Perception and Thinking
Summary of a Lecture
30 August 1921
By giving an aperçu of his own striving
and searching in his outlook upon the world, Rudolf Steiner showed how
the origin of Anthroposophy can be found historically, as it were. During
the period that this searching led to an individual grasp of life, during
the eighties, agnosticism was there in opposition, arousing two necessary
questions: Does science give to men what their souls require? and What
is it that the souls of men require? Already, in 1885, Rudolf Steiner
gave in his book
Theories of Knowledge according to Goethe's Outlook,
as an answer: We have a science which corresponds to no one's
seeking and a scientific craving that nobody satisfies.
Now in Goethe we have another
kind of striving. The old science was founded entirely upon nature apart
from life. (In a certain way this is also true of today's science.)
Research into the Metamorphosis of Plants,
a mode of thinking which was able to penetrate into the nature of the
plant. A friend called this ‘objective thinking,’ a thinking
which linked itself to the object of perception, and Goethe himself
acquiesced in this idea. He could not get so far in his observation
of animals and of humanity as he could in his observation of plants;
in spite of this, however, he wrote his
Metamorphosis of Animals,
and also discovered the metamorphosis of the human skeleton.
The question suggests itself:
Why could Goethe command one realm of nature and not another?
Before this question is
answered we will consider the realm of knowledge in detail. What happens
in a man when he gains knowledge of anything? To this question belongs the
fateful one: Are.the concepts arrived at through the process of knowing
(thinking) merely images through which the world processes
are reflected without being affected by them? In other words, Is thinking
merely formal or is it a reality?
Through our perceptions,
sense-impressions enter us passively. Is anything essential added to
sensory perception through thought or are we simply onlookers who are
useless in the world process when we add thinking to perception? One
arrives here at the whole opposition between thinking and perceiving.
Sensory perception is absolutely passive. In ordinary consciousness
sensory perception and thinking are always mixed up in each other, but
if one separates them with firmness the one from the other, thinking
is then alone actually present. One is using one's whole soul
activity for thought, quite shut off from the outer impression.
In the 19th century there
was the conviction that one could arrive at the purest thinking quite
passively by learning from the pictures which are actually present and
which are only an image of reality. By a further development of this
view one is led to quite imaginary conceptions, such as that of the
Ding an sich. (Kant's theory of the ‘Thing in itself.’)
Opposed to this kind of thought which, on the whole, ruled philosophy
and the remaining sciences, Rudolf Steiner attained the realization
that the outer world does not hold the entire contents of reality, allowing
itself to be reproduced as conceptions, but that man through his sensory
perceptions lives only on one side of reality. And it is in order to
bring into this outer world of reality what only comes forth from his
inner nature that man is born into the world.
He has expressed this view
in his book, the title of which already gives the meaning,
Reality and Science.
In thought we possess something
in which we are wide awake, in which we must actually be when it comes
to pass. ‘In thinking we bring world happenings to a point,’ he
The Philosophy of Freedom.
It is only in the process
of thinking that we can reach reality. And for a true meaning of Anthroposophy
we could use a motto which Goethe gives in his
‘To overcome sensory perception through the spirit is the goal
of art and science. Science overcomes sensory perception by releasing
it entirely into spirit; art overcomes the sense-perceptions when it
engrafts into these the whole world of the spirit.’