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Ethical-Spiritual Activity in Kant

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

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Ethical-Spiritual Activity in Kant

Ethical-Spiritual Activity in Kant: Introduction


The occasion for the publication of this article by Johannes Kreyenbuehl are the indications made by Rudolf Steiner in his Theory of Knowledge and in his Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. In addition, the increasing interest by many in Kreyenbuehl's work also prompted us to make at least something of his work available in the English language. We feel that the present publication ought not just to be of interest to philosophers but to everyone who is concerned with the deeper issues of morality. As we struggle through this rather difficult paper, we are permitted to witness and participate in the struggle of a great thinker. This was a struggle which later in his life led Kreyenbuehl to concern himself with the Mystery of Golgatha.

Who was Johannes Kreyenbuehl? An obituary written about Johannes Kreyenbuehl, who was born November 3, 1846, and died October 24, 1929, will give a brief description of this memorable person's life:

“At the ripe age of 83 Dr. Johannes Kreyenbuehl was called to eternity. A quiet scholar, an indefatigable investigator, a passionate seeker for the truth has concluded his earthly journey. His heritage and talents would have permitted him a comfortable life in a dignified profession in his hometown Luzerne. Since however, in an unliberal era, as professor at the Lyzeum Plato, which he revered for the duration of his life, he offended the church fathers, he had to leave his teaching post and eke out his existence as simple schoolmaster in the desolate town of Zurzach. A sensitive, musically very talented wife, faithfully supported him. As teacher in Zurzach he received his doctorate summa cum laude on the basis of his earlier, much noted investigations of Plato's Thaetus at the University of Basel. The oral exam consisted of a brief friendly discussion with Professor Wackernagel. Out of the depressing conditions of Zurzach he found his way back to Zurich, where he was active as journalist, author, and lecturer for platonic philosophy for many years. Here he also published his most significant work, the Evangelium der Wahrheit (The Gospel of Truth), which received high praise and recognition. A well know historian of religion said the following about that work: ‘With this great work the solution to the question concerning the origin and the significance of the so-called Gospel of St. John has come another great step forward.’ The Englishman Chaymes spontaneously congratulated the author for his ‘epochal’ work and suggested that he also write a comprehensive work about Gnosis. He thought however that such a task exceeded the strength of one person and instead turned to the solution of the much debated question concerning Jesus, to which he devoted the rest of his life. He was busy with that problem right to the end. With critical view and relentless vigor in numerous smaller publications, he grappled with the extant fashionable views and scientific investigations.

As journalist he was a contributor to this paper for many years of articles concerning his specialty. In other papers he was active as art and theater critic.

He was one of those innately scholarly individuals, easily recognizable even outwardly, who still had the inclination and the leisure to devote himself to spiritual matters. The departed has left us a heritage with which science will occupy itself as the investigations of an independent and courageous and free spirit.”

(Neue Zuricher Zeitung, Oct. 29, 1929).


Kreyenbuehl's spiritual battles — not considering the accompanying worldly battles with authorities and colleagues — are somewhat indicated in the following list of some of his publications, none of which are available in English:

  • 1868: The Influence of Kantian Philosophy on Schiller. He received a first prize for this essay at the age of 22.
  • 1870: Materialism in Connection with the Empirical State of our Consciousness.
  • 1873: About Plato's Thaetus.
  • 1874: Newer Investigations about Plato's Thaetus. About Plato's Philebus.
  • 1876: The Philosopher of the Unconscious alld Christianity. The Uniity of Consciousness.
  • 1877: Religion and Christianity. Critical-exegetic Contributions to Plato's Symposium.
  • 1879: Teleology as World View.
  • 1881: Pessimism and Joy.
  • 1882: Ethical-spiritual Activity in Kant.
  • 1883: Philosophy's Significance for the Empirical Sciences. (To be published by Mercury Press in the near future.)
  • 1886: Pestalozzi as Sociologist.
  • 1894: Freedom of Thought 100 Years Ago.
  • 1895: Contributions to a Philosophy of History.
  • 1899: Contributions to a Philosophy of Nature.
  • 1900: The Gospel of Truth — Vol. I. — A New Solution of the Johannine Question.
  • 1902: The Place of Jesus' Judgement.
  • 1905: The Gospel of Truth — Vol. II.
  • 1921: Credo of a Disillusiollist.

Rudolf Steiner writes in his Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 9, about the article here published:

“... The clearest account of this spring of action (of practical reason, ed.) has been given by Kreyenbuehl. In my opinion his article on this subject is one of the most important contributions to present-day philosophy, more especially to Ethics. Kreyenbuehl calls the spring of action, of which we are speaking, the practical a priori, i.e., an impulse to action emanating directly from my intuition.”

With that Rudolf Steiner repeats his indications in the Theory of Knowledge, Chapter 19:

“... The World-Fundament has poured itself out completely into the world; it has not drawn back from the world in order to control it from without, but impels it from within; it has not withheld itself from the world. The highest form in which it emerges within the reality of ordinary life is that of thought and, with this, human personality. If, then, the World-Fundament has goals, these are identical with the goals which man sets up for himself as he manifests his own being. Man is not behaving in accordance with the purposes of the Guiding Power of the world when he investigates one or another of His commandments, but when he behaves in accordance with his own insight. For in him the Guiding Power of the world manifests Himself. He does not live as Will somewhere outside of man; he has renounced his own will in order that all might depend upon the will of man. If man is to be enabled to become his own lawgiver, all thought about world-determinations outside of man must be abandoned.

“We take this opportunity to call attention to the very excellent treatment of the subject by Kreyenbuehl in Philosophische Monatshefte (Vol. 18, No.3). This paper correctly explains how the maxims of our conduct result directly from the determination of our individuality; how everything which is ethically great is not given through the power of the moral law but is performed on the basis of the direct impulse of an individual idea.”

The translation by Harold Jurgens is very faithful to the German and maintains the flavor of Kreyenbuehl's unique style. The German title of the essay is Die ethische Freiheit bei Kant; the choice was made to translate “Freiheit” as “spiritual activity.” This is in agreement with Rudolf Steiner's indications that the meaning of “Freiheit” is not “freedom”. He discusses this problem in lecture 14 of Soul Economy and Waldolf Education, in which he points out that the ending “-heit” refers to a quality of man's inner nature, to something which is mobile in a person. The ending “-tum” (-dom), however, refers to something which expresses a definite fact, something which happens only once. It thus seems more in accordance with the true meaning of “Freiheit” to translate it with “spiritual activity,” and what “spiritual activity” is will become evident in the article itself.

G.F. Karnow

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