Fruits of Anthroposophy
II. Perception and Thinking (Summary)
30 August 1921, Stuttgart
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.) In his Research into the Metamorphosis of Plants, Goethe developed 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 says, in 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 World Outlook: ‘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.’