17. Introduction: Spirit and Nature
We have now dealt fully with the realm of knowledge of nature. Organic
science is the highest form of natural science. It is the humanities
that go beyond it. These demand an essentially different approach of
the human spirit to its object of study than the natural sciences. In
the latter the human spirit had to play a universal role. The task
fell to the human spirit to bring the world process itself to a
conclusion, so to speak. What existed there without the human spirit
was only half of reality, was unfinished, was everywhere patchwork.
The task of the human spirit there is to call into manifest existence
the innermost mainsprings of reality, which, to be sure, would be
operative even without its subjective intervention. If man were a mere
sense being, without spiritual comprehension, inorganic nature would
certainly be no less dependent upon natural laws, but these, as such,
would never come into existence. Beings would indeed then exist that
perceived what is brought about (the sense world) but not what is
bringing about (the inner lawfulness). It is really the genuine and
indeed the truest form of nature that comes to manifestation within
the human spirit, whereas for a mere sense being only nature's outer
side is present. Science has a role of universal significance here. It
is the conclusion of the work of creation. It is nature's coming to
terms with itself that plays itself out in man's consciousness.
Thinking is the final part in the sequence of processes that compose
* Geisteswissenschaften, spiritual sciences, i.e.,
sciences dealing with the human spirit. –Ed.
It is not like this with the humanities. Here our consciousness has to
do with spiritual content itself: with the individual human spirit,
with creations of culture, of literature, with successive scientific
convictions, with creations of art. The spiritual is grasped by the
spirit. Here, reality already has within itself the ideal element, the
lawfulness, that otherwise emerges only in spiritual apprehension.
That which in the natural sciences is only the product of reflection
about the objects is here innate in them. Science plays a different
role here. The essential being would already be in the object even
without the work of science. It is human deeds, creations, ideas with
which we have to do here. It is man's coming to terms with himself and
with his race. Science has a different mission to fulfill here than it
does with respect to nature. Again this mission arises first of all as
a human need. Just as the necessity of finding the idea of nature
corresponding to the reality of nature arises first of all as a need
of our spirit, so the task of the humanities is there first of all as
a human impulse. Again it is only an objective fact manifesting as a
Man should not, like a being of inorganic nature, work upon another
being in accordance with outer norms, in accordance with a lawfulness
governing him; he should also not be merely the individual form of a
general typus; rather he himself should set himself the purpose, the
goal of his existence, of his activity. If his actions are the results
of laws, then these laws must he such that he gives them to himself.
What he is in himself, what he is among his own kind, within the state
and in history, this he should not be through external determining
factors. He must be this through himself. How he fits himself into the
structure of the world depends upon him. He must find the point where
he can participate in the workings of the world. Here the humanities
receive their task. The human being must know the spiritual world in
order to determine his part in it according to this knowledge. The
mission that psychology, ethnology, and history have to fulfill
springs from this.
It is in inherent in the being of nature for law and activity to
separate from each other, for the latter to manifest as governed by
the former; on the other hand, it is inherent in the being of our
spiritual activity (Freiheit) * for law and activity to
coincide, for what is acting to present itself directly in what is
enacted, and for what is enacted to govern itself.
* Rudolf Steiner suggested spiritual activity as a
translation of the German word Freiheit (literally,
freehood). For him, Freiheit meant action, thinking,
and feeling from out of the spiritual individuality of man.
The humanities are therefore pre-eminently sciences of our spiritual
activity (Freiheitswissenschaften). The idea of spiritual
activity must be their centerpoint, the idea that governs them.
This is why Schiller's Aesthetic Letters have such stature, because
they want to find the essential being of beauty in the idea of
spiritual activity, because spiritual activity is the principle that
The human spirit is able to assume only that place in the generality
of the world, in the cosmic whole, that it gives itself as an
individual spirit. Whereas in organic science the general, the idea of
the typus, must always be kept in view, in the humanities the idea of
the personality must be maintained. What matters here is not the idea
as it presents itself in a general form (typus) but rather the idea as
it arises in the single being (individual). Of course the important
thing is not the chance, single personality, not this or that
personality, but rather personality as such; not personality as it
develops out of itself into particular forms and then first comes in
this way into sense-perceptible existence, but rather personality
sufficient within itself, complete in itself, finding within itself
its own determinative elements.
It is determinative for the typus that it can only first realise
itself in the individual being. It is determinative for a person that
he attain an existence which, already ideal, is really
self-sustaining. It is completely different to speak of a general
humanity than of a general lawfulness of nature.
With the latter the particular is determined by the general; with the
idea of humanity the generality is determined by the particular. If we
succeed in discerning general laws in history, these are laws only
insofar as historic personalities placed them before themselves as
goals, as ideals. This is the inner antithesis of nature and the human
spirit. Nature demands a science that ascends from the directly given,
as the caused, to what the human spirit can grasp, as that which
causes; the human spirit demands a science that progresses from the
given, as that which causes, to the caused. What characterizes the
humanities is that the particular is what gives the laws; what
characterizes the natural sciences is that this role falls to the
What is of value to us in natural science only as a transitional point
the particular is alone of interest to us in the
humanities. What we seek in natural science the general
comes into consideration here only insofar as it elucidates the
particular for us.
It would be contrary to the spirit of science if, with respect to
nature, one stopped short at the direct experience of the particular.
But it would also mean positive death to the spirit if one wanted to
encompass Greek history, for example, in a general conceptual schema.
In the first case our attention, clinging to the phenomena, would not
achieve science; in the second case our spirit, proceeding in
accordance with a general stereotype, would lose all sense of what is