Life and work
Karl Fortlage became a private lecturer in Heidelberg in 1829 with his Inaugural treatise "Ueber die Denkweise der ältesten Philosophen", in Berlin in 1845 and was appointed professor of philosophy in Jena in 1846.
Originally a Hegelian, as evidenced by his juvenile treatise "Die Lücken des Hegelschen Systems" (Heidelberg 1832), he moved, prompted by the study of Kant and especially Fichte and Friedrich Eduard Beneke, to a fusion of the Science of Knowledge with empirical psychology and to a standpoint which he himself called "transcendental pantheism".
His two main philosophical works are: "Genetische Geschichte der Philosophie seit Kant" (Genetic History of Philosophy since Kant, Leipzig 1852) u. "System der Psychologie" (System of Psychology, Leipzig 1855, 2 volumes).
Rudolf Steiner pointed out that Fortlage had already recognised that consciousness is based on a process of consumption opposed to life. In his "Eight Psychological Lectures" (1869) Fortlage wrote:
„When we call ourselves living beings, and thus attach to ourselves a quality which we share with animals and plants, we understand by the living state necessarily something which never leaves us, and both in sleep and in waking always continues in us. This is the vegetative life of the nourishment of our organism, an unconscious life, a life of sleep. The brain makes an exception here in that this life of nourishment, this life of sleep is outweighed by the life of consumption in the pauses of waking. In these pauses the brain is exposed to a predominant consumption, and consequently falls into a state which, if it extended to the other organs, would bring about the absolute debilitation of the body or death. The state of consciousness and personality therefore comes about only when the center and the original source of our nervous power, the brain, suffers from the danger of death. However, in this way the danger of life is always advanced only as far as it is compatible with the preservation of the whole organism ...“ (Lit.: Fortlage, p. 35f)
Rudolf Steiner has repeatedly emphasised the significance of this statement by Fortlage:
„If, for example, we take in hand the writings of a soul researcher like Fortlage, who was active into the sixties of the nineteenth century, we still find a strange characteristic of human consciousness in Fortlage, the psychologist who worked in Jena and other places. He gives us a definition of consciousness which, I would say, today's philosophers find very reprehensible. He once said, in 1869, that human consciousness is related to death, to dying, and that by developing consciousness in the course of life, we actually develop in ourselves - slowly, one after the other - the forces that come to us all at once at the moment of death. Thus, for Fortlage, the moment of dying is an infinitely multiplied act of consciousness. For him, consciousness is, one could say, a slow life from dying. It is not life that is a life of dying, but consciousness in man is a life of dying, and death is a consciousness compressed into a moment.
This is a tremendously significant remark by a psychologist. It is a remark, as I said, which today's philosopher already censures as unscientific. That is, after all, what has happened.“ (Lit.:GA 176, p. 285f)
„Here we come to see a view as the correct one, as the one given directly by experience, which has been spoken of extraordinarily seldom in the theory of the soul up to now, but nevertheless once very beautifully, namely by the far too little respected soul researcher Fortlage. Here we stand at one of those points which are so interesting for the development of that which today wants to appear in summary as spiritual research. This is not something entirely new, but something that is only to be built up in systematic summary, for which, however, the beginnings have already come to light in those who have struggled with knowledge in this field here or there. Fortlage once spoke of it, and Eduard von Hartmann therefore rebuked him, that actually the ordinary consciousness of the human soul is a perpetually attenuated dying. It is a strange, bold assertion, but an assertion that can be substantiated by natural science, although natural science misinterprets the corresponding facts; read, for example, the investigations of Kassowitz. Fortlage comes to see that what gives rise to consciousness is not based solely on the emergence of growing, sprouting, thriving life, but that precisely when conscious life emerges in the soul, the sprouting, growing, thriving life in the human organism must die, so that we carry death partially within us throughout our whole life, in so far as it is a conscious one. In forming ideas, something in our nervous system is destroyed, but immediately afterwards it is formed anew. The degradation is followed by a rebuilding. The conscious life of the soul is based on processes of degradation, not on processes of sprouting and building up. Fortlage says very beautifully: "If that which always occurs in a part of the body, in the brain, during the formation of consciousness, the partial death, were to seize the whole body each time, as physical death does, then man would have to die continually. For Fortlage, physical death expresses only once in sum that on which consciousness is continually based. Therefore Fortlage can, admittedly only hypothetically, because he does not yet have spiritual insight, proceed to the conclusion that if we have to do with a partial death every time our ordinary consciousness emerges, then the general death is the emergence of a consciousness under different conditions, which the human being then develops for the spiritual world when he has passed through the gate of death. There, like a ray of hope, it clearly appears what spiritual science will develop more exactly and ever more precisely by applying its methods of observation to the human being.“ (Lit.:GA 67, p. 124f)
„One of those personalities who, I would like to say, have come across this connection in a particularly illuminating light is the philosopher and psychologist Fortlage. I want to start from a significant statement he made in 1869 in the course of eight psychological lectures, lectures on psychology, which he gave. In these lectures there is the following quite significant passage:
"When we call ourselves living beings and thus ascribe to ourselves a quality which we share with animals and plants, we necessarily understand by the living state something which never leaves us and always persists in us both in sleep and in waking. This is the vegetative life of the nourishment of our organism, an unconscious life, a life of sleep. The brain makes an exception here in that this life of nourishment, this life of sleep, is outweighed in the pauses of waking by the life of consumption. In these pauses the brain is exposed to a predominant consumption and consequently falls into a condition which, if it extended to the other organs, would bring about the absolute debilitation of the body or death."
And then, after Fortlage has arrived at this strange statement, he continues this consideration in the following, I would like to say, profound words:
"Consciousness is a small and partial death, death is a great and total consciousness, an awakening of the whole being in its innermost depths."
One sees, through such a flash of light, coming from the depths of the human soul, the connection between what one can call death and what our consciousness is, what always accompanies us during our waking life and basically actually makes us human, illuminates itself for Fortlage. Fortlage arrives at an idea of the kinship of death and consciousness by realising that that which suddenly seizes the human being at the moment of death, that which suddenly has a consuming effect on human corporeality in death, has an effect on a small scale, in continual small amounts, one could say, when we unfold this flowering of our spiritual existence, consciousness, during our waking life. Every conscious act is in miniature the same as a great sum is death. Thus, for Fortlage, real death, when it occurs, is the emergence of a comprehensive consciousness that transports the human being into a supersensible world, whereas when, as a soul, it needs the physical body for its life between birth and death, it is transported into the sensual world.
Fortlage wrote a great deal about psychology, many volumes; such flashes of light, they only appear now and then in his writings. The remaining content of his writings also deals only with what is so commonly found today in the psychology of the soul: with the socialisation of ideas, the course of ideas, the emergence of drives and so on, in short, with all those questions which today one dares to approach only in psychology and which are far removed from what actually interests the human being, the full, whole human being in psychology, far removed from the two main questions: the question of human freedom and the question of human immortality. ..
Even if Fortlage, in the broad scope of his psychological research, his psychology, is only concerned with the subordinate questions, and in such a way that this kind of activity cannot lead him to the highest questions, at least such flashes of light can be found in him. But even for this he was censured. Eduard von Hartmann - those honoured listeners who have heard my earlier lectures know that I do not underestimate this philosopher at all - Eduard von Hartmann sharply criticised Fortlage for leaving the path of science at a moment when he introduced such a connection into strict science as that between human consciousness and death.“ (Lit.:GA 72, p. 18ff)
„The psychologist Fortlage, in his lectures on psychology given in 1869, has a very curious passage on human consciousness and its connection with the phenomenon of death. He says: "When we call ourselves living beings, and thus ascribe to ourselves a quality which we share with animals and plants, we necessarily understand by the living state something which never leaves us and always persists in us both in sleep and in waking. This is the vegetative life of the nourishment of our organism, an unconscious life, a life of sleep. The brain makes an exception here in that this life of nourishment, this life of sleep, is outweighed in the pauses of waking by the life of consumption. In these pauses the brain is exposed to a predominant consumption and consequently falls into a condition which, if it extended to the other organs, would bring about the absolute debilitation of the body or death."
This is a great ray of hope, in that Fortlage says nothing less than this: If the processes acting on the human brain were to seize the whole of the rest of the body in full waking consciousness, they would destroy it; we are therefore in truth dealing with processes of decomposition in man, if we are dealing with the conditions of ordinary consciousness. It was a profound ray of hope for Fortlage when he continues: "Consciousness is a small and partial death, death is a great and total consciousness, an awakening of the whole being in its innermost depths."
This connection between death and consciousness comes out here forebodingly grand. Fortlage knows that if what happens once, when death overtakes us, is broken down, as it were, into "atoms", now into "atoms of time", these "atoms" form the perpetual events of our waking consciousness. By unfolding our waking consciousness we develop an atomistic dying, and death is only, as it were, driven into the great, that which we have coming over our brain at every moment of waking consciousness; so that death, even for Fortlage, is nothing else than the awakening all at once of a consciousness for the spiritual world, while the continuing consciousness is continually killing us off in the small, as we need it for the ordinary day-waking consciousness. When we are confronted with a human being, then, we can say - and what Fortlage suspected is fully confirmed by spiritual science - that what lives in this human being as soul-spirituality is actually a consuming, a destructive thing; and that which lives in him as vegetative life only stops the destruction until death occurs. When death occurs, that which develops slowly, I would say atomistically, during conscious life, only occurs on a large scale. We carry death continually within us, only that we carry within us, besides death, the life that fights against it, and this fighting life is precisely interspersed with the soul.“ (Lit.:GA 73, p. 76ff)
„These isolated spirits became rarer and rarer. Fortlage was still one of them, who lived as a professor in Jena towards the end of the nineteenth century. He said something like: 'You can look more and more thoroughly into the microscope and discover more and more small things; but in the smallness the substantial truth gets lost. If you really want to see what one wants to find when one looks into the microscope, direct your gaze out into the infinite space of the world. In truth, that which you are seeking in miniature speaks down to you from the stars. You even speak of a secret of life and seek it in the smallest and smallest. But life is lost in the smallest; not for reality, but for knowledge. You can find it again if you know how to read it in the stars.“ (Lit.:GA 217, p. 124)
- Ueber die Denkweise der ältesten Philosophen (Inaugural-Abhandlung, München 1829) archive.org
- Die Lücken des Hegelschen Systems der Philosophie (Leipzig, 1832) archive.org
- Darstellung und Kritik der Beweise für das Dasein Gottes (Heidelberg 1840)
- Gesänge christlicher Vorzeit (Berlin 1844) archive.org
- Das musikalische System der Griechen in seiner Urgestalt (Leipzig 1847) google
- Genetische Geschichte der Philosophie seit Kant (Leipzig 1852) google
- System der Psychologie (Leipzig 1855, 2 Bde.) Band 1
- Acht psychologische Vorträge (Jena 1869, 2. Aufl. 1872) archive.org
- Sechs philosophische Vorträge (Jena 1869) google
- Vier psychologische Vorträge (Jena 1874) archive.org
- Friedrich Rückert und seine Werke (Frankfurt 1867) archive.org
- Beiträge zur Psychologie als Wissenschaft aus Spekulation und Erfahrung (Leipzig 1875) archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Das Ewige in der Menschenseele. Unsterblichkeit und Freiheit, GA 67 (1992), ISBN 3-7274-0670-4 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Freiheit – Unsterblichkeit – Soziales Leben, GA 72 (1990), ISBN 3-7274-0720-4 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Ergänzung heutiger Wissenschaften durch Anthroposophie, GA 73 (1987), ISBN 3-7274-0730-1 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Menschliche und menschheitliche Entwicklungswahrheiten. Das Karma des Materialismus., GA 176 (1982), ISBN 3-7274-1760-9 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Geistige Wirkenskräfte im Zusammenleben von alter und junger Generation. Pädagogischer Jugendkurs., GA 217 (1988), ISBN 3-7274-2170-3 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.