Monday 19 August 2019

The philosophical genius of Rudolf Steiner

I have held-off writing about Steiner's The Riddles of Philosophy, because I have not finished reading it; I have spent a couple of years on the job, so far.

Whether I ever get through it entirely, I can't say - this is a work of such density as well as scope. It is a history of philosophy from its beginnings, and not just describing the stages and phases of philosophical development, but making it so the reader can experience them for himself.

I have been reading philosophy, off and on, for more than forty years; and I have never experiened anything approaching this book as an interpretative work. Steiner truly seems to have mastered the great philosophers; in the sense of having serially re-lived the essence of their work in the thought-context of their times.

Of course, this entails taking a very particular perspective on the history of philosophy - one which sees philosophical development as emanating from the (divinely-destined) psychological-spiritual development of Men through the ages of the world.

...Yet this perspective is one with which few will agree, as things stand. Nonetheless, the quality of the results serve as an indirect validation of Steiner's assumptions.

Excerpt from The Riddles of Philosophy -- Chapter 5: The World Conceptions of the Modern Age of Thought Evolution ; or you can listen to the chapter, and whole book, being read by Dale Brunsvold.

A world conception has to be expressed in thoughts. But the convincing strength of thought, which had found its climax in Platonism and which in Aristotelianism unfolded in an unquestioned way, had vanished from the impulses of man's soul. Only the spiritually bold nature of Spinoza was capable of deriving the energy from the mathematical mode of thinking to elaborate thought into a world conception that should point as far as the ground of the world.

The thinkers of the eighteenth century could not yet feel the life-energy of thought that allows them to experience themselves as human beings securely placed into a spiritually real world. Lessing stands among them as a prophet in feeling the force of the self-conscious ego in such a way that he attributes to the soul the transition through repeated terrestrial lives.

The fact that thought no longer entered the field of consciousness as it did for Plato was unconsciously felt like a nightmare in questions of world conceptions. For Plato, it manifested itself with its supporting energy and its saturated content as an active entity of the world.

Now, thought was felt as emerging from the substrata of self-consciousness. One was aware of the necessity to supply it with supporting strength through whatever powers one could summon. 

Time and again this supporting energy was looked for in the truth of belief or in the depth of the heart, forces that were considered to be stronger than thought, which was felt to be pale and abstract. 

This is what many souls continually experience with respect to thought. They feel it as a mere soul content out of which they are incapable of deriving the energy that could grant them the necessary security to be found in the knowledge that man may know himself rooted with his being in the spiritual ground of the world.

Such souls are impressed with the logical nature of thought; they recognize such thought as a force that would be needed to construct a scientific world view, but they demand a force that has a stronger effect on them when they look for a world conception embracing the highest knowledge.

Such souls lack the spiritual boldness of Spinoza needed to feel thought as the source of world creation, and thus to know themselves with thought at the world's foundation. As a result of this soul constitution, man often scorns thought while he constructs a world conception; he therefore feels his self-consciousness more securely supported in the darkness of the forces of feeling and emotion. There are people to whom a conception appears the less valuable for its relation to the riddles of the world, the more this conception tends to leave the darkness of the emotional sphere and enter into the light of thought.

We find such a mood of soul in I. G. Hamann (died 1788). He was, like many a personality of this kind, a great stimulator, but with a genius like Hamann, ideas brought up from the dark depths of the soul have a more intense effect on others than thoughts expressed in rational form. In the tone of the oracles Hamann expressed himself on questions that fill the philosophical life of his time. 

He had a stimulating effect on Herder as on others. A mystic feeling, often of a poetistic coloring, pervades his oracular sayings. The urge of the time is manifested chaotically in them for an experience of a force of the self-conscious soul that can serve as supporting nucleus for everything that man means to lift into awareness about world and life.

It is characteristic of this age for its representative spirits to feel that one must submerge into the depth of the soul to find the point in which the soul is linked up with the eternal ground of the world; out of the insight into this connection, out of the source of self-consciousness, one must gain a world picture. 

A considerable gap exists, however, between what man actually was able to embrace with his spiritual energies and this inner root of the self-consciousness. 

In their spiritual exertion, the representative spirits do not penetrate to the point from which they dimly feel their task originates. They go in circles, as it were, around the cause of their world riddle without coming nearer to it...

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