Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib
The Essential Nature of Man
The following words of
point beautifully to the beginning of
one way by which the essential nature of man can be known. As
soon as a person becomes aware of the objects around him, he considers
them in relation to himself, and rightly so, because his whole fate
depends on whether they please or displease him, attract or repel,
help or harm him. This quite natural way of looking at or judging
things appears to be as easy as it is necessary. A person is,
nevertheless, exposed through it to a thousand errors that often make
him ashamed and embitter his life.
A far more difficult task is undertaken by those whose keen
desire for knowledge urges them to strive to observe the objects of
nature as such and in their relationship to each other. These
individuals soon feel the lack of the test that helped them when they,
as men, regarded the objects in reference to themselves personally.
They lack the test of pleasure and displeasure, attraction and
repulsion, usefulness and harmfulness. Yet this test must be
renounced entirely. They ought as dispassionate and, so to speak,
divine beings, to seek and examine what is, not what gratifies. Thus
the true botanist should not be moved either by the beauty or by the
usefulness of the plants. He must study their formation and their
relation to the rest of the plant kingdom. They are one and all
enticed forth and shone upon by the sun without distinction, and so he
should, equably and quietly, look at and survey them all and obtain
the test for this knowledge, the data for his deductions, not out of
himself, but from within the circle of the things he observes.
This thought thus expressed by Goethe directs man's attention to three
divisions of things. First, the objects concerning which information
continually flows to him through the doors of his senses the
objects he touches, smells, tastes, hears and sees. Second, the
impressions that these make on him, characterizing themselves through
the fact that he finds the one sympathetic, the other abhorrent, the
one useful, another harmful. Third, the knowledge that he, as a
so to speak divine being, acquires concerning the objects,
that is, the secrets of their activities and their being as they
unveil themselves to him.
These three divisions are distinctly separate in human life, and man
thereby becomes aware that he is interwoven with the world in a
threefold way. The first division is one that he finds present, that
he accepts as a given fact. Through the second he makes the world
into his own affair, into something that has a meaning for him. The
third he regards as a goal towards which he ought unceasingly to
Why does the world appear to man in this threefold way? A simple
consideration will explain it. I cross a meadow covered with
flowers. The flowers make their colors known to me through my eyes.
That is the fact I accept as given. Having accepted the fact, I
rejoice in the splendor of the colors. Through this I turn the fact
into an affair of my own. Through my feelings I connect the flowers
with my own existence. Then, a year later I go again over the same
meadow. Other flowers are there. Through them new joys arise in me.
My joy of the former year will appear as a memory. This is in me.
The object that aroused it in me is gone, but the flowers I now see
are of the same kind as those I saw the year before. They have grown
in accordance with the same laws as have the others. If I have
informed myself regarding this species and these laws, I then find
them again in the flowers of this year, just as I found them in those
of last year. So I shall perhaps muse, The flowers of last year
are gone and my joy in them remains only in my memory. It is bound up
with my existence alone. What I recognized in the flowers of last
year and recognize again this year, however, will remain as long as
such flowers grow. That is something that revealed itself to me, but
it is not dependent on my existence in the same way as my joy is. My
feelings of joy remain in me. The laws, the being of the flowers,
remain outside of me in the world.
By these means man continually links himself in this threefold way
with the things of the world. One should not, for the present, read
anything into this fact, but merely take it as it stands. From this
it can be seen that man has three sides to his nature. This and
nothing else will, for the present, be indicated here by the three
words, body, soul and spirit. Whoever connects any
preconceived opinions or even hypotheses with these three words will
necessarily misunderstand the following explanations. By body
is here meant that through which the things in the environment of a
man reveal themselves to him, as in the above example, the flowers in
the meadow. By the word soul is signified that by which he
links the things to his own being, through which he experiences
pleasure and displeasure, desire and aversion, joy and sorrow in
connection with them. By spirit is meant what becomes manifest in him
when as Goethe expressed it, he looks at things as a so to speak
divine being. In this sense man consists of body, soul
Through his body man is able to place himself for the time being in
connection with things; through his soul he retains in himself the
impressions they make on him; through his spirit there reveals itself
to him what the things retain for themselves. Only when we observe
man in these three aspects can we hope to throw light on his whole
being, because they show him to be related in a threefold way to the
rest of the world.
Through his body man is related to the objects that present themselves
to his senses from without. The materials from the outer world
compose his body, and the forces of the outer world work also in it.
He observes the things of the outer world with his senses, and he also
is able to observe his own bodily existence. It is impossible,
however, for him to observe his soul existence in the same way.
Everything in him that is bodily process can be perceived with his
bodily senses. His likes and dislikes, his joy and pain, neither he
nor anyone else can perceive with bodily senses. The region of the
soul is inaccessible to bodily perception. The bodily existence of a
man is manifest to all eyes; the soul existence he carries within
himself as his world. Through the spirit, however, the outer world is
revealed to him in a higher way. The mysteries of the outer world,
indeed, unveil themselves in his inner being. He steps in spirit out
of himself and lets the things speak about themselves, about what has
significance not for him but for them. For example, man looks up at
the starry heavens. The delight his soul experiences belongs to him.
The eternal laws of the stars that he comprehends in thought, in
spirit, belong not to him but to the stars themselves.
In this way, man is a citizen of three worlds. Through his
body he belongs to the world that he also perceives through his
body; through his soul he constructs for himself his own world;
through his spirit a world reveals itself to him that is
exalted above both the others.
It seems obvious that because of the essential difference of these
three worlds, a clear understanding of them and of man's share in them
can only be obtained by means of three different modes of observation.
Last Modified: 12-Jun-2018
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