Metamorphoses of the Soul II
VI. Positive and Negative Man
10 March 1910, Berlin
If we examine the human soul, comparing one individual with another, we find the greatest possible variety. In these lectures we have spoken of some typical differences and the reasons for them, relating them to character, temperament, capacities, forces and so on. One significant difference, the difference between positive and negative man, will occupy us today.
At the start, I want to make it clear that this treatment of the subject — which will be fully in keeping with my other lectures — has nothing in common with the superficial but popular descriptions of people as positive and negative. Our account will stand entirely on its own ground.
We might first look round for a kind of clarifying definition of what is meant by a positive or negative person, and thus we might say: In the sense of a true and penetrating teaching concerning human souls, we could designate a positive person as one who, in face of all the impressions pouring in on him from the outer world, is able to maintain the firmness and security of his inner being, at least up to a certain point. Hence he will have clear-cut ideas and concepts, together with certain inclinations and aversions, which outer impressions cannot disturb. Again, his actions follow certain urges and impulses which will not be affected by whatever transient impressions may come to him from daily life.
A negative man, on the other hand, can be described as one who readily submits to changing impressions and is strongly influenced by ideas which come to him from this or that person or group. Hence he is easily impelled to change what he had been thinking or feeling and to take something different into his soul. In his actions he is drawn away from his own impulses by all kinds of influences from other people.
These could be our definitions, roughly speaking. But if we inquire how these deeply rooted characteristics of human nature work out in practice, we shall soon be convinced that we have gained very little from our definitions and that to search for any such convenient labels is fairly useless. For if we try to apply them to real life we have to say: A man of strong passions and impulses, which have carried a certain enduring stamp since childhood, will have allowed all sorts of good and bad examples to pass him by without affecting his habits. He will have formed certain ideas and concepts about this or that and he will stick to them, whatever other facts may be brought before him. Countless obstacles will mount up before he can be convinced of anything different. Such a man would indeed be positive, but it would lead to nothing for him but a dull life, shut off from new impressions, seeing and hearing nothing that could enrich or enlarge his experience.
The other type of man, ready at any time to welcome new impressions and always prepared to correct his ideas if facts go against them, would become — perhaps in a relatively short time — a quite different being. As he goes through successive periods in his life he will seem to be hastening on from one interest to another, so that the character of his life will be quite transformed as time goes on. Compared with the other, “positive” type of man, he will certainly have made more of life — but according to our definition we should have to call him “negative”.
Again, a man of robust character, whose life is governed by custom and routine, might be led by the fashion of the moment to travel in a country richly endowed with art treasures. But he has loaded his soul with so many fixed responses that he passes by one work of art after another, at most consulting his Baedeker to see which are the most important, and finally he goes home with his soul not in the least enriched by all this trailing from gallery to gallery, from landscape to landscape. We would have to call him a very positive man.
By contrast, someone else might follow much the same course of travel, but his character is such that he gives himself up to every picture, loses himself enthusiastically in it, and so it is with the next picture and the next. Thus he passes along with a soul that surrenders to every detail, with the result each impression is wiped out by the next, and he returns home with a kind of chaos in his soul. He is a very negative person, the exact opposite of the other man.
We could go on giving the most varied examples of the two types. We could describe as negative a person who has learnt so much that on every subject his judgment is uncertain; he no longer knows what is true or false and has become a sceptic with regard to life and knowledge. Another man might absorb just as many of the same impressions, but he works on them and knows how to fit them into the whole of his acquired wisdom. He would be a positive man in the best sense of the word.
A child can be tyrannically positive towards grown-ups if it asserts its own inherent nature and tries to reject everything opposed to it. Or a man who has been through many experiences, errors and disappointments may nevertheless surrender to every new impression and may still be easily elated or depressed: compared with the child he will be a negative type. In brief, it is only when we allow the whole of a man's life, to work upon us, not in accordance with any theoretical ideas but in all its variety, and if we use concepts only as an aid in ordering the facts and events of a life, that we can rightly approach these decisive questions concerning positive and negative man. For in discussing the individual peculiarities of human souls we touch on something of the utmost importance. If we did not have to think of man in all his completeness as a living entity, subject to what we call evolution — so often discussed here — these questions would be much simpler.
We see the human soul passing from one stage of evolution to the next, and, if we are speaking in the true sense of spiritual science, we do not picture the life of an individual between birth and death as following always a uniform course. For we know that his life is a sequel to previous lives on earth and the starting-point for later ones. When we observe a human life through its various incarnations, we can readily understand that in one earthly life a man's development may go somewhat slowly, so that he retains the same characteristics and ideas throughout. In another life he will have to catch up with all the more development, leading him to new levels of soul-life. The study of a single life is always in the highest degree insufficient.
Let us now ask how these indications concerning positive and negative types can help us in studying the human soul on the lines laid down in previous lectures. We showed that the soul is by no means a chaotic flux of concepts, feelings and ideas, as it may seem to be at a casual glance. On the contrary, the soul has three members which must be clearly distinguished. The first and lowest of these we called the sentient soul. Its primal form is best seen in men at a relatively low stage of development who are wholly given up to their passions, impulses, wishes and desires and simply pursue every wish, every desire, that arises within them. In men of this type the ego, the self-conscious kernel of the human soul, dwells in a surging sea of passions, desires, sympathies and antipathies, and is subject to every storm that sweeps through the soul. Such a man will follow his inclinations not because he dominates them but because they dominate him, so that he gives way to every inner demand. The ego can scarcely raise itself out of this surge of desires. When the soul develops further, we see more and more clearly how the ego works from a strong central point.
In due course, as evolution proceeds, a higher part of the soul, which exists in everyone, gains a certain predominance over the sentient soul. We have called this higher part the intellectual soul or mind soul. When man ceases to follow every inclination or impulse, then in his soul something emerges which has always been there but can be effective only when the ego begins to control his inclinations and desires and to impose on the ever-changing impressions he receives some kind of coherence in his inner life. Thus when this second member of the soul, the intellectual soul, comes to prevail, it deepens our picture of man.
Next, we spoke of the highest member of the soul, the consciousness soul, where the ego comes to the fore in full strength. Then the inner life turns towards the outer world. Its conceptual images and ideas are no longer there only to control the passions, for at this stage the entire inner life of the soul is guided by the ego, so that it reflects the outer world and gains knowledge of it. When we attain to this knowledge, it is a sign that the consciousness soul has come to dominate the life of the soul. These three soul-members exist in all human beings, but in every case one of them predominates.
The last lectures have shown that the soul can go further in development — must indeed go further even in ordinary life, if we are to be human beings in the true sense of the word. A man whose motives for action derive entirely from external demands, who is impelled to act only by sympathy or antipathy, will make no effort to realise in himself the true quality of human nature. This will be achieved only by someone who raises himself to moral ideas and ideals, derived from the spiritual world, for that is how we enrich the life of the soul with new elements. Man has a “history” only because he can carry into life something which his inner being draws from unknown depths and impresses on the outer world. Similarly, we would never reach a real knowledge of world secrets if we were not able to attach external experiences to ideas. We draw forth these ideas from the spirit in ourselves and bring them to meet the outer world, and it is only by so doing that we can grasp and elucidate the outer world in its true form. Thus we can infuse our inner being with a spiritual element and enrich our soul with experiences that we could never gain from the outer world alone.
As described in the lecture on mysticism, we can rise to a higher form of soul-life by cutting ourselves off for a while from impressions and stimuli from the outer world, by emptying the soul and devoting ourselves — as Meister Eckhart puts it — to the little flame which is usually outshone by the continual experiences of daily life but which can now be kindled into flame. A mystic of this order rises to a soul-life above the ordinary level; he immerses himself in the mysteries of the world by unveiling within himself what the world-mysteries have laid down in his soul. In the next lecture we saw that if a man awaits the future with calm acceptance, and if he looks back over the past in such a way as to feel that dwelling within him is something greater than anything evident in his daily life, he will be impelled to look up in worship to this greater thing that towers above him. We saw that in prayer a man rises inwardly above himself towards something that transcends his ordinary life. And finally, we saw that by real spiritual training, which leads him through the three stages of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, he can grow into a world which is as unknown to ordinary people as the world of light and colours is to the blind. Thus we have seen how the soul can grow beyond the normal level, and so we have gained a glimpse of the development of the soul through the most varied stages.
If we look at people around us, we find that they are at widely different levels of development. One man will show in life that he has the potential for raising his soul to a certain stage and will then be able to carry through the gate of death what he has gained. If we study how people go from stage to stage, we come to the concepts of positive and negative but we cannot now say simply that an individual is positive or negative, for he will exhibit each characteristic at different stages of his progress.
To start with, a man may have the strongest, most headstrong impulses in his sentient soul; he will then be impelled by definite urges, passions and desires, while his ego-centre remains in relative obscurity and he may be hardly aware of it. At that point he is very positive and pursues his life as a positive type. But, if he were to remain in that condition, he would make no progress. In the course of his development he must change from a positive into a negative person, for he has to be open to receive whatever his development requires. If he is not prepared to suppress the positive qualities in his sentient soul, so that new impressions can flow in; if he is unable to raise himself out of the positive qualities given him by nature and to acquire a certain negative capacity to receive new impressions, he will get no further.
Here we touch on something which is necessary for the soul but can also be a source of danger — something which shows very clearly that only an intimate knowledge of the soul can guide us safely through life. The fact is that we cannot progress if we try to avoid certain dangers affecting the life of the soul. And these dangers are always present for a negative person, since he is open to the influx of external impressions and to uniting himself with them. This means that he will take in not only good impressions, but also bad and dangerous ones.
When a very negative person meets another person, he will be easily carried away by hearing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with judgment or reason, and he will be influenced not only by what the other person says but by what he does. He may imitate the other person's actions and examples, to the point even of coming to resemble him quite closely. Such a man may indeed be open to good influences, but he will be in danger of responding to every kind of bad stimulus and making it his own.
If we rise from ordinary life to the level where we can see what spiritual facts and beings are at work in our vicinity, we must say that a man with negative soul-qualities is particularly open to the influence of those intangible, indefinable impressions which are hardly evident in external life. For example, the facts show that a man alone is a quite different being from what he is in a large assembly of others, especially if the assembly is active. When he is alone, he follows his own impulses; even a weak ego will look for the source of its actions in itself. But in a large assembly there is a sort of mass-soul in which all the various urges, desires and judgments of those present flow together. A positive man will not easily surrender to this collective entity, but a negative man will always be influenced by it. Hence we can repeatedly experience the truth of what a dialect poet, Rosegger, has said in a few words. He puts it crudely, but there is more than a grain of truth in what he says:
Oaner is a Mensch,
Zwoa san Leit',
San's mehra, san's Viecher. 38Peter Rosegger, 1843–1918. Styrian writer: “One is a man/Two are people/Any more are cattle”.
We can often notice that men are wiser alone than they are in company, for then they are almost always subject to the prevailing average mood. Thus a man may go to a meeting without any definite ideas or feelings; then he listens to a speaker who takes up with enthusiasm some point which had previously left him cold. He may be affected not so much by the speaker as by the acclamation won from the audience. This grips him and he goes home quite convinced.
Mass-suggestion of this kind plays an enormous part in life. It illustrates the danger to which a negative soul is exposed, and in particular the danger of sectarianism, for while we might fail to convince an individual of something, it becomes relatively easy to do so if we can bring him under the influence of a sect or group, for here mass suggestion will be at work, spreading from soul to soul. There are great dangers here for persons of a negative type.
We can go further. In earlier lectures we have seen how the soul can raise itself into higher realms of spiritual life. And in my Occult Science 39Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1969. you will find an account of how the soul must train itself to accomplish this stage-by-stage ascent. In the first place it has to suppress the positive element in itself and open itself to new impressions by putting itself artificially into a negative mood. Otherwise it will make no progress. We have often explained what the spiritual researcher has to do if he wishes to reach the higher levels of existence. He has to bring about, deliberately and consciously, the condition which occurs normally in sleep, when the soul receives no outer stimuli. He has to shut out all external impressions, so that his soul is quite empty. Then he must be able to open his soul to impressions which at first, if he is still a beginner, will be quite new to him, and this means that he has to make himself as negative as possible. And everything in mystical life and knowledge of higher worlds that we call inner vision, inward contemplation, does fundamentally bring about negative moods in the soul. There is no way round that. When a man suppresses all stimuli from the outer world and consciously achieves a condition in which he is entirely sunk in himself and has banished all the positive characteristics that had previously been his, then he is bound to become negative and self-absorbed.
Something similar occurs if we employ an easier external method which cannot of itself lead us to a higher life but can give us some support in our ascent — if for instance we turn from foods which stimulate positive impulses in a sort of animal fashion to a special diet, vegetarian or the like. We cannot bring about our ascent into higher worlds by vegetarianism or by not eating this or that; it would be altogether too easy if we could eat our way up to those heights. Nothing but work on our own souls can get us there. But the work can be made easier if we avoid the hampering influence that particular forms of nourishment can have. Anyone who is trying to lead a higher, more spiritual life can readily convince himself that his forces are enhanced by adopting a certain diet. For if he cuts out the foods which tend to foster the robust and positive elements in himself, he will be brought into a negative condition.
Anyone who stands on the ground of genuine spiritual science, free from charlatanry, will never refuse to recognise the things, including external things, which are in fact connected with endeavours to lead a true spiritual life. But this means that we may be exposed also to bad spiritual influences. When we educate ourselves in spiritual science and eliminate everyday impressions, we open ourselves to the spiritual facts and beings which are always around us. Among them, certainly, will be the good spiritual powers and forces which we first learn to perceive when the appropriate organ has unfolded within us, but we shall be open also to the evil spiritual powers and forces around us just as if we are to hear harmonious musical sounds, we must be open also to discordant ones. If we want to penetrate into the spiritual world, we must be clear that we are liable to encounter the bad side of spiritual experiences. If our approach to the spiritual world were to be entirely negative, we would be threatened by one danger after another.
Let us look away from the spiritual world and consider ordinary life. Why should a vegetarian diet, for example, make us negative? If we become vegetarians because of some popular agitation but without adequate judgment, or as a matter of principle without changing our ways of living and acting, it may under certain conditions have a seriously weakening effect on us in relation to other influences, and particularly perhaps on certain bodily characteristics. But if we have gone over to a life of initiative, involving new tasks that arise not from external life but from a richly developing life of the soul, then it can be immensely useful to take a new line in diet also and to clear away any hindrances that may have arisen from our previous eating habits.
Things have very different effects on different people. Hence the spiritual-scientific researcher always insists on something that has often been emphasised here: he will never impart to anyone the means of rising into higher worlds without making it clear to him that he must not merely cultivate the negative soul-qualities that are necessary for receiving new impressions, nor must be content to develop inner vision and inward concentration, for a life which is to rise to a new level must have a content which is strong enough to fill and sustain it. If we were merely to show someone how he can acquire the strength that will enable him to see into the spiritual world, we should be exposing him to bad spiritual forces of every kind, through the negativity that goes with such endeavours. But if he is willing to learn what the spiritual investigator can tell him about the higher worlds, he will never remain merely negative, for he will possess something which can imbue his soul with positive content at a higher stage. That is why we so often emphasise that the seeker must not only strive for higher levels, but must at the same time give careful study to what spiritual science communicates. That is how the spiritual researcher takes account of the fact that anyone who is to experience new realms has to be receptive, and therefore negative, towards them.
What we have to call forth, when we set out consciously to develop the soul, can be seen in the various people we encounter in ordinary life, for the soul does not go through development only in its present life but has done so in previous lives and is at a definite stage when it enters earth-existence. Just as in our present life we have to proceed from stage to stage, and must acquire negative characteristics on our way to a positive stage, so the same thing may have happened when we last went through the gate of death and entered a new life with positive or negative characteristics. The design which sent us into life with positive qualities will leave us where we are and act as a brake on further development, for positive tendencies produce a clearly-defined character. A negative tendency, on the other hand, does make it possible for us to receive a great deal into our soul-life between death and a new birth, but it also exposes us to all the chance happenings of earthly life, and especially to the impressions made on us by other people. Thus when a man of negative type meets other persons, we can usually see how their characteristics leave their mark upon him. Even he himself, when he comes close to a friend or to someone with whom he has had an affectionate relationship, can feel how he becomes more and more like the other: in cases of marriage or deep friendship even his handwriting may be influenced. Observation will indeed show how in marriage the handwriting of a negative person may come to resemble increasingly that of his or her spouse.
So it is that negative types are susceptible to the influence of other people, especially of those close to them. Hence they are exposed to a certain danger of losing themselves, so that their individual soul life and ego-sense may be extinguished.
The danger for a positive type is that he will not be readily accessible to impressions from other people and will often fail to appreciate their characteristic qualities, so that he passes them all by and may be unable to form a friendship or close association with anyone. Hence he is in danger of his soul becoming hardened and desolate.
We can gain deep insight into life when we consider people in terms of the positive and negative aspects in human beings, and this applies also to the different ways in which they respond to the influence of Nature around them. What then is it that acts on a person when he is influenced by other people or when he absorbs impressions from the outer world?
There is one thing that always imparts a positive character to the soul. For modern man, regardless of his stage of development, it is sound judgment, rational weighing up, clarifying for oneself any situation or relationship that may arise in life. The opposite of this is the loss of healthy judgment, so that impressions are admitted to the soul in such a way that positive qualities are no protection against them. We can even observe that when certain human activities slip down into the unconscious, they often have a stronger effect on other people than when they arise from the conscious exercise of normal judgment.
It is unfortunate, especially in a spiritual-scientific movement, that when facts concerning the spiritual world are given in a strictly logical form, a form well recognised in other spheres of life, people are inclined to evade them; they find it uncongenial that such facts should be presented in a rational sequence of cause and effect. But if these communications are imparted to them in such a way that their judgment is not evoked, they are far more ready to respond. There are even people who are highly mistrustful of information about the spiritual world if it is given in rational terms, but very credulous towards anything they may hear from mediums who seem to be inspired by some unknown power. These mediums, who do not know what they are saying and who say more than they know, attract many more believers than do persons who know exactly what they are saying. How is it possible — we often hear it said — for anyone to tell us about the spiritual world unless he is in at least a half-conscious state and evidently possessed by some other power? This is often taken as a reason for objecting to the conscious communication of facts drawn from the spiritual world. That is why running to mediums is much more popular than paying heed to communications based on sound judgment and set forth in rational terms.
When anything that comes from the spiritual world is thrust down into a region from which consciousness is excluded, there is a danger that it will work on the negative characteristics of the soul, for these characteristics always come to the fore when we are approached by an influence from dark subconscious depths. Close observation shows again and again how a relatively stupid person, thanks to his positive qualities, can have a strong effect on a more intelligent person if the latter is easily impressed by anything that emerges from subconscious obscurity. So we can understand how it happens in life that persons with fine minds are the victims of robust characters whose assertions derive solely from their own impulses and inclinations.
If we take one further step, we shall come to a remarkable fact. Consider a man who not merely belies his own reason now and then but suffers from mental illness and says things that spring from this deranged condition. So long as his illness is not noticed, he may have an uncommonly strong influence on persons of finer nature.
All this belongs to the wisdom of life. We shall not get it right unless we realise that a man with positive qualities may not be open to reason, while a negative type of man will often be subject to irrational influences he cannot keep out. A subtler psychology will have to take account of these things.
Now we will turn from impressions made by individuals on one another and come to impressions received by people from their surroundings. Here, too, we can gain important results in the context of positive and negative.
Let us think, for example, of a researcher who has worked very fruitfully on a special subject and has brought together a large number of relevant facts. By so doing he has accomplished something useful for mankind. But now suppose that he connects these facts with ideas gained from his education and his life up to date or from certain theories and philosophical viewpoints which may give a very one-sided view of the facts. In so far as the concepts and ideas he has inferred from the facts are the outcome of his own reflective thinking, they will have a healthy effect on his soul, for by working out his own philosophy he will have imbued his soul with positive feelings. But now suppose that he meets some followers who have not themselves worked over the facts but have merely heard of them or read them. They will lack the feelings that he evoked in himself through his work in laboratory or study, and their frame of mind may be entirely negative. Hence the same doctrine, even though it be one-sided, can be seen as making the leader of their school positive in his soul, while on the whole throng of followers, who merely repeat the doctrine, it can have an unhealthy, negative effect, making them weaker and weaker.
This is something that runs through the whole history of human culture. Even today we can see how men of an entirely materialistic outlook, which they themselves have worked hard to develop from their own findings, are lively positive characters whom it is a pleasure to meet, but in the case of their followers, who carry in their heads the same basic ideas but have not acquired them by their own efforts, these ideas have an unhealthy, negative, weakening effect. Thus we can say that it makes a great difference if a man achieves a philosophical outlook of his own or if he merely takes it from someone else. The first man will acquire positive qualities; the second, negative qualities.
Thus we see how our attitude to the world can make us both positive and negative. For example, a purely theoretical approach to Nature, especially if it omits everything we can actually see with our eyes, makes us negative. There has to be a theoretical knowledge of Nature. But we must not be blind to the fact that this theoretical knowledge gained by the systematic study of animals, plants and minerals and embodied as laws of Nature in the form of concepts and ideas — works on our negative qualities in such a way as to imprison us in these ideas. On the other hand, if we respond with living appreciation to all that Nature in its grandeur has to offer, positive qualities are called forth in our souls — if for example we take delight in a flower, not pulling it to pieces but responding to its beauty, or if we open ourselves to the morning light when the sun is rising, not testing it in astronomical terms but beholding its glory. For anything we adopt by way of a theoretical conception of the world does not implicate our souls; we allow it to be dictated to us by others. But our whole soul is actively involved when we are delighted or repelled by the phenomena of Nature. The truth of Nature is not concerned with the ego, but that which delights or repels us is; for how we respond to Nature depends on the character of our ego.
Thus we can say: Living participation in Nature develops our positive qualities; theorising about Nature does the reverse. But we must qualify this by repeating that a researcher who is the first to analyse a series of natural phenomena is far more positive than one who merely adopts his findings and learns from them. This distinction should be given attention in wide fields of education. And a relevant fact is that wherever there has been a conscious awareness of the things we have been discussing today, the negative characteristics of the human soul have never been cultivated on their own account. Why did Plato inscribe over the entrance to his school of philosophy the words: “Only those with a knowledge of geometry may enter here”? 40These words over the entrance to the Platonic Academy can be found neither in Plato nor in any of his Greek and Roman contemporaries. They are first found in commentators on Aristotle in the 6th century AD; thus Elias, Aristotelis Categorias commentaria, ed. A. Busse (Comm. in Arist. Graeca XVIII, pars 1), Berlin 1900, 118.18; and Philoponus Joannes, Aristotelis de Anima Libris commentaria, ed. M. Hayduck (Comm. in Arist. Graeca XV), Berlin 1897, 117.29. It was because geometry and mathematics cannot be accepted on the authority of another person. We have to work through geometry by our own inner efforts and can master it only by a positive activity of our souls. If this were heeded today, many of the philosophical systems that buzz around would not exist. For if anyone realises how much positive work has gone into formulating a system of ideas such as geometry, he will learn to respect the creative activity of the human mind; but anyone who reads Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe, 41Ernst Haeckel, 1834–1919. Die Welträtsel Gemeinverständliche Studien über monistische Philosophie, Bonn 1899. for instance, with no notion of how it was worked out, may quite easily arrive at a new world-outlook, but he will do so out of a purely negative state of soul.
Now in spiritual science, or Anthroposophy, we have something which unconditionally requires a positive response. If someone is told that with the aid of popular modern devices, photographs or lantern-slides, he can see some animal or some natural phenomenon brought before his eyes on the screen, he will watch it quite passively, in a negative frame of mind; he will need no positive qualities and will not even need to think. Or he might be shown a series of pictures illustrating the various phases of a glacier on its way down the mountain it would be just the same. These are just examples of how wide is the appeal of these negative, attitudes today. Anthroposophy is not so simple. Photographs could at most give a symbolical suggestion of some of its ideas. The only way of approach to the spiritual world is through the life of the human soul. Anyone who wishes to penetrate fruitfully into spiritual science must realise that its most important elements are not going to be the subject of a demonstration. He is therefore advised that he must work on and with his soul, so as to bring out its most positive qualities. In fact, spiritual science is in the highest sense competent to cultivate these qualities in the human soul. Herein, too, resides the healthiness of its world-outlook, which makes no claim except to arouse the forces sleeping in the soul. In appealing to the activity inherent in every soul, Anthroposophy calls forth its hidden forces, so that they may permeate all the saps and energies of the body; thus it has a health-giving effect, in the fullest sense, on the whole human being. And because Anthroposophy appeals only to sound reason, which cannot be evoked by mass-suggestion but only through individual understanding, and because it renounces everything that mass-suggestion can evoke, it reckons with the most positive qualities of the human soul.
Thus we have brought together, without embellishment, a number of facts and examples which show how man is placed in the midst of two streams, the positive and the negative. He cannot rise to higher stages unless he leaves a lower positive stage and goes over to a negative, receptive condition, so that his soul acquires new content; he takes this along with him and thus becomes positive once more on a higher level. If we learn how to observe Nature rightly, we can see how world-wisdom arranges things so that man may be led from a positive to a negative phase, and on to a positive phase once more.
From this point of view, it is illuminating to study particular topics — for example, Aristotle's famous definition of the tragic. 42See Aristotle, Poetics, chapter 6. A tragedy, he says, brings before us a complete dramatic action which can be expected to evoke fear and pity in the spectators, but in such a way that these emotions undergo a catharsis or purgation. Let us note that man, on coming into existence with his usual egotism, is at first very positive: he hardens himself and shuts himself off from others. But then, if he learns to sympathise with others in their sorrows and feels their joys as his own, he becomes very negative, because he goes out from his ego and participates in the feelings of other people.
We become negative also if we are deeply affected by some undefined fate which seems to hang over another person, by what could happen on the morrow to someone with whom we are in close sympathy. Who has not trembled when someone is hastening towards a deed which will lead him to disaster — a disaster we can foresee but which he, driven by his impulses, is powerless to avert? We are afraid of what may come of it, and this induces in us a negative state of soul, for fear is negative. We would no longer have any real part in life if we were unable to fear for someone who is approaching a perilous future. So it is that fear and sympathy make us negative. In order that we may become positive again, tragedy sets before us a Hero. We sympathise with his deeds, and his fate touches us so nearly that our fates are aroused. At the same time the course of the dramatic action brings the picture of the Hero before us in such a way that our fear and pity are purified; they are transformed from negative feelings into the harmonious contentment bestowed on us by a work of art, and so we are raised once more into the positive mode.
Thus the old Greek philosopher's definition of tragedy shows us how art is an element in life which comes to meet an unavoidably negative state of feeling and transmutes it into a positive condition. Art, in all its realms, leads us to a higher level when we have first to be negative in order to progress from a less developed state.
Beauty, initially, must be seen as that which is intended to come before us in order to help us rise beyond our present stage. Ordinary life is then suffused with the radiance of a higher state of soul, if we have first been raised through art to a higher level.
Thus we see how positive and negative alternate, not only in individuals but in the whole life of man, and we see how this contributes to raising both the individual from one incarnation to the next and humanity as a whole. We could easily show, if there were time, how there have been positive and negative epochs and historical periods. The idea of positive and negative throws light into every sphere of the soul's life and of the life of humanity at large.
It never happens that one man is always negative and another always positive. Each of us has to go through positive and negative conditions at different stages of existence. Only when we see the idea in this light shall we accept it as a truth and therefore as a basis for the practice of living. And our discussion today has confirmed the saying that we have put at the beginning and end of these lectures — the saying by the old Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who, because he could see so deeply into human life, was called the Obscure: “Never will you find the boundaries of the soul, by whatever paths you search, so all-embracing is the soul's being.” 43See note 23.
Now someone might say: “All study of the soul must then be useless, for if its boundaries can never be discovered, no research can establish them and one could despair of ever knowing anything about them.” Only a negative man could take that line. A positive man would add: “Thank God the life of the soul is so far-ranging that knowledge can never encompass it, for this means that everything we comprehend today we shall be able to surpass tomorrow and thus hasten towards higher levels.” Let us be glad that at every moment the life of the soul makes a mockery of our knowledge. We need an unbounded soul-life, for this limitless perspective gives us hope that we may continually surpass the positive and rise from step to step. It is precisely because the extent of our soul-life is unbounded and unknowable that we can look forward with hope and confidence. Because the boundaries of the soul can never be discovered, the soul is able to go beyond them and rise to higher and ever-higher levels.