The Heartfelt Sun

A strange new beginning to a strange new year, and yet the spring shows its familiar face. We respond to the spring sun – and in the etymological sense, this means that we pledge ourselves to him. As Christ’s blood spilt unto the earth, so we offer ourselves to the sun, and receive ourselves through him.

We perceive clearly that the spring sun is an element to which we feel ourselves deeply connected, and the warmth of the heart with which we welcome the coming spring becomes the imaginative perception of the sun’s warmth – its very being.

For what is heartfelt is personal, and there is no distinction between what is heartfelt and that which the heart feels. This hints at the oneness of World and Self, or as Thomas Mann expressed it: “The omnipresence of soul”.

Return – Threefolding – Art (Part I)

Return

I haven’t written for a long time. I’ve thought about how to present anthroposophy on my blog, and still speak from a place of authenticity. People who have been reading my blog might have noticed that I put emphasis on trying to understand anthroposophy from a methodological perspective, and this has kept me from writing. I think there are three ways of approaching the material on this blogFirst, to look for answers to anthroposophical questions from a methodological perspective, like I am doing – this would be my ideal audience. However, it’s very unlikely that I’ll have an audience like this. I try to keep in mind the philosophical tradition Steiner reacted to, and this requires me to explain those traditions to my audience. And even with a degree in philosophy, it’s very hard to get this right, or get people to agree with you; it’s a Sisyphean task, and so I have to assume some kind of understanding of the material. In short: I’m loosening my tie.

This brings me to the second approach to my blog. You could be someone who has read Steiner, and essentially assumes that he’s right, and a lot of anthroposophists more or less take this approach. And who can blame you? A lot of what Steiner says is difficult to understand at first. You have to go with it and hope you’ll hit upon some insight that’ll clear up the confusion. This is a more difficult audience, because if you make a statement, they’ll either want you to refer to the canon of Steiner’s work, or they’ll refer to it themselves.

This brings me back to my first audience. The reason why I don’t like referring to Steiner, is because Steiner says we can develop clairvoyant capacities ourselves, and if we cannot, how are we to be judges of whether Steiner’s claims are true or not? That doesn’t mean that I have what Steiner calls “spiritual organs of perception“, but it means that there either is a spiritual world and a method for approaching that world, or there isn’t, and we have to take all claims about it on faith.

But why come to anthroposophy for faith? Steiner never says to have faith in what he says, nor does he tell people to follow him blindly. He tells people to think about what he says. A good example of this is reincarnation. If there is no such thing as reincarnation, then your life would look pretty much like it is now. And yet, isn’t it interesting that if there was such a thing as reincarnation, life would look pretty much the same? 

So how does thinking about the world in terms of reincarnation, and living life in terms of reincarnation change anything about the way we’re living our lives? These are the kinds of claims that make people think about how something like that can be proven and is the reason why I prefer the methodological approach, and yet there’s also a simple answer to it: don’t look to books and theorems: look to life.

This leads me to the third approach: the critical perspective. As I said, you can only do this much in terms of explaining anthroposophy. A lot of critics rightfully criticize the dogmatic approach to anthroposophy, where Steiner becomes an authority figure. Still, there’s only so much you can do, and unlike philosophy, anthroposophy isn’t subject to skepticism, it isn’t something that anthroposophy cares much about, and the reason is simple: living as a skeptic is impossible. You can doubt the existence of the world and other people as much as you like, but you still interact with the world and people. Most of the time, we take the world and people for granted, assume the rules of physics will hold, and that others exist. This is a deeper kind of human intelligence that doesn’t have to adhere to intellectual doubts and criticisms.

Anyways – in my next post I’m going to talk about my future projects for this blog. I’m going to focus more on applied social threefolding, where I’ll be commenting on events in the world, and move from discussing the the organic world, and into the world of art – and hopefully spirit.

Steiner on life (part II) – Beholding judgement

I left off in my last post speaking about intuitive understanding in Kant. In short, Kant says that it’s possible to think of a being that can survey the whole and its parts (or in the context of nature: the purpose and the mechanism) without having to resort to discursive thinking. I’ll leave this post short, it’s a complex subject, and I’d really have to deep-dive into Kant’s arguments, Spinoza’s relation to Goethe, the question of how the infinite, holometric relations, natura naturans etc. are to be understood. Since this blog is a hobby of mine, mostly written for myself, I’ll cut this post a bit short.

Kant thinks our understanding of nature is discursive, which means that we create abstract concepts which match a lot of phenomena we see in the world, but at the end of the day can’t really account for their variability and difference. Suppose for instance, that I make a general statement about ducks: «all ducks are animals», this must by necessity hold of ducks, but think about the statement «all ducks have two webbed feet». It is a rather typical trademark of ducks to have two webbed feet, but aren’t there examples of ducks born with one foot? Or ducks born without webbed feet?

So clearly, these general statements to some extent fail to account for this variability. Another way of putting it is that we can only to a certain extent predict something of ducks we have never seen, it is impossible for a duck to exist that is not an animal, but clearly, it’s possible to find ducks that have less or more than two feet.

Here, one might argue that a duck that lacks webbed feet would be less adapted to its environment, it wouldn’t function that well. This ties in well with Kant’s teleological arguments. But is it intrinsic to the nature of a duck to function? Does that mean that being a duck is a set of characteristics and capacities that make it capable of functioning within its environment? If so, are we saying that that is the purpose of the duck, or simply that it is the case? We can’t argue the latter because there are ducks that are less adapted to their environment, which means that either it is not the case that ducks have these characteristics that make them function within their environment, or – those “dysfunctional” ducks, simply aren’t really ducks, making “dysfunctional duck” a misnomer.

As I already mentioned in the previous post, Kant sees this type of classification as a regulatory principle, it’s a sort of general conceptual scheme we impose on the objects in order to make sense of them, and so it isn’t necessarily a feature of the objects upon which we impose this scheme. What this means is that we can’t help ourselves but try to make sense of organisms by way of this scheme, but on the other hand it leads to an approach that is mired in conjecture and complications, as we have seen.

The other approach Kant mentions, the intuitive understanding is something he reserves as an example of what we could imagine an understanding to look like, that can see the whole and the parts intuitively. Kant calls this an intuitive as opposed to a discursive understanding. A discursive understanding looks at a multitude of phenomena and subsumes them under categories they have in common (like breastfeeding in mammals), excluding their dissimilarities (egg-laying in platypi). Such an understanding amounts to a conceptual grasp of what the single objects have in common.

An intuitive understanding (Intuition) is immediately given and isn’t conceptual, but intuitive (anschauuend). What this means is that the whole (which the general concept represents in discursive understanding) is not seen as separated from the parts which are viewed.

Kant says that such a form of understanding is possible, that is, we’re capable of thinking of such a power although we don’t possess it, and this is where Goethe gets in. Goethe argues that when we look at nature as a producer of life we shouldn’t hold back against this kind of understanding if we can raise ourselves to a point where we can produce the forms of nature out of ourselves.

A plant is a whole, and its leaves, roots, buds, pistil etc. are parts of that plant. If we now look at a part, we are seeing a part of a whole, but, since this part cannot exist alone, the part itself necessarily raises the question of its relation to the whole of the plant. But on an even larger scale, any individual plant is also a part of that whole we call plants. What is common to the parts of the single plant is the whole of the plant, and what is common to plants is the fact that they are all plants. Unlike Plato, Goethe does not think that individual plants are imperfect expressions of a perfect divine form. Goethe thinks that we see the whole in every individual plant. This means that what a single plant is, tells us how the type expresses itself under certain conditions.

I wanted to make a lot of posts about what Steiner has to say about all of this, but instead, I decided to just summarize how Steiner expounds on the foundation of Goethe’s insights. Fundamentally Steiner sees the sun as a driving factor in life-processes. In plants, this is of course very intuitive since their life-processes are dependent on light in order to synthesize sugars and other substances. At one point in his lectures, Steiner says that the life of an organism is a superphysical cause causing a physical effect. Obviously, Steiner also believes light is something intrinsically superphysical, and hence, that a plant is essentially the expression of sunlight under specific earthly conditions.

Steiner on life (part I) – The organism as a natural purpose.

In this post, I want to start delving into Steiner’s views on life. So to cut to the chase I’m basically posing the philosophical question: “What is life?”. I’ll try to look at Steiner’s theory of life from different angles. My idea is to start with Kant’s thoughts about living organisms in Critique of Judgment and go on to discuss the relation of those ideas to Goethe’s view of organisms. Then I’ll look at Goethe’s views in relation to Steiner’s. This will give us a picture of the philosophical foundation of Steiner’s views.

The next step will be to look at Steiner’s view in relation to the current scientific views and at that point I’ll try to show how they are compatible views. I might also get into the problem of underdetermination, which I think would show quite clearly why Steiner’s position can’t simply be disqualified from a philosophical perspective.

In this first post, I’m going to cover how Kant thinks that organisms are distinct from inorganic objects and what Kant thinks we can know about organisms. In my previous posts (here and here) I’ve already covered how Steiner’s dispute with the Kantian epistemology. Steiner is going to build on, but also criticize, Kant’s distinction between the inorganic and the organic. He is also going to disagree with Kant that the makeup of organisms are there for a purpose: for instance the idea that our heart exists in order to pump blood.

Kant argues that plants and animals are instances of natural purpose because the parts and their organization all serve a purpose. This is similar to what we find in a watch since the parts and organizations of watches also serve a concrete purpose. The way they differ from each other, according to Kant, is that whereas watches obviously have designers, organisms spring out of nature. The reason why Kant thinks this is so is because plants and animals are both causes and effects of themselves. He uses the example of a tree to exemplify this:

  1. The tree causes itself as far as its species is concerned. 
    A tree is capable of reproduction through which it is the cause of itself.
  2. The tree preserves itself through nourishment.
    Here the tree again causes the inorganic material to make up part of its own organism.
  3. The various parts of the tree mutually preserve each other.
    The leaves are a product (effect) of the tree as a whole, but the leaves also work to maintain (cause) the trunk and the roots of the tree.

Additionally, Kant mentions that in order for anything to be purposeful (this applies to all products of design), the parts are only possible through their relation to the whole. These three features distinguish living organisms from other products of design. Kant points out that in a watch we also find that the parts are only possible through their relation to the whole: take out a gear and it ceases its activity. But unlike an organism a watch can’t reproduce itself, it can’t nourish itself, and the parts don’t work to preserve/replace each other.

This interesting understanding of living organisms leads to the question of how something can determine itself in a universe in which everything is causally determined. On the one hand we want to describe everything in mechanical terms, but on the other hand, there are phenomena that one the face of it can’t be explained in mechanical terms.

Kant supposes that the need to see organisms as natural purposes and not as mechanisms is a peculiarity of human nature. He suggests that viewing organisms as instances of a natural purpose is a regulatory principle and not a constitutive principle. This means that organisms are not necessarily instances of a natural purpose, but they must be seen as such in order to be made sense of.

Now the question arises how we can understand something as having a purpose without having a purpose. This question arises because if something seems to be a product of design, as living organisms do, but on the other hand doesn’t work according to a set plan, then it has in a sense a purpose without a purpose.

Kant solves this difficulty by saying that there are two kinds of understanding, a discursive and an intuitive. Human understanding is discursive, which means it forms general concepts that are common to many objects, but at the exclusion of the ways in which they differ. A concept of a tree contains everything which is common to all trees but excludes the ways in which they differ. The second kind, an intuitive understanding, is an understanding that sees no distinction between mechanism and purpose. More about this in the next post.

#1: Ariadne’s thread

Duomo_Lucca_cathedrale_Lucques_labyrinthe(Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The human soul is the gateway to the spiritual world. There is really no one we can call upon to find the way to the spiritual except for ourselves. For my own part that search resonnated with the work (parts at least) of Rudolf Steiner. The need for something spiritual in our life dictates, I believe, that the question of whether there is a spiritual world or not, is of little importance.

First, in my experience, if I “look” for the spiritual in the world, I do find that it is not in the world of my senses. This is obvious in a certain way, because the world appears to me in the form of facts about that world. Another way in which it appears is through the opinions I have about that world. Looking at what is, there is really nothing that could be added or substracted from the world, it is what it is.

When I talk of spirituality however, there’s something to be said about my opinions. It could be the vague feeling that something should be different. It could be the clear thought that something should be different, or it could be the struggle to change my current circumstances.

My previous post was a bit raw in this respect, but it seems clear to me that spiritual striving itself can’t arise without the right circumstances. If I manage to find ways to avoid the lack I experience in the world it seems unclear to me that it should come to a spiritual search at all. Is it perhaps for this reason that spiritual teachers speak of the gratitude we should feel towards all of existence?

This is an uncomfortable thought. If there wasn’t a certain lack in the world around us, wouldn’t we be spellbound? And isn’t it in terms of sleepers that the great poets have spoken of those who were not enlightened? Those who have yet to awaken.

This thought can also be turned on its head. Suppose that there isn’t a lack in nature but an inner richness, an inner excess. This thought appeals more to us, I suppose, but the question can be raised why one interpretation is better than the other. Why wouldn’t nature simply be imperfect, rather than that the human being brings something to life that goes beyond nature?

The argument I’ve found for the fact that this is the case is that there can’t be a lack without there being a consciousness of lack, and it is we ourselves who find our world lacking. Which goes to show us that this problem is clearly a human problem, the human being grapples with his or her world. Naturally, this lack could just be in our nature, there needn’t be any sensible solution to this problem. But the longing to do so is a positive phenomenon and only in so far as this longing can be expressed in sensible terms can we talk about a longing at all.

What we know about the world through science, but also everyday tasks and day to day interactions with others are pointers in this direction. When I look at spiritual longing in relation to my own life and what I know about the world I get the sense that a spiritual longing can’t be just any belief or idea, but that there are certain determined contures. In this sense it seems that there could be a science of the spiritual. Which is to say that our spiritual longing can only be fulfilled by taking on certain concrete forms. Any random desire or idea won’t do, and yet we all have to start from our own whims.

So to come back to what I said in the beginning about the existence of a spiritual world. It really isn’t a question that should bother us too much, because we are here on this earth with concrete desires and ideas that need to adhere to the rules of life and of the world in general. This says little about whether there exists a spiritual world, but it does show that our spiritual striving isn’t entirely blind, rather, to be a sensible striving at all, it must neccessarily become seeing. A spiritual striving that does not make sense, is no spiritual striving at all.

If there is a spiritual world, then we may expect to come to terms with our spiritual striving, our relation to ourselves, the world and our fellow human beings. Should the spiritual not exist, we still have the thread of Ariadne in our soul, that is to say that striving within which in its relation to the world must take on a contured shape. Where that thread should lead us, we won’t know when we do not know whether there is a spiritual world or not. But as far as we are in doubt as to the existence of such a world, we know that all we have is this thin thread that is constituted by the ancient motto: know thyself.

What is the spiritual?

Spiritual science obviously explores the spiritual, so it’s only natural that we know what the subject matter is, if we’re to treat it in a scientific way. In a deeper sense though, spiritual science explores man’s relationship to the world, or the relationship of the spiritual in man to the spiritual in the world.

It’s a common theme in Steiner’s philosophical work that our thinking bridges the gap between ourselves and the world, most distinctly this idea is worked out in his Philosophy of Freedom, where he presents his argument that the nature that we feel ourselves estranged from is in fact the very same nature that works in and through us.

In his lectures on Spiritual Science’s Answer to the Large Questions of the Present TimeSteiner explains that what we experience as the spiritual in the external, is experienced in us as intelligence. For instance ideas that “come” to us, which are not derived from the external world. Creativity is like this, in a sense we create something new, something that’s not an imitation of sensory objects, and yet this idea “came” to us, we “see” it, and we bring it to life.

Likewise the spiritual in the external world is recognized when we realize that these ideas are at work in the world. What we grasp inwardly as spiritual intelligence, we see at work in the external world. This is also the assurance of the truth of spiritual science, what we experience inwardly must be at work in the external world, only then do we get a grasp of the world in a spiritual sense.

As I’ve mentioned before I’d like to go through some of Steiner’s thoughts on Goethe and art, here is the idea that I think will come as a natural conclusion from working on those lectures: Humanity works itself spiritually into the world, not by forcing the spiritual upon the external world, but by augmenting what is already there! The spiritual is at work in nature, but only to a certain extent. Through understanding the intelligence that is at work in the world, we can work upon the world augmenting it according to its own innermost nature. In such a way man works the spiritual in himself into the spiritual in nature.

In coming posts I’d like to work out more rigorously those ideas that I’ve presented here by taking a starting point in Steiner’s lecture on Goethe’s aesthetics.

Some modest thoughts on the autonomy of spiritual insight.

To acknowledge anthroposophy means to spiritually experience what anthroposophy expresses. At Steiner’s time, spirituality often found its expression in religious belief. Religious belief can be based on two sources, one is dogma, the other is religious experience.

Dogmatic belief is in a certain sense blind, it naively follows a given commandment out of feelings such as trust, fear or even indifference. Spiritually seen, deep and profound forces can be at work behind dogmatic belief, such that one cannot take on a wholly critical view of dogmatic belief. What can be said however, is that this kind of belief cannot be the starting point for true spiritual insights, although such belief could under certain circumstances lead a person to advance to such a starting point.

Such a person seeks to peer into spiritual worlds, but finds a void, and is therefore forced to believe that such a world exists, so to speak. One worldview might appeal more to some persons, while others will be drawn to yet other worldviews. And so one holds to a set of dogmas, which helps the individual fill in this void that exists within. And this void then really exists within, because the individual spirit feels that it belongs to a spiritual whole. If the individual spirit cannot tap into and connect with this whole, it withers to a certain extent.

Religious experience is different from dogmatic belief, but is also related to this kind of belief. A religious experience often begins with some kind of dogma, but unlike a dogmatic belief, this belief is experienced by the individual in such a way that it allows him or her to experience something spiritual, to be met by something genuinely spiritual.

In this way, religious experience is also a kind of spiritual experience, but differs from spiritual insight. What differs here is that this kind of experience can be non-recurring, and that it’s not dependant on the individual. A breeze may let the sun shine through the curtains, but spiritual insight lets the individual draw aside the curtains and see for him or herself.

My point is that only when we take matters into our own hands can we acquire true spiritual insight. This realization also means that we are called to reject authorities on spiritual matters. The question that’s driving me as a spiritual scientist is therefore how such an insight and autonomy can be acquired on spiritual matters.

In regards to Rudolf Steiner, who is the authority on anthroposophical matters par excellence, I see things in the following way; we are like students who are eager to learn the art of painting, and we do not shy from grabbing the brush and setting to paint. But whoever aspires to greatness, must also learn from the great masters. What would painting be without Michelangelo?

Obviously, for someone who has never drawn, never studied the nature of color and the mixing of colors, never studied perspective etc., it’s not that easy to see why Michelangelo was brilliant. Likewise, Rudolf Steiner is a person whose brilliance can only be seen, when one attempts to go down the same path that he went.

A great advantage of our time is the fact that we feel a certain hostility towards dogma, which means that we cannot accept authorities on spiritual matters. The drawback is that we’ve lost the capacity for religious experience. This drawback is however also a great advantage, it means that spiritual insight must be autonomous, must stem from ourselves.

Despite these facts we stand facing the spiritual worlds as a dark and quiet void, a nothing. So how do we draw aside the curtains? Steiner once said that up until modern times the gods intervened in human affairs to help mankind, now however, mankind has reached a point of maturity in which the gods have nothing more to offer mankind. An odd turn of events, where now the gods are waiting quietly, and mankind is in the position to return the favor.

But how? In my next posts I’ll look at some lectures and writings of Steiner, where he gives what I feel is an adequate answer to these questions. Here is an excerpt from a poem of Goethe’s, which Steiner quoted in his first lecture, and which I believe sheds some light on the question of spiritual knowledge:

So doth the Hero mightily inspire
His equals through the chain of centuries:
The heights a noble spirit can attain
May not be mastered in life’s narrow span.
Hence also after death his soul continues,
Not less creative now than when he lived;
The noble deed, the beautiful idea
Strives deathless on, as mortally it strove.
So thou, too, livest through unmeasured time
In fields of immortality sublime.

Return

The last year I’ve been re-reading a lot of Steiner’s anthroposophical texts, and trying to evaluate them through the foundations Steiner laid in his philosophical texts.

I want to start writing about his esoterical views soon. I found it neccessary to work my way into the views of the German idealists first. My plan now is to write about Goethe’s views on the experiment, and from there on work my way into his book Theosophy.

The book lays the foundations for his Occult Science and Knowledge of Higher Worlds. I think it’s important to see the role of Goethe’s experimental method in this context. Later I also want to discuss why Steiner decided to speak of Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai instead of psychology, “Volkskunde” (a term I also want to get back to), and history. In this way Steiner’s esoterical angelology deals with themes he previously explored philosophically (albeit in brief).

I don’t want to focus too much on his lectures. First off, most of them were never intended for publication, for this reason I’ve assumed that Steiner’s views should be contained in the works he meant for publishing. This means that dealing with his lecture cycles requires us to be able to understand them in their context from the methods Steiner developed in his published works.

Moreover, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t think that the lecture records are wrong in decisive ways, and finally, there’s no reason for us to think that Steiner’s views are of any value if we cannot bring ourselves to think them ourselves. That is to say, to evaluate them with our own thinking, and when neccessary be very critical of those views. Time will tell.

Steiner on thinking (Part II)

Image-1In the last post, I pointed out that Steiner saw a seeminingly subjective element in our thinking activity, and this post will explore how he deals with this problem.

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Steiner finds that this misconception (that thinking is something subjective) rests on the fact that we confuse two different things with each other:

the theater in which our thoughts play their role and that element from which they derive the determination of their content, the inner law of their nature

Steiner thinks it’s clear that I’m doing the thinking, but how I’m thinking depends on what I’m thinking about, the object of my thinking must be thought in a certain way, or else I’d be thinking about something else. That is to say that a thought has its own inherent lawfulness.

Another objection raised is that although my thinking is internally bound to the laws of whatever object it’s thinking about, that object of thought might very well be the product of my own activity. That’s to say, I could have made up something entirely subjective.

Steiner’s reply is that thinking belongs to the sphere of experience, such that the objects of thinking can’t spring from our subjective being, hence we’re not adding subjective elements to our thinking.

Now we begin to see how radical Steiner’s concept of experience actually is. Because we’re used to thinking all kinds of non-sense, and saying that we made it up. But to Steiner, this non-sense is an object of experience, and therefore we can discover what kind of rules govern it.

In later books of an anthroposophical nature this idea returns and is applied to quite common-sensical things. For instance when we think we’re going to do a bad job at something, this is a sort of object of experience, because we’re thinking it.

This can be explored by thought. And what thought might reveal to us is that this idea might actually lead us to do a worse job, simply because of our attitude, and that it’s actually a quite useless idea when it’s not coupled with the idea of for instance improving our abilities.

Fair enough, Steiner says, thought appears through our thinking activity, but that doesn’t mean it’s less of an object for inquiry, it doesn’t mean that that thought doesn’t have some kind of essential nature.

Now Steiner turns to a problem he sees with Hegel’s thinking, namely that Hegel sought to determine rational necessity in the same terms as factual necessity. This lead to the fallacy, Steiner says, that thought-determinations aren’t ideal, but factual.

That’s to say that thoughts are in a sense facts, like rocks and trees are facts. Steiner thinks this is wrong, and that thoughts don’t exist in the way facts do. Rather they have their roots firmly in human consciousness.

The difference seems to me, to be that whereas this view of Hegel seems to say that there is a world of ideas and concepts independent of our thinking, Steiner says that this world of ideas and concepts only comes into existence as far as we bring it to life by our thinking.

Steiner says that there’s obviously a difficulty here, on the one hand thoughts have their own inner lawfulness, on the other hand this lawfulness only exists as far as we bring it into being through our thinking.

Steiner says we must only keep two things in mind:

  1. We are bringing this world of concepts and ideas into being with our thinking activity.
  2. What we bring into being, rests on its own objective lawfulness.

Steiner doesn’t believe this leads us to the conclusion that everyone has his own world of thought. Rather, there’s only one thought world, Steiner thinks, and our individual thinking is simply the way we work ourselves to the center of this thought world.

That’s to say, that when we create and experience a thought, the objective lawfulness of that thought is interconnected with the entire world of thought, in a way that with enough effort we can construct so to speak the entire world of thought out of this thought itself. And how different our thoughts and ideas may start off, they all work their way into the same centre, and they will with enough effort of thought work into one connected whole.

Finally, he says:

This is not the place to investigate whether this view is correct or not, but it is possible, and we have accomplished what we wanted; we have shown that what we have presented as the necessary objectivity of thinking can easily be seen not to contradict itself even in another context.