It is one thing to read a text, quite another to understand what is said in it. Here, the question is: What did the author mean?
In this article, an important point that recurs several times is the relationship between sensual perception that comes from outside and conceptual understanding that comes from inside. Natural science has taken the point of view that sensual perception gives an image of an “in itself inconceivable reality” (Kant, ‘Ding an sich’). Outside is true reality, but our senses show an image of it within us and our thinking is a still more abstract image. Rudolf Steiner, then 21 years old, points out that this is a wrong assumption: 'This standpoint was inherited from Kant by Inductive Science. It too counts the material world as the only thing real; for it, concepts and laws are justified only to the extent that they have that world as their content and mediate the recognizing of it. It regards concepts reaching beyond this realm as unreal. For it, general thoughts and laws are mere abstractions, derived from the agreements experienced in a series of observations. It knows mere subjective maxims, generalizations, no concrete concepts bearing their validity in themselves.'
Steiner posits a full reversal of the relationship. He goes back to the original experience of reality in the concepts themselves. He sees them as a world of concepts and laws that are self-sustaining, in themselves bearing truth and mutually in harmony with each other. Sensual reality is merely another form of the inner concept or idea. In myself I bear the concept 'tree'; whenever I see a tree in sensual reality this is a special real form of the universal concept.
' Recognizing an object of the outer world in its essential being cannot, after all, possibly mean perceiving it with the senses, and as it presents itself to them, so drawing up a likeness of it. One will never see how, from something sensory, a corresponding conceptual photograph could come about, and what relation there could be between the two. An epistemology that starts from this standpoint can never get clear about the question of the connection of concept and object. How is one to see the necessity of going beyond what is given immediately by the sense, to the concept, if in the former the essential being of an object of the sensory world were already given? Why the conceptual comprehending too, if the looking-at were already sufficient? At the least, the concept, if not a falsification, would be a highly unnecessary addition to the object. That is what one must arrive at, if one denies the concreteness of concepts and laws. Over against such pictorial explanations as, say, that of the Herbartian school, too: that the concept is the mental correlate of an object located outside us, and that there cognizing consists in acquiring such a picture, we now want to seek a reality explanation of recognizing.
In keeping with the task we set ourselves, we here want to limit ourselves merely to the recognizing of the outer world. In this case, two things come into consideration in the act of recognizing: The confirmation of thinking, and that of the senses. The former has to do with concepts and laws, the latter with sensory qualities and processes. The concept and the law are always something general, the sensory object something particular; the former can only be thought, the latter only looked at. The media through which the general appears to us as something particular are space and time. Every particular thing and every particular process must be able to be fitted into the conceptual content of the world, for whatever of it were not lawful and conceptual in nature does not come into consideration for our thinking at all. Hence, recognizing an object can only mean: giving what appears to our senses, in space, a place in the generality of the conceptual content of the world, indeed letting it merge into it completely. In the recognizing of a spatial-temporal object, we are thus given nothing else than a concept or law in a sense-perceptible way. Only by such a conception does one get over the previously mentioned unclearness. One must allow the concept its primariness, its own form of existence, built upon itself, and only recognize it again in another form in the sense-perceptible object. Thus we have reached a reality-definition of experience. The philosophy of induction can by its nature never reach a definition of this kind. For it would have to be shown in what way experience transmits concept and law. But since that philosophy sees these two as something merely subjective, its path to that is cut off from the beginning.'
Vienna in 1900 (Foto Library of Congress)Discussion of the article 'Only Possible Critique of the Atomistic Concepts' of Rudolf Steiner from 1882. Part one by Mieke Mosmuller