A First Encounter with Bondarev's PoF BookOct. 2009
NOTE from April, 2012: The following is a post I made to a few e-lists in October, 2009. It is a "public" notice and a comment about my first encounter with Gennady Bondarev's book Rudolf Steiner's 'Philosophie der Freiheit' As the Foundation of Logic of Beholding Thinking. Religion of the Thinking Will. Organon of the New Cultural Epoch. An Introduction to Anthroposophical Methodology (Translated by Graham Rickett from Die "Philosophie der Freiheit" von Rudolf Steiner als Grundlage der Logik des anschauenden Denkens ; To obtain a copy please contact:
To obtain the German edition please see:
I wrote the following text a week ago, but haven't had a chance to post it before now. It was an invitation to a discussion, but now it seems that I won't be getting event the little time online that I normally get. So I won't be engaging in any discussion, but you can take this as a think piece or discuss it without me. RM
Now I've had a little while to look over xxxx's forwarded file of the first part of the translation of Bondarev's book on *PoF*. And I have to say *look over*, for I surely haven't read it all yet, even though it amounts to only the beginning of Bondy's huge book. I would despair of reading that book even in I had it in English; I suppose I might need the better part of a year to work through it. So, for now, about all I can offer are some of my impressions on starting to approach the book. -- Perhaps if others are also starting into the book, we could compare our impressions?
And I said *impressions*; for me, I might have said *whimpers of frustration*. As I said before, I got the feeling that the book is a work of genius, and I still have that opinion, but now I really get the feeling that this is a *foreign* genius at work -- so foreign that my mind strains and fails at trying to work my way into the thoughts of such a genius.
I'll try to explain what I mean by *foreign*. -- This fragment, in xxxx's Word document, is 155 pages long (big pages), but Bondy doesn't actually start into his close analysis of the text of *PoF* until page 139. The pages leading up to that point are filled mostly with Bondy's own philosophical foreplay, as it were. And it is this philosophy that is so foreign to me. It is foreign in a geographical sense, but not only that; it is foreign in a cultural sense, and more, in the sense of the mode of consciousness that is producing the thoughts. For Bondy seems to be what the Brits, and by derivation we Americans, would call a "Continental" philosopher. Those of us who have had at least a brush with academic philosophy in the English- speaking world will probably have at least a glimmer on what that term implies.
I'll try to explain a little more. -- Generalizing broadly (and hence somewhat inaccurately in some cases, but that can't be avoided when giving just brief impressions), the philosophical consciousness in the English- speaking world might be called "nominalistic" and "sense-bound"; the term *classical British empiricism* isn't used for no good reason. (And of course, it wasn't for no good reason that Francis Bacon -- who was, as Steiner tells us, the reincarnated Haroun al Rashid, the main opponent of Aristotle, who was a previous incarnation of our very same Steiner -- himself was a Brit.) In America this quality is even intensified; America is, after all, the home of so-called philosophical "pragmatism".
So, the kind of philosophy that was most in vogue some 40-odd years ago when I passed briefly through an American university (very briefly; if you'd blinked, you would've have missed me) was "sense-bound"; one might even say *earth-bound*. That was during the afterglow of the heyday of so-called "ordinary language philosophy", but the atmosphere of modern "British empiricism" was also ambient. (The latter seemed to be in the form of a modified, patched-up "logical positivism", which itself had its heyday in 1930s Vienna, but nevertheless wasn't "Continental" in the sense that I am using here; it was really more of a transplanted British empiricism, but that's another story.) There were differences between "ordinary language philosophy" and the modernized empiricism, but they were joined at least in mutual incomprehension, and even derision, toward the kind of philosophy that was prevalent on the "Continent" (of Europe), both in the present and the recent past. (And this, 40-odd years ago, was in the heyday of "Existentialism", and before the advent of "post-modernism", "narrative theory", etc.) Texts from philosophers such as Heidegger or Sartre might be used as paradigmatic examples of "philosophical nonsense", for instance. And classical "German Idealism" (Fichte and Hegel especially) was as much or even more uncomprehended and incomprehensible.
Hegelianism had a vogue in the upper strata of British philosophical academia in the 19th Century, but modern, "serious", philosophy was considered to have had its start early in the 20th Century when Bertrand Russell and George Moore rebelled against the prevalent Hegelianism at Cambridge. That anomalous British Hegelianiam was regarded as it were an embarrassing, perverse lapse between the classical British empiricism from Bacon through Hume (let's not talk about Reid now) and the modern empiricism that began and was exemplified in Russell, and that lapse was mostly passed over in silence, and John Stuart Mill seemed to be almost the only Brit in the 19th Century worth mentioning. (Actually, there was in Russell a little spark of "Realism" in the Scholastic sense, or "ontological Platonism", but let's not talk about that now either; I'm painting the picture in broad strokes here.)
Now, what was so "foreign" in the Continental thinkers was their practice of using words and concepts that couldn't readily be nailed down somewhere in the physical-sensory world. (One might object that *physical* and *sensory* are not equivalent concepts, but I'm allowing myself to be sloppy with my broad strokes; I'm trying to present more of a feeling-attitude than a conceptual analysis.) And they used such concepts not in mathematics, which is allowed in modern empiricism, but in places that . . . well, seem impossible to "place". For example, when Heidegger speaks of *Dasein* (*being- there*) or the *Nichts* (the *nothing*), or even the *Nichts* that *nichtet* (*nots*)-- the average British or American thinker can't do much but screw up his face and smirk, or laugh out loud, and shake his head from side to side. And neither can he do much with German Idealism, especially Hegel and his "Absolute" and all that; it's just incomprehensible. He regards it as a kind of philosophical sickness that needs therapy.
Of course, the educated British or American philosopher will have read the Greeks (Plato and Aristotle especially, but they're ancient history) and the "Continental Rationalists" (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, but they're still "history") and Kant (who was "awakened" from his "dogmatic slumbers" by Hume, so whatever might be worthwhile in Kant is really British) -- and he has probably gritted his teeth and struggled through a survey of modern Continental currents (e.g. Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, maybe a little Sartre) - - but all these amount to unavoidable, even irksome, obligations if one is to be "cultured". "Serious" philosophy, the kind "one does", must be "analytic": there's logic and there's the empirical, the physical-sensory; that's all that's real; all the rest is fluff and nonsense. -- I might be exaggerating a little, but not a whole lot; and this picture might be somewhat distorted by my subjective peculiarities, but not entirely.
My basic point is that the kind of consciousness -- typical on the "Continent", and especially in the German world --- that produces philosophical thinking not tied to the logical-empirical is really "foreign" to the typical philosophical consciousness in the English-speaking world, and especially to the typical U-S-American. And I am very much a U-S-American in consciousness, though perhaps not so typical, and especially not so much since my ongoing encounter with Anthroposophy. I surely didn't understand *PoF* the first time I read it, but gradually (with help from Kühlewind and from Otto Palmer's collection of Steiner-saids about *PoF*) I came to understand (so I allow myself to believe, at least) what Steiner meant by *pure thinking*, *living thinking*. And more importantly, I learned how to *do* it, and of course "doing" is very typically "American".
And of course Steiner was very much within the tradition of German Idealism, and often was at pains to explain it and uphold it. Indeed, during the First World War he wrote a book (*The Riddle of Man*) defending German Idealism "with his life's blood". But he was not merely "within" that tradition; he was its culmination and rose above it to the plane of universality. And that universality comes through in *PoF*; it, for me, even as difficult as it is, is more accessible than Teutonic Idealist philosophy; e.g. Hegel especially. For in *PoF* thinking reaches a culmination where it passes from "philosophy" to something else. (Bondarev quotes RS: "The age of philosophy has been fulfilled.") This "something else" is Anthroposophy; indeed, the title of the final chapter of Steiner's *Riddles of Philosophy* is "From Philosophy to Anthroposophy". For in the "living thinking" as is taught in *PoF* one is not merely "thinking about" whatever; one is *doing* something definite ("intuitive thinking"), and this "doing" is experienced. And such experience is as "empirical" as you can get, though it is not sensory experience. We might call the *PoF* thinking *supersensory empiricism*.
And now my point is that the "empiricism" of *PoF* thinking is relatively easy to grasp for this naturally empiricist U-S-American, because I can do it; I can experience it ("relatively" as compared to Hegel, Heidegger, etc., I mean). I'm talking about myself of course, but I would like to hope that I could generalize to observation to "Anglophones" in general, and *a fortiori* to U-S-Americans in general. For Anthroposophy is not merely German, or Central European, or even "Continental", but it is "universal human". Anthroposophy offers all of us, even hard-headed Americans, the opportunity to rise above the limitations of our *Volk* nature to the plane of the "universal human", to the status of a "free spirit", through the essence of our human-ness experienced in thinking.
So, what does all this have to do with Bondarev's book? -- What's so frustrating to me about this book isn't his treatment of *PoF* as such; again, in xxxx's fragment he barely starts his analysis of *PoF* itself. My difficulty is with Bondy's 138-page run-up to that analysis. That run-up seems to me to consist mostly (not entirely) of the most incomprehensible sort of "Continental philosophy". Again: so far I have only scanned through it, not read it closely; it's just so hard to read. Bondy sweeps through the history of philosophy from the ancient Greeks to the present, and in the present especially employs the kind of non-sensory concepts that are so foreign to the mind that lives in the English language and archetypal consciousness.
Holy unintelligibility, Batman; there's Fichte and there's Heidegger; there's Husserl and even Bondy's favorite unknown (to us) Russian, Nikolai Lossky; there's lots of Kant in his most "transcendental" aspects; and there's Hegel, Hegel, and more Hegel. There're concepts such as *immanence*, *otherness*, *panlogism*, *ideal-realism*, *intuitivism*, *phenomenological*, *trans-individual subject*, *illusionism*, *hierarchical personalism*, *voluntarist*, *intentionality of consciousness*, *absolute givenness*, *recreationism*, *Dasein*, *Wesen*, *Bedingtheit*, and so on. And more: there's the most abstract, abstruse, theology of the Trinity. And so on. --
So, the question for me is this: Am I having such a hard time because I'm stuck in the English language and English-American *Volk* characteristics while Bondarev is writing in the Russian language and from the Russian *Volk* characteristics, after taking his concepts (mostly) from the German language and *Volk* characteristics? Or is it because I'm under- educated or maybe just plain dim?
I think that it might be easier for me to accept that I'm a member of an inferior race, or at least a mentally impaired race, than to accept that I'm just plain stupid. -- Well, what do you think? Do any Continental Europeans reading this email have the same kind of difficulties working through *this* book of Bondy's? (*Crisis* [*Kreuzung*] isn't nearly as hard to read.) Is *anyone* having as much trouble as I am?
But maybe I am making it sound harder than it really is? Bondy, after all, does seem to be familiar with the "Western" philosophy of science, and he does work mainly on themes that should already be familiar to Anthros, especially *beholding* (*Anschauen*) and Goethe's familiar (or what should be familiar) "power of judgment in beholding" (*anschauende Urteilskraft*). -- But I'm still having a lot of trouble with it. Maybe it's just hard to understand a genius? But again, Bondy's *Crisis* book isn't so hard to understand. So I really do have to wonder whether much of my trouble comes from the fact that Bondy's mind is Russian and my mind is American. The Russian *Volk* character is, so Steiner tells us, at the opposite pole of the trichotomy West-Middle-East from the American *Volk* character -- the Russian being the more naturally "spiritual" and the American being the more naturally "materialistic". And here we have a Russian who has taken concepts mostly from the "Middle" (German) language and mind into his Russian language and mind and written this book in Russian. And then the Russian has been translated back into the German language, and then translated into English. And more, we have the complication that this particular Russian was born in the deepest abyss of Stalin's hellish tyranny, educated in "dialectical materialism" in the Ahrimanic (or Asuric) Soviet state educational system, and lived most of his life under the pervasive censorship and terror of the Soviet system. Only in the last twenty years or so has he been living (off and on?) in the Middle (Switzerland) near the headquarters of the Dornach Society, where he has not been welcomed with open arms. -- Really, I do have to wonder whether my difficulties are due not only to my own inadequacies but maybe also to more general differences of *Volk* character and language.
And again, I haven't even yet read all the text that I have, and I haven't seen the diagrams. Bondy is often a pictorial thinker, and I would expect that the diagrams would help a lot. Still I have understood that his philosophical ponderings are leading into a deep, close analysis of *PoF*, and that this analysis deserves much work and attention. For instance, he portrays *PoF* as a great Mystery Drama:
. . . . the "Philosophie der Freiheit" is experienced by anyone who really begins to understand it, as a Mystery Drama, whose main hero is the new Dionysos-Prometheus who battles with all that has become, for the sake of individual evolution and the overcoming of inherited sin. But the Mysteries pursued, at all times, the goal of bringing about in the participant catharsis, moral purification. In the case at hand catharsis of the soul is absolutely essential, in order to eradicate everything that disturbs pure thought and beholding.
More, he outlines a sevenfold process of dialectics, beyond the familiar threefold dialectics of Hegel (thesis-antithesis- synthesis). He understands this sevenfold dialectic as "musical" (the seven major notes of the scale leading to the octave), and he sees this sevenfold dialectic process as running throughout the text of *PoF*. And in this fragment he starts to show this sevenfoldness in *PoF* line by line.
. . . . the riddles of the "Philosophy of Freedom", a book written according to the laws of the sounding word; the latter determine in it the character of thinking, of the development of the ideas. Consequently, they have in the book their "melodies" and "harmonies", which one can raise into the light of consciousness. All this must be borne in mind from the beginning if we are to be able to experience with our sense of thought the character of the thinking in the "Philosophy of Freedom", when we begin to regard the work as a collection of practical exercises which contribute to the development of the power of judgment in beholding.
And he does seek to show how *PoF* is a book of world-historic, even cosmic, significance -- how it helps us to grasp and fulfill Man's essential task at this moment of cosmic evolution. This aspect has social implications reaching back into his previous book that we have in English:
. . . . the crisis of culture and civilization has its roots in the crisis of knowledge.
So, I do verily wish to understand how, for instance, he came to discern this sevenfold dialectic and how he found it in *PoF* . . . and maybe even how his philosophic-epistemological mind works. I'll be working on it, slowly . . . and it might help to get some cross- fertilization from others who are also working on it.
[RS] wrote the 'Philosophy of Freedom' (Spiritual Activity) at the crossing-point of the philosophy of pure thinking and the esotericism of thinking; it is, one could say, written with morphological thinking. This phenomenon is quite unique and it is so difficult, for this reason, to find a relation to it. The present work is an attempt to remove some of the difficulties on the path to a mastery of this qualitatively new thinking, which forms the central core of Anthroposophical methodology.