On Truth (5): The Redemption of Thinking

In following the silver thread of this study, we have compassed many themes including epistemology, consciousness and its evolution, the scientific method, its history and possibilities for its future development. Most fundamentally, however, our inquiry stems from the primordial impulse and Holy Grail of philosophy as, Aristotle expressed it in the first line of Metaphysics: “All men, by nature, desire to know.” If this proposition seems inadequate to serve as the primordial wellspring for all the spiritual and philosophical striving of humankind, then reason may be that we have yet to grasp the true nature of knowing. The Philosopher’s Stone, whose virtue was to transmute base metals into gold, was also traditionally described as outwardly unimpressive. We have attempted to set forth a concept of knowing as communication and communion in prior chapters. “Becoming aware of the idea within reality is the true communion of man,” Steiner wrote. To “become aware of the idea within reality” is just what knowing is. And, as Aquinas observed, “nothing is known except truth, which is the same as being” (Nihil enim scitur nisi verum, quod cum entit convertitur.) Moreover, the instrument by which we achieve this communion of knowing is none other than thinking, which is itself knowing. Put another way, while other things must be known through perception, thinking is known even in the thinking of it. In this first chapter of this part, we hyphenated these terms, and then later proceeded to refer to this identity of thinking and knowing as λóγος (Lógos). Aristotle expounds on this connection in Metaphysics when he asserts that “since understanding and what is being understood are not different in the case of things that have no matter (i.e. pure ideas), the understanding and the understandable will be the same, i.e. the understanding will be one with what is being understood.” This will likely appear abstract and problematic to anyone who has not followed our study till now and will therefore be tempted interpolate Modern and postmodern notions of matter—such as particles, probabilities, or fermions—and existence into Aristotle’s meaning. As we explained in Chapter 4 above and also in Chapter 3 of Part 1, however, and as we attempted thoroughly to explicate in our study of Goethe’s way of knowledge in Part II: nothing is its matter. Put another way, what a thing is is its form or idea, which is thinkable despite not being, as such, perceptible to the senses. In other words, the quidditty or “whatness” of a thing is perceptible to thinking that has understood itself. As Steiner observes, “I do not as a rule say, ‘I am thinking of a table,’ but, ‘this is a table.’” The matter of a thing is indeed, not without significance, since it is what a thing is made of—the container of the form or idea as content, as it were. If we insist, however, on conflating a thing’s being with the material out of which it is made, then reality will repel the light of our understanding and we will find it necessary to “light candles in the morning” as we stumble through the analytic abyss of Onlooker Consciousness. As we attempted to demonstrate in this part, ignoramus et ignorabimus is the inevitable result of the particular method of knowledge and Vorstellungsart that has been operative since the Scientific Revolution and by our time has all but scoured our understanding clean of all vestiges of traditional philosophical knowledge and wisdom, which was once sustained by the lifeline of Original Participation. Steiner reiterates Aristotle’s meaning in the terminology of Goethean science. When we discover the method of quickening, enlivening, and redeeming our thinking from its spectral, sceptical postmodern fugue, so as to reëstablish thinking’s connection with the truth of things, then the same begins to function as an organ of perception. In such a condition:

What we behold is no longer different from that through which we think what is beheld; we behold the concept as idea. This is why Goethe calls the faculty by which we grasp organic nature anschauende Urteilskraft—“the power of judgment in beholding.” That which explains—the formal element of cognition or the concept—and that which is explained –the material, observed element, or the percept—are identical.

Again we discover the distinction between what is appearing—the form, idea, intention, meaning, or concept (Begriff)—and the manner through which it appears—the matter, sensation, or percept (Wahrnemung). The first is accessible to thinking alone. Steiner goes further and, in the spirit of Goethe’s way of knowledge, describes the aetiology of this cleft in the “desire to know”:

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.

Our desire to understand the world at once alienates us from it by clothing it in the habit of extrinsicality. Out of this desire, the poles of I and word, subject and object, or knower and known are mutually engendered, as well as the yearning to reconcile them. If it is a painful generation, yet suffering is the mother of excellence and individuality. We are born as individuals precisely in being rent from the womb of anterior unity. The reditus from this exitus, however, is now before us. The rainbow bridge between these apparent antitheses is, as we observed, thinking-knowing or the λóγος, which is the Christ. We might refer to the same a the “true I,” as the locus and origin of this thinking-knowing: “The true name of Christ is ‘I Am’; who does not know or does not understand this and calls Him by another name does not know anything about Him. ‘I Am’ is His only name,” Steiner announced in one of his esoteric lessons. Steiner expressed the same notion in more prosaic terms in 1894 when he observed that, “by thinking, we fit together again into one piece all that we have taken apart through perceiving.” The present dissertation has been written precisely in the spirit of this “spiritual striving” to redeem the disjunction that is generated by our own metaphysical situation in the world, which engenders the dualisms of externality, or concept and percept, of subject and object, of self and world, etc… Steiner summarises the results of the condition he described above, which also constitutes the de facto starting point for an eventual reconnection:

Observation and thinking are the two points of departure for all the spiritual striving of man, in so far as he is conscious of such striving. The workings of common sense, as well as the most complicated scientific researches, rest on these two fundamental pillars of our spirit. Philosophers have started from various primary antitheses: idea and reality, subject and object, appearance and thing-in-itself, “I” and “Not-I”, idea and will, concept and matter, force and substance, the conscious and the unconscious. It is easy to show, however, that all these antitheses must be preceded by that of observation and thinking, this being for man the most important one.

What if observation takes thinking as its object, however? Precisely this approach led Steiner to his insights and forms the crux of his philosophical contributions. Indeed, the subtitle of The Philosophy of Freedom is “Some results of introspective observation following the methods of Natural Science.” We already noted above that thinking is precisely the instrument by which ideas are observed. By observing thinking and by enlisting thinking as an instrument of observation, the circuit of disconnect is closed and, in a flash, a dynamic polarity replaces the apparent disjunction. What we are observing is our own thinking, which is also our doing. Thus, it is pristinely transparent to itself, since the subject that is observing, the object of observation, and the instrument of observation which joins them, are the same. J. G. Fichte describes an exercise whereby this synthesis may be achieved:

This is done in the following manner: The teacher…requests his reader or hearer to think freely a certain conception. If he does so, he will find himself forced to proceed in a particular manner. Two things are to be distinguished here: The act of Thinking, which is required—the realization of which depends upon each individual’s freedom—and unless he realizes it thus, he will not understand anything which the Wissenschaftslehre teaches; and the necessary manner in which it alone can be realized, which manner is grounded in the Essence of the Intelligence, and does not depend upon freedom; it is something necessary, but which is only discovered in and together with a free action; it is something discovered, but the discovery of which depends upon an act of freedom.

Fichte intends to draw the reader’s attention to the reader’s own intention, or “freedom,” or “spiritual activity,” in Steiner’s terms. To accomplish this, Fichte distinguishes between the content of thought, which he describes as “necessary,” and the activity of thinking it, which is “free” in that it depends on the initiative of the subject. Freedom, evidently, is not something that we suffer or inherit, but something we do. Contemporary human beings indeed inherit the potentiality of freedom, but not its actuality. To inherit it actually would be a contradiction in terms. The mantle of freedom cannot but be freely assumed without countermanding its very principle. In this distinction between necessity and freedom, we encounter a metamorphosis of Aristotle’s division of the patient and agent intellects. The division ought to be conceived of not in space but in time. Recalling our cursory study of space and time from part two, this is tantamount to establishing a relation of causality between them. Thus, the patient intellect is the agent intellect in past tense; constituting the facts of what the agent intellect performed as acts. Obviously, facts are necessary because they are already such. Thus it is futile to attempt to alter or reject them. Acts, by contrast, are potentially free and become actually so when we indwell them with our initiative and understanding. Ficthe employed the term Tatsache to refer to the thoughts that are the products of the agent intellect and the sufferings of the patient one, and Tathandlung to refer to the thinking that is the deed of the agent intellect and the producer of the patient one. We also awaken to the existence of our own I in our recognition of this “spiritual activity.” The angelic perspicacity of Novalis recognised the significance of Fichte’s exhortation:

[His] demand for simultaneous thought, action and observation is the ideal of philosophising; if I fulfil this demand, I begin to realise the ideal…According to Fichte, ‘I am’ is the result of the universe. In order to state ‘I am,’ I must presuppose the whole universe; vice versa, the absolute statement of the ‘I am’ is at the same time the statement of the universe.

“We shall understand the world when we understand ourselves, for the world and we are integrating halves,” he also remarked. Steiner corroborates Novalis’ insight into the importance of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre, which the latter intended to serve as a science of science:

Fichte could say that without a comprehension of this sense, for me the world splits into two halves: into things outside of me, and into images of these things within me. The two halves become united when the inner sense understands itself, and therewith realizes what kind of light it sheds upon things in the process of cognition. And Fichte could also say that this inner sense sees only spirit.

By “it sees only spirit,” Steiner means to indicate just what is not matter, in the sense in which we have employed this word hitherto. And “since understanding and what is being understood are not different in the case of things that have no matter,” as Aristotle observed, we may discover the consubstantiality of our innermost self with the core of reality. Thinking perceives its own products in the world as the world. “To know Nature means to create Nature,” as Friedrich Schelling courageously expressed this correlation. This sheds a new light on the meaning of participation as we characterised it in Part III. For the Classical philosophers, to participate an idea, being, or entity or entity was to take part in it, or achieve identity with it with one’s spirit or intellect. This conception retains the vestiges of what Barfield described as Original Participation. Final Participation does not entirely negate this experience, but consists furthermore in the experience of one’s own activity of participation in the very creation of those ideas, beings, and entities themselves which one then participates. Through beta-thinking, we can rationalise this possibility; Omega Thinking is the experience and perpetration of it. We have already set forth this notion in other terms when we spoke of our own relation to, and identity with, the creative Λóγος which “was with God, And [which]… was God.” Aristotle meticulously works his way to the notion of thought thinking itself (noesis noeseos) in Metaphysics, and in the ecstasy of theophilosophical triumph, he proclaims:

On such a principle, then, depend the heavens and the world of nature. And it is a life such as the best which we enjoy, and enjoy for but a short time (for it is ever in this state, which we cannot be), since its actuality is also pleasure. (And for this reason, are waking, perception, and thinking most pleasant, and hopes and memories are so on account of these.) And thinking in itself deals with that which is best in itself, and that which is thinking in the fullest sense with that which is best in the fullest sense. And thought thinks on itself because it shares the nature of the object of thought; for it becomes an object of thought in coming into contact with and thinking its objects, so that thought and object of thought are the same. For that which is capable of receiving the object of thought, i.e. the essence, is thought. But it is active when it possesses this object. Therefore, the possession rather than the receptivity is the divine element which thought seems to contain, and the act of contemplation is what is most pleasant and best. If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.

Again, we must defend the enunciations above from the charge of egoism or solipsism, which they threaten to incur for their reference to thinking. And such a defence is not difficult. We may again invoke Steiner’s definitive and convincing statement on the matter:

Thinking…produces these two concepts [of subject and object] just as it produces all others. When, therefore, I, as thinking subject, refer a concept to an object, we must not regard this reference as something purely subjective. It is not the subject that makes the reference, but thinking. The subject does not think because it is a subject; rather it appears to itself as subject because it can think. The activity exercised by man as a thinking being is thus not merely subjective. Rather is it something neither subjective nor objective, that transcends both these concepts. I ought never to say that my individual subject thinks, but much more that my individual subject lives by the grace of thinking.

I did not create my thinking. Rather, I exist “by the grace of” it, together with “All things [which] were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Steiner continues in the same passage which we quoted in Chapter 1, “Thinking is thus an element which leads me out beyond myself and connects me with the objects.” The reason is, of course, myself as a subject shares the same transcendental source as the objects which apparently confront me as separate from me.

In this manner we have resolved this schism that Steiner characterised as “ultimately [constituting] the whole spiritual striving of mankind,” and which we identified at the very outset of this odyssey as the cause of the post-truth era and the basic malaise and uncertainty that is the hallmark of the age. In the final year of a comparatively short but incomprehensibly rich and productive life, Steiner summed up his philosophy and teachings in the following manner: “Anthroposophy,”—which he elsewhere translated as “consciousness of one’s humanity”—“is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”

If the present work has lent some small service in this respect, then it will not have been in vain.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. theburningheart says:

    “I did not create my thinking. Rather, I exist “by the grace of” it, together with “All things [which] were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

    I like the words of the Sheik Ibn Arabi who said:

    “Since you have no escape from returning to Him, you should know that you are at Him from the first step, which is the first breath. So do not weary yourself by seeking ascent to Him, for that is nothing but your emerging from your desire such that you do not witness it. For “He is with you wherever you are” [Q. 57:4], so your eyes will fall on none but Him. However, it remains for you to recognize Him. Were you to distinguish and recognize Him, you would not seek ascent to Him, for you have not lost Him.

    When you see those who are seeking Him, you will see that they are seeking their felicity in their path. Their felicity is the repulsion of pains from them, nothing else, wherever they may be.

    The one who is completely ignorant is he who seeks what is already there, so no one is more ignorant than he who seeks God. If you have faith in His words, “He is with you wherever you are”, and His words, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God” [Q. 2:115], you will recognize that no one seeks God. People seek only their felicity so that they will be safe from what they detest.”

    Fine post, it was a pleasure to read it again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Max Leyf says:

      Wonderful, thank you for sharing the divine words of Ibn Arabi.

      Liked by 1 person

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