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First Scientific Lecture-Course

On-line since: 21st April, 2000


Rudolf Steiner, in all that he created and gave to the world, took his start from real needs, — never from theoretical programmes. Time and again, what he gave took its inception from the spiritual questions and interests of individuals or groups among his friends and pupils. Yet as the faculty to apprehend the spiritual aspect of the World first had to be rekindled and awakened in our time — a slow and gradual process — it must have signified a very great sacrifice and a severe hindrance for this universal spirit to bring the spiritual truths from infinite horizons into the narrower range of outlook of his contemporaries. This sacrifice he did not shun. Even into the anxiously constraining walls of earth 20th-century scientific thinking he brought the light of spiritual knowledge, and we who have received this cannot find adequate words in which to thank him. Our truest thanks must be the will to widen out our own horizon, thus making easier the teacher's task.

The Anthroposophical Movement within this 20th century is seeking to bring about a return from materialism to a spiritual understanding of the World. It is a good thing for mankind that in this Movement some individualities have also chosen the very hardest task, namely to lead again to spiritual sources that realm of human knowledge which has plunged most deeply into agnostic materialism — Natural Science. Future generations will surely be very grateful to the scientists — teachers of the Waldorf School at Stuttgart above all — who had the inner courage to put their questions to the great spiritual teacher.

We take this opportunity to thank those who have hitherto administered this spiritual treasure — who first revised and duplicated the notes of the lectures, thereby preserving them for posterity. We refer especially to the Waldorf School teachers E. A. K. Stockmeyer, Alexander Strakosch, and above all Dr. Eugen Kolisko and Dr. Walter Johannes Stein. My thanks are also due to Ehrenfried Pfeiffer of Dornach for his assistance in preparing the present edition.*

*NOTE BY TRANSLATOR: The English version (1948) has been based on this edition, and on a number of corrections and improvements, issued a few years ago by Paul Eugen Schiller of Dornach. ]

It will be well for us to refer at this point to the following passages from Rudolf Steiner's Autobiography: —

“The anthroposophical period of my life-work began at a time when many people were feeling dissatisfied with the ways of knowledge of the immediate past. They looked for ways to get beyond that realm of existence to which the scientific era was restricted inasmuch as nothing was held valid as “secure knowledge” unless it could be grasped in mechanistic forms of thought. The strivings of many of our contemporaries towards some form of spiritual knowledge touched me deeply. There were biologists for instance such as Oskar Hertwig. Having begun his career as a disciple of Haeckel, he afterwards took leave of Darwinism, for he now felt that the driving forces recognized by the Darwinian school were inadequate to explain the facts of organic evolution. The longing of our time for knowledge seemed to me to find expression in such men as these. And yet it seemed to me this longing was oppressed by a heavy load — a burden due to the belief that only those things which we can investigate by means of the outer senses and then express in terms of measure, number and weight, constitute genuine knowledge. Men did not venture to unfold that inner activity of thought by means of which reality is experienced more intimately than by the physical senses. The most they did was to declare that with the kind of scientific explanation hitherto applied also to higher forms of reality — those of organic life for example — no fundamental progress was possible. If a more positive contribution was looked for, — if they were now to say what it is that works in the realm of life — they could bring forward only the vaguest notions.

“Those who were striving to transcend the mechanical explanation of the World generally lacked the courage to admit that if we want to overcome the mechanistic system we must also overcome the habits of thought which have led to it. The time was calling, yet called in vain, for a clear recognition of this kind. The orientation of our faculties of knowledge towards the outer senses enables us to penetrate what is mechanical in Nature. This mental tendency has become habitual throughout the second half of the 19th century. If the mechanical aspect of the world no longer satisfied us now, we ought not to expect to reach into higher regions in the identical frame of mind. The outer senses develop and awaken in the human being, so to speak, of their own accord; but on this basis we can only gain insight into the mechanical domain. If we desire to know more than this, we must by dint of our own efforts give to our deeper, latent faculties of knowledge the same development which Nature gives the powers of the senses. The faculties with which we apprehend what is mechanical are awake of their own accord; those that apply to higher realms of reality first need to be awakened.

“The time required, so it seemed to me, that in our striving after knowledge we should arrive at this clear recognition of our state, and I was happy when I saw any beginnings or indications that seemed to tend in this direction. . . .”

“There now exists a twofold outcome of the anthroposophical period of my life-work. There are my published books upon the one hand, while on the other hand there are a larger number of lecture-courses, printed at first for private circulation and available, to begin with, only to members of the Anthroposophical Society. These printed versions of my lectures are reports, more or less accurately made, which I was quite unable to correct for want of time. It would have pleased me best to let the spoken word remain as spoken word; but members wanted the lectures made available in printed form; so it was done. . . .

“To gain a picture of my own inner work, my unceasing effort to present the spiritual science of Anthroposophia to the prevailing consciousness of our time, one must have recourse to my published writings. In these I tried to come to terms with the modern striving after knowledge in its many aspects. Here I set forth, what in the realm of spiritual perception grew for me ever more fully and clearly into the edifice of “Anthroposophia”, admittedly imperfect as it still is in many ways. Herein I saw my essential task, in the fulfilment of which I only had to bear in mind what is required when communications from the spiritual world are imparted to the prevailing culture of our time. Yet side by side with this requirement I had to do full justice to another one, namely to meet the inner needs and spiritual longings that became manifest among the members of the Society.

“To this end the many lecture-courses were given in the Society; and this involved another circumstance. The lectures were attended by members only. Acquainted as they were already with the initial teachings of Anthroposophia, one could speak to them as to more advanced students. Thus the whole tenor of these member's lectures came to be different from what was possible in written books intended for the world at large. In these more intimate circles I might speak of many things in a form which I should certainly have had to change had I intended it for publication from the outset.

“Competent judgment on the content of these privately printed lectures will of course only be possible for those who are acquainted with the premisses of thought, taken for granted in those who heard them. For the great majority of these reprints, this implies at the very least some knowledge of the anthroposophical science of Man and of the essence of the great Universe as described in Anthroposophia; also a knowledge of ‘anthroposophical History’, for this too is an essential part of the communications from the spiritual world.”

Whoever reads the lectures here reproduced should bear the foregoing words in mind. If those who work with this lecture-course approach it with the will “to awaken in themselves the faculties of knowledge for higher forms of reality”, the time will surely come when the dead mechanistic picture of the world which the last century produced will be transcended — transcended above all by the most up-to-day, the most gifted and conscientious of our scientists, who will then see through the inherent impossibility and untruth of this world-picture. Then will the far more living and spiritual form of Science which Rudolf Steiner had in mind reveal its truth and beauty, also its ethical inspiring power. The Section calls to all its fellow-workers: Help the Goetheanum bring about the beginning of this new epoch even within the present century. For generations due to come at the end of the 20th century, let there be in existence a Science of Nature permeated with the living Spirit, permeated with the Christ-Impulse!

For the Natural Science Section at the Goetheanum
Guenther Wachsmuth.
Dornach, January 1925.

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