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Fruits of Anthroposophy

On-line since: 31st August, 2015


29 August 1921

In the course of eight lectures given at the recent Congress at Stuttgart, Rudolf Steiner explained what effect the agnosticism of the last century had upon the whole life of humanity today. As a result of natural science agnosticism taught that humanity was only able to spin round the world a web of ‘causality’. What lies at the back, what is unknown, what cannot be reached by our senses — all this must for ever remain hidden from human wisdom; and most especially does everything psycho-spiritual withdraw itself from the reach of knowledge.

Agnosticism has seized hold of science, education and social life, and it affects millions of men who very often are quite unaware of the fact. It then lays hold of the realm of ideas, separating this from the world of true reality upon which alone humanity should have its stand; thus creating an inner division which weakens the soul forces of men. Through this division, licence is given to all the lower instincts, as we can recognize to be prominently the case in the world today. The realm of feeling also becomes unsatisfied; unfertilized by ideas it degenerates, hardens and becomes sentimental, or else it is engulfed in the life of elementary instincts. This shows itself particularly in art, which is either sweetly unreal or else is naturalistic. True art creates its own style, and true style can only come from men's supersensible experiences. Agnosticism robs us of the truths which must live in art.

Upon our will power, also, it has had an evil influence, for it has killed moral impulses and has allowed what is instinctive to become master. Thus do we find today that thinking is lax, feeling is dulled, and willing is made void through disbelief; and, as a result, what is animal in man rises to the surface. In the religious life also men feel a void, and seek support in organized streams like that of the Catholic Church, or else in some oriental direction. These, however, can no longer give to men the right content because they have their life in past ages.

In modern industry we can see an immediate effect of scientific thought. Here men do not live within what they practise. Modern systems of labour consist in ruling out the human side of man and making him into a machine.

Void also today as a fruit of disbelief are all social impulses, and all these facts work back on men and have led them to a certain ‘easy-going’ condition of their social life.

If one wishes to compare or contrast the ascending with the declining powers of the day, one observes that the life of expression is not sufficiently active and does not carry on with enthusiasm what is required. People would rather not take up any new piece of work; they prefer asking if its need is already established, rather than trying to prove its worth in life.

In the world of education, teachers try to place things before children in such a way that they need not be altered when the children grow up. But what is presented to children should be so given that it develops with the child during the course of its life.

It is in these facts that we can see how the seeds of agnosticism bear fruit in the life of man.


30 August 1921

By giving an aperçu of his own striving and searching in his outlook upon the world, Rudolf Steiner showed how the origin of Anthroposophy can be found historically, as it were. During the period that this searching led to an individual grasp of life, during the eighties, agnosticism was there in opposition, arousing two necessary questions: Does science give to men what their souls require? and What is it that the souls of men require? Already, in 1885, Rudolf Steiner gave in his book Theories of Knowledge according to Goethe's Outlook, as an answer: We have a science which corresponds to no one's seeking and a scientific craving that nobody satisfies.

Now in Goethe we have another kind of striving. The old science was founded entirely upon nature apart from life. (In a certain way this is also true of today's science.) In his Research into the Metamorphosis of Plants, Goethe developed a mode of thinking which was able to penetrate into the nature of the plant. A friend called this ‘objective thinking,’ a thinking which linked itself to the object of perception, and Goethe himself acquiesced in this idea. He could not get so far in his observation of animals and of humanity as he could in his observation of plants; in spite of this, however, he wrote his Metamorphosis of Animals, and also discovered the metamorphosis of the human skeleton.

The question suggests itself: Why could Goethe command one realm of nature and not another?

Before this question is answered we will consider the realm of knowledge in detail. What happens in a man when he gains knowledge of anything? To this question belongs the fateful one: Are.the concepts arrived at through the process of knowing (thinking) merely images through which the world processes are reflected without being affected by them? In other words, Is thinking merely formal or is it a reality?

Through our perceptions, sense-impressions enter us passively. Is anything essential added to sensory perception through thought or are we simply onlookers who are useless in the world process when we add thinking to perception? One arrives here at the whole opposition between thinking and perceiving. Sensory perception is absolutely passive. In ordinary consciousness sensory perception and thinking are always mixed up in each other, but if one separates them with firmness the one from the other, thinking is then alone actually present. One is using one's whole soul activity for thought, quite shut off from the outer impression.

In the 19th century there was the conviction that one could arrive at the purest thinking quite passively by learning from the pictures which are actually present and which are only an image of reality. By a further development of this view one is led to quite imaginary conceptions, such as that of the Ding an sich. (Kant's theory of the ‘Thing in itself.’) Opposed to this kind of thought which, on the whole, ruled philosophy and the remaining sciences, Rudolf Steiner attained the realization that the outer world does not hold the entire contents of reality, allowing itself to be reproduced as conceptions, but that man through his sensory perceptions lives only on one side of reality. And it is in order to bring into this outer world of reality what only comes forth from his inner nature that man is born into the world.

He has expressed this view in his book, the title of which already gives the meaning, Reality and Science.

In thought we possess something in which we are wide awake, in which we must actually be when it comes to pass. ‘In thinking we bring world happenings to a point,’ he says, in The Philosophy of Freedom. It is only in the process of thinking that we can reach reality. And for a true meaning of Anthroposophy we could use a motto which Goethe gives in his World Outlook: ‘To overcome sensory perception through the spirit is the goal of art and science. Science overcomes sensory perception by releasing it entirely into spirit; art overcomes the sense-perceptions when it engrafts into these the whole world of the spirit.’


31 August 1921

In his book The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner wished to present ‘the results of spiritual observation according to the methods of natural science.’ This was the antithesis to the object of Edward von Hartmann's book, The Philosophy of the Unconscious, which presents ‘metaphysical results according to the methods of inductive natural science’. This title implies a conclusion drawn from what you perceive to what is not perceptible, and this can never lend to true spiritual knowledge. Just as facts in natural science are observable, so must psychic-spiritual facts be accessible to spiritual observation also. Through thought we can unite ourselves not only to the outer world, but also to our I-consciousness, and in I-consciousness lies human freedom. Agnostic natural science has veiled this experience and then has disowned it. But the way of observing it must be conducted differently from the way in which we observe outer nature. Instead of relying on sensory experience, as in observing nature, we must look out upon what stands before our I-consciousness, and at the same time develop our thinking just as it has been developed by the things of the outer world. Thinking itself must bring about the state of freedom, in that it is not void of contents while ceasing to rely upon sensory perception, but that it fills itself with the contents of the human soul. The methods of spiritual science are nothing else than the experience of the content which is there when the human soul loosens itself from the rivets of outer objects, and can still have the strength to experience something. The Philosophy of Freedom confines itself to investigating the human being himself as a free being in the physical world. But even here we already embark upon supersensible research, and little by little the way opens up for further penetration. Most particularly we learn thus to know the imponderable nature of the human soul; in investigating the problem of freedom we enter upon the search into what is supersensible.

We must, above all else, come to an understanding of what the impulse for freedom springs from, otherwise we do not stand on firm ground in our knowledge, but experience an undermining of it which makes us unfitted for life. For action, a philosophy of freedom is required; but, to gain this, supersensible investigation is imperative.

Whoever, during the last third of the 19th century, wished to disentangle the problem of freedom had to reckon with Nietzsche. To Nietzsche perception of the outer world was an experience of inner pain, for it was to him tainted by the conceptions of natural science. He felt that the world could give mankind no satisfaction and therefore he sought everywhere for elements in human culture which would lift him above this pain. These elements he found in two instances: on the one hand, in the art of Richard Wagner and on the other, in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Both seemed to him to be in accord with his own sympathy with the spirit of the Greeks. Later on he became a fighter against the lies of his time, a fanatic champion for the reality of the outer sense-perceptible world which caused him such anguish. Thus did he become entirely influenced by the scientific outlook upon the world. He was deeply affected by such sentences as: ‘Science ends when supernaturalism begins’ (Du Bois Raymond). What weighed on Nietzsche's soul penetrated his whole manhood. Feeling and emotion seemed to burn up his thoughts. He wanted to add inner experience to outer perceiving. This is expressed in his Zarathustra. If men remain men, then must they be overcome by pain. Therefore must they rise to be supermen. But for his supermen he had no content. When the terrible idea arose in him of the ‘eternal repetition of the same’, then came to Nietzsche the appalling tragedy of his life. He is wrecked upon the rock on which agnosticism builds its faith as absolute correct knowledge. To begin with he could still live in isolation, but our age demands that men live as social beings. Nietzsche lacked the proper weapons for his battle against agnosticism. He was never able to win a really deep relationship to modern natural science in his outlook upon the world; to him it seemed coarse and repulsive, and, therefore, he arrived at a transformation of Darwinism into the teaching of the superman. In him there lived the impulse towards an altruistic striving, but in an unhealthy organism, an organism capable of allowing him to soar to the heights, but at the same time an unhealthy one.

One must come to an understanding with Nietzsche if one wishes to understand freedom, and this is what Rudolf Steiner has done in his book Nietzsche, a Fighter against his Epoch.

In order to build up an outlook suitable to our epoch, we have to reckon with another symptom.


1 September 1921

At the same time that the Philosophy of Freedom appeared there also came out Haeckel's Monism as a Link between Religion and Science. Rudolf Steiner saw that here was a sure ground from whence the investigator can penetrate into the spiritual worlds. All investigation must be formed on monistic lines. But what is to be understood by monism? How can nature and spirit be grasped in a monistic way? Upon these questions Haeckel, the great experimentalist, was quite elementary. From Goethe we can get a better answer. He shows that nature must be understood poetically, for art is the revealer of nature's secrets. The world is not fitted to surrender its nature to merely logical thinking.

It was in his investigation of the plant world that Goethe was especially great. One can understand why this was so if one notes that Goethe, in a certain sense, was on the road to becoming a sculptor. The leaning towards sculpture, existing in the depths of his nature, made him a modeller in his working out of his Metamorphosis of the Plant. What is plastic in plant formation he grasped through this unexpressed talent for sculpture. One cannot look plastically upon animal and human form in the same way that one can regard the plant world. This comes to expression in the fact that we are repelled by plastic reproductions of plants, which is not the case in regard to human and animal forms. The plant is really a work of art in Nature, so that one is not able to transcend its natural form, and on this account the plant does not allow itself to be reproduced in art.

In Goethe, however, there lived a restrained, hidden plastic faculty which did not culminate in him in sculpture, but which appears in his dramas. He could not give it shape in clay, but in nature he finds something which satisfies his instinct for what is plastic and this is the world of plants. In inorganic nature we measure, count and weigh, and this breaks up form. Goethe saw the plant as a unity. He saw this unity as that which Anthroposophy calls the plant's etheric body. We find this etheric also in men and animals and the sculptor aims at bringing it to expression in the sculptured form. Yet someone who, like Goethe, holds back his talent in regard to the plastic art, can through this restraint discover certain secrets in nature. In this way Goethe arrived at his doctrine of the metamorphosis of plants.

In a similar, if in a more naive, way did Haeckel look upon the animal world. In him also existed ‘imaginative thinking’, and this he applied to animals. He spoke of the ‘soul’ in the animal world, and by this he meant that whoever during many years had watched the lower animals must perceive this ‘germ soul’. There is consequently a certain relationship between the outlook of Haeckel upon animals (soul) and the outlook of Goethe upon plants (form).

Now it is particularly interesting to notice that Haeckel also, in a dilettante way, was something of a painter, and this proclivity gave him an understanding for what the animal world conjures to the surface as colour. He has produced the book Nature's Art Forms. He lived with colour as Goethe lived with form. What belongs to animals has a far more intimate connection with colour than what is expressed in form in the plant world. The colour of flowers belongs to what is outer, to sun and air, but with animals colour is bound up with what is of the soul, of the instincts, and so on. In Anthroposophy this is named the ‘astral body’. Haeckel's understanding of the animal kingdom is thus connected with his latent talent for painting. He did not conduct his studies in any outward way but, like Goethe, from a latent feeling for art. Nietzsche could not press on to all this for lack of nature knowledge, and so he could not have the right relation to his epoch.

Anthroposophy maintains a due regard to this nature knowledge, and, when anything is spoken from out the springs of Spiritual Science, it must always be referred to that other fount. Agnostic methods of thinking must be put aside in all research, but what Rudolf Steiner induces is a closer agreement with Haeckel in so far as he was the first to create a philosophy adapted to our period. What Goethe accomplished for botany and Haeckel for zoology, Rudolf Steiner achieves for anthropology.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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