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Self Observation

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

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

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Self Observation

On-line since: 31st October, 2016



It might be said that Dr. Steiner's object in this book is to wean us from our inborn childish “Naive Realism” and to induce us to grow up into “Monism.”

We find ourselves amid an aggregate of sense-perceived details, an environment that is none of our making. We agree to call this the world of “Percepts.” The Naive Realist in his child-like unthinking way fancies that this merely perceived world is “real.” ... The Monist sees it as a world of appearances, void of content.

Among these perceptual items, the Monist notes and singles out the percept of his own Self. This percept, like all the others, is “given;” it stands unquestionably within the confines of experience. But out of it — quite as unquestionably — issues an activity which transcends the merely perceptual that characterises all the rest of our experiences. Here of itself emerges conceptualising. It is certainly mediated through the Self, through our I. But just as certainly, — just as obviously to unprejudiced observation, — it is a world-activity. This too is a “given.” We can call it, in Goethe's phrase — “Higher Experience within Experience.” Making use of this unique means of experience, we find ourselves able to render intelligible the entire perceptual world. We stand now with our Thinking in a world of meanings and values.

We are aware likewise of a closer environment of insubstantials which we call our “Feelings.” These are also “given:” they have not been evolved by our conscious activity. They come of themselves, — often enough, indeed, in spite of what our “real Self” would like. The Naive Realist, struck by the intimacy and colourfulness of these experiences accepts them for “Reality.” He may grow up with such a mentality and philosophise himself into “Mysticism” ... The Monist refuses thus to make much of mere emotions. Feelings have a value only for the particular individual that entertains them. To universalise them is unwarrantable. If they are to become inwardly illuminated and acceptable to our fully grown-up selves, these instinctive emotions must also be subjected to thinking. Feelings, too, are mere percepts. As such, they are disqualified from holding the central place within a mature human being.

We are, in the third and last place, aware of ourselves as creatures of Will. In our Feelings we are as it were conscious of the world outside closing in upon us, relating itself to us; the environment is active, we are passive. When we will, on the contrary, we thrust ourselves upon the world outside. Will-impulses of this sort are perceived by us in all their immediacy. The Naive Realist (again, like a child) feels how very “real” they are. ... The Monist denies them this sort of reality. He insists that in the same way that ordinary sense-percepts become intelligible only when Thinking throws its light upon them; only in the same way that Feelings become valid when they are universalised in the world-order; so also acts of Will become truly those of a human being only when they issue from a fully illuminated consciousness.

In this perceptual nursery of ours, we are contented little children. Our toys are very real and very dear to us. Here we would like to remain — indulging in all the exciting emotions of the playroom; subjecting all things to our own caprice. There is nothing we less desire than to grow up and to grow out of it all... Dr. Steiner asks us to cease being Naive Realists and to become Monists. He wants us to think. We shall gain, he urges, immeasurably more than we lose: —

“But if we once succeed in really finding the true life in thinking, we learn to understand that the self-abandonment to feelings or the intuiting of the will, cannot even be compared with the inward wealth of this life of thinking, which we experience as within itself, ever self-supporting, yet at the same time ever in movement... If we turn towards the essential nature of thinking, we find in it both feeling and will and both of these in the depth of their reality. If we turn away from thinking towards mere feeling and will, these lose for us their genuine reality. If we are prepared to make of thinking an intuitive experience, we can do justice, also, to experiences of the type of feeling and will. But the mysticism of feeling and the metaphysics of will are not able to do justice to the penetration of reality by intuitive thinking.”

The following passage from another of Dr. Steiner's works throws light on what he is urging in this chapter of the “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity:” —

“What is important is not whether the thing has aroused pleasure in me; it is that I should experience through the liking the nature of the thing. The pleasure should only be an intimation to me that there is in the thing a quality calculated to give pleasure. It is this quality that I must learn to understand ... He who thus develops himself will gradually understand how instructive pleasure and pain are. He will not say, ‘O, how I suffer!’ or ‘O, how glad I am!’ but, ‘How suffering speaks!’ and ‘How joy speaks!’ He eliminates the element of self in order that the pain and pleasure from the outer world may work upon him. By this means there develops in the student a completely new mode of relating himself to things. ... Pleasure and displeasure become the organs through which things tell him how they themselves really are in their own nature ... As long as a man lives in pleasure and pain, he cannot gain knowledge by means of them. When he learns to live through them, when he withdraws from them his feeling of self, then they become organs of perception ... So long as one lives in a personal relationship with the world, things reveal only that which attaches them to our personality. But this is only their transitory aspect. If we withdraw ourselves from the transitory, — living with our feeling of self, with our ‘I,’ in our permanent selfhood, — then the transitory in us becomes an intermediary; and that which is revealed through it is the Imperishable, the Eternal in things.”

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