter
for us who is right or who is wrong. Who positions himself firmly on his own
point of view and then compares the points of view with each other and says
that he can accept only this or that, is in terms of philosophical knowledge
on the same point of view as a stamp collector. The loftiest recogniser has
not even ascended the highest summit of insight. Each of us is on the ladder
of development. Even the loftiest human being cannot recognise anything absolute
of truth, of the world spirit. If we have climbed up a higher level of knowledge,
we also have a relative judgment only which always increases, if we have climbed
up an even higher summit.
If we have understood the foundations
of the theosophical system, it appears to us as arrogance to speak about a philosopher
if we cannot position ourselves for a test on his point of view, so that we
can also prove the truth of his thoughts like he may do this himself. One can
always be mistaken, but one may not position himself sophistically on the point
of view that it is impossible to have an overview of another standpoint. I want
to deliver an argument to you from the German spiritual development that it
is possible to have an overview in such a way as I have characterised it.
In the sixties, Darwinism dawned,
and it was immediately interpreted materialistically. The materialistic interpretation
is an one-sidedness. But those who interpreted in such a way regarded themselves
as infallible; the materialists of the sixties regarded themselves as infallible
in their conclusions. Then The Philosophy of the Unconscious by Eduard
von Hartmann appeared; I do not want to defend it. May it have its one-sidedness;
nevertheless, I acknowledge that this point of view is far higher than that
of Vogt, Haeckel and Büchner. Hence, the materialists regarded it as warmed
up Schopenhauerianism. Then a new book appeared that disproved the Philosophy
of the Unconscious with striking reasons. One believed that it could only
be a scientist. “He should unveil his name,” Haeckel wrote, “and
we call him one of ours.” Then the second edition appeared, and the author
was called: Eduard von Hartmann himself. He showed that he could completely
position himself on the standpoint of the naturalists. If he had set his name
on the first edition, the writing would have fallen short of its goal. You see
that the advanced human being can also position himself on the subordinated
point of view and can present everything that is to be presented against the
higher point of view. Nobody is allowed to dare, especially not from the theosophical
point of view, to speak about a philosophical system if he is not aware to have
understood this philosophical system from within.
That is why it does not concern
the disproof of Kantianism and Schopenhauerianism. We must overcome these childhood
illnesses of disproving. We have to show how they themselves lead beyond themselves
if we look for their true core.
That is why we position ourselves
again for a test on the standpoint of the subjectivist epistemology which leads
to the principle: the world is my idea. — It wants to overcome the naive
realism according to which that which stands before me is the true, while the
epistemologists have found that everything that surrounds me is nothing but
If one had to stop at this standpoint
of epistemology, any basis for a theosophical construction of a view of life
would be in vain. We know that our knowledge of the world is not only our ideas.
If they were only subjective creations of our egos, we could not come beyond
them. We could not recognise the true value of anything. We would never be able
to consider the things as essential in the theosophical world view, but only
as subjective creations of our egos. Thereby we would always be rejected to
our egos. We could say that tidings of any higher world came to us if we get
that which we only have from the depth of our conceptual life for ourselves,
however, only if we have the manifestations of a truthful and real world in
our subjective world. On that is based what we have to imagine as theosophy.
Hence, theosophy can never be content with the sentence: the world is my idea.
We can see that Schopenhauer goes
beyond the sentence: the world is my idea. There is still the other sentence
of Schopenhauer which should complete the first one: The world is will. —
Schopenhauer gets to it in no other way as the theosophist. He says: everything
that is in the starry heaven is only my idea, but I do not recognise my own
existence as an idea. I act, I will; this is a strength in the world in which
I am and in myself, so that I know from myself what forms the basis of my idea.
May be everything else that surrounds me an idea, I myself is my will. —
Schopenhauer tried that way to gain the firm point which he could reach never
actually. For this sentence is a self-annihilating sentence which has only to
be thought logically through to the end to find out that it is a reductio ad
absurdum as the mathematician calls it.
No little stone can be taken out
of the construction which Schopenhauer put up. If we have sensations of touch,
of temperature, we know that we have only ideas of our ego. Let us be consistent.
How do we recognise ourselves? We see no real colour, but we know only that
an eye is there which sees colour. Why do we know, however, that an eye sees
that a hand is there which feels? Only because we perceive them as we perceive
any other thing, a sensory impression if we want to recognise the outside world.
Our self-knowledge is also tied to the same laws and rules to which the law
of the outside world is tied.
As true as my world is my idea,
it must be true that I myself am my idea with everything that is in me. Thus
we are able to consider the entire philosophy of Schopenhauer, everything that
is thought about the whole subjective and objective world as nothing but ideas.
Be clear to yourselves about the fact that this can only be the true and real
consequence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Then, however, he has also to
admit that everything that he has ascertained about himself is only his idea.
So we have mattered what the mathematician calls a reductio ad absurdum, like
Baron Münchhausen pulled himself out of the swamp by his own mop of hair.
We completely float in the air. We do not have any firm point. We have destroyed
the naive realism; however, have shown at the same time that this leads us to
nihilism. One has to find another point if this conclusion leads ad absurdum.
Schopenhauer did this himself. He
said: if I want to come to the real, I am not allowed to stop at the idea, but
I must progress to the will. Schopenhauer became a realist that way, admittedly,
unlike Herbart. Herbart says: we have to look for the real
in the unopposed. — That is why he put up many realities. Schopenhauer
also puts up such realities.
Now it is true, really true that
the world which surrounds me is appearance. But like the smoke points to fire,
the appearance points to its being. Herbart tries to solve the problem monadologically,
as well as Leibniz did; however, with Herbart it is coloured by Kantianism.
Leibniz lived before Kant; he was still free of Kantian influence. Schopenhauer
positions himself on the standpoint: I myself know myself as a willing one.
This will of existence guarantees my being to me. I am will, and I manifest
myself in the world as an idea. As well as I am will and manifest myself, also
the remaining things are of the same kind, and they manifest themselves in the
outside. As the ego is in me, the will also is in me, and in the outer things
is the will of these things. — Thus Schopenhauer showed the way to self-knowledge,
and he admitted implicitly that one can only recognise the things really if
one is in their inside.
Indeed, if the naive realism is
right that the things are outside us, have nothing to do with our egos and we
are informed only by our ideas about the things outside us, if their being is
outside us, then one cannot escape Schopenhauerianism at all. Then least of
all the second part can be justified: the world is my will.
You will immediately understand
this. Forming an idea can be compared with a seal and its impression. The “thing-in-itself”
is like the seal, the idea is like the impression of the seal. Everything of
the seal remains outside the substance which takes up the seal impression. The
impression, the idea is quite subjective. I have nothing of the “thing-in-itself”
in myself, as well as the seal itself never becomes part of the substance of
the seal impression. That is the basic concept of the subjectivist view. Schopenhauer,
however, says: I can only recognise a thing while I am inside it.
says this also who hints at the teaching of reincarnation even if he is not
a theosophist. But his way of thinking has led Julius Baumann to apply to epistemology.
Even if this form of thinking got stuck in the elementary, he is on the way.
There is no other possibility to
recognise a thing than to creep into it. This is not possible as long as we
say that the thing is outside us and we know of it; then nothing can come into
us. If we were able to enter the thing itself, we could recognise the being
of the thing. This appears to a modern epistemologist to be the most absurd
thought. But it seems only in such a way. Indeed, under the preconditions of
the western epistemology it appears in such a way. But it did not always appear
in such a way, above all not to those whose mind was not clouded by the principles
of this epistemology.
However, one thing could be possible:
perhaps, we have never come out of the things actually. Perhaps, we have never
built up that strict dividing wall; we have burst that chasm which should separate
us strictly from the things, according to Kant. Then the thought gets closer
to us that we can be in the things. And this is the basic idea of theosophy.
It is in such a way that our ego does not belong to us, is not enclosed in the
narrow building as our organisation appears to us, but the single human being
is only an appearance of the divine being of the world. It is as it were only
a reflection, an outflow, a spark of the all-embracing ego. This is a viewpoint
which had the mastery over the minds for centuries, before there was Kant’s
philosophy. As far as that is concerned, the greatest spirits have never thought
Johannes Kepler disclosed the construction
of the planetary system to us and formed the idea that the planets circle in
elliptical orbits round the sun. This is a thought which gives us insight in
the being of the universe. Now I would like to read up his words to you, so
that you see how he felt: “Several years ago the first aurora appeared
to me, several weeks ago it became light to me and since some hours the sun
shines. I wrote a book. Those who read the book and understand it are welcome
to me, the others — I am not interested in them ...” A thought which
waited for a long time, until it could light up in the head of a human being
again. This is spoken out of the knowledge that that which is in our mind and
which we recognise of the world is the same that produced the world; that the
planets describe elliptical orbits not by chance but that they must be brought
in by the creative spirit; that we are not loafers who only think about the
universe, but that the contents of our mind is creative outdoors. That is why
Kepler was convinced that he was only the human scene for that basic idea of
the cosmic universe on which this thought, living in the cosmos and flowing
through it, came to the fore to be recognised again.
Kepler would never have thought
to say that that his knowledge of the universe was only his idea, but he would
say: what I had recognised gives me information about that which is real outdoors
in space. — If one had said to Kepler that this was only an idea but not
objective outside, he would have said: do you think really that that which gives
me information about other things exists only if I accept the information? —
Then somebody who stands on the ground of subjectivist epistemology would have
to say to himself if he stands before a telephone: the gentleman in Hamburg
who calls me now is only my idea; I perceive him only as my idea.
This train of thought induces us
to ask: how is it possible to really acknowledge the principle that we recognise
the being only if we ourselves enter the being of the things if we can identify
ourselves with the being? This is the epistemology of those who want to have
a deeper and clearer standpoint compared with the modern view.
a good book: The Atomism of the Will. He is a serious thinker and has serious
thoughts. They are written in Schopenhauer’s sense, but they are thoughts
which try to come to the being of the things. Hamerling says: one thing is absolutely
certain: nobody wants to deny his own existence, nobody will admit that he himself
has only an imagined being that his being stops if he does no longer think.
Also Schiller says once: yes, Descartes states: I think, therefore I am. But
I have often not thought and, nevertheless, I have been there.
Hamerling tries to recover a similar
attitude as Schopenhauer: I have also to award a feeling of existence to all
other beings. The ego and the atoms are for him the antipodes. — Everything
is always a little bit scanty, also Hamerling’s book. To escape from illusionism,
he tries to explain this to himself in such a way that he says: we can only
realise that being within which we are. — With all astuteness Hamerling
tries to explain this. Fechner tries to replace the feeling
of existence generally with feeling. Herbart — he said — would have
done the mistake that he wants to come to reality by mere thinking. However,
in doing so we do not come to the ego. Rather the ego rises out of the subsoil
of feeling. He could have written like Schopenhauer: the world as feeling and
idea. — Hamerling could have written: the world as atom, will and idea.
— And Frohschammer wrote about imagination as the factor
of world creation, guaranteeing the real being, like Schopenhauer about the
will. He tried to show the whole nature outdoors as a product of imagination.
— They all try to come out of the absurdity of Kant’s philosophy.
A subtle train of thought is now
necessary, but everybody must have done it who wants to join in the discussion:
what induces us generally to put up any sentence about our knowledge? Why do
we feel called to say that the world is our idea or imagination or anything
like that? Something must give us the possibility and ability to correlate us,
our cognitive faculties and our powers of imagination with the world.
Imagine the contrast of the ego
and the remaining world, that is, you should say how you recognise your ego
and the remaining world. Take two contrasts: an accuser and a defender of a
criminal. The one judges from the one, the other from the other point of view.
It is not their task to be fully objective. Only the judge objectively standing
above them can deliver a judgment. Imagine which arguments they put forward
and also the judge who weighs both views objectively. Never can a single man
solely decide, and just as little the ego only can decide which relation it
has to the world. The single ego is subjective, it could never decide alone
on its relation to the world. A theory of knowledge would never be possible
if only the ego were on one side and the world on the other side. I have to
gain an objective point of view in my thinking and exceed myself and the world
that way. If I am completely within my thinking, then it is impossible as it
is impossible for the thinking of the adherents of Kant and Schopenhauer. Imagine
Kant sitting at his desk and judging only from himself. It is not possible to
get an objective judgment this way. Only under one precondition it is possible
that I can appoint my thinking as judge of myself and the world as it were:
if it is anything that exceeds me.
Now the faintest self-contemplation
already shows you that your thinking is something that exceeds you. It is not
true that it is only an appearance, that two times two are four, and that any
truth which appears with an absolute validity has validity only in your consciousness.
You recognise that their objectiveness towers above their subjective validity,
you acknowledge its validity. It has nothing to do with your ego that two times
two are four. Nothing in the field of wisdom deals with your egos. Because you
can rise up to an objective self-contained thinking, you can also judge objectively
about the world. All thinkers already presuppose this sentence; otherwise they
could not sit down at all and ponder over the world. If there were only two
thoughts, namely: I am in the world, and: the world is in me, one could justify
neither Kant’s nor Schopenhauer’s views. You have to admit that
you are authorised to judge about truth. For within our thinking is something
that is above our ego. Any philosopher admitted this who is not inhibited by
Kantianism who impartially thinks monadologically. All philosophers who thought
the true realities of the world in this sense thought them as spiritual. They
thought them as something spiritual. If we go back to Giordano Bruno, to Leibniz,
to those who have taken care to add qualities to the realities, you find out
that they have thought monadologically that they have considered the thinking
as coming from the primary source, from the spirit. If, however, spirit is that
which constitutes the being of the things, then compared with this view Kant’s
and Schopenhauer’s epistemologies are on the standpoint of naive realism.
I refer to my metaphor. Assume that
nothing of the substance of the seal is transferred to the impression, but it
would depend on the writing, on your name which is on the seal, on the spirit.
Then you can say that nothing of the substance is transferred, but your name
which is on the seal would be transferred; it is transferred from the world
of the spirit. It is transferred in spite of all dividing walls which we have
built up. Then one does not need to deny that Schopenhauer's epistemology is
partly correct, but we go beyond the dividing walls. Keep all those materialistic
considerations! Admit that nothing of the substance of the seal is transferred
to the seal impression, but that the spirit is transferred, for it penetrates
us in its true figure because we have our origin in it in truth. Because we
are sparks of this world spirit, we live in it and recognise it again. We know
precisely if the world spirit knocks at our eye, at our ear that it is not only
our subjective feeling, but we look for something that is there outdoors. Thus
we realise that the spirit looks for the mediators outside whom we have declared
as the mediators of spirit. If it is certain that the world is spirit in its
being, we can fully position ourselves on the standpoint which Kant and Schopenhauer
take. All that is correct, but it does not go far enough. It is easy to adapt
to Kant and Schopenhauer. But one has to get beyond them, because it is correct
that the spirit lives in all things and that it turns to us giving its being.
It really proves true in the theosophical sense what Baumann demands for a real
knowledge of the things, namely we have to be in the being of the things. We
are also inside the world spirit and are only its beings.
Today I have dressed the basic idea
of this philosophy in images. You find a philosophical treatise on that in my
Philosophy of Freedom, and you find the opposing points of view there,
too. I have reported that Schopenhauer, Kant, the Neo-Kantians stand on the
point of view that we do not get beyond the idea, and then that they stopped
halfway overcoming the naive realism. But, because they start from the “thing-in-itself”
and show that one cannot get out, they still get stuck in the naive realism,
because they look for truth in the material. As well as all the modern epistemologists,
even if they still believe to have got beyond the naive realism, stand with
one leg on the naive realism because they do not give up founding everything
on the material.
Theosophy only can lead us to the
gate of knowledge. If we want to find the object of knowledge, it enables us
to say that the true being of the world is spirit. From the moment when we come
to this gate the further way is the spirit. The spirit forms the basis of the
I wanted to explain this once. I
could do it only briefly and sketchy. The human being is indeed a seal impression
of the world. However, his being is not in the material. We can recognise this
being at any moment, because it is in the spirit. The spirit flows into the
material, into us, like the name which is on the seal is transferred to the
I believe to have shown that somebody
can also position himself on the standpoint of the academic philosophy but have
to understand it better than the academic philosophers themselves. Then everybody
will also find the way to theosophy, even if he stands on an opposing point
of view. You can stand on any point of view if you do not have a closed mind.
From any philosophy you are able to find the way to theosophy.
You learn to overcome Schopenhauer
best of all if you get to know him thoroughly. Most people know him only a little.
But you have also to go into the being of the things, position yourself on his
point of view. There are twelve volumes of Schopenhauer’s works which
I published text-critically. So I have concerned myself with Schopenhauer for
several years. That is why I believe to know something about him. But if you
recognise and understand him really, you reach the theosophical point of view.
Not through half knowledge, because this leads away from theosophy. A half of
Western knowledge leads away from theosophy at first, leads to subjectivism,
to idealism et cetera. However, let this become the whole knowledge, and then
the West will also find the way to theosophy.
I have already named Julius Baumann.
He knows what real knowledge is even if he has not still come to the great thing
of theosophy. I think to have faintly shown it in outlines. For the real knowledge
is contradictory to theosophy by no means. It is just that view which brings
peace and tolerance everywhere. All these truths which I have given are steps
to the real truth. Kant has moved some way, also Schopenhauer. The one more,
the other less. They are on the way. However, it always concerns how far they
have gone this way. Theosophy does also not dare to say that it is on the summit.
The right way is the way itself, above all that which was inscribed on the Greek
temples: recognise yourself (gnothi s’auton). We are one being with the
world spirit. As well as we recognise our own being, we recognise the being
of the universal spirit. “Rise of our spirit to the all-embracing spirit,”
that is theosophy.
Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841), German philosopher, psychologist,
founder of academic pedagogy
Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), German mathematician and philosopher
Julius Baumann (1837–1916), German philosopher,
professor in Göttingen
Hamerling (1830–1889), Austrian poet
Theodor Fechner (1801–1887), naturalist and philosopher, founder
Frohschammer (1821–1893), German theologian and philosopher
Last Modified: 30-Nov-2020
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by: