In 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.
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:
- We are bringing this world of concepts and ideas into being with our thinking activity.
- 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.