Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age
There are magic formulas which continue to act in perpetually new ways throughout the centuries of the history of ideas. In Greece one such formula was regarded as an oracle of Apollo. It is, “Know thyself.” Such sentences seem to contain an infinite life within themselves. One meets them in walking the most diverse paths of spiritual life. The more one advances, the more one penetrates to an understanding of all phenomena, the deeper appears the meaning of these formulas. At many moments in the course of our meditations and thoughts they flash like lightning, illuminating our whole inner life. At such times there arises in us something like the feeling that we perceive the heartbeat of humanity's development. How close we feel to personalities of the past when one of their sayings arouses in us the sensation that they are revealing to us the fact of their having had such moments! One then feels oneself brought into an intimate relationship with these personalities. Thus for instance, one becomes intimately acquainted with Hegel when, in the third volume of his Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, one comes upon the words: “Such stuff, one says, are the abstractions we behold when we let the philosophers dispute and quarrel in our study, and decide matters in this way or in that; these are abstractions made up of mere words. — No! No! They are acts of the universal spirit, and therefore of fate. In this the philosophers are closer to the master than those who feed upon the crumbs of the spirit; they read or write the cabinet orders in the original: it is their function to take part in writing them. The philosophers are the mystics who were present at the act in the innermost sanctuary and who participated in it.” When Hegel said this he experienced one of the moments described above. He spoke these sentences when he had reached the end of Greek philosophy in the course of his analysis. And through them he has shown that the meaning of Neoplatonist wisdom, of which he speaks at this point, was at one time illuminated for him as by a stroke of lightning. At the moment of this illumination he had become intimate with such spirits as Plotinus and Proclus. And we become intimate with him as we read his words.
And we become intimate with the solitarily meditating vicar in Zschopau, M. Valentinus Wigelius (Valentin Weigel), when we read the words of introduction to his booklet, Erkenne dich selbst, Know Thyself, written in 1578. “We read in the old sages the useful proverb, ‘Know thyself,’ which, although it is principally used to refer to worldly behavior, such as, Look well at yourself, what you are; Search in your bosom; Judge yourself, and leave others uncensored: although it is, I say, used in human life with respect to behavior, yet we may well apply this saying, ‘Know thyself,’ to the natural and supernatural understanding of the whole man, so that man shall not only look at himself and thus remember what his behavior should be with respect to other people, but also understand his nature, internally and externally, in the spirit and in nature: whence he comes, of what he is made, and what he is meant for.” From his own points of view Valentin Weigel has thus arrived at insights which were summed up for him in the oracle of Apollo.
A similar road to understanding, and the same position with respect to the “Know thyself,” can be ascribed to a series of penetrating spirits beginning with Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) and ending with Angelus Silesius (1624–1677), to which Valentin Weigel also belongs.
What is common to these spirits is a strong feeling that in man's self-knowledge arises a sun which illuminates something beyond the incidental individual personality of the beholder. What Spinoza realized in the ethereal height of pure thought, that “the human soul has a sufficient knowledge of the eternal and infinite nature of God,” lived in them as immediate perception; and for them self-knowledge was the path by which this eternal and infinite nature was to be reached. It was clear to them that self-knowledge in its true form endows man with a new sense which opens to him a world that has the same relation to what can be attained without this sense as does the world of the physically sighted to that of the blind. It would not be easy to find a better description of the importance of this new sense than that given by J. G. Fichte in his Berlin lectures in the year 1813. “Imagine a world of people born blind, who therefore know only those objects and their conditions which exist through the sense of touch. Go among them and speak to them of colors and of the other conditions which exist only for sight through the medium of light. Either you will speak to them of nothing, and it will be better if they say so, for in this way you will soon notice your mistake, and, if you cannot open their eyes, will put an end to this fruitless talk. — Or for some reason they will want to give a meaning to your teaching; in this case they will only be able to understand it through what they know from touch: they will want to feel the light, the colors, and the other conditions of visibility; they will think that they feel them, will, within the realm of touch, make up something that they call color and deceive themselves with it. Then they will misunderstand, turn things around, and misinterpret.” Something similar may be said of that toward which the spirits under discussion strove. In self-knowledge they saw the opening up of a new sense. And in their opinion this sense leads to insights which do not exist for one who does not perceive in self-knowledge that which differentiates it from all other kinds of knowing. One to whom this sense has not opened itself thinks that self-knowledge arises in a way similar to knowledge through external senses, or through some other means acting from the outside. He thinks, “Knowledge is knowledge.” However, in one case its object is something situated in the external world, in the other case it is in his own soul. He hears only words, at best abstract thoughts, in what, for those who look deeper, constitutes the basis of their inner life namely, in the dictum that in all other kinds of knowing the object is outside of ourselves, while in self-knowledge we stand inside the object; that every other object comes into contact with us as something completed and closed, while in our self we actively and creatively weave what we observe in ourselves. This may appear as an explanation consisting of mere words, perhaps as a triviality, but if properly understood, it can also appear as a higher light which illuminates all other knowledge in a new way. He to whom it appears under the first aspect is in the same situation as a blind man to whom one says, A brilliant object is there. He hears the words, but for him brilliance does not exist. One can unite in oneself the sum of the knowledge of a period; if one does not perceive the significance of self-knowledge then in the higher sense all knowledge is but blind.
Independent of us, the world lives for us because it communicates itself to our spirit. What is communicated to us must be expressed in the language characteristic of us. A book would be meaningless for us if its contents were to be presented to us in an unknown tongue. In the same way the world would be meaningless for us if it did not speak to us in our language. The same language which reaches us from the realm of objects, we also hear in ourselves. But then it is we who are speaking. It is only a matter of listening aright to the transformation which occurs when we close our perception to external objects and listen only to that which then sounds in ourselves. It is for this that the new sense is necessary. If it is not awakened we think that in the communications about ourselves we perceive only communications about an object external to ourselves; we are of the opinion that there is something hidden somewhere which speaks to us in the same way as do external objects. If we have the new sense we know that its perceptions are quite different from those which refer to external objects. Then we know that this sense does not leave outside of itself that which it perceives, as the eye leaves outside of itself the object it sees, but that it can completely incorporate its object within itself. If I see an object, the object remains outside of me; if I perceive myself, I myself enter into my perception. One who seeks some part of his self outside what is perceived, shows that the essential content of what is perceived has not become apparent to him. Johannes Tauler (1300–1361) expressed this truth in the apt words: If I were a king and did not know it, I would not be a king. If I do not become clear to myself in my self-perception, then I do not exist for myself. But if I do become clear to myself then in my most fundamental nature I possess myself in my perception. No part of me remains outside of my perception. J. G. Fichte strongly indicates the difference between self-perception and every other kind of perception in the following words: “It would be easier to get most people to consider themselves to be a piece of lava in the moon than a self. He who is not in agreement with himself about this understands no thoroughgoing philosophy and needs none. Nature, whose machine he is, will lead him without his doing anything in all the acts he has to perform. In order to philosophize one needs independence, and this one can only give to oneself. — We should not want to see without eyes, but we should also not affirm that it is the eye which sees.”
The perception of oneself is thus at the same time an awakening of the self. In our knowing we connect the nature of things with our own nature. The communications which things make to us in our language become parts of our own self. A thing which confronts me is no longer separate from me once I know it. That part of it which I can take in is incorporated into my own nature. When I awaken my own self, when I perceive what is within me, then I also awaken to a higher existence what I have incorporated into my nature from the outside. The light which falls upon me when I awaken, also falls upon what I have appropriated to myself of the things of the world. A light flashes in me and illuminates me, and with me everything I know of the world. Everything I know would remain blind knowledge if this light did not fall upon it. I could penetrate the whole world with my knowledge; it would not be what it must become in me if knowledge were not awakened to a higher existence within me.
What I add to things by this awakening is not a new idea, is not an enrichment of the content of my knowledge; it is a raising of knowledge, of cognition, to a higher level, on which everything is endowed with a new brilliance. As long as I do not raise my cognition to this level, all knowledge remains worthless to me in the higher sense. Things exist without me too. They have their being in themselves. What does it mean if with their existence, which they have outside without me, I connect another spiritual existence, which repeats things within me? If it were a matter of a mere repetition of things, it would be senseless to do this. — But it is a matter of a mere repetition only so long as I do not awaken to a higher existence within my own self the spiritual content of things received into myself. When this happens, then I have not repeated the nature of things within me, but have given it a rebirth on a higher level. With the awakening of my self there takes place a spiritual rebirth of the things of the world. What things show in this rebirth they did not possess previously. There outside stands a tree. I take it into my mind. I throw my inner light upon what I have apprehended. Within me the tree becomes more than it is outside. That part of it which enters through the portal of the senses is received into a spiritual content. An ideal counterpart to the tree is in me. This says infinitely much about the tree, which the tree outside cannot tell me. What the tree is only shines upon it out of me. Now the tree is no longer the isolated being which it is in external space. It becomes a part of the whole spiritual world living within me. It combines its content with other ideas which exist in me. It becomes a part of the whole world of ideas, which embraces the vegetable kingdom; it is further integrated into the evolutionary scale of every living thing. — Another example: I throw a stone in a horizontal direction. It moves in a curved line, and after some time falls to the ground. In successive moments of time I see it in different locations. Through reflection I arrive at the following: During its movement the stone is subject to differing influences. If it were only under the influence of the impulse I gave to it, it would fly on forever in a straight line, without any change in its velocity. But the earth also exercises an influence upon it. It attracts it. If I had simply let it go without giving it an impulse, it would have fallen vertically to the earth. During the fall its velocity would have constantly increased. The reciprocal action of these two influences produces what I actually see. — Let us assume that I was not able to separate the two influences mentally, and to reconstruct mentally what I see from their combination according to certain laws; matters would remain at that which is seen. It would be a spiritually blind looking-on, a perception of the successive positions occupied by the stone. But in fact matters do not remain at this. The whole process occurs twice. Once outside, and there my eye sees it; then my mind lets the whole process occur again, in a mental fashion. My inner sense must be directed upon the mental process, which my eye does not see, in order for it to realize that with my own forces I awaken the process in its mental aspect. — One can again adduce a dictum of J. G. Fichte, which makes this fact clearly intelligible. “The new sense is thus the sense for the spirit; that sense for which only the spirit exists and nothing else, and for which the other, the given existence, also assumes the form of the spirit and becomes transformed into it, for which therefore existence in its own form has actually disappeared ... This sense has been used for seeing as long as men have existed, and everything great and excellent in the world, and which alone makes mankind endure, has its origin in the visions of this sense. But it was not the case that this sense saw itself in its difference from and its opposition to the other, ordinary sense. The impressions of the two senses became fused; life split into these two halves without a unifying bond.” The unifying bond is created by the fact that the inner sense perceives the spiritual, which it awakens in its intercourse with the external world, in its spirituality. Because of this, that part of things which we take up into our spirit ceases to appear as a meaningless repetition. It appears as something new in opposition to what external perception can give. The simple process of throwing a stone, and my perception of it, appear in a higher light when I make clear to myself the task of my inner sense in this whole matter. In order to combine intellectually the two influences and their manners of acting, a sum of mental content is required which I must already have acquired when I perceive the flying stone. I thus use a mental content already stored within me upon something which confronts me in the external world. And this process of the external world is integrated into the pre-existing intellectual content. In its essence it shows itself to be an expression of this content. Through a comprehension of my inner sense the relationship of the content of this sense to the things of the external world thus becomes apparent to me. 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. For it sees how the spirit illuminates the world of the senses by integrating it into the world of the spiritual. The inner sense lets the external sensory existence arise within it as a spiritual essence on a higher level. An external thing is completely known when there is no part of it which has not experienced a spiritual rebirth in this way. Every external thing is thus integrated with a spiritual content, which, when it is seized upon by the inner sense, participates in the destiny of self-knowledge. The spiritual content which belongs to a thing enters wholly into the world of ideas through the illumination from inside, just as does our own self. — This exposition contains nothing which is either capable of a logical proof or requires one. It is nothing but a result of inner experiences. One who denies its purport only shows that he lacks this inner experience. One cannot dispute with him any more than one disputes about color with a blind man. — It must not however be asserted that this inner experience is made possible only through the gift possessed by a few chosen ones. It is a common human quality. Everyone who does not refuse to do so can enter upon the path to it. This refusal however is frequent enough. And one always has the feeling when one meets with objections made in this vein: it is not a matter of people who cannot acquire the inner experience, but of those who block their access to it by a net of various logical chimeras. It is almost as if someone who looks through a telescope sees a new planet, but nevertheless denies its existence because his calculations have shown him that there can be no planet in that location.
At the same time there exists in most people a definite feeling that with what the external senses and the analytic intellect perceive, not all of the nature of things can be given. They then think that the remainder must lie in the outside world, just as do the objects of external perception themselves. What they should attain by perceiving again, with the inner sense and on a higher level, that is, the object which they have perceived and seized upon with the intellect, they displace into the outside world as something inaccessible and unknown. They then speak of limits to cognition which prevent us from attaining the “thing in itself.” They speak of the unknown “nature” of things. That this “nature” of things becomes clear when the inner sense lets its light fall upon things, they will not acknowledge. An especially telling example of the error which lies hidden here was furnished by the famous “Ignorabimus” speech of the scientist, Du Bois-Reymond, in the year 1876. Everywhere we should go only so far as to see manifestations of “matter” in the processes of nature. Of what “matter” itself is, we are not to know anything. Du Bois-Reymond asserts that we shall never be able to penetrate to the point where matter haunts space. But the reason we cannot penetrate to this point lies in the fact that nothing whatsoever can be found there. One who speaks like Du Bois-Reymond has a feeling that the understanding of nature gives results which point to something else, which this understanding itself cannot give. But he does not want to enter upon the path which leads to this something else, namely the path of inner experience. Therefore he is helpless when confronted by the question of “matter,” as by a dark mystery. In the one who enters upon the path of inner experience things come to a rebirth; and what in them remains unknown to external experience then becomes clear.
Thus the inner life of man not only elucidates itself, but also external things. From this point an infinite perspective for human cognition opens up. Within glows a light which does not confine its luminosity to this interior. It is a sun which illuminates all reality at once. Something appears in us which unites us with the whole world. We are no longer merely the single accidental man, no longer this or that individual. In us the whole world reveals itself. To us it discloses its own interconnection, and it shows us how we ourselves as individuals are connected with it. Out of self-knowledge is born knowledge of the world. And our own limited individuality takes its place spiritually in the great interconnection of the world because something comes to life in it which reaches beyond this individuality, which embraces everything of which this individuality is a part.
Thinking which with logical prejudices does not block its way to inner experience will at last always reach a recognition of the essential nature working within us, which connects us with the whole world, because through it we overcome the contrast of inner and outer where man is concerned. Paul Asmus, the prematurely deceased, clearsighted philosopher, comments on this state of affairs in the following way (cf. his work: Das Ich und das Ding an sich, The Self and the Thing in Itself, p. 14f.): “We shall make this clearer to ourselves by means of an example. Let us imagine a piece of sugar; it is round, sweet, impenetrable, etc.; all these are qualities we understand; there is only one thing in all this that appears to us as something absolutely different, that we do not understand, that is so different from us that we cannot penetrate into it without losing ourselves, from the mere surface of which our thought timidly recoils. This one thing is the bearer of all these qualities, and is unknown to us; it is the very essence which constitutes the innermost self of this object. Thus Hegel says correctly that the whole content of our idea is only related to this dark subject as an accident, and that we only attach qualifications to this essence without penetrating to its depths, — qualifications which finally, since we do not know it itself, have no truly objective value, are subjective. Comprehending thinking, on the other hand, has no such unknowable subject in which its qualifications are only accidents, rather the objective subject falls within the concept. If I comprehend something, it is present in my concept in its totality; I am at home in the innermost sanctuary of its nature, not because it has no essence of its own, but because it compels me, through the necessity, poised over both of us, of the concept, which appears subjectively in me, objectively in it, to re-think its concept. Through this re-thinking there is revealed to us, as Hegel says, — just as this is our subjective activity, — at the same time the true nature of the object.” — Only he can speak in this way who is able to illuminate the processes of thought with the light of inner experience.
In my Philosoph ie der Freiheit, Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, departing from different points of view, I also have pointed to the primordial fact of the inner life: “There is thus no doubt: in thinking we hold the universal processes by a corner where we have to be present if they are to take place at all. And it is just this which is important. This is just the reason why things confront me in such a mysterious fashion, that I am so unconcerned with the process of their becoming. I simply come upon them, but in thinking I know how it is done. Therefore there is no more primordial point of departure for the contemplation of the universal processes than thinking.”
To the one who regards the inner experience of man in this way the meaning of human cognition within the whole universal process is also clear. It is not an unimportant addition to the rest of the universal process. This is what it would be if it represented only a repetition, in the form of ideas, of what exists externally. But in understanding occurs what does not occur anywhere in the external world: the universal process confronts itself with its own spiritual nature. This universal process would be forever incomplete if this confrontation did not take place. With it the inner experience of man becomes integrated into the objective universal process; the latter would be incomplete without it.
It can be seen that only that life which is dominated by the inner sense, man's highest spiritual life in the truest sense, thus raises him above himself. For it is only in this life that the nature of things is revealed in confrontation with itself. Matters are different with the lower faculty of perception. The eye for instance, which mediates the sight of an object, is the scene of a process which, in relation to the inner life, is completely similar to any other external process. My organs are parts of the spatial world like other things, and their perceptions are temporal processes like others. Their nature too only becomes apparent when they are submerged in the inner experience. I thus live a double life: the life of a thing among other things, which lives within its corporeality and through its organs perceives what lies outside this corporeality, and above this life a higher one, which knows no such inside and outside, and extends over both the external world and itself. I shall therefore have to say: At one time I am an individual, a limited I; at the other time I am a general, universal I. This too Paul Asmus has put into apt words (cf. his book: Die indogermanischen Religionen in den Hauptpunkten ihrer Entwicklung, The Indo-European Religions in the Main Points of their Development, p. 29 of the first volume): “We call the activity of submerging ourselves in something else, ‘thinking;’ in thinking the I has fulfilled its concept, it has given up its existence as something separate; therefore in thinking we find ourselves in a sphere that is the same for all, for the principle of isolation, which lies in the relationship of our I to what is different from it, has disappeared in the activity of the self-suspension of the separate I; there is only the selfhood common to all.”
Spinoza has exactly the same thing in mind when he describes the highest activity of cognition as that which advances “from the sufficient conception of the real nature of some attributes of God to the sufficient cognition of the nature of things.” This advance is nothing other than illumination of things with the light of inner experience. Spinoza describes the life of this inner experience in glorious colors: “The highest virtue of the soul is to apprehend God, or to comprehend things in the third — the highest — kind of cognition. This virtue becomes the greater the more the soul comprehends things in this way of cognition; therefore the one who grasps things in this way of cognition attains the highest human perfection and consequently becomes filled with the highest joy, accompanied by the conceptions of himself and of virtue. Hence from this kind of cognition springs the highest possible peace of soul.” One who comprehends things in this way transforms himself within himself; for at such moments his separate I is absorbed by the All-I; all beings do not appear in subordination to a separate, limited individual; they appear to themselves. At this level there is no longer any difference between Plato and me; what separates us belongs to a lower level of cognition. We are only separate as individuals; the universal which acts in us is one and the same. About this fact also one cannot dispute with one who has no experience of it. He will always insist: Plato and you are two. That this duality, that all multiplicity is reborn as unity in the unfolding of the highest level of cognition, cannot be proved: it must be experienced. Paradoxical as it may sound, it is true: the idea which Plato represented to himself and the same idea which I represent to myself are not two ideas. They are one and the same idea. And there are not two ideas, one in Plato's head, the other in mine; rather in the higher sense Plato's head and mine interpenetrate; all heads which grasp the same, single idea, interpenetrate; and this unique idea exists only once. It is there, and the heads all transport themselves to one and the same place in order to contain this idea.
The transformation which is effected in the whole nature of man when he looks at things in this way is indicated in beautiful words in the Indian poem, The Bhagavad Gita, of which Wilhelm von Humboldt therefore said that he was grateful to his destiny for having permitted him to live until he could be in a position to become acquainted with this work. The inner light says in this poem, “An external ray from me, who has attained to a special existence in the world of personal life, attracts to itself the five senses and the individual soul, which belong to nature. — When the effulgent spirit materializes in space and time, or when it dematerializes, it seizes upon things and carries them along with itself, as the breath of the wind seizes upon the perfumes of flowers and sweeps them away with itself. — The inner light dominates the ear, the touch, the taste, and the smell, as well as the mind; it forms a bond between itself and the things of the senses. — Fools do not know when the inner light flames up and when it is extinguished, or when it unites with things; only he who partakes of the inner light can know of this.” So strongly does The Bhagavad Gita point to the transformation of man that it says of the “sage” that he can no longer err, no longer sin. If he seems to err or sin he must illuminate his thoughts or his actions with a light in which that no longer appears as error and as sin which appears as such to the ordinary consciousness. “He who has raised himself and whose knowledge is of the purest kind does not kill and does not defile himself, even though he should slay another.” This only indicates the same basic disposition of the soul, springing from the highest cognition, concerning which Spinoza, after describing it in his Ethics, breaks into the thrilling words: “With this I have concluded what I wanted to set forth concerning the power of the soul over the affections and over the freedom of the soul. From this it appears how superior is a wise man to an ignorant one, and how much more powerful than one who is merely driven by passions. For the ignorant man is not only driven in many directions by external causes and never attains to true peace of soul, but he also lives in ignorance of himself, of God, and of objects, and when his suffering comes to an end, his existence also comes to an end; while the wise man, as such, hardly experiences any agitation in his spirit, but rather never ceases to exist in the as it were necessary knowledge of himself, of God, and of objects, and always enjoys true peace of soul. Although the path I have described as leading to this appears very difficult, it can be found nevertheless. And it may well be troublesome, since it is found so seldom. For how is it possible that, if salvation were close at hand and to be found without great effort, it is neglected by almost everyone? But everything sublime is as difficult as it is rare.” Goethe has adumbrated the point of view of the highest cognition in monumental fashion in the words: “If I know my relationship to myself and to the external world, I call it truth. And thus everyone can have his own truth, and it is still always the same truth.” Everyone has his own truth, because everyone is an individual, distinct being beside and together with others. These other beings act upon him through his organs. From the individual point of view, where he is placed, and according to the nature of his faculty of perception, he forms his own truth in intercourse with things. He achieves his relationship to things. Then when he enters into self-knowledge, when he comes to know his relationship to himself, his particular truth becomes dissolved in the general truth; this general truth is the same in everyone.
The understanding of the suspension of what is individual in the personality, of the I in favor of the all-I, is regarded by deeper natures as the secret revealing itself within man, as the primordial mystery of life. For this too Goethe has found an apt expression: “And as long as you do not have it, this Die and Become, you are only a dreary guest on the dark earth.”
What takes place in the inner life of man is not a mental repetition, but a real part of the universal process. The world would not be what it is if it were not active in the human soul. And if one calls the highest which is attainable by man the divine, then one must say that the divine does not exist as something external to be repeated as an image in the human spirit, but that the divine is awakened in man. For this Angelus Silesius has found the right words: “I know that without me God cannot live for a moment; if I come to naught He must needs give up the ghost.” “God cannot make a single worm without me; if I do not preserve it with Him, it must fall apart forthwith.” Such an assertion can only be made by one who premises that something appears in man without which an external being cannot exist. If everything which belongs to the “worm” also existed without man, it would be impossible to say that the worm must “fall apart” if man does not preserve it.
In self-knowledge the innermost core of the world comes to life as spiritual content. For man, the experiencing of self-knowledge means an acting within the core of the world. One who is penetrated by self-knowledge naturally also performs his own actions in the light of self-knowledge. In general, human action is determined by motives. Robert Hamerling, the poet-philosopher, has rightly said (Atomistik des Willens, Atomism of the Will, p. 213f.): “It is true that man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills, because his will is determined by motives. — He cannot will what he wills. Let us examine these words more closely. Do they contain a rational meaning? Would freedom of willing then consist in being able to will something without cause, without motive? But what does willing mean if not to have a cause for preferring to do or to aspire to this rather than that? To will something without cause, without motive, would mean to will something without willing it. The concept of motive is inseparably connected with that of willing. Without a definite motive the will is an empty capacity; only through the motive does it become active and real. It is thus quite correct that the human will is not free insofar as its direction is always determined by the strongest motive.” For every action which does not take place in the light of self-knowledge the motive, the cause of the action must be felt as a compulsion. Matters are different when the cause is included within the bounds of self-knowledge. Then this cause has become a part of the self. The will is no longer determined; it determines itself. The conformity to laws, the motives of willing, now no longer predominate over the one who wills; they are one and the same with this willing. To illuminate one's actions with the light of self-observation means to overcome all coercion by motives. Thereby the will places itself into the realm of freedom.
Not all human actions bear the character of freedom. Only that acting which is inspired in each one of its parts by self-observation is free. And because self-observation raises the individual I to the general I, free acting is that which proceeds from the all-I. The old issue of whether the will of man is free or subordinated to a general regularity, an unalterable necessity, is an improperly posed question. Those actions which are performed by man as an individual are unfree; those are free which he performs after his spiritual rebirth. Man is thus, in general, not either free or unfree. He is the one as well as the other. He is unfree before his rebirth, and he can become free through this rebirth. The individual upward development of man consists in the transformation of this unfree willing into one which bears the character of freedom. The man who has penetrated the regularity of his actions as being his own, has overcome the compulsion of this regularity, and therewith his unfreedom. Freedom is not a fact of human existence from the first, but rather a goal.
With free acting man resolves a contradiction between the world and himself. His own deeds become deeds of the universal existence. He feels himself to be in full harmony with this universal existence. Each dissonance between himself and another he feels to be the result of a not yet fully awakened self. But the destiny of the self is that only in its separation from the universe can it find contact with this universe. Man would not be man if as an I he were not separated from everything else; but he would not be man in the highest sense if, as such a separated I, he did not enlarge himself out of himself to the all-I. Above all, it is characteristic of human nature that it should overcome a contradiction which originally lies within it.
The one who will allow spirit to be only the logical intellect may feel his blood run cold at the thought that things should experience their rebirth in the spirit. He will compare the fresh, living flower outside, in the fullness of its colors, with the cold, pale, schematic thought of the flower. He will feel especially uncomfortable at the idea that the man who takes his motives for acting out of the solitude of his self-knowledge should be freer than the spontaneous, naïve personality which acts out of its immediate impulses, out of the fullness of its nature. To such a man, who sees only the one-sided logical aspect, one who submerges himself within himself will appear as a walking schema of concepts, as a phantom, in contrast to one who remains in his natural individuality. — One hears such objections to the rebirth of things in the spirit especially among those who are, it is true, equipped with healthy organs for sensory perception and with lively drives and passions, but whose faculty of observation fails when confronted with objects of a purely spiritual content. As soon as they are expected to perceive something purely spiritual, their perception is wanting; they are dealing with the mere shells of concepts, if not indeed with empty words. Therefore, when it is a matter of spiritual content, they remain the “dry,” “abstract men of intellect.” But for one who has a gift of observation in the purely spiritual like that in the sensory realm, life naturally does not become poorer when he enriches it with spiritual content. I look at a flower; why should its rich colors lose even the smallest part of their freshness if it is not only my eye which sees the colors, but also my inner sense which sees the spiritual nature of the flower as well. Why should the life of my personality become poorer if I do not follow my passions and impulses in spiritual blindness, but rather irradiate them with the light of a higher knowledge. Not poorer, but fuller, richer is the life reflected in spirit. 1The fear of an impoverishment of the life of the soul through an ascent to the spirit is to be found only in those personalities that know the spirit only in a sum of concepts abstracted from sensory perceptions. One who in spiritual seeing raises himself to a life that surpasses the life of the senses in content and in concreteness, cannot know this fear. For it is only in abstractions that the sensory existence grows pale; in the “spiritual seeing,” for the first time it appears in its true light, without losing anything of its sensory richness.—Addendum I to the 1923 Edition