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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

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

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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

On-line since: 21st October, 2006


In this Appendix is repeated, in all essentials, what served as a kind of “Foreword” to the first edition of this book (1894). In this edition I place it as an appendix because it conveys the kind of thoughts that occupied me when I wrote the book twenty-five years ago, rather than having any direct bearing on the content. It is not possible to omit it altogether, since the opinion crops up, again and again, that because of my writings on the science of the spirit, I have to suppress some of my earlier writings. [Only the very first opening sentences (in the first edition) are left out here, because to-day they seem to me to be quite irrelevant; whereas to say the rest seems to me as necessary to-day as it did then, despite the prevalent scientific trend of thought, and in fact just because of it.]

Our age is one in which truth th must be sought in the depths of human nature. Of Schiller's two well-known paths, it will be the second that most appeals to modern man:

“Truth seek we both — Thou in the life without thee and around;
I in the heart within. By both can Truth alike be found.
The healthy eye can through the world the great Creator track;
The healthy heart is but the glass which gives Creation back.”

“Wahrheit suchen wir beide, du aussen im Leben, ich innen
In dem Herzen, und so findet sie jeder dewiss.
Ist das Auge gesund, so begegnet es aussen dem Schopfer;
Is est das Herz, dann gewiss spiegelt es innen die Welt.”
(translated by E. Bulwer Lytton)

A truth which comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. Only that truth which appears to us as coming from within ourselves do we trust.

Only truth can bring us security in developing our individual powers. In someone tormented by doubts, the powers are weakened. He can find no goal for his creative powers in a world that appears to him as an enigma.

No longer do we merely want to believe; we want to know. Belief demands acknowledgment of truths which are not quite clear to us. But what is not clearly recognized goes against what is individual in us, which wants to experience everything in the depth of its being. Only that kind of knowing satisfies us which is not subjected to any external standard, but springs from the inner experience of our personality.

Nor do we want a kind of knowledge which has become hardened into formulas and is stored away, valid for all time. Each of us considers himself justified in proceeding from his immediate experience, from the facts he knows, and from there going forward to gain knowledge of the whole universe. We strive for certainty in knowledge, but each in his own way.

Our scientific teachings, too, should no longer take a form that implies their acceptance to be a compulsion. Today no one should give a scientific work a title like that Fichte once gave a book: “A Pellucid Report for the Broader Public concerning the Essential Nature of Recent Philosophies. An Attempt to Compel the Reader to Understand.” To-day no one is to be compelled to understand. We demand neither acceptance nor agreement from anyone unless his own particular, individual need urges him to the view in question. Today even the still immature human being, the child, should not have knowledge crammed into him; rather we should seek to develop his faculties so that he no longer needs to be compelled to understand, but understands.

I am under no illusion concerning these characteristics of the present age. I know how much of a stereotypical attitude, lacking all individuality, is prevalent everywhere. But I also know that many of my contemporaries strive to order their lives in the direction I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It is not meant to be the “only possible” way that leads to truth, but it describes a path taken by one whose heart is set upon truth.

This book at first leads the reader into abstract regions, where thought must have sharp outlines if it is to reach secure conclusions. But the reader is also led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am convinced that one must raise oneself up into the ethereal realm of concepts if one wants to experience existence in all its aspects. One understanding only the pleasures of the senses, misses the essential enjoyments of life. Oriental sages make their disciples live a life of resignation and asceticism for years before they impart their own wisdom to them. The Western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices as a preparation for science, but it does require that one should have the good will to withdraw occasionally from the immediate impressions of life and enter the realm of pure thought.

The spheres of life are many, and for each of them special sciences develop. But life itself is a whole, and the more the sciences strive to penetrate into the depths of the separate spheres, the more they withdraw themselves from seeing the world as a living unity. There must be a knowledge which seeks in the separate sciences the principle that leads man back to the fullness of life once more. Through his knowledge the researcher in a special branch of science wants to become conscious of the world and how it works; in this book the aim is a philosophical one: science itself must become a living, organic entity. The various branches of science are preliminary stages of the science striven for here. A similar relation is to be found in art. The composer's work is based on the theory of composition. This latter is a knowledge which is a necessary prerequisite for composing. In composing, the law of composition serves life, that is, it serves true reality. In exactly the same sense philosophy is an art. All genuine philosophers have truly been artists in concepts. For them, human ideas become the material for art, and the scientific method becomes artistic technique. Abstract thinking thereby gains concrete, individual life. Ideas become life-forces. We then have not just a knowledge of things, but we have made knowledge into a real organism, ruled by its own laws; the reality of our active consciousness has risen beyond a mere passive reception of truths.

How philosophy as an art is related to human freedom (spiritual activity), what freedom is, and whether we do or can participate in it, is the principal problem dealt with in my book. All other scientific discussions are included solely because they ultimately throw light on this question which, in my opinion, is man's most immediate concern. These pages offer a “Philosophy of Freedom.”

All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity if it did not strive to elevate the value of existence of the human personality. The sciences attain their true value only through presenting the significance of their results in relation to man. The ultimate goal of the individual cannot be the ennoblement of one single soul-faculty only, but a development of all the capacities that slumber within us. All knowledge has value only insofar as it is a contribution to the all-round unfolding of man's entire nature.

Therefore, in this book the relation between science and life is not regarded in the sense that man must bow down to ideas and let them enslave him; rather the relation should be that man conquers the world of ideas in order to make use of it for his human aims, which go beyond the aims of mere science.

One must be able to confront the idea in living experience, or else fall into bondage to it.

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