page contents

The Boundaries of Natural Science

The Boundaries of Natural
VIII (excerpt)

Yesterday I attempted to show the methods employed by Eastern spirituality for approaching the spiritual world and pointed out how anybody who wished to pursue this path into the supersensible more or less dispensed with the bridge linking him with his fellow men. He chose a path different from that which establishes communication within society by means of language, thought, and perception of the ego. And I showed how it was initially attempted not to understand through the word what one's fellow man wished to say, what one wants to understand from him, but to live within the words. This process of living within the word was enhanced by forming the words into certain aphorisms. One lived in these and repeated them, so that the forces accrued in the soul by this process were strengthened further by repetition. And I showed how something was achieved in the condition of the soul that might be called a state of Inspiration, in the sense in which I have used the word, except that the sages of the ancient East were, of course, members of their race: their ego-consciousness was much less developed than in later epochs of human evolution. They thus entered into the spiritual world in a more instinctive manner, and because the whole thing was instinctive and thus resulted, in a sense, from a healthy drive within human nature, in the earliest times it could not lead to the pathological afflictions of which we have also spoken. In later times steps were taken by the so-called Mysteries to guard against the rise of such afflictions as I have described to you. I said that those Westerners who desire to gain knowledge of the spiritual world must approach this in another way. Humanity has progressed in the interim. Different soul faculties have evolved, so that one cannot simply renew the ancient Eastern path of spiritual development. Within the realm of spiritual life one cannot long to return in a reactionary manner to prehistoric or earlier historical periods of human evolution. For Western civilization, the path leading into the spiritual worlds is that of Imagination. This faculty of Imagination, however, must be integrated organically into the life of the soul as a whole. This can come about in the most varied ways, just as the Eastern path of development was not unequivocally predetermined but could take numerous different courses. Today I would like to describe the path into the spiritual world that conforms to the needs of Western civilization and is particularly suited to anyone immersed in the scientific life of the West.

In my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, I have described an entirely safe path leading to the supersensible, but I describe it in such a way that it applies for everybody, above all for those who have not devoted their lives to science. Today I shall describe a path into the supersensible that is much more for the scientist. All my experience has taught me that for such a scientist a kind of precondition for this cognitional striving is to take up what is presented in my book, Philosophy of Freedom. I will explain what I mean by this. This book, Philosophy of Freedom, was not written with the same intent as most books written today. Nowadays books are written simply in order to inform the reader of the book's subject matter, so that the reader learns the book's contents in accordance with his education, his scientific training, or the special knowledge he already possesses. This was not my primary Intention in writing Philosophy of Freedom, and thus it will not be popular with those who read books only to acquire Information. The purpose of the book is to make the reader directly engage his thinking activity an every page.

In a sense, the book is only a kind of musical score that one must read with inner thought activity in order to progress, as the result of one's own efforts, from one thought to the next. The book constantly presupposes the mental collaboration of the reader. Moreover, the book presupposes that which the soul becomes in the process of such mental exertion. Anyone who has really worked through this book with his own inner thinking activity and cannot confess that he has come to know himself in a part of his inner life in which he had not known himself previously has not read Philosophy of Freedom properly. One should feel that one is being lifted out of one's usual thinking [Vorstellen] into a thinking independent of the senses [ein sinnlichkeitsfreies Denken], in which one is fully immersed, so that one feels free of the conditions of physical existence. Whoever cannot confess this to himself has actually misunderstood the book. One should be able to say to oneself: now I know, as a result of the inner thought activity I myself have expended, what pure thinking actually is.

The strange thing is that most Western philosophers totally deny the reality of the very thing that my Philosophy of Freedom seeks to awaken as something real in the soul of the reader. Countless philosophers have expounded the view that pure thinking does not exist but is bound to contain traces, however diluted, of sense perception. A strong impression is left that philosophers who maintain this have never really studied mathematics or gone into the difference between analytical and empirical mechanics. Specialization, however, has already grown to such an extent that nowadays philosophy is often pursued by people totally lacking any knowledge of mathematical thinking. The pursuit of philosophy is actually impossible without a grasp of at least the spirit of mathematical thinking. We have seen what Goethe's attitude was toward this spirit of mathematical thinking, even though he made no claim himself to any special training in mathematics. Many thus would deny the existence of the very faculty I would like those who study The Philosophy of Freedom to acquire.

And now let us imagine a reader who simply sets about working through The Philosophy of Freedom within the context of his ordinary consciousness in the way I have described: he will, of course, not be able to claim that he has been transported into a supersensible world. For I intentionally wrote The Philosophy of Freedom in the way that I did so that it would present itself to the world initially as a purely philosophical work. Just think what a disservice would have been accorded anthroposophically oriented spiritual science if I had begun immediately with spiritual scientific writings! These writings would, of course, have been disregarded by all trained philosophers as the worst kind of dilettantism, as the efforts of an amateur. To begin with I had to write purely philosophically. I had to present the world with something thought out philosophically in the strict sense, though it transcended the normal bounds of philosophy. At some point, however, the transition had to be made from a merely philosophical and scientific kind of writing to a spiritual scientific writing. This occurred at a time when I was invited to write a special chapter about Goethe's scientific writings for a German biography of Goethe. This was at the end of the last century, in the 1890s. And so I was to write the chapter on Goethe's scientific writings: I had, in fact, finished it and sent it to the publisher when there appeared another work of mine, called Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age. The book was a bridge between pure philosophy and an anthroposophical orientation. When this work came out, my manuscript was returned to me by the publisher, who had enclosed nothing but my fee so that I would not make a fuss, for thereby the legal obligations had been met. Among the learned pedants, there was obviously no interest in anything — not even a single chapter devoted to the development of Goethe's attitude toward natural science written by one who had authored this book on mysticism.