Rudolf Steiner (left) sought to counter the diminishment of man in the necessitarianism inherent to his philosophy by boosting the cosmic proportions of man’s significance. He argued that man must exist, for without him there would be no further evolution. There are portents here of what was to appear later in the work of Vladimir Vernadsky i.e. the evolutionary emergence of man’s mind in the Noosphere as an intervening and guiding force of new evolution. Whilst Vernadsky’s schema worked from the biosphere upwards so to speak, Steiner operated from the spirit world down, but they coincided on the point that man was an active participant in the evolutionary progress. In The Meaning of Life, Steiner argued that:
in man those things evolve which have come to an end, and which have to be stimulated anew in order that evolution may go forward… Thus we see that we are not placed in creation without a purpose… What is within us forms as it were the one pole, what is outside in the universe is the other pole; these two must unite in order that the evolution of the world may proceed. Our meaning, the meaning of man, consists in this - that we take part in it.’
The inner-outer (or ego-other) poles recognised insightfully by Coleridge as problematic in Fichte’s philosophy, are resolved by Steiner in man, rather than the personal God to whom Coleridge turned. Steiner took the step that Coleridge could not - and perhaps Coleridge had good reason not to take it.
A new polarity appears which represents a new task, the poles of which have to be again united. How long will they take to be united? Till man has actually reached the point at which the Divine consciousness has been recapitulated in his own consciousness.
Steiner draws heavily upon Hegel and, by default Spinoza and Lurianic Kabbalah, in this notion of progress to Divine consciousness, a progress which is at once also a return, or ‘recapitulation’. Spinozist necessity enters into Steiner’s understanding of a meaning of life.
Thus we see that it is necessary, in order that things may really come to fruition, that they differentiate into polarities, and that the polarities then reunite in order that life may progress. That is the meaning of life. If we look at it like this, then it is true that we feel ourselves standing in the centre of the world, feel that the world would be absolutely nothing without us.
By elevating man’s status thus, Steiner did nothing to address a note of disquiet that he himself could not suppress.
But why shall we thus participate? Is there then, after all, sense in the whole thing if we are only an apparatus for balancing opposing forces?
In giving man a fulcrum status to the future of the cosmos Steiner is conflating, or confusing, purpose with meaning. In being granted this necessary purpose, man becomes an adjunct to cosmic evolution, a mere ‘apparatus’. Steiner is in danger of returning man to the passivity of serving Spinozistic ends.
Given the times in which he lived, it is hardly surprising that Steiner was smitten with the notion of evolutionary progress. Even if he had rejected Darwin in favour of the morphogenetic principles of Goethe, progress across time was central to Steiner’s cosmography. The ‘elevation’ of man to an instrument of evolutionary progress is purposive. It might nudge us towards an answer to the question - ‘what am I?’, but if we are to discover meaning, it will not be in purpose.
I am brought back to Giovanni Gentile because the notion of evolutionary time as a progression, linear time, in Gentile’s terms, is an abstract (or presuppositional) rather than a concrete truth. I am also brought back to the Gospel of John for timeless expressions of the cosmic truth.
That which was ‘in the beginning’, the ‘Word’ or Logos in John 1:1-4 recurs in Revelation 22.13.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
The non-linear time of John finds an echo in the poetry of T. S. Eliot.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present… (Burnt Norton)
In my beginning is my end. (East Coker)
In drawing upon the cosmic thought pool I utter now that which was in the beginning. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Man is the speaker of the Word - the only vocaliser. The Word is now and the Word is man. John’s Gospel forged a link between man and God. The Word, Logos, was God - John tells us. The Word, Logos, is in man. God is in man. And where does this leave creation and, above all, meaning? The doxology of the Church must at least offer an answer in part.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.
The Creation was not the one-off event which kicked off time. Such nonsense is the scientific language of the Big Bang, a conjuring trick based on the ‘rabbit in the hat’ deception that something now exists that did not exist before. Creation is Logos ‘is now and ever shall be’. And Gentile knew at least that creation is now in thinking. We ask - what is the meaning of life? as though the answer were held outside of us, in the mind of a priest or guru, when all the time, we are the meaning. We draw upon the cosmic pool of thoughts as Steiner said, but that cosmic pool was not a one-off creation event in some infinitely distant past to which only a clairvoyant can reach back. Rather, the cosmos is ‘now and ever shall be’ - in thinking. ‘What am I?’ It seems that I am not determined by the world, but am rather a determiner of the world and even the cosmos. God is in me. I am deified in some way. Elevated to one of the Trinity - there from the beginning. Here is the cosmological individualism with which to oppose the Lurianic Tikkun and Spinozist determinism.
© John Dunn.