Listen to Douglas comment on Rudolf Steiner’s book Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, aka Philosophy of Freedom.
Analyzing The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
The Philosophy of Freedom is a fundamental philosophical work of the spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) that addresses the question of whether a human being can be said to be free in their personal actions. The book was originally published in 1894 in German as Die Philosophie der Freiheit, and is also known as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path with the subtitle, Some results of introspective observation following the methods of natural science. Throughout this book Steiner attempts to use scientific methodology to examine the true nature of thinking and whether a human being can indeed act out of freedom.
The appearance of The Philosophy of Freedom in 1894 was preceded by his publications on Goethe, focusing on epistemology and the philosophy of science, particularly Goethe the Scientist (1883) and The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception (1886). In 1891, Steiner presented his doctoral dissertation, an epistemological study that includes discussion of Kant’s and Fichte’s theories of knowledge. A revised version of the thesis was published a year later in book form as Truth and Knowledge: Introduction to a Philosophy of Freedom.
The Philosophy of Freedom examines the basis for freedom in human thinking, gives an account of the relationship between knowledge and perception, and explores the role and reliability of thinking as a means to knowledge. Steiner analyzes the conditions necessary for human beings to be free, and develops a moral philosophy that he describes as “ethical individualism.”
Steiner was seeking a way to solve the ancient question of the nature of subject–object awareness (knowing). Steiner’s approach to freedom and knowing was also in part inspired by Schillers On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Steiner was also deeply affected as a young man by Kant’s argument in the Critique of Pure Reason that we cannot know things as they are in themselves, and he devotes a long chapter of The Philosophy of Freedom, Are there Limits to Knowledge?, to a refutation of this view, arguing that there are no limits to knowledge. This claim is important to freedom, because for Steiner freedom involves knowing the real basis of our actions. If this basis cannot be known, then freedom is not possible.
Steiner seeks to demonstrate that we can achieve a true picture of reality only by uniting percepts, which reflects only the outer appearance of the world, and concepts, which together give us access to the world’s inner nature. He proposes that freedom depends upon a person bridging the gap between ideals and the constraints of external reality, so that the person’s external deeds begin to be inspired by moral imagination given out of the spiritual world.
From: The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
The following is a free rendering of selections from Rudolf Steiner’s book, The Philosophy of Freedom – Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path, Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophic Press, NY, 1995. Some text has been condensed to make it more readable for non-German readers and yet retain its original meaning and spirit. These selections have been created as “Program Notes” for a podcast and are used as an educational aid to enhance the presentation. All readers are encouraged to read the original book in its full form to gain a more complete picture of what the author is characterizing. Selections were made to underscore the heart of Steiner’s new philosophy.
Thinkers seek the laws of phenomena, striving to penetrate in thinking what they experience through observation. Only when we have made the world content into our thought content do we rediscover the connection from which we have sundered ourselves.
There is a region of soul experience in which, through the soul’s inner activity, the question answers itself in a living way, always anew, whenever a human being needs it. Once we have found the region of the soul where these questions unfold, really perceiving this region gives all that we need to answer these riddles of life. All the riddles, therefore, that have to do with spirit and matter must be rediscovered by human beings in the fundamental riddle of their own essential being.
The history of spiritual life is a continual searching for the unity between the I and the world.
When we direct our cognition to the “I,” we initially perceive the activity of this “I” in the development of a world of ideas unfolded through thought. It is we who separate ourselves from the native ground of nature and place ourselves as “I” in opposition to the “world.”
It is true that we have estranged ourselves from nature; but it is just as true that we feel we are in her and belong to her. It can only be her activity that lives in us. We must find the way back to her again. We must seek out this natural being within ourselves, and then we shall also rediscover the connection to her. We can only find nature outside us if we first know her within us. What is akin to her within us will be our guide. Our way is thus mapped out for us.
We wish to descend into the depths of our own being, to find there those elements that we have saved in our flight out of nature. The investigation of our own being must bring us the solution to the riddle. We must come to a point where we can say to ourselves: Here I am no longer merely “I.” There is something here that is more than “I.”
The purpose of my thinking is to form concepts about the process I observe. It is through observation that we first become aware of anything entering the circle of our experience. The content of sensations, perceptions, views, feelings, acts of will, dream and fantasy constructions, representations, concepts and ideas, illusions and hallucinations – the content of all of these is given to us through observation. Thinking differs essentially, as an object of observation, from all other things. The observation of thinking is a kind of exceptional state.
It is part of the peculiar nature of thinking that it is an activity directed only to the observed object, and not to the thinker. The thinker forgets thinking while doing it. What concerns the thinker is not thinking, but the observed object of thinking. Thinking is the unobserved element in our normal spiritual life. When I think, I do not look at my thinking, which I myself am producing, but at the object of thinking, which I am not producing.
I can observe my present thinking only in two separate acts. The thinking to be observed is never the one currently active, but a different one. These two are therefore incompatible: active production and contemplative confrontation. As an object of world content thinking eludes normal observation. The observation of thinking is the most important observation that can be made. Before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood.
Concepts and ideas arise through thinking. Words cannot say what a concept is. Words can only make us notice that we have concepts. When we see a tree, our thinking reacts to our observation, a conceptual counterpart joins the object, and we consider the object and the conceptual counterpart as belonging together. Individual concepts link together into a closed conceptual system, in which each has its particular place. Ideas are not qualitatively different from concepts. They are only concepts with more content, more saturated, and more inclusive. Concepts and ideas already presuppose thinking.
Concepts cannot be won by observation. Concepts are added onto observation. Observation calls forth thinking, and it is only the latter that shows me how to link one isolated experience with another. For thinking, by its very nature, goes over and above what has been observed. Human consciousness is the stage where concept and observation meet and are connected to one another. It is the mediator between thinking and observation.
To the extent that human beings think, they experience themselves as active. They regard things as objects, and themselves as thinking subjects. Because they direct their thinking to what they observe, they are conscious of objects; because they direct their thinking to themselves, they are conscious of themselves, they have self-consciousness. Human consciousness must necessarily at the same time also be self-consciousness because it is a thinking consciousness. For when thinking directs its gaze toward its own activity, it has before it as its object its very own being, that is, its subject.
Thinking is beyond subject and object. Thus, thinking is an element that leads me beyond myself and unites me with objects. But it separates me from them at the same time, by setting me over against them as subject. Just this establishes the dual nature of the human being: we think, and our thinking embraces ourselves along with the rest of the world; but at the same time we must also, by means of thinking, define ourselves as individuals standing over against things.
We can call thinking, as it first appears to our consciousness, a percept. Every extension in the sphere of my percepts makes me correct my image of the world. The percept is partly determined by the organization of the subject. It is only because I perceive my self and notice that with every percept the content of my self also changes, that I find myself compelled to connect the observation of the object with my own changed state, and to speak of my mental picture. I perceive mental pictures in my self in the same way that I perceive colors, sounds, and so forth in other objects.
Our whole being functions in such a way that for everything in reality, the elements flow to us from two sides – from the side of perceiving and from the side of thinking. The divide between perceiving and thinking comes into being only at the instant that I, the observer, come over against things.
Our thinking, unlike our sensing and feeling, is not individual. It is universal. Only because it is related to the individual’s feeling and sensing does it receive an individual stamp in each separate human being. Human beings differentiate themselves from one another through these particular colorations of universal thinking.
In thinking, we are given the element that unites our particular individuality with the whole of the cosmos. When we sense, feel (and also perceive) we are separate; when we think, we are the all-one being that penetrates all.
Within us, we see an absolute force come into existence, a force that is universal. Yet we do not come to know it as it streams forth from the center of the world, but only at a point on the periphery.
The urge for knowledge arises in us because thinking in us reaches out beyond our separateness and relates itself to universal world existence.
For thinking beings, a concept arises from the encounter with an external thing. The concept is that part of a thing that we do not receive from without, but from within. Knowledge, cognition is meant to accomplish the balance or union of the two elements, inner and outer. A percept, then, is not something finished or closed off. It is one side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of knowing (cognition) is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only percept and concept together make up the whole thing.
We shall call the form in which thought-content first arises intuition. Intuition is to thinking as observation is to perception. Intuition and observation are the sources of our knowledge.
Intuition supplies us with the piece of reality missing from the percept. What meets us in observation as separate details is linked, item by item, through the coherent, unitary world of our intuitions. Through thinking we join together into one everything that we separated through perceiving.
The segment of the world that I perceive as my subject is run through by the stream of the universal world process. With regard to my perception, I am at first confined within the boundary of my skin. But what is contained within this skin belongs to the cosmos as a whole. Therefore, for a relationship to exist between my organism and an object outside me, it is not at all necessary for something of the object to slip into me or to impress itself on my mind like a signet ring on wax.
The forces acting within my skin are the same as those existing outside it. Therefore, I really am the things: to be sure, not “I” as a perceived subject, but “I” as a part of the universal world process. The percept of the tree lies with my I in the same whole. The universal world process calls forth equally the percept of the tree there, and the percept of my I here. Were I a world-creator, not a world-knower, then object and subject (percept and I) would arise in one act. For they determine each other mutually. As world knower, I can find the common element of the two, as two sides of being that belong together, only through thinking, which relates them to each other through concepts. Nothing is given to us directly except through thinking and perceiving.
The moment a percept emerges on the horizon of my observation, thinking, too, is activated in me. An element of my thought-system – a specific intuition, a concept – unites with the percept. Then, when the percept disappears from my field of vision, what remains? What remains is my intuition, with its relationship to the specific percept that formed in the moment of perceiving.
A mental picture is nothing but an intuition related to a specific percept. It is a concept, once linked to a percept, for which the relation to that percept has remained. A mental picture, then, is an individualized concept. Making mental pictures already gives our conceptual life an individual stamp.
The full reality of a thing is revealed to us in the moment of observation, out of the merging of a concept and a percept. Through a percept, the concept receives an individualized form, a relationship to that specific percept. The concept survives in us in this individual form, with its characteristic relationship to the percept, and forms the mental picture of the corresponding thing.
A mental picture stands between a percept and a concept. A mental picture is the specific concept that points to the percept. Reality reveals itself to us as percepts and concepts; the subjective representation of that reality reveals itself as mental pictures.
Thinking is the element through which we participate in the universal process of the cosmos; feeling is the element through which we can withdraw into the confines of our own being. Our thinking unites us with the world; our feeling leads us back into ourselves and makes us individuals. Feeling is the means by which concepts first gain concrete life.
Our concepts connect themselves to our percepts. We think universal concepts in our own special way. This characteristic quality is a result of our standpoint in the world, of the sphere of perception connected to our place in life. A natural law, after all, is nothing other than a conceptual expression for the connection between certain percepts.
The elements needed to explain reality are to be drawn from the two spheres of perceiving and thinking. To experience the essence of thinking – that is, actively to elaborate the conceptual world – is something completely different from the experience of something perceptible through the senses. Whatever senses human beings might have, not one could give us reality if our thinking did not permeate what is perceived through them with concepts. However constituted, any sense permeated by concepts in this way offers human beings the possibility of living in reality.
We must realize that every perceptual picture takes its form from the organization of the perceiving entity, but that the perceptual picture permeated by an actually experienced thinking contemplation leads us into reality.
The insight that every percept gives only a part of the reality hidden within it, and that it thus directs us away from its own reality. This insight is then joined by another – that thinking leads us into the part of the percept’s reality that was hidden by the percept itself.
The deepening of cognition depends on the forces of intuition that live in thinking. In the experience of thinking, such intuition can immerse itself either more or less deeply in reality. The extension of the perceptual picture can stimulate this immersion and so, indirectly, promote it.
The essence of the human is determined not only by the kind of immediate perception with which we confront ourselves through our organization, but also by our excluding other things from this immediate perception. Just as both the conscious waking state and the unconscious state of sleep are necessary for life, so both the sphere of sense percepts and a (much greater) sphere of elements that are not sense-perceptible, in the field from which sense percepts originate, are necessary for human self-experience.
It should also be kept in mind that the idea of the percept, as developed in this text, must not be confused with that of external sense perception, which is only a special case of it. Everything both sensory and spiritual that meets a human being is here taken to be a “percept” until it is grasped by the actively elaborated concept. “Senses” of the kind normally meant by the word are not necessary to have percepts of soul or spirit.
The world comes to meet me as a multiplicity, a sum of separate details. As a human being, I am myself one of these details, an entity among other entities. We call this form of the world simply the given and – insofar as we do not develop it through conscious activity but find it ready-made – we call it percept. Within the world of percepts, we perceive ourselves. But if something did not emerge out of this self-percept that proved capable of linking both percepts in general and also the sum of all other percepts with the percept of our self, our self-percept would remain simply one among many.
This emerging something, however, is no longer a mere percept; nor is it, like percepts, simply present. It is produced through activity and initially appears linked to what we perceive as our self, but its inner meaning reaches beyond the self. It adds conceptual determinates to individual percepts, but these conceptual determinates relate to one another and are grounded in a whole. It determines conceptually what is achieved through self-perception conceptually, just as it determines all other percepts. It places this as the subject or “I” over against objects. This “something” is thinking, and the conceptual determinates are concepts and ideas. Thus, thinking first expresses itself in the percept of the self, but it is not merely subjective, for the self-characterizes itself as subject only with the help of thinking. Such self-reference in thought is one way that we determine our personality in life. Through it, we lead a purely conceptual existence. Through it, we feel ourselves as thinking beings.
Feeling, like perceiving, always appears before cognizing. First, we merely feel ourselves as existing; and, in the course of our gradual development, we reach the point at which, out of our own dimly felt existence, the self-concept dawns upon us. But what emerges for us only later is originally inseparably united with feeling.
Feeling is a purely individual act. It is a relationship of the outer world to our subject, insofar as that relationship finds expression in a purely subjective experience. Feeling and willing warm the human soul even when we look back and recollect their original state, while thinking all too easily leaves us cold. It seems to dry out the life of the soul. Yet this is only the sharply contoured shadow of the reality of thinking – a reality interwoven with light, dipping down warmly into the phenomena of the world. This dipping down occurs with a power that flows forth in the activity of thinking itself – the power of love in spiritual form.
For whoever turns toward essential thinking finds within it both feeling and will, and both of these in the depths of their reality. Whoever turns aside from thinking toward “pure” feeling and willing loses the true reality of feeling and willing. If we experience thinking intuitively, we also do justice to the experience of feeling and will.
For cognition, the concept of a tree is determined by the percept of a tree. Faced with a specific percept, I can select only a very specific concept out of the general conceptual system. The connection between a concept and a percept is indirectly and objectively determined by thinking about the percept. The percept’s connection with its concept is recognized after the act of perception; but their belonging together is determined by the situation itself.
Thinking can be beheld directly as a self-enclosed entity. To observe thinking is to live, during the observation, immediately within the weaving of a self-supporting spiritual entity. We could even say that whoever wants to grasp the essence of the spirit in the form in which it first presents itself to human beings can do so in the self-sustaining activity of thinking.
In examining thinking itself, two things coincide that otherwise must always appear as separated: concepts and percepts. Only one part of reality is present in the percept and that we experience the other part—which belongs to it and is necessary for it to appear as full reality—in the permeation of the percept by thinking. We shall then see, in what appears in consciousness as thinking, not a shadowy copy of reality, but a spiritual essence that sustains itself. Of this spiritual essence we can say that it becomes present to our consciousness through intuition. Intuition is the conscious experience, within what is purely spiritual, of a purely spiritual content. The essence of thinking can be grasped only through intuition.
In normal experience, human thinking appears only in and through the organization of body and soul. This organization makes itself felt so strongly in thinking that its true significance can only be seen by someone who has recognized that nothing of that organization plays a part in the essential nature of thinking. But such a person will also see what a peculiar kind of relationship exists between this human organization and thinking. For our organization has no effect on the essence of thinking but rather retreats when the activity of thinking appears. Our organization suspends its own activity – it makes room – and, in the space that has been made free, thinking appears. The effective essence in thinking has a double function. First, it represses the human organization’s own activity and, second, it replaces that activity with itself. Even the first of these, the repression of the bodily organization, is a result of thinking activity – of the part of that activity that prepares the appearance of thinking.
What happens in human organization as a result of thinking has nothing to do with the essence of thinking, but it does have something to do with the origin of I-consciousness out of thinking. The real “I” certainly lies in thinking’s own essence, but I-consciousness does not. The “I” is to be found in thinking; but “I-consciousness” appears because the traces of thinking activity are engraved in general consciousness, as characterized above. I-consciousness therefore arises through the bodily organization. Once arisen, it is taken up into thinking, and thereafter shares in thinking’s spiritual being. “I-consciousness” is based on the human organization, from which our acts of will flow.
The highest stage of individual life is conceptual thinking without reference to a specific perceptual content. We determine the content of a concept out of the conceptual sphere through pure intuition. Such a concept initially contains no reference to specific percepts.
If we act under the influence of intuitions, then the motive power of our action is pure thinking. The motives of morality are mental pictures and concepts. We may call this moral autonomy.
We described the stage of characterological disposition that works as pure thinking, or practical reason, as the highest. We have now described conceptual intuition as the highest motive. The expression of this voice is conscience.
People vary in their capacity for intuition. How I act will therefore depend on how my capacity for intuition works in relation to a particular situation. The sum of ideas active within us, the real content of our intuitions, constitutes what is individual in each of us, notwithstanding the universality of the world of ideas. To the extent that the intuitive content turns into action, it is the ethical content of the individual. Allowing this intuitive content to live itself out fully is the highest driving force of morality. At the same time, it is the highest motive of those who realize that, in the end, all other moral principles unite within it. We can call this standpoint ethical individualism.
While I am acting, an ethical principle moves me to the extent that it can live within me intuitively; it is united with love for the goal that I wish to realize through my action. My action becomes “good” if my intuition, steeped in love, stands in the right way in the intuitively experienceable world continuum; it becomes “bad” if that is not the case.
In truth, only an act of will emerging from intuition can be individual. What is individual in me is not my organism, with its drives and feelings, but my own world of ideas that lights up within this organism. I distinguish myself from others by my thinking, that is, by actively grasping what expresses itself in my organism as conceptuality. Insofar as an action proceeds from the conceptual part of my individual being it is felt to be free.
To act out of freedom does not exclude moral laws, but rather includes them. Still, it stands on a higher level than action dictated by moral laws alone. The difference between me and my neighbor consists not in our living in two completely distinct spiritual worlds, but in my neighbor’s receiving intuitions other than my own out of the world of ideas common to us both. To live in love of action, and to let live in understanding of the other’s will, is the fundamental maxim of free human beings. Only because individuals are of one spirit can they live out their lives side by side.
Indeed, we are only truly human to the extent that we are free. As human beings, we must each unite our own concept with the percept of “human” through our own activity. Concept and percept coincide here only if we ourselves make them coincide. But we can only do so if we have discovered the concept of the free spirit, which is our own concept. In the objective world, the percept is divided from the concept by the way we are organized; in cognition we overcome this division. Nature makes human beings merely natural creatures; society makes them law-abiding actors; but they can only make themselves into free beings.
For those who understand how ideas are intuitively experienced as a kind of self-sufficient essence, it is clear that, when we cognize in the world of ideas, we live our way into something that is the same for all human beings; but that, when we borrow intuitions from that world of ideas for our acts of will, we individualize an element of that world through the same activity that we develop in the spiritual-conceptual process of cognition as something universally human.
For a purpose, it is absolutely necessary that the effective cause be a concept – in fact, the concept of the effect. But nowhere in nature can we establish that concepts are causes. The concept always proves to be merely the conceptual link between a cause and an effect. In nature, causes exist only in the form of percepts.
Free spirits act out of their impulses – that is, from intuitions chosen by thinking from the totality of their world of ideas. Imagination is the chief means by which human beings produce concrete mental pictures from the sum of their ideas. Free spirits need moral imagination to realize their ideas and make them effective. Moral imagination is the source of a free spirit’s actions. Therefore, only people who have moral imagination are really morally productive.
To turn a mental picture into a reality, moral imagination must set to work in a specific field of percepts. Human action does not create percepts, it recasts already existing percepts and gives them a new form. To be able to transform a specific perceptual object or group of objects in accordance with a moral mental picture, one must have understood the laws of the perceptual picture to which one wants to give new form or new direction – that is, one must have understood how it has worked until now. Further, one must find the method by which those laws can be transformed. This part of moral efficacy depends on knowledge of the phenomenal world with which one is dealing. This knowledge must therefore be sought in a branch of general scientific knowledge. Hence, along with the faculty for moral ideas and imagination, moral action presupposes the capacity to transform the world of percepts without interrupting its coherence in natural law.
The capacity to transform the world of percepts is moral technique. It is learnable in the sense that any knowledge is learnable. We see that moral laws are first created by us. I will live according to nature if I apply the natural laws of the species to my particular case. But, as a moral being, I am an individual and have laws of my very own.
Observation shows that freedom is characteristic of the perfected form of human action. This freedom must be ascribed to the human will insofar as the will realizes pure conceptual intuitions. For these intuitions do not result from necessity working upon them from without; they are self-sustaining. We feel the action to be free when we find that it is the image of such an ideal intuition. The freedom of an action lies in this characteristic.
If I observe willing that is the image of an intuition, then all organically necessary activity has withdrawn from that willing. The will is free. Such freedom of will cannot be observed by someone unable to see that free willing consists in the fact that the necessary activity of the human organism is first numbed and suppressed by the intuitive element, and then replaced by the spiritual activity of the idea-filled will.
Freedom, is in no way an abstract ideal, but a guiding power inherent in human nature. Human beings are free to the extent that they can realize, in their willing, the same mood of soul that lives in them when they are conscious of forming purely conceptual (spiritual) intuitions.
Ethical ideas spring from human moral imagination. Their realization depends upon their being desired strongly enough to overcome pain and suffering. Ethical ideals are human intuitions, the driving forces that our own spirit harnesses. We want them because their realization is our highest pleasure which sees our own master and our own assessor in the essential individuality of each of us, seen into from all sides.
If freedom is to be realized, then the willing within human nature must be sustained by intuitive thinking. Morality and moral value come about only in the free realization of intuition flowing from the human essence.
Cognition consists in linking a concept with a percept through thinking. For all other objects, the observer must penetrate to the concept by means of his or her own intuition. Understanding a free individuality is exclusively a question of bringing over into our own spirit in a pure form (unmixed with our own conceptual content) those concepts by which the individuality determines itself.
All the moral activity of humanity arises from individual ethical intuitions and their acceptance in human communities. We could also say that the ethical life of humanity is the sum total of what free human individuals have produced through their moral imagination. The individual is a part of the world, and has a real connection with the whole cosmos, which is broken only for our perception.
Only through the experience of intuitive thinking we can find our total, self-contained existence within the universe. Thinking destroys the illusion of perceiving and integrates our individual existence into the life of the cosmos. The unity of the conceptual world, which contains objective percepts, also includes the content of our subjective personality. Thinking gives us the true form of reality, as a unity enclosed within itself, while the multiplicity of percepts is only an illusion conditioned by our organization.
In every age, cognition of the real, as opposed to the illusion of perceiving, has constituted the goal of human thinking. Science has striven to recognize percepts as reality by discovering the lawful connections among them. But wherever it has been believed that the connections transmitted by human thinking have merely subjective significance, the actual ground of unity has been sought in an object set beyond our world of experience (an inferred God, Will, absolute Spirit, etc.). And, based on this opinion, attempts were then made to achieve – in addition to knowledge of connections recognizable through experience – a second kind of knowledge, based not on experience but on metaphysical inference. This kind of knowledge went beyond experience and revealed a connection between experience and entities that are no longer directly available to us. On this basis, then, it was believed that we can understand the coherence of the world through orderly thinking because a primal Being built the world according to logical laws. The reason for our actions was also seen in the will of this Being.
It was not recognized that thinking simultaneously encompasses the subjective and the objective, and that full reality is conveyed in the union of percept with concept. Only as long as we regard the laws that permeate and determine percepts in the form of abstract concepts are we dealing with something purely subjective. The content of a concept, joined to a percept by thinking, is not subjective. For the content of this concept is taken not from the subject, but from reality. It is the part of reality that perceiving cannot reach. It is experience, but not experience transmitted by perceiving.
Percepts are the part of reality that is given objectively, concepts are the part that is given subjectively through intuition. Our mental organization tears reality into these two factors. One factor is apparent to perceiving: the other to intuition. Only the union of the two – the percept integrating itself lawfully into the universe – is full reality. If we consider mere perception alone, we do not have reality, only disconnected chaos; if, on the other hand, we consider only the lawfulness of percepts, we are dealing merely with abstract concepts. Abstract concepts contain no reality. Reality lies in thinking observation that does not one-sidedly examine either concepts or percepts by themselves, but rather considers the union of both.
Monism, in contrast, shows that thinking is neither subjective nor objective, but a principle that spans both sides of reality. When we observe with thinking, we execute a process that itself belongs to the order of real events. Through thinking, we overcome, in experience itself, the one-sidedness of mere perceiving. Monism shows that, in cognizing, we grasp reality in its true form, not in a subjective picture that interposes itself between ourselves and reality. Monism finds this universal divine life in reality itself.
Thinking leads all perceptual subjects to the common conceptual unity within all multiplicity. The unitary world of ideas expresses itself in them as in a multiplicity of individuals. As long as we understand ourselves merely through self-perception, we see ourselves as the separate human beings that we are as soon as we notice the world of ideas that lights up in us, embracing everything separate, we see what is absolutely real light up livingly within us.
The conceptual content of another human being is also my own conceptual content, and I see the other as other only as long as I am perceiving, and not once I am thinking. Each person’s thinking embraces only a part of the total world of ideas and, to that extent, individuals also differ through the actual content of their thinking. But the contents exist within a self-enclosed whole that contains the thought contents of all human beings. The universal, primordial Being permeating all humanity thus takes hold of us through our thinking. Life within reality, filled with thought content, is at the same time life in God.
In truth, the human spirit never moves beyond the reality in which we live. Nor does it need to, for everything needed to explain the world lies within it. We can think only the concepts of reality; to find reality itself, we also need to perceive.
Intuitive thinking can be experienced purely spiritually, and through which every percept is placed within reality during the act of cognition. The only question is whether we can, from the viewpoint of intuitively experienced thinking alone, await perception not only of what is sensory, but also of what is spiritual? We can indeed wait for this. For even if, on one hand, intuitively experienced thinking is an active process performed within the human spirit, on the other hand, it is also a spiritual percept grasped with no sensory organ. It is a percept in which the perceiver himself or herself is active; and it is an activity of one’s self that is simultaneously perceived. In intuitive thinking, human beings are also transferred into a spiritual world as perceivers. What approaches us in that world as a percept, in the same way as the spiritual world of our own thinking, we recognize as the world of spiritual perception.
As soon as we experience it, the spiritual perceptual world cannot be anything strange to us as human beings, because we already have in intuitive thinking an experience of a purely spiritual character. The experience of thinking, properly understood, is already an experience of spirit. Therefore, it seems to me that whoever can adopt the point of view of this book in earnest will not stop short of entering the world of spiritual perception. To be sure, what is portrayed in my later books cannot be logically derived – inferred – from the contents of this book. But a living grasp of what is meant in this book by intuitive thinking will naturally lead onward to a living entry into the world of spiritual perception.
What, then, do I have before me when I face another person? I look at what is immediately apparent. It is the sensory, bodily appearance of the other person, given to me as a percept, and perhaps also the auditory percept of what the person is saying, and so forth. I do not merely stare at all of this; rather, it sets my thinking activity in motion. By my standing before the other person and thinking, the percept proves to be, to some extent, transparent to the soul. When I grasp the percept through thinking, I am bound to say to myself that it is not at all what it appears to be to the external senses. By what it is directly, the sensory phenomenon reveals something else that it is indirectly. Its presentation before me is, at the same time, its extinguishing as a mere sense phenomenon. But what it manifests during that extinguishing compels me, as a thinking being, to extinguish my own thinking for the period of its activity and to replace it with its thinking. I grasp this other thinking in my own thinking as an experience, as I do with my own. I have really perceived the thinking of the other person. The immediate percept, extinguishing itself as a sensory appearance, is grasped by my thinking, and this is a process lying completely within my consciousness, which consists in my thinking being replaced by the other thinking. Through the self-extinguishing of the sensory appearance, the separation between the two spheres of consciousness is actually suspended. This is represented in my consciousness in that, in experiencing the content of the other person’s consciousness, I experience my own consciousness just as little as I experience it in dreamless sleep. Just as my daytime consciousness is shut out in dreamless sleep, so is the content of my own consciousness when I perceive another person’s. The illusion that this is not so persists because, first, when perceiving another person, what replaces my own content of consciousness is not unconsciousness (as in sleep) but rather the content of the other person’s consciousness; and second, the oscillations between the extinction and re-illumination of my consciousness of myself follow one another too rapidly to be normally noticed.
The whole problem cannot be solved by artificial conceptual constructs that infer, from what is conscious, other things that can never be conscious. It must be solved through true experience of what results from a union of thinking and percepts. This applies to many questions that appear in the philosophical literature. Thinkers ought to seek the path to unprejudiced, spiritually-oriented observation, but instead they slide an artificial conceptual construction in front of reality.
Truth that comes to us from without always bears about it the stamp of uncertainty. We want to believe only what appears to each of us inwardly as truth. The only knowing that satisfies us is the kind that submits to no outer norm, but springs from the inner life of the personality.
Science itself is to become organically alive. All real philosophers have been artists in concepts. For them, human ideas have become artistic materials and scientific methods have become artistic technique. Thereby, abstract thinking attains concrete, individual life. Ideas become powers of life. Then we not merely know about things, but have made knowing into a real, self-governing organism. Our active, real consciousness has lifted itself above mere passive reception of truths.
One must lift oneself into the ethereal realm of concepts if one is to experience every aspect of existence. We must be able to confront an idea while experiencing it; otherwise, we fall into its bondage. We can take possession of the world of ideas to use them for our human goals.