Chapter 02 Audiobook

The Philosophy of Freedom
Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path, Lipson translation
copyright © Anthroposophic Press, 1995
Audio by Dale Brunsvold
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Chapter 02

The Fundamental Urge For Knowledge

(16:19) Whole chapter audio

Part 1 of 3 audio within text
Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast,
Each wants to separate from the other;
One, in hearty lovelust,
Clings to earth with clutching organs;
The other lifts itself mightily from the dust
To high ancestral regions.
Goethe, Faust I, 1112

[1] With these words, Goethe characterizes a trait deeply based in human nature. As human beings, we are not organized in a fully integrated, unified way. We always demand more than the world freely offers. Nature gives us needs, and the satisfaction of some of these she leaves to our own activity. The gifts allotted to us are abundant, but even more abundant is our desire. We seem born for dissatisfaction. The urge to know is only a special case of this dissatisfaction. We look at a tree twice. The first time, we see its branches at rest, the second time in motion. We are unsatisfied with this observation. Why, we ask, does the tree present itself to us now at rest, now in motion? Every glance at nature engenders a host of questions within us.  We receive a new problem with each phenomenon that greets us. Every experience becomes a riddle. We see a creature similar to the mother animal emerging from the egg, and we ask the reason for this similarity. We observe a living creature’s growth and development to a certain degree of perfection, and we seek the conditions of this experience. Nowhere are we content with what nature displays before our senses. We look everywhere for what we call an explanation of the facts.

[2] That which we seek in things, over and above what is given to us immediately, splits our entire being into two parts. We become aware of standing in opposition to the world, as independent beings. The universe appears to us as two opposites: I and world.

[3] We set up this barrier between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness lights up within us. But we never lose the feeling that we do belong to the world, that a link exists that connects us to it, that we are creatures not outside, but within, the universe.

[4] This feeling engenders an effort to bridge the opposition. And, in the final analysis, the whole spiritual striving of humankind consists in bridging this opposition. The history of spiritual life is a continual searching for the unity between the I and the world. Religion, art, and science share this as their goal. The religious believer seeks the solution to the world-riddle posed by the I, which is unsatisfied by the merely phenomenal world, in the revelation meted out by God. Artists try to incorporate the ideas of their I in various materials to reconcile what lives within them to the outer world. They, too, feel unsatisfied with the merely phenomenal world and seek to build into it the something more that their I, going above and beyond the world of phenomena, contains. 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. We shall see later that this goal is reached only when the tasks of scientific research are understood much more profoundly than often occurs.

The whole relation between the I and the world that I have portrayed here meets us on the stage of history in the contrast between a unitary worldview, or monism, and a two-world theory, or dualism. Dualism directs its gaze solely to the separation that human consciousness effects between the I and the world. Its whole effort is a futile struggle to reconcile these opposites, which it may call spirit and matter, subject and object, or thinking and phenomenon. It feels that a bridge between the two worlds must exist, but it is incapable of finding it. When human beings experience themselves as “I,” they can do no other than think of this “I” as being on the side of spirit. When to this I they then oppose the world, they ascribe to the latter the perceptual world given to the senses: the material world. In this way, human beings locate themselves within the opposition of spirit and matter. They do so all the more because their own bodies belong to the material world. The “I” thus belongs to the spiritual, as a part of it; while material things and processes, which are perceived by the senses, belong to the “world.” 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. Monism directs its gaze exclusively to unity, and seeks to deny or erase the opposites, present though these are. Neither monism nor dualism is satisfactory, for neither does justice to the facts. Dualism sees spirit (I) and matter (world) as two fundamentally different entities, and therefore it cannot understand how the two can affect one another. How could spirit know what is going on in matter, if matter’s specific nature is altogether foreign to spirit? Or, given these conditions, how could spirit affect matter so that intentions translate into deeds? The most ingenious and absurd hypotheses have been proposed to answer these questions. Yet, to the present day, things are hardly better with monism which, until now, has attempted three solutions: either it denies spirit and becomes materialism; or it denies matter, seeking salvation through spiritualism; or else it claims that matter and spirit are inseparably united even in the simplest entity, so that it should come as no surprise if these two forms of existence, which after all are never apart, appear together in human beings.

[5] Materialism can never offer a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at an explanation must begin with one’s forming thoughts about phenomena. Thus, materialism starts with the thought of matter or of material processes. In so doing, it already has two different kinds of facts on hand: the material world and thoughts about it. Materialism attempts to understand the latter by seeing them as a purely material process. It believes that thinking  occurs in the brain in the same way as digestion occurs in the animal organism. Just as it ascribes mechanical and organic effects to matter, materialism also assigns to matter the capacity, under certain circumstances, to think. But it forgets that all it has done is to shift the problem to another location. Materialists ascribe the capacity to think to matter rather than to themselves. And this brings them back to the starting point. How does matter manage to think about its own existence? Why does it not simply go on existing, perfectly content with itself? Materialism turns aside from the specific subject, our own I, and arrives at an unspecific, hazy configuration: matter. Here the same riddle comes up again. The materialist view can only displace the problem, not solve it.

[6] And what of the spiritualist view? Pure spiritualists deny matter any independent existence and conceive of it only as a product of spirit. If they apply this view to the riddle of their own human existence, they are driven into a corner. Over against the I, which may be placed on the side of spirit, there suddenly appears the sensory world. No spiritual point of entry into it seems open; it has to be perceived and experienced by the I through material processes. As long as it tries to explain itself solely as a spiritual entity, the “I” cannot find such material processes within itself. What it works out for itself spiritually never contains the sense world. It is as if the “I” has to admit that the world remains closed to it unless it puts itself into an unspiritual relationship to the world. Similarly, when we decide to act, we must translate our intentions into reality with the help of material stuff and forces. We are thus referred back to the outer world. The most extreme spiritualist, or perhaps the thinker who, through his absolute idealism, presents himself as an extreme spiritualist, is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Fichte attempted to derive the whole world structure from the “I.” What he in fact succeeded in creating was a magnificent thought picture of the world, but one without any experiential content. Just as it is impossible for the materialist to declare spirit out of existence, so the spiritualist cannot disavow the external material world.

[7] 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. Because of this, those with a spiritualist worldview sometimes feel themselves tempted, in regard to their own human essence, to acknowledge nothing of the spirit except this world of ideas. In such cases, spiritualism becomes one-sided idealism. It does not arrive at the point of seeking a spiritual world through a world of ideas. It sees the spiritual world in the idea-world itself. Its world view is forced to remain fixed, as if spellbound, within the activity of the “I” itself. 

[8] A curious variant of idealism is the view of Friedrich Albert Lange, as represented in his widely read History of Materialism. Lange takes the position that materialism is quite right when it explains all world phenomena, including our thinking, as products of purely material processes, while, conversely, matter and its processes are themselves a product of thinking.

"The senses give us effects of things, not faithful pictures, let alone the things themselves. But these mere effects include the senses along with the brain and the molecular vibrations within it."

That is, our thinking is produced by material processes, and these are produced by the thinking of the “I.” Lange’s philosophy is thus nothing but the conceptual version of the story of the brave Münchhausen, who holds himself up in the air by his own pigtail.

[9] A third form of monism sees both essences, matter and spirit, as already united in the simplest entity (the atom). But here too, nothing is achieved except that the question, which actually originates in our consciousness, is displaced to a different arena. If it is an indivisible unity, how does a unitary entity manage to express itself in a twofold way?

[10] In regard to all these points of view, we must emphasize that the fundamental and primal opposition confronts us first in our own consciousness. It is we who separate ourselves from the native ground of nature and place ourselves as “I” in opposition to the “world.” Goethe gives this its classical expression in his essay, “Nature,” even if his style initially appears quite unscientific: “We live in her (Nature’s) midst and are strangers to her. She speaks with us continually, yet does not betray her secret to us.” But Goethe also knows the reverse aspect: “All humans are within her and she in them.”

[11] 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.

[12] We must find the way back to her again. A simple reflection can show us the way. To be sure, we have torn ourselves away from nature, but we must still have taken something with us into our own being. We must seek out this natural being within ourselves, and then we shall also rediscover the connection to her. Dualism fails to do this. It considers the inner human as a spiritual being, quite foreign to nature, and then seeks to attach this being to nature. No wonder that it cannot find the connecting link. 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 do not wish to speculate about the interaction of nature and spirit. 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.

[13] 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.”

[14] I am aware that some who have read to this point will not find my explanations correspond to “the present state of science.” I can only reply that up to now I have been concerned not with scientific results but rather with a simple description of what we all experience in our own consciousnesses. Diverse statements about attempts to reconcile consciousness with the world also entered the stream of argument, but only to clarify the actual facts. For this reason, too, I attach no value to using the individual expressions, such as “I,” “spirit,” “world,” “nature,” and so forth, in the precise way that is usual in psychology and philosophy. Everyday consciousness is unfamiliar with the sharp distinctions of science, and up to this point, my intention has been to survey the facts of everyday life. What concerns me is not how science until now has interpreted consciousness but rather how consciousness experiences itself hour by hour.



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