Steiner Online Library Spiritual Science for Human Evolution

The Philosophy of Freedom
GA 4

Ultimate Questions

XVI. The Consequences of Monism

An explanation of nature on a single principle, or, in other words, Monism, derives from human experience all the material which it requires for the explanation of the world. In the same way, it looks for the springs of action also within the world of observation, i.e., in that human part of nature which is accessible to our self-observation, and more particularly in the moral imagination. Monism declines to seek outside that world the ultimate grounds of the world which we perceive and think. For Monism, the unity which reflective observation adds to the manifold multiplicity of percepts, is identical with the unity which the human desire for knowledge demands, and through which this desire is fully satisfied. Whoever looks for another unity behind this one, only shows that he fails to perceive the coincidence of the results of thinking with the demands of the instinct for knowledge. A particular human individual is not something cut off from the universe. He is a part of the universe, and his connection with the cosmic whole is broken, not in reality, but only for our perception. At first we apprehend the human part of the universe as a self-existing thing, because we are unable to perceive the cords and ropes by which the fundamental forces of the cosmos keep turning the wheel of our life.

All who remain at this perceptual standpoint see the part of the whole as if it were a truly independent, self-existing thing, a monad which gains all its knowledge of the rest of the world in some mysterious manner from without. But Monism has shown that we can believe in this independence only so long as thought does not gather our percepts into the network of the conceptual world. As soon as this happens, all partial existence in the universe, all isolated being, reveals itself as a mere appearance due to perception. Existence as a self-contained totality can be predicated only of the universe as a whole. Thought destroys the appearances due to perception and assigns to our individual existence a place in the life of the cosmos. The unity of the conceptual world which contains all objective percepts, has room also within itself for the content of our subjective personality. Thought gives us the true structure of reality as a self-contained unity, whereas the multiplicity of percepts is but an appearance conditioned by our organisation (cp. pp. 42 ff.). The recognition of the true unity of reality, as against the appearance of multiplicity, is at all times the goal of human thought. Science strives to apprehend our apparently disconnected percepts as a unity by tracing their interrelations according to natural law. But, owing to the prejudice that an inter-relation discovered by human thought has only a subjective validity, thinkers have sought the true ground of unity in some object transcending the world of our experience (God, will, absolute spirit, etc.). Further, basing themselves on this prejudice, men have tried to gain, in addition to their knowledge of inter-relations within experience, a second kind of knowledge transcending experience, which should reveal the connection between empirical inter-relations and those realities which lie beyond the limits of experience (Metaphysics). The reason why, by logical thinking, we understand the nexus of the world, was thought to be that an original creator has built up the world according to logical laws, and, similarly, the ground of our actions was thought to lie in the will of this original being. It was overlooked that thinking embraces in one grasp the subjective and the objective, and that it communicates to us the whole of reality in the union which it effects between percept and concept. Only so long as we contemplate the laws which pervade and determine all percepts, in the abstract form of concepts, do we indeed deal only with something purely subjective. But this subjectivity does not belong to the content of the concept which, by means of thought, is added to the percept. This content is taken, not from the subject but from reality. It is that part of reality which is inaccessible to perception. It is experience, but not the kind of experience which comes from perception. Those who cannot understand that the concept is something real, have in mind only the abstract form, in which we fix and isolate the concept. But in this isolation, the concept is as much dependent solely on our organization as is the percept. The tree which I perceive, taken in isolation by itself, has no existence; it exists only as a member in the immense mechanism of nature, and is possible only in real connection with nature. An abstract concept, taken by itself, has as little reality as a percept taken by itself. The percept is that part of reality which is given objectively, the concept that part which is given subjectively (by intuition; cp. p. 62). Our mental organization breaks up reality into these two factors. The one factor is apprehended by perception, the other by intuition. Only the union of the two, which consists of the percept fitted according to law into its place in the universe, is reality in its full character. If we take mere percepts by themselves, we have no reality but only a disconnected chaos. If we take the laws which determine percepts by themselves, we have nothing but abstract concepts. Reality is not to be found in the abstract concept. It is revealed to the contemplative act of thought which regards neither the concept by itself, nor the percept by itself, but the union of both.

Even the most orthodox Idealist will not deny that we live in the real world (that, as real beings, we are rooted in it); but he will deny that our knowledge, by means of its ideas, is able to grasp reality as we live it. As against this view, Monism shows that thought is neither subjective nor objective, but a principle which holds together both these sides of reality. The contemplative act of thought is a cognitive process which belongs itself to the sequence of real events. By thought we overcome, within the limits of experience itself, the one-sidedness of mere perception. We are not able by means of abstract conceptual hypotheses (purely conceptual speculation) to puzzle out the nature of the real, but in so far as we find for our percepts the right concepts we live in the real. Monism does not seek to supplement experience by something unknowable (transcending experience), but finds reality in concept and percept. It does not manufacture a metaphysical system out of pure concepts, because it looks upon concepts as only one side of reality, viz., the side which remains hidden from perception, but is meaningless except in union with percepts. But Monism gives man the conviction that he lives in the world of reality, and has no need to seek beyond the world for a higher reality. It refuses to look for Absolute Reality anywhere but in experience, because it recognizes reality in the very content of experience. Monism is satisfied with this reality, because it knows that our thought points to no other. What Dualism seeks beyond the world of experience, that Monism finds in this world itself. Monism shows that our knowledge grasps reality in its true nature, not in a purely subjective image. It holds the conceptual content of the world to be identical for all human individuals (cp. pp. 58 ff.). According to Monistic principles, every human individual regards every other as akin to himself, because it is the same world-content which expresses itself in all. In the single conceptual world there are not as many concepts of “lion” as there are individuals who form the thought of “lion,” but only one. And the concept which A adds to the percept of “lion” is identical with B's concept except so far as, in each case, it is apprehended by a different perceiving subject (cp. p. 58). Thought leads all perceiving subjects back to the ideal unity in all multiplicity, which is common to them all. There is but one ideal world, but it realizes itself in human subjects as in a multiplicity of individuals. So long as man apprehends himself merely by self-observation, he looks upon himself as this particular being, but so soon as he becomes conscious of the ideal world which shines forth within him, and which embraces all particulars within itself, he perceives that the Absolute Reality lives within him. Dualism fixes upon the Divine Being as that which permeates all men and lives in them all. Monism finds this universal Divine Life in Reality itself. The ideal content of another subject is also my content, and I regard it as a different content only so long as I perceive, but no longer when I think. Every man embraces in his thought only a part of the total world of ideas, and so far, individuals are distinguished one from another also by the actual contents of their thought. But all these contents belong to a self-contained whole, which comprises within itself the thought-contents of all men. Hence every man, in so far as he thinks, lays hold of the universal Reality which pervades all men. To fill one's life with such thought-content is to live in Reality, and at the same time to live in God. The world is God. The thought of a Beyond owes its origin to the misconception of those who believe that this world cannot have the ground of its existence in itself. They do not understand that, by thinking, they discover just what they demand for the explanation of the perceptual world. This is the reason why no speculation has ever produced any content which has not been borrowed from reality as it is given to us. A personal God is nothing but a human being transplanted into the Beyond. Schopenhauer's Will is the human will made absolute. Hartmann's Unconscious, made up of idea and will, is but a compound of two abstractions drawn from experience. Exactly the same is true of all other transcendent principles.

The truth is that the human mind never transcends the reality in which we live. Indeed, it has no need to transcend it, seeing that this world contains everything that is required for its own explanation. If philosophers declare themselves finally content when they have deduced the world from principles which they borrow from experience and then transplant into the Beyond, the same satisfaction ought to be possible, if these same principles are allowed to remain in this world, to which they belong anyhow. All attempts to transcend the world are purely illusory, and the principles transplanted into the Beyond do not explain the world any better than the principles which are immanent in it. When thought understands itself, it does not demand any such transcendence at all, for there is no thought-content which does not find within the world a perceptual content, in union with which it can form a real object. The objects of imagination, too, are contents which have no validity, until they have been transformed into ideas that refer to a perceptual content. Through this perceptual content they have their place in reality. A concept the content of which is supposed to lie beyond the world which is given to us, is an abstraction to which no reality corresponds. Thought can discover only the concepts of reality; in order to find reality itself, we need also perception. An Absolute Being for which we invent a content, is a hypothesis which no thought can entertain that understands itself. Monism does not deny ideal factors; indeed it refuses to recognize as fully real a perceptual content which has no ideal counterpart, but it finds nothing within the whole range of thought that is not immanent within this world of ours. A science which restricts itself to a description of percepts, without advancing to their ideal complements, is, for Monism, but a fragment. But Monism regards as equally fragmentary all abstract concepts which do not find their complement in percepts, and which fit nowhere into the conceptual net that embraces the whole perceptual world. Hence it knows no ideas referring to objects lying beyond our experience and supposed to form the content of Metaphysics. Whatever mankind has produced in the way of such ideas Monism regards as abstractions from experience, whose origin in experience has been overlooked by their authors.

Just as little, according to Monistic principles, are the ends of our actions capable of being derived from the Beyond. So far as we can think them, they must have their origin in human intuition. Man does not adopt the purposes of an objective (transcendent) being as his own individual purposes, but he pursues the ends which his own moral imagination sets before him. The idea which realizes itself in an action is selected by the agent from the single ideal world and made the basis of his will. Consequently his action is not a realization of commands which have been thrust into this world from the Beyond, but of human intuitions which belong to this world. For Monism there is no ruler of the world standing outside of us and determining the aim and direction of our actions. There is for man no transcendent ground of existence, the counsels of which he might discover, in order thence to learn the ends to which he ought to direct his action. Man must rest wholly upon himself. He must himself give a content to his action. It is in vain that he seeks outside the world in which he lives for motives of his will. If he is to go at all beyond the satisfaction of the natural instincts for which Mother Nature has provided, he must look for motives in his own moral imagination, unless he finds it more convenient to let them be determined for him by the moral imagination of others. In other words, he must either cease acting altogether, or else act from motives which he selects for himself from the world of his ideas, or which others select for him from that same world. If he develops at all beyond a life absorbed in sensuous instincts and in the execution of the commands of others, then there is nothing that can determine him except himself. He has to act from a motive which he gives to himself and which nothing else can determine for him except himself. It is true that this motive is ideally determined in the single world of ideas; but in actual fact it must be selected by the agent from that world and translated into reality. Monism can find the ground for the actual realization of an idea through human action only in the human being himself. That an idea should pass into action must be willed by man before it can happen. Such a will consequently has its ground only in man himself. Man, on this view, is the ultimate determinant of his action. He is free.

The Steiner Online Library is a donation-based service. Please consider contributing to help spread this information to fellow researchers and students of Rudolf Steiner. Together, in these times of turmoil, we can ensure this digital library survives for future generations.


"You can see from this, my dear friends, what mischief will be set on foot if the truths of Spiritual Science are withheld. For man will be exposed to the forces of evil, and he will only be protected from it by giving himself up to the spiritual life of the good. To withhold the spiritual life of goodness from men is to be no friend to humanity. Whoever does this, be he Freemason or Jesuit, is no friend to humanity. For it means handing men over to the forces of evil. And there may be a purpose in doing so. This purpose may be to confine goodness to a small circle, in order by the help of this goodness to dominate the helpless humanity who are thus led by evil into the follies of life."

—Rudolf Steiner,
Spiritual Science Notes On Goethe's Faust, Vol. II, No. 273-8.

Spiritual Exercises

Calendar of the Soul

In 1912 Rudolf Steiner offered a “calendar of the soul” with weekly verses that express how the changing seasons in both the outer natural world and our inner lives help humanity evolve. Download and read the verses in four translations with commentary by Eloise Krivosheia of the Los Angeles Branch of the Anthroposophical Society.


2022-2023 Calendar Dates