Teilhard and Steiner: Cosmogenesis in Light of Anthroposophy

Teilhard and Steiner:
Cosmogenesis in light of Anthroposophy
Introduction: As Above, So Below 
  The human is a spiritual being of universal significance. If my reader lacks the courage required for such an affirmation, they need read no further, because though one may have ears to hear and eyes to see, without an open heart these sensory organs will remain deaf and blind to the wisdom I wish to share.
  I repeat, the human is a spiritual being of universal significance. History leaves record of a few special individuals who have realized the meaning of this essential truth, but their teachings have often been obscure and shrouded in secrecy. In what follows, I share my still limited understanding of the insights of two such illumined beings with you because I feel the time has come for the mysteries to be opened and made accessible to everyone. For both of these men, Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, human consciousness and the process of cosmic evolution are corresponding phenomena that cannot be understood in isolation.
  Knowledge of this correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is not new. On the contrary, it is perhaps the oldest secret doctrine at the core of all subsequent esoteric science, first appearing in the Emerald Tablet of the “thrice great” Hermes: “As it is above, so it is below; and as it is below, so it is above.”
  It is this doctrine of correspondence that makes possible a synthesis between natural and spiritual science, between cosmology and theosophy. For Steiner, this synthesis took the form of anthroposophy, “a path of knowledge guiding the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”[1] Anthroposophy attempts to situate the human within the complex and evolving interpenetration of mineral, etheric, astral, and spiritual planes constituting our total being. It is a direct response to the one-dimensional worldview of scientific materialism, wherein the human spirit is reduced to an anomaly in an otherwise disjointed world of purposeless matter in motion.
  Modern science has no doubt made many astonishing discoveries about the universe during the course of the last several centuries. The enchanted medieval cosmos, with its crystalline heavenly spheres and static hierarchies, represented, in many respects, an oversimplified and immature picture of the universe. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo re-situated earth and humanity in a far vaster and more mysterious universe, shattering the spheres and calling into question the Great Chain of Being supposedly ascending from dust to divinity. It was not long before Newton, inspired by the Hermetic doctrine of a correspondence between heaven and earth, unified terrestrial and astrophysical law.
  It would be a mistake to believe that the heliocentric displacement of earth or the law of universal gravitation somehow contradict the deeper truth of humanity’s universal significance. Nor do the more recent discoveries of thermodynamics and biological evolution in any way remove the human phenomenon from the heart of the cosmos. On the contrary, 20th century cosmology has re-confirmed another ancient Hermetic principle, that ours is an infinite universe whose circumference is nowhere and so whose center is everywhere. As Teilhard allows us to see, space and time, matter and energy, can now be understood as interwoven threads of single a living matrix that is irreversibly growing toward increasing complexity and consciousness. “The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and arrow of evolution—which is much more beautiful.”[2]
  Nonetheless, the old conception of the macrocosm, according to Steiner, has died away, and for good reason. Human beings used to be as children, passively receiving the lessons of cosmic wisdom from the primeval macrocosm. It was as if the light and music of the heavenly spheres thought for a still unconscious human soul.
  “The old macrocosm had to die,” says Steiner, so “that [humanity] might sever [itself] from it with full self-consciousness.”[3] Earth is not a mere speck of dust in the endless empty expanse of physical space, however, but—with the participation of human consciousness—“in its unity an embryo—the seed of a macrocosm newly rising into life.”[4]
  A similar image is found in the Emerald Tablet, wherein the One which made all things opens an economy between earth and sky, what is below and what is above, in order to transform, through a series of steps, the grossness of earthly matter into the subtler substance of fire. The story is archetypal and runs through all of Western esotericism: matter is a fallen form of Spirit, the One become many; but in so falling, Spirit, though perhaps perfect in its transcendence, betrays a lack of completeness. Spirit, already All, desired to take on earthly flesh—to become human—so as to love and to know itself in All.
  In what remains of this short essay, rather than explicitly arguing in favor of the re-unification of science and mysticism, I will assume that, actually, the two have never parted company. I do not believe there has ever been a scientific genius whose insights were derived solely from the measurement of matter in motion. If human consciousness was uninformed by the higher senses of imagination, inspiration, and intuition, the Scientific Revolution could never have taken place. Instead, in what follows, I aim only to remind my reader of the spiritual evolution they have always been participating in by exploring, with both Steiner and Teilhard as my guides, the newly emerging correspondence between consciousness and the cosmos that, with the help of the Cosmic Christ, is unfolding upon the earth. This exploration will involve both anamnesis and metamorphosis, requiring both a meditative plunge into the depths of cosmic memory and a faithful leap to the heights of divine imagination.
Earth Evolution and the Human Spirit
  “Long ago,” writes Teilhard, “the precursors of our chemists worked furiously to find the lapis philosophorum—the philosophers’ stone. Today our ambition has grown.”[5] It is no longer enough to turn lead into gold, though the symbolism underlying such a procedure is not at all off the mark. Earth may at first have seemed to be made only of metals and minerals, but this was but the outer shell of a germinating seed still in the process of elemental transmutation.
  Teilhard describes the juvenile earth as already lined by an inner spiritual potential for life, adding that
“in rhythm with the awakening forces of synthesis included in matter, its activities, dormant until then, were set in motion…[as] over the entire periphery of the newly formed globe, the tension of internal freedoms began to rise.”[6]
  The earth has from its beginnings been developing from the mineral realm into progressively more complex and more conscious kingdoms of nature: first into the watery etheric body of plants, then to the air-like astral body of animals, finally becoming a vessel for the “essential fire”[7] of the human spirit. This is of course a symbolic and alchemical way of representing the movement from lower to higher kingdoms, but it does not at all contradict Teilhard’s more detailed paleontological account of the tree of life. He painstakingly recounts the entire history of life on earth, from the first pre-living polymers, to simple cells, to metazoa, on to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally, reflective human beings. I say “finally,” because for Teilhard, unlike many natural scientists, the evolution of “the ‘galaxy’ of living forms” on earth “outlines a vast ‘orthogenic’ movement of enfolding,”[8] meaning that its processes are directed toward a specific end. The current state of earth evolution is, in this sense, the culmination of an anthropocosmogenesis.
  Having reached this point, the earth’s work is, strictly speaking, finished. Its cosmic will has now converged and been hominized.[9] The time for humanity to consciously participate in the full flowering of the spiritual seed that is our planet has arrived. As Teilhard describes it, the earth now awaits the “advance of a circle of fire around the spark made by the first reflective consciousness.”[10] For Teilhard, as for Steiner, this requires not only realizing the human being is “inevitably the center of perspective,” but also “the center of construction of the universe.”[11] In our age of the spiritual soul,[12] the spiritual forces of the cosmos are no longer thinking for human consciousness. This spiritual umbilical cord has been severed. Rather, out of the active freedom of our spirit-seeing consciousness,[13] the universe that once produced humanity is now being remade within us.
  The changing relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm is a result of the evolution of consciousness. Most historians mistakenly believe that human beings have always experienced themselves and the world in the same way we do today. The mythical beings and magical forces that were so important to earlier ages are explained away as projections or fantasies of a more primitive intellect.[14] In truth, primordial humanity was still immersed in a dream-like consciousness directly inspired from above by contents of the spiritual world. As Steiner puts it, this earlier humanity experienced itself “as a drop out of the sea of cosmic spirituality, a drop that has separated itself off for the time of this earthly life, only to unite itself again when the earthly life is over.”[15] Today, humanity is passing through a temporary period of separation from the spiritual world as a result of an increasingly sense-bound materialistic outlook. We no longer recall what came before our birth, nor are we sure what awaits us after death. Instead of cosmic thoughts streaming in from above, the main contents of experience have become sense perceptions of the surfaces of objects. Ideas now require the effort of our own soul-activity; our task is to become increasingly conscious of our inner spirit, our ability to think freely independent of the outer world. “What came from the heights,” Steiner writes, “has to be found again in the depths.”[16]
  Steiner is careful to point out that what is most significant about the age of the spiritual, or consciousness soul (beginning around 1500 CE) is not the ideas developed by modern science concerning the natural world, but rather the effect these ideas have had on the evolution of humanity’s self-knowledge.[17] The spiritual macrocosm died away only to re-appear within the microcosm as the spiritualized material of the earth—which is to say, as human consciousness.
  Despite the alienation from outer nature and spirit that this death-rebirth process has temporarily required, it remains for consciousness a crucial and necessary initiation into a higher form of being and knowing. The process is akin to wandering in the desert in order to purify the soul in preparation for the realization of an otherwise unimaginable future mission. Steiner teaches that we must have confidence in the world and the courage to persists in our longing for spiritual truth if this mission is to become clearer to us.[18] The next step of cosmic evolution requires the free participation of our consciousness. In other words, the full flowering of the earth depends upon humanity’s becoming conscious of the cosmic will that has unconsciously struggled through billions of years of evolution to give birth to us.
  Teilhard describes this rebirth of the cosmos within consciousness as
“the entry of consciousness, forever, into a framework of new dimensions; and consequently, the birth of an entirely renewed universe, simply by the transformation of its most intimate stuff, without a change of line or fold.”[19]
  Consciousness, or what might also appropriately be called the human spirit, is for both Teilhard and Steiner an “inner Sun” that not only illumines our sensory experience of the world, but confers upon the universe itself a “form of unity it would never have had if it had not been thought.”[20] As Steiner puts it, “human beings do not just understand what nature has produced; they carry nature further.”[21] Our thinking is not simply an inner mental activity mirroring or representing some state of affairs in an outside world. Thinking is a higher dimensional folding of space-time upon itself, which is to say that consciousness is both unique and continuous with the ongoing development of the universe. I do not represent a world that remains outside myself when I think; rather, the world process comes to know itself in my thinking.
  “Therefore,” writes Steiner, “thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object.”[22] In thinking, I do more than receive impressions of a finished world—I actively participate in cosmogenesis. On earth, this means contributing to the emergence of an entirely new envelope surrounding the biosphere: the noosphere.
The Role of Christ in Noogenesis
  As Teilhard sees it, individual consciousnesses are being forced to converge upon themselves into an “almost solid mass of hominized substance”[23] due to the spherical shape of the earth. In whatever direction we head, we find not more land, but more people. This psychic compression has been going on at least since the Neolithic revolution, when agriculture increased our population and commerce lead to cities, some of which became especially wealthy and developed into empires hungry for the spoils of war. Noogenesis has not been a peaceful process, but even in the most violent of attempted conquests, the interpermeable nature of the psyche resulted in the endomorphosis of conquered and conqueror: both were left forever changed, becoming less defined by particular cultures and more by their humanity.[24]
  The assimilative function served by the wars of the past is little consolation for our contemporary predicament: it is no longer spears and arrows powered by the human hand, but atomic missiles fired from orbiting satellites that threaten our earthly wellbeing. The future destiny of all life on earth still rests in human hands—but hands that, with the push of a button, could eradicate forever billions of years of accumulated evolutionary innovation. The evils of war, perhaps for several centuries now, have ceased to serve noogenesis. Today, war (whether waged by one human society upon another, or by human industry upon the earth) represents a vestige of our less than human past. The pressure is increasing, the temperature continues to rise, and it is becoming more and more apparent that “brought to its thinking stage, life cannot continue without structurally needing to rise even higher.”[25]
  Both Steiner and Teilhard feel that only the cosmic love of the Christ impulse can safely carry humanity through this difficult transformation. Christ, for Teilhard, is a “universal Presence…, an expanding Center which is trying to find itself a sphere,” while earthly humanity represents “a sphere that is extending deeper and deeper, and needs a center.”[26] The coincidence is enough to convince Teilhard that our earthly mission has been seeded from above, that we are in no danger of suffocating as a result of increasing compression upon the earth. He recognizes that our violent and seemingly chaotic movement towards “a planetary Flux of co-reflection”[27] is supported from within by an incarnating divine axis.
  “What comes down to us from those heights,” writes Teilhard,
“is not merely air for our lungs; it is the radiance of a love. The World, therefore, is not simply a place in which a Life can breathe because its power to look into the future has been aroused; we can see its evolutive summit and so feel its absorbing magnetic attraction.”[28]
  Love, then, is the engine of evolution that is consummating the noosphere. As the universe becomes increasingly Christified as a result of earth’s noogenesis, the human psyche finds itself operating within a new charter, the details of which are a result of what Teilhard calls “the Divine Milieu.” As this milieu continues to manifest on earth, the difference between the universal and the personal will be broken down. The individual ego, while remaining unique, will begin to participate in the universal being of Christ.[29]
  “And so,” writes Teilhard,
“the possibility is disclosed for, opens out for, Humanity, not only of believing and hoping but (what is much more unexpected and much more valuable) of loving, co-extensively and co-originally with all the past, the present and the future of a Universe which is in process of concentration upon itself.”[30]
 According to Steiner, this process of concentration has hit a fever pitch during our age of the consciousness soul. As a result of telescopes giving us a better look at the stars, and the disenchanting effects of natural science generally, the inner human being “had to embrace the spirit of a sensory world—one that fills the spatial universe everywhere in the same way.”[31] Our expanded perception of outer space lead to a corresponding contracted perception of inner spirit. For many, the universe now seems to be a dead and empty place. As was discussed above, this period of alienation is necessary for the development of human freedom. The role of Christ, as Steiner sees it, is to provide a guarantee of this freedom, if only we “turn to Christ consciously in the spiritual frame of mind which [we] possessed subconsciously during the descent from supersensible spirit-existence to the use of intellect.”[32] This descent from our original participation in the music of the cosmic spheres to the dead way of thinking reigning at present can only be reversed by a movement of loving openness toward the world, an act of will which might also be termed “faith.” Noogenesis depends both on the strength of our collective bond and the courage of our individual will.
Christogenesis and Etheric Vision
  Teilhard and Steiner are Christ-centric thinkers, but in our increasingly interconnected planet, there are more spiritual paths available than ever before. They both feel there is something unique about the Christian spiritual impulse, that it serves the needs of our moment better than any other. Teilhard is quite aware, however, that imposing “a ready-made Divinity from outside” upon those of a non-Christian persuasion is no better than “preaching in the desert.”[33] Steiner is careful to point out that there is an experiential basis for Christian revelation, and that as more people begin to experience the Christ Event as “mystical fact,” our task will be to develop “an understanding for the possibility of entering the spirit world free of any religious denomination, going simply through the power of good will.”[34]
  In this section, I will attempt to articulate what makes Christianity unique and why it is that Teilhard and Steiner find it so important for the evolution of human consciousness on earth.
  Teilhard lists three attributes that any Divinity still capable of speaking to modern humanity must possess. This God must be: 1) vast and mysterious as the Cosmos, 2) immediate and all-embracing as Life, and 3) linked to our human efforts on the earth.[35]
  The first requirement is a result of Teilhard’s own experience as a scientist learning about the immensity and perplexity of the universe. As his knowledge of nature increased, his former faith began to seem childish. This tension between scientific facts and religious revelation allowed him, throughout his life, to share in the anxieties felt by so many non-believers. But like many Christian natural philosophers before him (like Aquinas and Hegel, to give two examples), he was able to bring together the Bible and the book of Nature. For Teilhard, there is “a secret message explanatory of the whole of Creation…allowing us to feel God in everything we do and in everything that is done to us”: the universe is Christ incarnate.[36] It is this secret that, when revealed within one’s heart (for it cannot be outwardly seen), demonstrates the conjunction of both humanity’s heavenly and earthly attractions. The vast Cosmos becomes the mysterious body of God.
  The second requirement stems from Teilhard’s plea for the priestly class to engage more fully with the world, rather than remaining merely “the people who bury you.”[37] He finds it imperative that the religious must not only study within religion in order to defend it, but apply their passionate religiosity to other fields, especially to science, where the disenchanting metaphysical assumptions of materialism are so often taken for granted. The natural world, studied religiously as the Body of Christ, may become, as William Law puts it, “a volume of holy instruction that leads us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[38] As Owen Barfield remarks in a similar spirit, “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.”[39]
  Aside from fully engaging science, Christianity must overcome the contemporary sentiment that religion ought to remain a private matter. Morality can no longer be narrowly individualistic, but must emphasize our responsibility to “political duties, social duties, international duties, and cosmic duties.”[40] Many secular humanists believe that religion should not interfere with politics and government. Steiner would agree, but would also point out that a society awkwardly divided between public and private spheres is doomed to disintegrate. Instead, he recommends a more balanced threefold social order, composed of political, economic, and cultural spheres.[41] Spirituality (which includes an integral education) would guide the cultural sphere, while the political would assure the rights of individuals and the economic would assure that our collective needs and desires are met. Each sphere would mutually inform the others, but our core values would, for the most part, emerge from the cultural sphere.
  To meet the second requirement, Teilhard also calls for a renewed appreciation of the power of love, which duty-based ethics tend to downplay. There is no more powerful force than love in the lives of human beings, and a religion that does not embrace its transformative potential has no future.
  The third requirement is related to the second, but is aimed specifically at the potential otherworldly tendencies of Christianity, concerned more with the salvation of the soul than with the evolution of the earth. Earthly life cannot be understood as a mere passage to the next world. There is no more important doctrine in the Christian canon than that of the incarnation, the presence of the divine in this world.
  In order to feel at home on the earth, and to take responsibility for its flourishing, it is also important to remember that what is below is like what is above, that time is not other than eternity, and that matter is secret spirit. Earth and humanity may be in the midst of evolution, but Omega is already and always ever-present. Earth is the site of our holiest action, but in eternity and in Christ, the Great Work has already been accomplished.
  As Angelus Silesius writes,
“Friends, when you let your spirit rise above place and time, you can be in eternity every moment…The rose that your outer eye sees here has flowered like this in God through eternity…Sit in the center, and you will see everything at once, what happens both now and then, both here and in Heaven.”[42]
  Silesius refers not to you, but to the Christ in you, when he speaks of your spirit rising above place and time. The Christ in you is the presence of the end, the anticipation of Omega within your heart. Christ is love at work in the world. There is no higher wisdom in nature than that within the human heart, moved “like a wheel revolving uniformly by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”[43] To save the earth, we must find the Savior in our hearts.
  According to Steiner, the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be understood in a merely historical or materialistic way; comprehending its meaning requires spiritual insight into earthly evolution,[44] such that the Christ Event is recognized as “a cosmic deed…springing from Universal love, intelligible only by the love in Humanity.”[45] The second coming of Christ will not be the return of God in physical form. Instead, the continued evolution of the consciousness soul will gradually (over the course of the next 2,500 years) allow human beings to begin to perceive Christ’s presence in the etheric envelope of the earth. The consciousness soul must develop beyond sense-bound intellectuality into the heart-thinking of imagination before this will be possible.[46] Steiner points specifically to the decade between 1930 and 1940 as the time when signs of new faculties of soul would begin to manifest in certain individuals.[47]
  Teilhard is undoubtedly one of these individuals. In letters sent to friends from China written in 1939 just as Germany was invading France,
“he tells us that he gave himself to the writing of The Human Phenomenon as his part in the combat—war being sublimated into a work to form new eyes, to enable the world to see and to become more.”[48]
  Steiner likens etheric seeing to the capacity to read the Akashic record. This record is a form of cosmic memory working just beneath the surface of the world of the physical senses to shape and form its living features. Teilhard’s attempt to form new eyes so as to perceive the within of things is an example of the kind of heart-thinking that our age is being called to develop.
  Steiner’s vision of the Cosmic Christ emphasizes the importance of earthly evolution. Developing the imaginative perception required to experience Christ’s presence in the etheric is only possible while incarnated in a physical body upon the earth (and multiple reincarnations may be required for its full flowering). The humanity of earlier epochs in the evolution of consciousness was able to see into the etheric realm bordering the physical world of the senses, but this dream-like clairvoyance obscured the material reality of the earth. Our task in the current age of the consciousness soul, after coming to experience nature entirely emptied of spirit, is to develop imaginative perception in a fully awakened, individuated state. Only then will Christ’s presence on the earth become apparent to us.
  “We are approaching an age when people will feel they are surrounded not only by a physical, sensory world,” writes Steiner, “but also—according to their understanding—by a spiritual kingdom.”[49] This spiritual kingdom is what Teilhard referred to as the Divine Milieu, wherein he “saw the universe becoming amorized and personalized in the very dynamism of its own evolution.”[50]
  “We have within us mirror images of the great cosmos,” says Steiner, “and the members of our constitution–material, ether, astral, and I-being–are really realms of divine beings.”[51] The human being has come during the past 500 years to feel increasingly disoriented and alienated from the numinous dimension of the universe. We have great trouble recognizing our reflection in the stars above, and for most, the human constitution has been reduced to but one real member: the physical body.[52] But, if Steiner is correct, a seed has already been planted in our souls with the potential to restore our vision of the spiritual world bordering that of the physical senses. Teilhard’s vision of cosmogenesis unified by Christ’s love is an example of the kind of etheric perception that Steiner predicts will become more prevalent in the coming years.
  “Driven by the forces of love,” writes Teilhard, “the fragments of the world are seeking one another so the world may come to be.”[53] Without love, the world itself would long ago have fallen to pieces. The human being now stands precariously at a fork in the road: either we will continue to feel the inertial pull of materialism and degrade further into a dehumanized techno-industrial wonder world, or we will answer the cosmic call to birth within ourselves an etheric organ of perception capable of granting us conscious access to the spirits of form (including Christ) at work behind sensory appearances. Only with the heartfelt imagination required for such perception will we overcome our materialist trance. With perception of Christ in the etheric comes also a release from the anxiety associated with death, as it becomes apparent that the spirit alive within us is immortal. If cultural anthropologists like Ernest Becker[54] are right, and death anxiety is one of the major reasons for most violence and intolerance on our planet, then the moral imagination granting one immediate experience of the non-physical aspect of their own and other’s being cannot develop soon enough.
 Humanity is struggling to become the Spirit of the Earth, but as Teilhard says, this Spirit
“can only be born from a universal human love–a love that is armed with the force we still only lend to violence.”[55] We are beings of universal significance, but this status can no longer be taken for granted. It is now up to us to take the reigns of evolution and guide it toward Omega through the power of conscious amorization. I pray that humanity can face the future with an open heart; if the longing in my soul is not mistaken, a divine Face there awaits us.
Barfield, Owen.
Ø  The Rediscovery of Meaning. The Barfield Press: 1977.
Ø  Saving the Appearances. Wesleyan University Press: 1988.
Steiner, Rudolf.
Ø  Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Rudolf Steiner Press: 1973.
Ø  Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. Anthroposophic Press: 1995.
Ø  Mystics After Modernism. Anthroposophic Press: 2000.
Ø  Outline of Esoteric Science. Anthroposophic Press: 1997.
Ø  The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric. Anthroposophic Press: 2003.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre.
Ø  The Human Phenomenon. Sussex Academic Press: 1999.
Ø  The Heart of Matter. Harcourt: 1978.

[1] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 13
[2] The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[3] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 169-170
[4] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 170
[5] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176-177
[6] The Human Phenomenon, p. 37
[7] As Teilhard describes the human element on p. 177
[8] The Human Phenomenon, p. 90
[9]  The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[10] The Human Phenomenon, p. 123
[11] The Human Phenomenon, p. 3-4
[12] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 167
[13] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 168
[14] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 62
[15] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 56
[16] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 57
[17] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 69
[18] Mystics After Modernism, p. 88
[19] The Human Phenomenon, p. 152
[20] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176
[21] Mystics After Modernism, p. 58
[22] Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, p. 52
[23] The Human Phenomenon, p. 169
[24] The Human Phenomenon, p. 144
[25] The Human Phenomenon, p. 163
[26] The Heart of Matter, p. 90
[27] The Heart of Matter, p. 91
[28] The Heart of Matter, p. 92
[29] The Heart of Matter, p. 95
[30] The Heart of Matter, p. 99
[31] Mystics after Modernism, p. 116
[32] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 73
[33] The Heart of Matter, p. 211
[34] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[35] The Heart of Matter, p. 212
[36] The Heart of Matter, p. 216
[37] The Heart of Matter, p. 217
[38] The Works of the Reverend William Law, p. 117
[39] Saving the Appearances, p. 164
[40] The Heart of Matter, p. 220
[41] See Towards Social Renewal: Rethinking the Basis of Society
[42] From Cherubinic Wanderer, quoted in Mystics After Modernism, p. 122
[43] Divine Comedy: Paradiso by Dante, Canto XXXIII:143-145
[44]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 224
[45]Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 149
[46] “Mere perception—perception without imagination—is the sword thrust between spirit and matter” –Owen Barfield (The Rediscovery of Meaning, p. 170)
[47] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 16
[48] The Human Phenomenon, p. xxiv
[49] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[50] The Heart of Matter, p. 83
[51]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 142
[52] Though the I-being is necessarily implicit in any knowledge of the physical world, most do not recognize their own thinking as a spiritual activity.
[53]The Human Phenomenon, p. 188
[54] See The Denial of Death (1973)
[55]The Human Phenomenon, p. 266, note 15

The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy

The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy
“[Imagination] is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And Reason in her most exalted mood.”
William Wordsworth, ‘The Prelude’
It should go without saying that there is more to reality than what at first meets the eye. There is always a deeper reason at work beneath the surface, discoverable even in a world overflowing with appearances. Somehow sensation is made intelligible, which is also to say that intelligence is made sensible. The nature of this synthesis was a mystery even to philosophical prophets like Hume and Kant, but both of them knew it had something to do with imagination. In book VI of The Republic, Plato ranks the imagination (eikasia) lowest on his scale of the soul’s faculties, complaining that it relates only to shadows and reflections—in short, to appearances. The intelligible realm is invisible, according to Plato, and thus accessible only to the more refined powers of understanding and reason[1] (or what Plato refers to as dianoia and noesis, respectively). Earlier in The Republic (book IV), Plato warns against the corrupting dangers of innovative poetry to the established order because of its power to quickly transform the values of entire societies.
Perhaps it was Plato’s longing for the stillness of eternity and the substance of ideas that made him suspicious of the poet’s dynamic and passionate imagination. The Idealism born in Germany more than two millennia later, however, beginning with Kant’s transcendental version and progressively developing through Fichte’s and Schelling’s systems to culminate in Hegel’s Absolute Idealism, though still Platonic to their core, can be read as having nonetheless entirely re-evaluated the role imagination plays in the generation and renovation of ideas, be they concerned with Truth, Goodness, or Beauty.
This essay will trace the philosophical development of the imagination in the philosophies of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. I will argue that philosophy, if it is to remain relevant to embodied minds such as ourselves, must transform experience of this world, instead of focusing on abstract ideals, by reawakening what Jakob Boehme called the “divine imagination.”[2] Hegel’s speculative system will be interpreted as having just such an aim, to produce “an actual experience of living in the light of the eternal day.”[3] The result of reawakening the divine imagination is that, as Wilber puts it, “the other world [of supersensible ideas becomes] this world rightly seen.”[4]
“I am now convinced,” wrote Hegel in 1797,
“that the highest act of Reason, the one through which it encompasses all Ideas, is an aesthetic act, and that truth and goodness only become sisters in beauty—the philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet…Poetry gains thereby a higher dignity, she becomes at the end once more, what she was at the beginning—the teacher of mankind.”[5]
Hegel here articulates, early in his career, his desire for a philosophy that unites what Plato had divided. Reason reaches its zenith not in the contemplation of invisible ideas, but through the creative power of imagination, giving imaginal concreteness to ideas that would otherwise remain hidden in a “realm of shades.”[6] Imagination not only allows us to express the ideas of reason in our artistic works and ethical lives, but to perceive their expression in nature, which rightly approached becomes “a volume of holy instruction, [leading] us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[7] Before exploring the systems of Schelling and Hegel, however, we must pay respect to the genius of Kant, whose three critiques have forever changed the way human consciousness understands its relation to God and the Cosmos.
1. Kant
Walter Kaufmann credits Kant with authoring the first major philosophical book written in German.[8] In this book, the Critique of Pure Reason (published in 1781), Kant set himself the task of determining “how much we can hope to achieve by reason [i.e., the understanding], when all the material and assistance of experience are taken away.”[9] In other words, he hoped to determine what the understanding was capable of discovering about its own cognitive operations independent of what it receives from outside itself. He sought to establish the conditions for the possibility of all knowledge as the forms of intuition and categories that structure, a priori, all experience, whether of appearances within the soul or in external nature.
He lists three powers, or “…capacities of the soul…which cannot be any further derived from one common ground: the faculty of knowledge, the feeling of pleasure and pain, and the faculty of desire.”[10] These can be summarized as thinking, feeling, and willing, respectively.
These three powers of soul, along with the forms of intuition of space and time underlying all their content, constitute the whole of our phenomenal experience. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant lists three different faculties, but claims, as he does above, that “they are original sources…and cannot themselves be derived from any [others]”; they are sense, imagination, and apperception.[11] What is to be made of this apparent diversity in what Kant claims are the most basic of the soul’s powers? One possible answer is that there is a correspondence between the pairs of three, which will be explored below. Another possibility is that, while the soul can be divided abstractly into different faculties, in truth each is merely a moment within a more fundamental, unifying movement. Kant writes in the same critique that “there are two stems of human knowledge, namely, sensibility and understanding, which perhaps spring from a common, but to us unknown root.”[12] I propose that the imagination is this common root, and that it remains unknown only to the extent that we are unable to participate consciously in its activities. While still operating unconsciously, the imagination provides the understanding with a unified picture of the sensory world, without which its categories could never find their application. Consciously activated, imagination becomes not just the servant of the understanding, but Reason’s way of giving its otherwise unreachable ideas concrete expression. In other words, it is imagination that allows ideas like freedom, love, and beauty to be experienced concretely, thereby giving the human being the ability to actualize what would otherwise remain merely abstract logical possibility.
It’s now time to investigate how the imagination works to support knowing, feeling, and desiring. Kant. Because he stopped short of explicitly recognizing the central importance of imagination, Kant seems to artificially separate these three faculties. I hope to show, on the contrary, how they penetrate and work upon one another to form the human being and the universe into a living dynamic whole.
a. Knowledge, or Theoretical Reason: Truth
Kant’s transcendental analysis of theoretical knowledge functioned to reverse the psychological effects of the Copernican Revolution, which by removing the earth from the center of the universe had radically disturbed humanity’s sense of dignity and significance. The very possibility of cosmology, of coherently articulating the place of the human within the larger universe, had been made to seem untenable in light of this disorientation. Kant was able to reorient humanity, not by contradicting Copernicus’ empirical findings, but by discovering, through logic alone, that the subject does not conform to the structure of objects, but rather that objects must conform to the structure and activity of the subject. As he put it “…the order and regularity in appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.”[13] It was as if the centrality of the physical Sun was replaced by an invisible Sun, or noumenon, hidden within the human soul, whose light radiated out to give phenomenal form to all the natural bodies revolving around it.
This reversal rests upon a different conception of subjectivity than that expounded by Hume, for whom nothing could be known with any certainty, whether it be the nature of the subject or of the objects to which it relates. For Hume, the subject is a bundle of impressions, the ‘I’ or ego being just another impression with no special significance.
For Kant, the faculty of knowledge depends upon apperception, “the abiding and unchanging ‘I’ [forming] the correlate of all our representations in so far as it is to be at all possible that we should become conscious of them.”[14] This abiding ‘I’ allows diverse experiences to be unified by and judged according to concepts of the understanding, which themselves apply universally because they constitute the very possibility of our having any experience at all. In order for the understanding to judge the manifold of sensory experience according to its categories, however, it depends upon the synthetic function of the imagination to draw together sensory intuitions into a sensus communis, a coherent representation of the world no longer divided into the various modalities of the individual sense organs. The work of the imagination in drawing together the chaos of bare sensory experience happens unconsciously, which is why the world appears as always already ordered and coherent, and therefore amenable to conceptual analysis by the understanding.
Apperception, or self-consciousness, unifies our understanding of nature by the power of its own transcendental unity, according to Kant. But even here, the moral or practical function of imagination is necessary for the ‘I’ to know itself as so unified. Without moral imagination, the thinker, in its attempt to know itself can only divide itself, becoming a dead thought, which is precisely not-I, not the active thinker originally sought. Self-consciousness cannot establish itself without coming into relation with a thinker, an I, other than itself. In this sense, I do not belong only to myself.[15] To the extent that learning to speak a public language supports my thinking and self-conception, I am always already an inter-subject. Because my “I” is noumenal, it cannot be known through inward self-reflection alone—its light at first shines only outward. I can only imagine myself when reflected by the image of others. The other is always a constitutive element of my own identity, and it is here that knowing and willing, or the theoretical and practical attitudes coincide. My desire for self-identity is deeply related to my desire to recognize and be recognized by others. If apperception is always already intersubjective, then knowledge depends on the worlds we are able and willing to imagine in common. In short, knowing the True depends first upon participation in the Good.[16] Much like its synthetic function in individual perception to bind the various senses into one inward common sense, imagination’s moral function allows for the completion of the act of individual apperception by wedding self to others in a commonly imaged world.
Kant’s more Cartesian notion of transcendental apperception—of an I that finds itself by doubting the existence of other people and the world—leads only to skepticism and solipsism. The ego remains a mere abstraction for Kant because of his failure to recognize the insubstantiality of its knowledge when understood in isolation from others.
Pure theoretical Reason is thus not actually separable from practical Reason. Theoretical knowledge based on the a priori categories of the understanding already presupposes a moral relation to others, as I cannot conceive of my own ‘I’ but by way of an imaginatively generated sense of commonality.[17]
b. Desire, or Practical Reason: Goodness
Desire is defined by Kant as “a being’s faculty of becoming by means of its representations the cause of the actuality of the objects of these representations.”[18] Desire requires the work of the productive imagination, which conjures feeling-toned pictures within the soul of objects that are distant in time and space, thereby providing the will with a motivating lure. Desire (or will) and imagination are integral to Kant’s account of ethics as developed in the Critique of Practical Reason.
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe,” wrote Kant, “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”[19] According to Kaufmann, Kant’s entire philosophical project, more than anything else, was designed to reconcile science (i.e., natural order), and religion (i.e., moral law).[20] To do so, he was forced to divide our experience of sensory phenomena, of which scientific knowledge is possible, from supersensible noumena, of which nothing can be known except our practical experience of freedom. This division was necessary for Kant because the category of mechanical causality applying to nature contradicts the notion of free will. The possibility of freedom, therefore, cannot be proven theoretically, but it is nonetheless available to us through practical action. The will or desire is capable of being free, according to Kant, only so long as it aligns itself with principles of Reason over pleasures of the senses. If the will merely responds to feeling-toned pictures conjured by the imagination, it is acting out of self-interest instead of disinterested moral duty. However, without the imagination to tailor the universal idea of freedom to the specific situations in which it is summoned to serve, the moral agent can reason only abstractly. Furthermore, as was discussed above, the ipseity of the self is founded upon a pre-cognitive desire for (or love of) others, and so independent of the feelings arising by way of this relation the will remains entirely impotent.[21] Unconditional love, rather than disinterested duty, is the basis of morality.
Kant’s categorical imperative, because it remains at the level of abstract universal law, is ineffectual in the real world of interpersonal life, where every encounter presents complex and unique demands upon the individual conscience. Moral imagination is required to transform universal laws of Reason into particular acts of good will. Imagination allows ideas—in this case the ideal of freedom—to become reality. Without imagination’s creative capacity to reveal the universal in the unique by forming motivating representations for the will, freedom remains a mere abstract possibility incapable of embodied expression.
c. Feeling, or Judgment: Beauty
Kant says that, by way of feeling, “nothing in the object is signified,” because what is felt as regards pleasure or pain refers only to a state within the subject “as it is affected by the representation” of the object.[22] Nonetheless, Kant endeavors in the Critique of Judgment to articulate how it is that such subjective feelings also open us to the experience of the Beautiful, and by analogy, the Good. Kant struggles to articulate how an object, whether natural or artificial, can be judged Beautiful universally, rather than merely because of the feelings of pleasure associated with it by a particular subject. It is in trying to formulate this possibility of the universality of feeling that Kant comes closest to bridging the gaps between subject and object, intelligence and nature, sensible and supersensible that run throughout his system.[23]
Kant suggests that feeling serves as an intermediary between the faculties of knowledge and will. Properly critiqued, feeling allows for at least a reflective judgment of nature as purposeful, thereby opening a hypothetical economy between ideas of Reason and concepts of the understanding. The feeling of pleasure associated with the Beauty of certain natural forms, says Kant, is related to the imagination’s sense of their finality despite the understanding’s lacking any such concept. For Kant, the understanding cannot know nature as purposeful a priori, but it can nonetheless be judged purposeful through imagination’s power of generalization: particular experiences of finality (elicited by feelings of pleasure) can become applicable as rules for the judgment of nature in general.
Feelings by themselves are undoubtedly the sin qua non of human life; without them, though I may have some idea, I would have no sense of myself as a uniquely existing being. Nor would I have either an idea or sense of nature. I would become, as it were, a mind without a body. Such a disembodied mind would also be stripped of most of its desires, except, Kant would argue, the desire to realize the ideas of Reason, especially that of freedom. But what sort of freedom is it that leaves me senseless and without a relation to nature?
Feeling would seem to be contrary to freedom, in that feelings are determined from outside—they happen to me. Freedom, on the other hand, implies self-determination—I am responsible for what I do. It is perhaps here that Kant’s reasoning for the dualism between the sensory world, of which the understanding (with the aid of imagination) provides a priori knowledge, and the supersensible, of which conscience provides our only insight, becomes clearer. Freedom and the moral duty determining it is for Kant the most important ideal of human life—more important even than knowledge of nature, which can only be understood as mechanically determined unless one is willing to admit the testimony of feelings as regards its finality.[24] Kant was not so willing, and thus found it “necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”[25] Feelings represent all that prevents a human being from realizing the ideal of freedom by leading the will astray into the pleasures of the flesh. So far as Kant was concerned, it would seem that embodied human life was therefore depraved, destined to remain at war with itself and nature.
2. Kant’s Inconsistency
Perhaps Kant simply lacked the imagination[26] that Schelling and Hegel would later use to develop his system into a life affirming, non-dualistic philosophy. But it would be premature to give up on him just yet.
As was stated at the beginning of section c, Kant saw in the Beautiful a “symbol of the morally Good,”[27] because in recognizing a thing as Beautiful, it is implied that other persons, too, due to their common sense, judge it in like manner. Feelings are thus intelligible, providing more than merely subjective judgments of what is Beautiful.
“Hence,” writes Kant, the faculty of feeling,
“both on account of this inner possibility in the subject [to judge an object as Beautiful in common with others] and of the external possibility of a nature that agrees with it, finds itself to be referred to something which is neither nature nor freedom, but which yet is connected with the supersensible ground of the latter.”[28]
Kant goes on in the next sentence to suggest that, “in a way which though common is yet unknown,” the supersensible ground of freedom binds the theoretical faculty of knowledge to the practical faculty of desire. What would it mean to take seriously the insight provided by deep feelings shared with others in Goodness concerning the Beauty and finality of natural processes? Perhaps it would be possible to judge determinately of nature that it is purposeful, and in a fact an unconscious will, which, by growing toward ever-greater self-realization is finally beginning to awaken to itself in the reasonable animals we call human beings. Kant, though he lacked certainty, was nonetheless intrigued by the possibility of a similar a notion, that “…the history of the human race can be regarded as the realization of a hidden plan of nature.”[29]
Such judgment requires that we see nature with eyes aided by the mystical imagination, thereby being “enabled to understand the significance of the universe, to grasp its life and depth directly, as a felt experience.”[30]
Both Schelling and Hegel were influenced by Boehme’s mystical Christian theosophy: Hegel devoted a special section in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy to him, and Schelling remarked that Boehme’s imaginative account of the birth of God set the precedent for all scientific systems of modern philosophy.[31] Coleridge wrote of Boehme that reading his works “contributed to keep alive the heart in the head,” and to reminding him that
“…all the products of the mere reflective faculty partook of DEATH, and were as the rattling twigs and sprays in winter, into which the sap was yet to be propelled, from some root to which I had not penetrated…”[32]
It is now time to see how Schelling and Hegel, influenced as they were by Boehme and Christian mysticism generally, transformed the Kantian from a merely reflective system offering lifeless knowledge of appearances through the lens of static categories into a dynamic speculative system uniting intelligence and nature.
3. Speculation as Imagination in Schelling and Hegel
Schelling and Hegel have more in common than would make it necessary, for the purposes of this essay, to take too much time in distinguishing their philosophies. But in light of Hegel’s infamous description of Schelling’s philosophy of identity as the “night in which all cows are black,” it would at least be appropriate to say a few words about where they did differ, especially considering that it was precisely on the significance of difference in relation to the Absolute that they disagreed. For Schelling, the Absolute was described as resting in untroubled equality, in complete unity with itself. Hegel had a more complex image of the Absolute, as not only complete in-itself, a mere abstract universality, but as a dynamic living process of self-movement not content in-itself (as simple substance), but compelled to become for-itself (as subject).[33] Instead of the simple identity of difference, Hegel sought to articulate the higher identity of identity and difference. However, in an essay written six years prior to his criticism of Schelling in the Phenomenology (or at least the unworthy imitators of his system), Hegel defends Schelling’s approach by contrasting it with Fichte’s system. Fichte’s formulation of the identity of the Ego with itself by an act of will (“I am I,” or “A=A”) does not accomplish, according to Hegel, the absolute synthesis which it claims because it fails to do full justice to the movement of identity into its opposite, appearance and objectivity, or the manifoldness of nature. Fichte therefore established only the “subjective identity of subject and object.”[34] Schelling, in contrast, is credited with aspiring to a philosophy
“…that will recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered in Kant and Fichte’s systems, and set Reason itself in harmony with nature, not by having Reason renounce itself or become an insipid imitator of nature, but by Reason recasting itself into nature out of its own inner strength.”[35]
It seems likely that the disagreement, if there be one, between Schelling and Hegel is more the result of Hegel’s need to make a name for himself as a philosophical genius in his own right. Regardless of this controversy, the remainder of the essay will proceed under the assumption that both of these thinkers were struggling to articulate the same speculative insights, differing only in their individual modes of expression and not in their essential ideas.
Both Schelling and Hegel were steeped since childhood in the pansophic mysticism of the Pietist tradition, especially as it gained expression through the writing of the Boehmean theosophist F.C. Oetinger.[36] This influence was life long for both Schelling and Hegel, and their philosophical science can be read as an attempt to justify conceptually the imaginative insights generated through the unconscious upsurging of religious symbolism so characteristic of mystical experiences. Indeed, Hegel often equated speculative philosophy with mysticism.[37] “Though philosophy must not allow herself to be overawed by religion,” writes Hegel, “…she cannot afford to neglect its popular tales and allegories.”[38]
In the “System-Programme” quoted above, Hegel articulates his desire for a “mythology of Reason,” which would unite the common sense of all humanity with the highest truths of achieved by speculative philosophy. Common sense, or sensus communis, here takes on even higher significance than that given it by Kant. According to Magee, the notion of sensus communis was central to Oetinger’s theory of knowledge, opening every human being to an unmediated cognition of that which “lies beyond…the distinction between consciousness and the external world.”[39] For most people, this common sense goes unnoticed, but for those—whether through grace (as with Boehme[40]) or intentional imaginative recollection (as with Schelling and Hegel)—who bring to consciousness what is normally taken for granted, an “unmediated, synoptic vision” is revealed, “in which the mind momentarily sees existence through the eyes of God.”[41] It only after such an experience that the essential insight of speculative philosophy, that “the truth is the whole,” becomes clear. It no longer matters where one starts, whether with religious symbolism or systematic philosophy: all roads lead inevitably to Wisdom.
But what exactly is the role of imagination in speculative philosophy? If it is true, as Hegel maintains, that religious symbolism is an unconscious revelation of Spirit struggling to reach consciousness as the Idea of itself, then the role of the philosopher is to participate fully in the remembrance, or recollection, of this Wisdom. Imagination is here not creative, but re-creative, the power to resurrect and activate memories hidden in the depths of the human soul. Speculative philosophizing creates nothing new; the philosopher becomes a spectator recording the play of the Muse, whose songs recount the dialectical unfolding of Spirit through cosmic history. It is here that imagination again performs the magic of synthesis by uniting activity and passivity. Coleridge characterized this unity of the philosopher’s imagination as simultaneously knowing and feeling “that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them.”[42]
“We usually suppose,” writes Hegel,
“that the Absolute must lie far beyond; but it is precisely what is wholly present, what we, as thinkers, always carry with us and employ, even though we have no express consciousness of it.”[43]
Contrary to Plato’s denial of the Muse’s Wisdom, Hegel describes Mnemosyne (Memory) as the “absolute Muse” inspiring the poet, artist, and philosopher alike. It is through memory, brought to life by imagination, that the philosopher attains the “complete speech” of the Absolute.[44] Plato, perhaps due only to the pressures of his historical moment, sharply distinguished Reason from popular myth and poetry; but his doctrine of anemnesis is similar to Hegel’s speculative recollection.
Schelling placed great emphasis on the power of imagination to recollect, not just the hidden mysteries and potentialities of the soul, but the soul’s secret relationship to the actual world of nature. While Kant’s categories of the understanding were actively involved in the ordering of natural appearances, Schelling goes further by suggesting they actually create this order, thereby closing the gap between the phenomenal appearance of nature and its true reality. The soul entertains ideas that exist in the living forms of nature itself.[45] “The objective world [nature],” writes Schelling, “is only the original, still unconscious poetry of the Spirit.”[46]
The move from the notion of the soul as active in to the soul as creative of external order marks the difference between reflective (or Kantian) and speculative philosophy. The Latin root of each word provides an initial insight into this difference: reflectere means “to bend back or reverse,” implying that the subject cannot hope to reach beyond its own interiority, and so can gain knowledge only of itself; specere means “to spy out,” implying that the subject can reach beyond itself to see into the inner life of its objects.[47] Such a speculative seeing into nature is possible only if, as Hegel put it, “Reason is in the world: which means that Reason is its immanent principle, its most proper and inward nature.”[48] The imaginative seeing that reveals ideas at work in the cosmic process is Spirit coming to consciousness of itself by recognizing its mirror image in the living formation of matter. It is through an act of divine imagination that Spirit bodies forth into the manifold of nature, and it is through the embodied human imagination become divine that it recollects itself.
Both Schelling and Hegel described Reason as immanent and involved in the natural world, which is related to Boehme’s mystical insight into God’s desire for embodiment, or Geistleiblichkeit. The entire evolution of the cosmos is conceived as the movement of Spirit towards “progressively more adequate expression through corporeality.”[49] It was precisely the importance of this incarnational symbolism that lead Schelling to break with Fichte, for whom nature was the mere background of practical human pursuits.[50]
“The ultimate purpose,” writes Schelling,
“is that everything be brought to visible, material form; embodiment is…the endpoint of the way of God, who wants to reveal Himself as spatial and as temporal.”[51]
It is as if Spirit was compelled to create the universe out of its desire to see, to imagine, its own greatness and majesty. Hegel’s view on the matter is heretical, in that the God of much traditional theology is entirely transcendent and self-contained, and therefore created the universe “as an unnecessitated act of generosity.”[52] In contrast, Hegel detects in Spirit a need to become the living cosmos.
The truth of God, according to Hegel, “is the positing of His other, the living process, the world, which is his Son when it is comprehended in its divine form.”[53] The aim of philosophy, then, is that the human being should recognize itself as Spirit, and that Spirit should recollect, in everything in heaven and on earth, the glory of its own image.
4. Conclusion
One of the difficulties of penetrating Hegel’s philosophy is that its dialectical truth can only be grasped in motion, which is to say that it cannot be grasped, or understood, in the way the static Kantian categories may. Hegel’s is a dynamic logic, whose categories overcome and transform themselves as they spiral ever-nearer to the Absolute Idea. It is only by way of the “active imagination” that the human soul can, along with the magic of memory, participate in the dialectical self-development of the Idea. Imagination is usually associated with the production or reproduction of images, but it has a more fundamental power, what Magee describes as “a kind of ingenuity for giving form to something, sometimes to the truth.”[54]
Kant’s reflective philosophy turned Reason into an object of reflection offering merely regulative principles of judgment. Schelling and Hegel freed Reason from the chains of the understanding, which “sets out only to separate [and] can never develop,”[55] by seeing into the soul and feeling into nature through the synthetic power of imagination.
“The imagination,” writes Schelling,
“long ago discovered the symbolic language, which one has only to construe in order to discover that nature speaks to us the more intelligibly the less we think of her in a merely reflective way.”[56]
Without imagination, the human soul would fall to pieces, becoming but a sum of mechanical faculties, and its relationship to nature would seem merely accidental. Kant’s slavish devotion to the understanding and heartless conception of morality as disinterested duty blinded him to the imaginative power generated by feeling-imbued sight. The soul’s faculties of knowing, desiring, and feeling become whole by way of the power of imagination to both express and recognize Reason’s ideas. The human soul comes to know the Truth concerning things as they are only by loving them, by feeling their Beauty and desiring the Goodness of the essential unity underlying their apparent multeity.

[1] The important difference between the understanding and Reason will be explored below.
[2] ‘Of the True and False Light,’ par. 78 (printed at the end of Several Treatises, 1661).
[3] Night Thoughts, p. 199 by H.S. Harris (quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 87).
[4] Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, p. 509
[5] ‘The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism’ (1797).
[6] As Hegel referred to his own system of Logic, prior to its overflowing into Nature.
[7] William Law quoted in Imagination, p. 111 by Mary Warnock.
[8] Discovering the Mind, p. 85
[9] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 11. Kant’s method was primarily dialectic (primarily, though his notion of the unity of apperception may go further), but not noetic, in the sense in which Plato used the terms, because he was unable or unwilling to synthesize the antinomies of the merely reflective mind (such as that between a priori understanding and a posteriori experience). This limitation to Kant’s system will be discussed more below.
[10] Critique of Judgment, p. 10
[11] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 127
[12] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 61
[13] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 147
[14] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 146
[15] Or as Edgar Morin suggests, the self (autos) is arises only in community (oikos) (see On Complexity, 2008).
[16] In the Republic, Plato suggests that the Good is to the True in the intelligible realm what the Sun is to sight in the visible. One cannot see without the Sun, nor can one know the True without being Good. Truth and knowledge are like the Good, but not the Good itself, “…for the Good is yet more prized.” Plato writes: “What gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the Good” (book VI, 508e).
[17] I will return to the important notion of sensus communis in section c on feeling, where it has a slightly different, though not unrelated significance.
[18] Critique of Judgment, p. 10
[19] Critique of Practical Reason, p. 161
[20] Discovering the Mind, p. 86
[21] The work of Emmanuel Levinas has been especially influential to me on this point. (see Humanism of the Other, 2006).
[22] Critique of Judgment, p. 27
[23] Kant comes close, but philosophy would have to wait for Schelling and Hegel before the unity of sense and Reason could be realized.
[24] The finality of nature as a whole, and of particular natural systems, was judged reflectively by Kant in terms of “self-organization.” Each system, in this sense, was at least relatively autonomous, being both cause and effect of its own organization. A modicum of freedom here seeps into the constitution of nature, if only we are willing to feel it.
[25] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 29
[26] Indeed, Kaufmann provides evidence from Kant’s biography that he had an extreme insensitivity to art (Discovering the Mind, p. 149).
[27] Critique of Judgment, p. 149
[28] Critique of Judgment, p. 150
[29] From Kant’s essay “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” (1784)
[30] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 119
[31] Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams, p. 170
[32] Biographia Literaria, chapter IX (quoted in Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 111)
[33] The Hegel Reader, p. 53
[34] ‘The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy’ (1801), printed in German Idealist Philosophy ed. by Rudiger Bubner, p. 288
[35] German Idealist Philosophy, p. 257-258
[36] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 2-3
[37] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 86
[38] From Hegel’s The Science of Logic (1812), quoted in Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams, p. 179
[39] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 67
[40] In 1600, Boehme had a spontaneous mystical experience while contemplating a gleam of light, of which he later wrote: “That gate was opened unto me, so that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a university; at which I did exceedingly admire, and I knew not how it happened to me; and thereupon I turned my heart to praise God for it.” (Boehme’s letter to Caspar Lindner, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 36
[41] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 67
[42] From Biographia Literaria II, p. 167, quoted in What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, p. 77
[43] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 85
[44] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 87.
[45] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 66 and What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, p. 91
[46] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 66
[47] Hegel’s Absolute by Phillip Verene, p. 10
[48] From the Phenomenology of Spirit, quoted in Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abram, p. 178
[49] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 66
[51] From Samtliche Werke, vol. 8, p. 325, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 81
[52] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 189
[53] From the Philosophy of Nature, sec. 246, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 190
[54] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 99
[55] Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature by F. W. J. Schelling, p. 35
[56] Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature by F. W. J. Schelling, p. 35