Rudolf Steiner on Monism and Dualism
John Morehead has ascribed
a definition of monism to anthroposophy that is obviously based
upon a misunderstanding, causing him to believe that it is "morally
relativistic" i.e. amoral.
From: Tarjei Straume
Subject: Rudolf Steiner on monism and dualism
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999 03:45:06 +0200
My apology to Dan Dugan if he objects to the
length of the following quote by Saint Rudy, but I believe it
is justified by the current discussion with John Morehead, Steve
Premo, Bob Tolz, and myself. (As mentioned before, the entire
text is available at http://www.elib.com/Steiner/Books/GA004/TPOF/.)
The Philosophy of Freedom
Knowledge of Freedom
The Fundamental Desire
Two souls reside, alas,
within my breast,
And each one from the other would be parted.
The one holds fast, in sturdy lust for love,
With clutching organs clinging to the world;
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage.
Faust I, Scene 2, lines
In these words Goethe expresses
a characteristic feature which is deeply rooted in human nature.
Man is not organized as a self-consistent unity. He always demands
more than the world, of its own accord, gives him. Nature has
endowed us with needs; among them are some that she leaves to
our own activity to satisfy. Abundant as are the gifts she has
bestowed upon us, still more abundant are our desires. We seem
born to be dissatisfied. And our thirst for knowledge is but
a special instance of this dissatisfaction. We look twice at
a tree. The first time we see its branches at rest, the second
time in motion. We are not satisfied with this observation. Why,
we ask, does the tree appear to us now at rest, now in motion?
Every glance at Nature evokes in us a multitude of questions.
Every phenomenon we meet sets us a new problem. Every experience
is a riddle. We see that from the egg there emerges a creature
like the mother animal, and we ask the reason for the likeness.
We observe a living being grow and develop to a certain degree
of perfection, and we seek the underlying conditions for this
experience. Nowhere are we satisfied with what Nature spreads
out before our senses. Everywhere we seek what we call the explanation
of the facts.
The something more which
we seek in things, over and above what is immediately given to
us in them, splits our whole being into two parts. We become
conscious of our antithesis to the world. We confront the world
as independent beings. The universe appears to us in two opposite
parts: I and World.
We erect this barrier between
ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness first dawns
in us. But we never cease to feel that, in spite of all, we belong
to the world, that there is a connecting link between it and
us, and that we are beings within, and not without, the universe.
This feeling makes us strive
to bridge over this antithesis, and in this bridging lies ultimately
the whole spiritual striving of mankind. The history of our spiritual
life is a continuing search for the unity between ourselves and
the world. Religion, art and science follow, one and all, this
aim. The religious believer seeks in the revelation which God
grants him the solution to the universal riddle which his I,
dissatisfied with the world of mere appearance, sets before him.
The artist seeks to embody in his material the ideas that are
in his I, in order to reconcile what lives in him with the world
outside. He too feels dissatisfied with the world of mere appearance
and seeks to mould into it that something more which his I, transcending
it, contains. The thinker seeks the laws of phenomena, and strives
to penetrate by thinking what he experiences by observing. Only
when we have made the world-content into our thought-content
do we again find the unity out of which we had separated ourselves.
We shall see later that this goal can be reached only if the
task of the research scientist is conceived at a much deeper
level than is often the case. The whole situation I have described
here presents itself to us on the stage of history in the conflict
between the one-world theory, or monism, and the two-world theory,
Dualism pays attention
only to the separation between I and World which the consciousness
of man has brought about. All its efforts consist in a vain struggle
to reconcile these opposites, which it calls now spirit and matter,
now subject and object, now thinking and appearance. It feels
that there must be a bridge between the two worlds but is not
in a position to find it. In that man is aware of himself as
"I", he cannot but think of this "I" as being
on the side of the spirit; and in contrasting this "I"
with the world, he is bound to put on the world's side the realm
of percepts given to the senses, that is, the world of matter.
In doing so, man puts himself right into the middle of this antithesis
of spirit and matter. He is the more compelled to do so because
his own body belongs to the material world. Thus the "I",
or Ego, belongs to the realm of spirit as a part of it; the material
objects and events which are perceived by the senses belong to
the "World". All the riddles which relate to spirit
and matter, man must inevitably rediscover in the fundamental
riddle of his own nature.
Monism pays attention only
to the unity and tries either to deny or to slur over the opposites,
present though they are. Neither of these two points of view
can satisfy us, for they do not do justice to the facts. Dualism
sees in spirit (I) and matter (World) two fundamentally different
entities, and cannot, therefore, understand how they can interact
with one another. How should spirit be aware of what goes on
in matter, seeing that the essential nature of matter is quite
alien to spirit? Or how in these circumstances should spirit
act upon matter, so as to translate its intentions into actions?
The most ingenious and the most absurd hypotheses have been propounded
to answer these questions. Up to the present, however, monism
is not in a much better position. It has tried three different
ways of meeting the difficulty. Either it denies spirit and becomes
materialism; or it denies matter in order to seek its salvation
in spiritualism (see fn 1); or it asserts that even in
the simplest entities in the world, spirit and matter are indissolubly
bound together so that there is no need to marvel at the appearance
in man of these two modes of existence, seeing that they are
never found apart.
Materialism can never offer
a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at
an explanation must begin with the formation of thoughts about
the phenomena of the world. Materialism thus begins with the
thought of matter or material processes. But, in doing so, it
is already confronted by two different sets of facts: the material
world, and the thoughts about it. The materialist seeks to make
these latter intelligible by regarding them as purely material
processes. He believes that thinking takes place in the brain,
much in the same way that digestion takes place in the animal
organs. Just as he attributes mechanical and organic effects
to matter, so he credits matter in certain circumstances with
the capacity to think. He overlooks that, in doing so, he is
merely shifting the problem from one place to another. He ascribes
the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself. And thus
he is back again at his starting point. How does matter come
to think about its own nature? Why is it not simply satisfied
with itself and content just to exist? The materialist has turned
his attention away from the definite subject, his own I, and
has arrived at an image of something quite vague and indefinite.
Here the old riddle meets him again. The materialistic conception
cannot solve the problem; it can only shift it from one place
What of the spiritualistic
theory? The genuine spiritualist denies to matter all independent
existence and regards it merely as a product of spirit. But when
he tries to use this theory to solve the riddle of his own human
nature, he finds himself driven into a corner. Over against the
"I" or Ego, which can be ranged on the side of spirit,
there stands directly the world of the senses. No spiritual approach
to it seems open. Only with the help of material processes can
it be perceived and experienced by the "I". Such material
processes the "I" does not discover in itself so long
as it regards its own nature as exclusively spiritual. In what
it achieves spiritually by its own effort, the sense-perceptible
world is never to be found. It seems as if the "I"
had to concede that the world would be a closed book to it unless
it could establish a non-spiritual relation to the world. Similarly,
when it comes to action, we have to translate our purposes into
realities with the help of material things and forces. We are,
therefore, referred back to the outer world. The most extreme
spiritualist -- or rather, the thinker who through his absolute
idealism appears as extreme spiritualist -- is Johann Gottlieb
Fichte. He attempts to derive the whole edifice of the world
from the "I". What he has actually accomplished is
a magnificent thought-picture of the world, without any content
of experience. As little as it is possible for the materialist
to argue the spirit away, just as little is it possible for the
spiritualist to argue away the outer world of matter.
When man reflects upon
the "I", he perceives in the first instance the work
of this "I" in the conceptual elaboration of the world
of ideas. Hence a world-conception that inclines towards spiritualism
may feel tempted, in looking at man's own essential nature, to
acknowledge nothing of spirit except this world of ideas. In
this way spiritualism becomes one-sided idealism. Instead of
going on to penetrate through the world of ideas to the spiritual
world, idealism identifies the spiritual world with the world
of ideas itself. As a result, it is compelled to remain fixed
with its world-outlook in the circle of activity of the Ego,
as if bewitched.
A curious variant of idealism
is to be found in the view which Friedrich Albert Lange has put
forward in his widely read History of Materialism. He holds that
the materialists are quite right in declaring all phenomena,
including our thinking, to be the product of purely material
processes, but, conversely, matter and its processes are for
him themselves the product of our thinking.
The senses give us only
the effects of things, not true copies, much less the things
themselves. But among these mere effects we must include the
senses themselves together with the brain and the molecular vibrations
which we assume to go on there.
That is, our thinking is
produced by the material processes, and these by the thinking
of our I. Lange's philosophy is thus nothing more than the story,
in philosophical terms, of the intrepid Baron Mnchhausen, who
holds himself up in the air by his own pigtail.
The third form of monism
is the one which finds even in the simplest entity (the atom)
both matter and spirit already united. But nothing is gained
by this either, except that the question, which really originates
in our consciousness, is shifted to another place. How comes
it that the simple entity manifests itself in a two-fold manner,
if it is an indivisible unity?
Against all these theories
we must urge the fact that we meet with the basic and primary
opposition first in our own consciousness. It is we ourselves
who break away from the bosom of Nature and contrast ourselves
as "I" with the "World". Goethe has given
classic expression to this in his essay Nature, although his
manner may at first sight be considered quite unscientific: "Living
in the midst of her (Nature) we are strangers to her. Ceaselessly
she speaks to us, yet betrays none of her secrets." But
Goethe knows the reverse side too: "Men are all in her and
she in all."
However true it may be
that we have estranged ourselves from Nature, it is none the
less true that we feel we are in her and belong to her. It can
be only her own working which pulsates also in us.
We must find the way back
to her again. A simple reflection can point this way out to us.
We have, it is true, torn ourselves away from Nature, but we
must none the less have taken something of her with us into our
own being. This element of Nature in us we must seek out, and
then we shall find the connection with her once more. Dualism
fails to do this. It considers human inwardness as a spiritual
entity utterly alien to Nature, and then attempts somehow to
hitch it on to Nature. No wonder that it cannot find the connecting
link. We can find Nature outside us only if we have first learned
to know her within us. What is akin to her within us must be
our guide. This marks out our path of enquiry. We shall attempt
no speculations concerning the interaction of Nature and spirit.
Rather shall we probe into the depths of our own being, to find
there those elements which we saved in our flight from Nature.
Investigation of our own
being must give us the answer to the riddle. We must reach a
point where we can say to ourselves, "Here we are no longer
merely 'I', here is something which is more than 'I'."
I am well aware that many
who have read thus far will not find my discussion "scientific",
as this term is used today. To this I can only reply that I have
so far been concerned not with scientific results of any kind,
but with the simple description of what every one of us experiences
in his own consciousness. The inclusion of a few phrases about
attempts to reconcile man's consciousness and the world serves
solely to elucidate the actual facts. I have therefore made no
attempt to use the various expressions "I", "Spirit",
"World", "Nature", in the precise way that
is usual in psychology and philosophy. The ordinary consciousness
is unaware of the sharp distinctions made by the sciences, and
my purpose so far has been solely to record the facts of everyday
experience. I am concerned, not with the way in which science,
so far, has interpreted consciousness, but with the way in which
we experience it in every moment of our lives.
The author refers to philosophical "spiritualism" as
opposed to philosophical "materialism". See reference
to Fichte that follows. -- Translator's Footnote.
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