TRUTH & REALITY
Ego and the Nature of Man
by Carl Unger
There is a method of presenting the theories of spiritual science or of anthroposophy, which in a certain sense involves an utter reversal of all we are used to in the descriptions of these theories. Epistemological is the name we shall give this method of exposition because it forces the student of this wisdom back onto his own principles of knowledge. On the other hand, such a method of exposition can also be of use in showing how a self-consistent theory of knowledge, which, as commonly practiced today has little help to give to philosophic needs, can yet be highly fruitful and positive for human knowledge, and is by no means forced to stay in those fetters that have been riveted upon it in the present stage of spiritual life. Moreover, an epistemology of this kind has no need to restrict itself to setting forth the forms of cognition, but it holds a distinctive and essential content of its own, which shows how near philosophic reflection, if only it keeps true to itself, comes to the teachings of spiritual science.
It is but natural that the manner of presenting his doctrines, as given by the spiritual investigator, would also be retained by those who make those doctrines the subject of their own researches, or whose task it is to propagate them. But it is precisely when we feel the need of adapting for life, to the best of our powers, the teachings that have been entrusted to us, that we cannot but be struck by the fact that the message of the spiritual investigator is garbed in a quite definite form, that his experiences in higher worlds are not communicated as they were experienced. Rather, a sharp distinction is drawn by the spiritual investigator between descriptions of the experiencing of the higher worlds and what is communicated as truth, as doctrine, concerning the world and man. This quite definite form addresses itself to our understanding; it joins on to what we already know or ought to know.
The spiritual investigator makes use of our own cognitive forms of thought as the garb for his experiences. That, however, presupposes that we should know and command our own forms of cognition, and that we should also be convinced of their being fitted to apprehend reality. The fact of that presupposition does not enter our consciousness so long as we are dealing with the simpler departments of spiritual science where we can still link up with our own familiar experiences. But the further the investigation of which the results are communicated to us by the spiritual investigator advances into the higher realms of being, the greater is the lack of epistemological certainty that we discover in ourselves. We feel as though an ever more insistent call and admonition were addressed to us when the spiritual investigator in those loftier expositions is obliged to link up with the finer threads of the cognitive faculty in order to be understood by us. We are only able to follow the spiritual investigator with our own understanding into the heights of spiritual investigation when we have realized the certain presence of the spirit in ourselves. What we must set before ourselves as our first goal is to understand the reality of spirit.
Man terms his own spiritual nature the “ego,” and it is at once clear to our minds that all knowledge, all search for reality, is most intimately bound up with the ego. In spiritual science we learn to know the ego as the fourth member of the human being. We are taught that man consists of the physical body, which contains all mineral properties; of the etheric body, which carries the plant properties such as growth, nutrition, procreation; of the astral body, which carries the animal properties of instincts, desires, passions, etc., and of the ego, which raises man above the beast and assigns him to a kingdom of his own. When we learn to know the ego in this manner, we run the risk of contemplating it from without, as it were, of regarding it perhaps like the other, lower members of the human nature as a kind of “body.” In so doing we are taking our stand over against the ego as if it were another thing in the outside world. But nothing could be more mistaken than this.
Above all, the spiritual investigator is deeply concerned to show that the ego is the core of man's being, which for that very reason cannot be described from without but must be inwardly apprehended by each individual. This is brought home to us when we are made aware that the word, “I,” signifies a name that, when it reaches our ear from outside, can never refer to ourselves. Anyone can say, “Table,” of a table, but a man can only say, “I,” of himself. Yet we are open to the danger above described, which never allows us fully to apprehend what is spiritual. This is due to the fact that, when the other members are being described to us, we are already really presumed to have inwardly apprehended our ego, for an appeal is made to our powers of knowledge that, in fact, achieve their unfoldment through the ego uniting with the object of cognition. This can be stated as a general truth. When, therefore, we are guided by the spiritual investigator through the members of man's essentiality up to the ego, the necessity may dawn upon us as we contemplate the ego first of all of apprehending that ego itself, which had been presupposed on our journey.
This cannot then but lead to epistemological reflections that must begin with this very ego, and thus arises that seeming reversal of which something was said at the beginning. The spiritual investigator links on to what we already know, and leads us to the ego. Our knowledge, however, is bound up precisely with that ego, and must start from it.
It cannot be our present task to furnish a detailed theory of knowledge; we merely propose to point out a few main principles.
All cognition proceeds as between the ego and what we may comprehensively term the non-ego. The ego seeks the reality of the non-ego and, in so doing, presupposes its own reality. This, however is only feasible if the ego is capable of apprehending its own reality. That is the main task confronting the theory of knowledge. Hence, we can also formulate the task of the theory of knowledge by the question, What is reality? In so doing we must bear in mind that the ego can find reality and therewith the foundation of all knowledge, only in itself.
If we would really attempt to apprehend the ego in its abstract purity, we must ask ourselves whereby precisely the ego is as such distinguished from the non-ego.
In the first place by nothing else but that by which other objects, too, are distinguished from one another; by judgment or thought. Now thought , of course, it not the only content of the ego. But still the ego itself grows conscious of all that can fill it in the shape of sensations, feelings, impulses of the will, and the like, only through the mental images and concepts connected with them, that is to say, through thought.
Through all that fills the ego, thought is linked with the non-ego, from which it has received its stimulus. Only through the mental images and concepts therewith connected does the ego establish its own relation to itself. Thought first makes the ego to be the ego. All other properties establish relations between ego and non-ego; thought establishes the relations of the ego to itself.
Hence, we shall be able to apprehend the ego, the prime reflective, when we let the force, in virtue of which the ego is distinguished from all else, turn back upon itself; that is to say, we must envisage thought as it is after abstraction has been made of all that we have called non-ego. Thought about thought. That is the formula that states the fact that the ego is concerned only with its own essence.
Thought about thought. This is the point upon which hinges the epistemological section of Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom of which the other thoughts expressed above contain an echo. In that book the unique significance of this formula for knowledge is for the first time pointed out, and our own reflections that, despite their inner kinship, follow different paths show us how impossible it is to answer epistemological questions without starting from that formula.
Now what is left if thought only concerns itself with thought; that is to say, if the ego disregards everything that protrudes from the non-ego into the ego? There is nothing save the forms of thought, all those laws and properties that we enunciate in logic. This we may comprehensively term the world of pure thought. When the ego lives in pure thought, then it is alone with its innermost being. Indeed, we can designate as the pure ego what lives in thought about thought.
In thought about thought we have the sum of what is purest essence of the ego. The formula, thought about thought, or, more accurately, thought of thought, contains, however, another thing of the utmost significance. In all else that can fill consciousness, we have to distinguish between the content proper and the form in which the content presents itself. In the thought of thought we have apprehended the only point where both coincide. The thought that forms the content is the same as the thought applied to it. The forms take their course precisely according to the rules that make up the content. But that is exactly what we were seeking. For here we have a content that is upheld by its own form, or a form that has its own essence for content. Here, surely, we have something that exists through itself, that is dependent upon nothing else!
Therewith we have developed a concept that we can designate by a name usually applied to every kind of thing, except the one for which it is above all fitted, that is, reality. We can call reality only what exists through itself and through nothing else. Reality must emerge when thought is focussed upon itself.
We must now ask ourselves what it is that in pure thought emerges as reality. Thought about thought yields in the first place the laws of logic. They, of course, as such are not reality. Reality can only be something in which all that is highest and purest in pure thought is gathered into one point, comprising in itself everything that can be called pure thought. In all the discussions of logic, it is true, thought moves in its own domain, but it does so at any one time only with a part of itself, as it were. The sum of all that is; that is what the reality of thought about thought must needs be.
We can in fact find such a point once we proceed to make a simple analysis of thought. In doing so we can adhere to the course of logical theory as universally presented, only we must always keep in view what is essential. Logic starts from the classification of concepts, then goes on to combine the concepts into judgments, and then to unite the judgments into conclusions. Now a simple act of reflection shows us that all thought proceeds entirely by way of concepts. Since conclusions are made up of judgments, it is sufficient for us to show that judgments are wholly made up of concepts.
Let us just take a simple judgment: Man is mortal. Here we have first the subjective concept, 'man,' and the predicative concept, 'mortal.' Both are linked together by the so called copula, is. That little word expresses the fact that of two concepts one can be a subjective, the other a predicative concept. If now we look closely into the matter, that, too, is a quite definite concept, which we might designate by one word as “predicativeness.” It is a concept that finds expression in all judgments. Thus, all combinations of concepts or even of judgments are again quite definite concepts. In this way we have so narrowed down thought about thought that we no longer have to deal with anything save concepts. But the individual concepts are different; their differentiation, indeed, is precisely what we are taught in the conceptual theory of logic. The important thing for us is that the concepts have varying degrees of purity. Thus, for instance, the predicative concept is always purer than the subjective concept in a judgment, for it is precisely the meaning of judgment that the relatively less pure subjective concept shall be clarified in the purity of the predicative concept. It is, however, our task to find the point in pure thought that draws together all particulars. But this must be a concept, since thought proceeds only by way of concepts. It must be the highest and purest concept, comprising in itself all that is conceptual. We can express such a concept, and it represents the highest elaboration of thought, the highest abstraction, but at the same time comprises in itself all pure thought. It is the concept of the concept. Now what is it that this formula expresses? We must be clear in our minds that the concept as form always comprehends what may vary as content. Thus, the concept chair comprehends all the possible forms a chair may assume. It follows that in the same way the concept of a concept must, as form, comprehend all that, as conceptual content, may vary. It is, therefore, the sum and substance of all the potentialities of thought, or the thinking faculty. But nonetheless, there remains a difference between the formula, concept of the concept, and thinking faculty, as will be seen still more clearly later on. Whereas the faculty is something like a form, which may also remain empty, the concept of the concept presupposes the use of that faculty until in its highest development it has its innermost essence for content. It is like the starting point and the end of a circle, which actually coincide. In any case, we have in that highest abstraction precisely what we get when we strip the ego of all that derives from the non-ego. Hence, the concept of the concept is the pure ego. We see at once that we have concentrated in this formula, concept of the concept, all that we were able to say about thought about thought. Here, too, we have a form that has its own essence for content, a content that is carried by its own form.
The concept of the concept, or the pure ego, is the reality that emerges in the course of thinking about thought. The pure ego is reality. It is remarkable that we have found reality in the highest abstraction, but by our path we have also carried out the Rosicrucian tenet, which, as the starting point of the Rosicrucian ascent to higher stages of being, has once more been made accessible to us by spiritual science. It states:
We have found a fixed point, a beginning of understanding, a reality, and at the same time, the standard for all that we are seeking as understanding of reality. Reality is what exists through itself and through nothing else. This standard is taken out of the reality of the ego, which apprehends itself, and with it we can now address ourselves to what comes to us from the non-ego, that is, to what we may call observation in every form. First, however, we have yet to elaborate a few concepts that will show us how near we have come to certain fundamental doctrines of spiritual science. We must not shrink from such elaborations, much as we must generally beware of empty conceptual moulds, for here we link on to a primal concept that is a most living reality, which we must positively designate as a being, to the pure ego.
We said at the beginning that all cognition proceeds as between ego and non-ego. The ego seeks the reality of the non-ego by presupposing its own reality. Now that we have found that the ego can in fact itself apprehend its own reality, it appears wholly permissible to attempt such a path to knowledge where the ego extends its own standard of reality to the non-ego. Actually, all knowledge that is accessible to us — and this includes all scientific knowledge — follows this path, although, as we shall see, a far deeper justification still can be given to it than is commonly done. But we must by no means assume that it is the only pathway to knowledge. If knowledge is to establish a relation between two factors, ego and non-ego, then it can only be one of several possibilities if the one factor takes up a preferential position as compared with the other, in that the standard for that other is taken from it. In all thought constructions it is of the greatest importance that the most complete harmony should always prevail between all the notes that are sounded. The avoidance of any one-sidedness is the first prerequisite if reflections in the sphere of thought are to lead to a complete result. Thus we must at least envisage the possibility that there may be a cognition in which the other factor in its turn plays a predominant part, where the reality is not determined according to the standard of the ego, but of the non-ego. We must also even grant the possibility of a third kind of knowledge in which neither of the factors predominates, so that knowledge comes about through mutual penetration. Both cases are for us no more than a possibility of thought, but only until we find ourselves faced with the results of a knowledge so constituted. Then we may positively be led to an acknowledgement of such results if we have previously discovered in thought the possibility of such knowledge.
Now such results are actually to be found. This more especially is the nature of spiritual science, that its knowledge is gained in a different way from our ordinary knowledge. We are shown how all of man's relations take on another form as we rise to higher stages of existence; there things no longer confront man in sharp separation, so that, by contrast, he feels himself with them as a being apart. The ego extends its domain so as to include things; it feels itself united with them in a kind of inward equilibrium. Things begin to reveal their inwardness to the clairvoyant, so that he can feel with them as with beings of his own kind. This description that spiritual science furnishes us of that stage of knowledge fully agrees with the case we found to be possible where ego and non-ego are in equilibrium. That stage is known as Imaginative Knowledge.
The third stage is described to us by the spiritual investigator as follows. He says that man begins to creep into things, as it were; he no longer stands over against them; he experiences them in their inner being, and a complete reversal takes place of the relation known to us between ego and non-ego. It is the stage of Inspired Knowledge, as it is called by spiritual science, a stage such that the ego no longer applies its standard of reality to the non-ego, but finds its own reality, a new and higher reality, in the non-ego. Within the whole wide sphere of what encircles man, the initiate of this stage finds his ego, that is, the higher self spoken of in inspired writings.
It is a false conception to seek for the higher self in one’s own inner being; there man is left alone with himself. At best he finds the pure ego and he can no longer get away from himself. He may even lose himself in his egoity unless he turns to the non-ego. The higher self lies without, and there it must be sought. That is what we are told about it by the spiritual investigator.
We have accordingly found three stages of knowledge:
These are the three worlds of which spiritual science speaks. We also see from our exposition that these three worlds are not separated from, but lie within, one another. It depends on the stage of development of the one who contemplates, which of the worlds shall reveal itself to him.
We see further that in order to ascend to higher worlds, it is necessary to step completely out of oneself; this can only be achieved by the methods indicated by spiritual science. In this way we cannot understand the immediate apperceptions of the spiritual investigator, but only when he has clothed knowledge in the forms of our understanding, that is to say, when he communicates it in the form of thoughts and doctrines, as we have already stated at the beginning of our reflections. Such a “stepping out of oneself” is, of course, to be distinguished from what we do when we approach the non-ego with our standard of reality derived from the ego, in order not to remain fast in the ego, in the egoity, for in that case, of course, separation would in fact persist. We certainly can understand, however, how that more theoretical passing beyond oneself may be the first prerequisite for the ascent to higher worlds, and it is, above all, part of this that the ego shall first have truly apprehended itself.
This points us back again to that part of our enquiry where we saw how the ego first detaches itself from the non-ego. Just as we see a confluence of the ego with the non-ego toward the future in the ascent of man, so, too, the separation of the ego must be preceded by a state in the past where ego and non-ego formed a unity. Also in this direction we can, in a strictly analogous way, distinguish three stages in the relation between the two. The first stage is that where the ego can focus itself where it is in a state of separation; the second preceding the latter is one where the relations tend from the ego to the non-ego and, vice versa, where there obtains a sort of equilibrium. The third stage, still further removed, is that where the ego itself does not as yet exist at all, and only its possibility is present in the non-ego.
We can now without more ado call the stage in which the ego can apprehend itself, the spiritual stage, where man's spirit breaks forth into the open. The stage where the relations exist reciprocally, where the ego acts on the non-ego, and the non-ego on the ego, points to the soul of man. The third stage, where the ego is only potentially present in the non-ego, as it were, is the expression for man's body. We are even in a position to give a conceptual expression to the finer transitions, and here again our results tally with those obtained by the spiritual investigator. In this enquiry, too, we must start from above, that is, from the point where our concepts derive. There we may call the pure ego born in pure thought, the first point of man's true spirituality. This is the germ of what in spiritual science is called spirit self while the higher stages of knowledge are connected with the unfoldment of those members that are called life spirit and spirit man by spiritual science. Thought about thought, life in the realm of pure thought, is the pre-condition for the emergence of the pure ego, the spiritual spark. That sphere we may equate with what by spiritual science is called consciousness soul or spiritual soul. It furnishes the transition from the spiritual in man, where his ego has apprehended itself, to the psychic, where it is still bound up with the non-ego. The latter state may also be characterized as the pre-condition of the consciousness soul in that man must have the capacity to think before that thought can focus itself as object. We thereby obtain an expression for the intellectual or mind soul; it denotes the state in which the ego draws its content from the non-ego. Also for this, it once more needs a foundation, a state, in which the non-ego can now penetrate to the ego, to which the name ego, at this stage, does not yet properly apply, in order to give it its stimuli. That is denoted by the expression sentient soul. With this we enter the sphere of the non-ego insofar as it bears within itself the pre-condition for an ego, that is, into the sphere of corporeity, which in spiritual science is called sentient body.
Thus, so far as the sphere of the ego extends, man's nature presents itself to us as the direct result of the theory of knowledge. That, of course, is no accident but in truth a guarantee that our theory of knowledge, as outlined above, attains the mark. For it is consonant with the very nature of a theory of knowledge that it should give us information about man in his relation to the world, that is to say, above all, about man's own nature. From this it would seem to follow that we are also justified in rejecting a theory of knowledge and its objections if it does not lead to a positive result, to a real content. But the task of the theory of knowledge will by no means be fulfilled by epistemological presentments that impel us to the conclusion that man can have no “objective” knowledge whatever of the world, that he cannot transcend his own conceptions, that all knowledge must necessarily be “subjective,” and so on. Such a result is completely self-destructive. Such an assumption amounts to sawing off the bough on which one is sitting for it is this very knowledge, about which the assertion is made that it cannot lead to reality, that is made use of and presumed as valid in order to enable us to make that assertion. If all knowledge is subjective, that is, according to the usual meaning of this word, unreal, then also the “knowledge” that man can have no objective knowledge is surely subjective or unreal. This self-contradictoriness, however, is extremely characteristic of present day thought, as has already been shown in the above-mentioned The Philosophy of Freedom. All such results bear the clear stamp of their origin in a materialistic way of thought; it is typical of materialistic “truths” that they cancel themselves. Thus, a saying that is so often used, especially as an argument against the adherents of spiritual science, is, “No brain, no thought.” That saying is intended to express the truth that all thoughts are products of the brain, in other words, subjective productions of the organism, from which it follows that thoughts are subjective in nature and can determine nothing as regards objective reality. Where materialism is less sharply defined, that statement means at least that thoughts are tied to the physical brain, so that our enquiry must start from the brain. But this very thought is made use of and its accuracy assumed to enable one to make the statement, “No brain, no thought.” Such and similar objections therefore must not be allowed to disturb us in our enquiries; rather, we must maintain the position that thought can apprehend only itself. Spirit can only be grasped by raising oneself to it, not by drawing it down to oneself.
We defined the sphere of the ego and by a train of pure reasoning reached the non-ego from two directions. In one direction the path led up to sense perception; in the other, it led to supersensible intuition. It behoves us now to address ourselves to the non-ego in order to get to know the value and the epistemological significance of contemplation or perception, for the ego can only acquire a content for cognition if it passes on beyond itself to the non-ego, and first of all to that that comes to it from the non-ego. That is generally the object of observation. If the ego stays within itself, then, clearly, it can only know its own reality and may lose itself so far in egoity as to doubt all else whatsoever (Solipsism). In our conceptual enquiries we are led right up to the boundary of the ego, which is at the same time the boundary of the non-ego. From that point on we may not simply go forward as from the ego, but we must seek to find the non-ego, such as it is for the non-ego.
We must now recall to mind that the ego was only able to apprehend itself by having detached itself from the non-ego; everything had to be excluded from thought that derives from the non-ego. The two concepts ego and non-ego came into being simultaneously; they condition each other. Thus, the same rights must accrue to the non-ego as to the ego from the moment the latter comes into being; both must bear a kind of relationship. That, of course, is not implicit in the pure conceptual negation that lies in the expression non-ego, for horse and non-horse, for instance, need by no means be related to one another. It shows itself in this, however, that the separation of the ego from the non-ego is an actual, thoroughly real process, as has been shown. This becomes still clearer, if we remember that a true transition takes place from the ego to the non-ego up to the point where we found the possibility of the ego in the non-ego (corporeity). Thus, it is really the non-ego that continues itself up to the point where it becomes an ego, so that the ego presents itself as a part of the non-ego, if one may so say, which part detaches itself by directing itself upon itself. The ego itself withdraws itself from the non-ego, and opposes itself to it as ego. Now the ego is to unite again with the non-ego, and this can come about through the ego giving back as it were to the non-ego what it had taken from it; this is, in the first place, pure thought.
Now the next question is this: Where can the ego set to work with pure thought? Where can it find the non-ego? Evidently at the very place where the ego began to detach itself and which in the sense of spiritual science we designated as sentient soul and sentient body. At this point we must not overlook a twofold possibility. One has already been mentioned; it is the possibility in the non-ego of an ego forming itself. The other is that now the ego will find the non-ego once more.
This meeting of ego and non-ego is expressed by the term sense perception, about which spiritual science says that it comes about through the cooperation of sentient body and sentient soul, which make up a unity. From our standpoint we can indeed see that here in a certain sense like things are meeting from both sides.
From the one side comes the ego, which has directed itself upon itself and thereby brings the world of pure thought up to the non-ego, that is to say, all the laws of thought that are expressed in logic. From the other side come the sense impressions. If now we would really present the non-ego that here expresses itself as it is for the non-ego, then we must say that sense impression is nothing but direction upon oneself, which, however, here proceeds from the non-ego. The sense impression, surely, consists precisely in this that a part of the non-ego — the part of corporeity that we were compelled to call the finest elaboration of the non-ego since it bears within it the possibility of the ego — can direct itself upon the whole corporeal world. Man's body, which with but slight exception is sense organ throughout its entire surface, is an apparatus wherein the world is reflected — the non-ego to which itself belongs. Man's body can even reflect itself within itself, yielding thereby the best expression for the peculiar reflexive process of the non-ego. By its very sensory activity it provides the possibility of the ego being kindled in thought. Thus, in sensory activity, too, we have something that exists itself, and therewith we see the standard for reality that derives from the ego applied to the non-ego. Thus, accordingly, we have the meeting of like things, since both factors come about through a kind of reflexive activity — on the one side, pure thought, on the other, pure perception. The fact that here, indeed, like things do meet can also be made clear to us by means of the following considerations, which may be said to furnish a test for the foregoing thoughts.
Sense perception surveys the whole fullness of the world of sense. For naive sense perception there appear in it so-called sense objects. In that view, however, the fact is disregarded that each object represents a certain sum of individual sensory quanta that are first brought into a unity by thought. Now so soon as thought consciously immerses itself in the world of sense, the objects are dissolved, as it were, into individual sense perceptions such as red, bright, warm, loud, fine, firm, etc. Now if pure thought further probes the nature of these phenomenal forms of the non-ego, it finds that all these sensory qualities, and therewith also the objects composed of them, are nothing else but concepts, which, however, are given in quite a different way from the concepts created by the ego in thought. While thought, or rather the individual concepts themselves, do not of themselves denote reality, but only when comprehended in the pure ego, we now find these same concepts given from the side of the non-ego in a way quite independent of the ego precisely by pure perception. Such concepts, therefore, which the ego not merely creates out of the sum of all conceptual possibility but finds again in percepts, are the real objects, or generally, the realities of the non-ego. When pure thought and pure perception meet together, ego and non-ego can re-unite and the result is cognition. With this we have found the epistemological significance of perception.
The pathway to knowledge, here only sketched in broad outline, is actually applied in all natural research where it keeps strictly within its province, and we find that process to be something belonging to all the workings of nature. Both the growth of man to the ego and the knowledge of nature are alike processes that have a great significance in cosmic happening, and we may look with awe on nature's working whose shaping forces create the pre-condition for the ego. We may also direct with awe the pure thoughts given us by nature's working upon pure sensory experience. This awe is needed in order rightly to carry on the process of world-becoming through knowledge of nature. That awe consists in a recognition of the fact that we ourselves are only part of the great becoming, that we as ego must feel ourselves to be a part of the non-ego, that the things surrounding us are our fellows, that in their own way they are beings like ourselves. Then our striving after knowledge becomes a searching by our spirit, our ego, for the spirit, the ego, of things.
Herein we have the one side of the relations between ego and non-ego that leads to sense perception and so to natural knowledge. It is the side where the ego applies its standard of reality to the non-ego.
Now there is yet another side, which leads to the higher ego receiving its reality from the non-ego. This is the path to initiation or to supersensible perception, that is to say, to a higher knowledge and reality. In principle, nothing, of course, is changed in the concept of perception as developed above, whether we are dealing with sensible or supersensible perception. That this second side is of the utmost importance becomes clear to us from the fact that knowledge of nature, while it creates a balance as between ego and non-ego, does so only as a stage on the way to complete union. In knowledge the ego indeed gives back, as it were, pure thought to nature, but it retains for itself its own living being; it remains to itself, severed from the non-ego. Hence, too, it is that the knowledge of pure thought often appears to us as something cold and hostile to life. Warmth and life come to this knowledge from the feeling and certainty that the stage of pure thought signifies only the first step to a true union with the non-ego.
It cannot here be our task to describe the path to the higher worlds, but we only want to point out, on the strength of epistemological considerations, that such a path to higher knowledge does exist. It is true that such a path at the beginning points to a sacrifice that the ego has to make. At the same time we also find as our goal the attainment of a new and higher self that lies in the non-ego. Through initiation man apprehends the world from within out; he penetrates forward to the shaping forces that are hidden in the workings of nature, to the ego of all nature. This is the mighty perspective that opens before us when we carry the theory of knowledge rightly to its conclusion. Also in this unfoldment of a new and higher ego, we have a process enacted in the non-ego, but while the parallel process in the working of the senses is accomplished by the shaping forces of existence without the help of man, this second process must be brought about by man himself. There man attains to a real creative share in the “world process.” This comes about by a sacrifice of the lower self, but that sacrifice is only an answer made by man to the sacrifice made by the shaping forces of existence when man was created with his ego. Through initiation man gives back again to the ruling powers what they sacrificed in order to produce him. After all we have reflected upon, it should not be hard for us to grasp this thought, for our whole theory of knowledge leads us to apprehend the severance of the ego from the non-ego as a spiritual process, that is to say, as a process behind which there are conscious forces, for otherwise no consciousness could form itself as the result of this process. But the ego is spirit and consciousness and reality, and it bodies itself forth out of the total consciousness of the non-ego. The path to higher knowledge is pointed out to us by spiritual science; from higher worlds it brings down to mankind what shall enable it in the future to accomplish this unfoldment of the higher ego. When we have made ourselves familiar with the idea that in the case of the higher worlds we are not dealing with something abstract, but with powers and beings that stand above man and of whose spirit the human ego is a spark, then we can understand that with the principle of the ego-unfoldment we have apprehended a world principle of development.
Three times we saw how something higher is shaped when a force directs itself upon itself. The non-ego, which in sensory activity directs itself upon itself, is, as it were, the first unfoldment of the ego. From this arises pure perception, and therewith the possibility for the human ego to become kindled. The second unfoldment of the ego is in thought about thought. Thirdly, the pure ego offers the possibility that the higher self may be formed by the ego giving back of itself to the non-ego all the spirituality that it had taken from it. If we may presuppose this capacity in man today, we must yet admit to ourselves that this capacity was once conferred on mankind from higher worlds by superhuman beings, and without going beyond outward, historical facts we can point to the moment in time when this happened. If we compare the conditions of our own culture and consciousness with those of the pre-Christian civilizations, we can see how the emergence of intellectual self-consciousness, of independence, of individualism, makes itself gradually felt out of the earlier group consciousness of national homogeneousness. The mightiest ego unfoldment, we can say, lies at this turning point of man's development, and we can struggle through to the admission that it is based in truth to say that what in the beginning was with God, out of which all that was made was made, became flesh at the beginning of our era, when the spirit of mankind, out of which the growth to the ego unfolded, directed itself upon itself. Through this there arose the higher self of all mankind as the Christ spirit, who gave the first impulse so that it became possible for the individual man through his own free sacrificial gift to hand on the great, the mighty sacrifice.
This is described for us by spiritual science, and it may spur us on upon the way it points to if we are able from out of the self-apprehension of our own spirit to develop the ideas that lead us to an understanding of these lofty doctrines.