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  1. Rudolf Steiner
  2. Goethe's Theory of Knowledge: An Outline of the Epistemology of His Worldview by Rudolf Steiner
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Rudolf Steiner

Peter Clemm Translator. Written ; first published CW 2 As the editor of Goethe's scientific writings during the s, Rudolf Steiner became immersed in a worldview that paralleled and amplified his own views in relation to epistemology, the interface between science and philosophy, the theory of how we know the world and ourselves.

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At the time, like much of the thinking today and Written ; first published CW 2 As the editor of Goethe's scientific writings during the s, Rudolf Steiner became immersed in a worldview that paralleled and amplified his own views in relation to epistemology, the interface between science and philosophy, the theory of how we know the world and ourselves. At the time, like much of the thinking today and the foundation of modern natural science, the predominant theories held that individual knowledge is limited to thinking that reflects objective, sensory perception.

Steiner's view was eventually distilled in his Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts in There are those who believe that, with the limits of knowledge derived from sensory perception, the limits of all insight are given. Yet if they would carefully observe how they become conscious of these limits, they would find in the very consciousness of the limits the faculties to transcend them.

In this concise volume, Steiner lays out his argument for this view and, moreover, begins his explication of how one goes beyond thinking to the observation of thinking itself. Preliminary Questions 1. The Point of Departure 2. Goethe's Science According to Schiller's Method 3. The Purpose of Our Science B. Experience 4. Establishing the Concept of Experience 5.

Examining the Essence of Experience 6. Correcting the Erroneous View of Experience as a Totality 7. Thinking 8. Thinking as a Higher Experience within Experience 9. Thinking and Consciousness The Inner Nature of Thinking D. Knowledge Thought and Perception Intellect and Reason The Act of Cognition Cognition and the Ultimate Ground of Things E. Knowing Nature Inorganic Nature Organic Nature F.

The Humanities Introduction: Mind and Nature Psychological Cognition Human Freedom Optimism and Pessimism G. Conclusion Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published November 1st by Steiner Books first published September 30th More Details Original Title. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Goethe's Theory of Knowledge , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Goethe's Theory of Knowledge. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews.

Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Mar 07, Tompof rated it it was amazing. It is Rudolf Steiner's most important work, and the one that will endure the longest, because it describes his path to freedom. View 1 comment. Jan 15, Alex rated it liked it Shelves: audio-book , anthroposophy , steiner-rudolf. This is early Steiner. It is a good book, just not what I hoped for. The English version is rendered from the second edition, of , and includes the prefatory and supplementary comments of that edition.

Wissenschaft has been translated knowledge, scientific knowledge, or science according to the apparent requirement of the context. Erkennen has generally been translatedcognition, but in one or more passages the act of cognition, and, where it seemed necessary, knowledge. Erkenntnis has been translated knowledge, where this seemed adequate, but in one or more instances, for greater exactitude, item of knowledge. Denken has seemed to the translator generally no more verbal in character than thought, when this appears in English without the definite or indefinite article.

On the other hand, thinking seems at times to suggest rather the effort to apprehend than the achievement of apprehension — the search for right concepts rather than the attainment of right concepts. Hence Denken has most frequently been translated thought, though also rather frequently thinking. Wahrnehmung is translated either perception or percept, according as the context seemed to require the sense the act of perceiving or the perceived. Idea has been printed with initial capital letter in a few instances where the context seemed to emphasize the sense of objective reality in its usage.

He arrived at a solution of the problem: What is the relation between man's inner and his outer world?

Steiner's Theory of Knowledge

For him the inner world had always been unmistakably a world of reality, not of mere reflections from without and subjective reactions within. His endeavor had been, not to establish the reality of either the inner or the outer world, but — through intense observation of the outer world and intense contemplation of his own mind in its activity — to discover the interrelationship between the mind and the world. Hence, after editing one volume of Goethe's scientific writings, he paused in that task to build an adequate foundation upon which to base Goethe's mode of intuitive thinking and his own interpretation of Goethe.

But he not only solved the central problem with which he had been battling since youth. He also laid foundations deep in the human spirit for all his own creative thinking during the remaining thirty-nine years of his life. The whole wealth of his writings and lectures, dealing with so great a range of themes of deepest human concern, rests solidly upon this foundation.

This compact volume represents a milestone in the history of the human mind, a crucial achievement in the struggle of man to know himself. In essence, the argument is as follows. One constituent of direct experience — thought, which appears before our inner activity of contemplation — is unique in manifesting immediately its essential nature and its interrelationships.

It thus becomes the only key to disclose the hidden nature of all other experience. Thought is not subjective in itself, but only as regards the prerequisite activity of our contemplation. This is evidenced by the clearly observable fact that we combine thoughts solely according to their inherent content.

Our contemplation, as an organ of perception, only brings to manifestation in consciousness objectively real elements of the one thought content of the world. Through the intellectual cognition of single elements of this reality — concepts — and the rational combination of inherently related elements into harmonious complexes — ideas — we are capable of knowing gradually expanding aspects of the total reality.

This knowledge is real, not a mere phantasm of the subjective mind. But the mode of cognition suited to the inorganic is not suited to the organic. In relation to the inorganic, we possess truth when we grasp the cause of a phenomenon. In relation to the organic, we must apprehend the supersensible type, which manifests itself in the single members of a species of plant or animal. This requires direct, intuitive cognition: the mind must perceive in thinking and think in perceiving. Moreover, when we deal with the human being, we must apprehend the central reality — the ego — manifest as a self-sufficing spiritual being in its uniqueness in each single human personality.

Through this mode of intuitive cognition, we may attain to the knowledge that the universal Creative Spirit is in the single human being; that His highest manifestation is in human thought; that man is in harmony with this Guiding Power of the world when he follows freely, as an individual, the guidance of his own intuitions. Hermann Poppelbaum and Dr. Egbert Weber for very helpful detailed criticisms and suggestions.

New York City July My mind was then vitally engaged in two activities of thought. One was directed toward the creative work of Goethe, and strove to formulate the view of life and of the world which revealed itself as the impelling force in this creative work. The completely and purely human seemed to me to be dominant in everything that Goethe gave to the world in creative work, in reflection, and in his life.

Nowhere in the modern age did that inner assurance, harmonious completeness, and sense of reality in relation to the world seem to me to be as fully represented as in Goethe. From this thought there necessarily arose the recognition of the fact that the manner, likewise, in which Goethe comported himself in the act of cognition is that which issues out of the very nature of man and of the world.

In another direction my thought was vitally absorbed in the philosophical conceptions prevalent at that time regarding the essential nature of knowledge. In these conceptions, knowledge threatened to become sealed up within the being of man himself. The brilliant philosopher Otto Liebmann had asserted that human consciousness cannot pass beyond itself; that it must remain within itself. Whatever exists, as the true reality, beyond that world which consciousness forms within itself — of this it can know nothing.

In brilliant writings Otto Liebmann elaborated this thought with respect to the most varied aspects of the realm of human experience. Johannes Volkelt had written his thoughtful books dealing with Kant's theory of knowledge and with Experience and Thought. He saw in the world as given to man only a combination of representations [Vorstellungen, single concepts corresponding to single percepts.

He admitted, to be sure, that an inevitability manifests itself in our inner experience of thinking when this lays hold in the realm of representations. When engaged in the activity of thinking, we have the sense, in a manner, of forcing our way through the world of representations into the world of reality. But what is gained thereby? We might for this reason feel justified, during the process of thinking, in forming judgments concerning the world of reality; but in such judgments we remain wholly within man himself; nothing of the nature of the world penetrates therein.

Eduard von Hartmann, whose philosophy had been of great service to me, in spite of the fact that I could not admit its fundamental presuppositions or conclusions, occupied exactly the same point of view in regard to the theory of knowledge set forth exhaustively by Volkelt.

There was everywhere manifest the confession that human knowledge arrives at certain barriers beyond which it cannot pass into the realm of genuine reality. In opposition to all this stood in my case the fact, inwardly experienced and known in experience, that human thinking, when it reaches a sufficient depth, lives within the reality of the world as a spiritual reality. I believed that I possessed this knowledge in a form which can exist in consciousness with the same clarity that characterizes mathematical knowledge.

In the presence of this knowledge, it is impossible to sustain the opinion that there are such boundaries of cognition as were supposed to be established by the course of reasoning to which I have referred. In reference to all this, I was somewhat inclined toward the theory of evolution then in its flower. In Haeckel this theory had assumed forms in which no consideration whatever could be given to the self-existent being and action of the spiritual. The later and more perfect was supposed to arise in the course of time out of the earlier, the undeveloped.

This was evident to me as regards the external reality of the senses, but I was too well aware of the self-existent spiritual, resting upon its own foundation, independent of the sensible, to yield the argument to the external world of the senses. But the problem was how to lay a bridge from this world to the world of the spirit. In the time sequence, as thought out on the basis of the senses, the spiritual in man appears to have evolved out of the antecedent non-spiritual.

But the sensible, when rightly conceived, manifests itself everywhere as a revelation of the spiritual. Thus my look was guided along the path from sense-observation to the spiritual, which was firmly established in my inner experiential knowledge. Behind the sensible phenomena, I sought, not for a non-spiritual world of atoms, but for the spiritual, which appears to reveal itself within man himself, but which in reality inheres in the objects and processes of the sense-world itself. Because of man's attitude in the act of knowing, it appears as if the thoughts of things were within man, whereas in reality they hold sway within the things themselves.

It is necessary for man, in experiencing the apparent, [in einem Schein-Erleben] to separate thoughts from things; but, in a true experience of knowledge, he restores them again to things. The evolution of the world is thus to be understood in such fashion that the antecedent non-spiritual, out of which the succeeding spirituality of man unfolds, possesses also a spiritual beside itself and outside itself.

The later spirit-permeated sensible, amid which man appears, comes to pass by reason of the fact that the spiritual progenitor of man unites with imperfect, non-spiritual forms, and, having transformed these, then appears in sensible forms. This course of thought led me beyond the contemporary theorists of knowledge, even though I fully recognized their acumen and their sense of scientific responsibility.

Goethe's Theory of Knowledge: An Outline of the Epistemology of His Worldview by Rudolf Steiner

It led me to Goethe. I am impelled to look back from the present to my inner struggle at that time. It was no easy matter for me to advance beyond the course of reasoning characterizing contemporary philosophies. But my guiding star was always the self-substantiating recognition of the fact that it is possible for man to behold himself inwardly as spirit, independent of the body and dwelling in a world of spirit.

Prior to my work dealing with Goethe's scientific writings and before the preparation of this theory of knowledge, I had written a brief paper on atomism, which was never printed. This was conceived in the direction here indicated. I cannot but recall what pleasure I experienced when Friedrich Theodor Vischer, to whom I sent that paper, wrote me some words of approval. But in my Goethe studies it became clear to me that my way of thinking led to a perception of the character of the knowledge which is manifest everywhere in Goethe's creative work and in his attitude toward the world.

I perceived that my point of view afforded me a theory of knowledge which was that belonging to Goethe's world-conception. During the progress of this work, I traced the course of Goethe's intellectual life in all the fields with which he was occupied. It became constantly clearer to me in detail that my own perception placed me within that theory of knowledge belonging to Goethe's world-conception. Thus it was that I wrote this theory of knowledge in the course of the work I have mentioned. Now that I again turn my attention to it, it seems to me to be also the foundation and justification, as a theory of knowledge, for all that I have since asserted orally or in print.

It speaks of an essential nature of knowledge which opens the way from the sense world to a world of spirit. It may seem strange that this youthful production, written nearly forty years ago, should now be published again, unaltered and expanded only by means of notes. In the manner of its presentation, it bears the marks of a kind of thinking which had entered vitally into the philosophy of that time, forty years ago.


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Were I writing the book now, I should express many things differently. But the essential nature of knowledge I could not set forth in any different light. Moreover, what I might write now could not convey so truly within itself the germ of the spiritual world-conception for which I stand. In such germinal fashion one can write only at the beginning of one's intellectual life.

For this reason, it may be well that this youthful production should again appear in unaltered form. The theories of knowledge existing at the time of its composition have found their sequel in later theories of knowledge. That which I outlined many years ago as the theory of knowledge implicit in Goethe's world-conception seems to me just as necessary to be said now as it was forty years ago. It would be necessary for me to oppose a point of view which had become almost universally established.

While the conviction is everywhere gaining ground that Goethe's poetical writings are the basis of our whole culture, even those who go farthest in recognition of his scientific writings see in these nothing more than premonitions of truths which have been fully confirmed in the later progress of science. Because of his genius — so it is held — it was possible for him at a glance to attain to premonitions of natural laws that were later discovered again by strictly scientific methods quite independently of him. What is admitted in the highest degree as regards the other activities of Goethe — that every well informed person must reach a judgment with regard to these — is not admitted as regards his scientific point of view.

It is by no means acknowledged that, by familiarizing ourselves with the scientific works of the poet, something may be gained which science does not also afford us apart from him. I soon recognized that those achievements which contemporary science attributes to Goethe were not the essential thing, while the really significant matter was overlooked. Those single discoveries would really have been made without Goethe's researches; but his lofty conception of Nature will be absent from science so long as this conception is not derived from Goethe himself.

It was thus that the direction to be taken by my introductions for the edition was determined. These must show that each single detailed opinion expressed by Goethe is to be derived from the totality of his genius.

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I, pp. II, 2nd edition, p. It undertakes to show that what we set forth as Goethe's scientific views is capable of being established upon its own self-sufficing foundation. Rudolf Steiner The end of April, Our whole German culture is based so squarely upon the great writers of that epoch that many who consider themselves entirely original achieve nothing more than the expression of what was long ago intimated by Goethe or Schiller.

We have entered into such a living union with the world created by them that any one who would turn aside from the track already pointed out by them can scarcely count upon being understood by us. Our way of looking upon life and the world is determined by them to such an extent that no one can arouse our sympathetic interest who does not seek for points of contact with our world as thus determined.

Only as regards one branch of our intellectual life must we admit that it has not yet found such a point of contact. It is that branch of knowledge which proceeds beyond the mere assemblage of observed data, beyond the cognizance of single experiences, and seeks to provide a satisfying total view of the world and of life. It is that which is generally called philosophy. For this, our classical period actually seems to be non-existent. It seeks its salvation in an artificial seclusion and aristocratic isolation from all the rest of our intellectual life.

This statement cannot be disproved by reference to the fact that a number of older and younger philosophers and scientists have undertaken to interpret Goethe and Schiller. For these have not attained to their scientific standpoints by developing the germs existing in the scientific works of these heroes of the mind. They have arrived at their scientific standpoints apart from the world-conception represented by Goethe and Schiller, and have afterwards compared them with this. And this they have done, not for the purpose of gaining from the scientific opinions of the great thinkers something to serve as a means of guidance for themselves, but rather to test these opinions and see whether they could be maintained in the face of their own course of reasoning.

This point we shall later treat more thoroughly. First, however, we should like to point out the effects which this attitude toward the highest stage of evolution in contemporary culture produces in that field of knowledge with which we are concerned. A large part of the educated reading public of the present time will at once lay aside unread any literary-scientific work which lays claim to being philosophical.

Seldom, if ever, has philosophy enjoyed so little favor as at present. Except for the writings of Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann, who have dealt with problems of life and the world of the most widespread interest and have, therefore, gained a wide circulation, it is not too much to say that philosophical works are at present read only by professional philosophers. Nobody except these persons concerns himself with such writings. What is there discussed does not concern me; it is in no way related to what I require for my mental satisfaction. The dogmas of religion, which were for a long time an adequate substitute, are more and more losing their convincing power.

The need is steadily growing to attain through thought to that which man once owed to faith in revelation — the satisfaction of his spirit. The interest of cultured persons could not, therefore, be lacking if this particular branch of knowledge marched in step with the whole evolution of culture, if its representatives would take up a position with reference to the great questions that move humanity.

In this matter we must always keep before our minds the truth that the proper procedure is never that of creating a spiritual need artificially, but quite the contrary: that of discovering the need which exists and satisfying this need. The task of science is not that of propounding questions but that of giving careful attention to these when they are put forth by human nature and by the contemporary stage of evolution, and of answering them.

Our modern philosophers set tasks for themselves that are not at all the outflow of that stage of culture whereon we now stand — questions for which no one is seeking answers. Those questions which must be propounded by our culture, because of the position to which our great thinkers have elevated it, are passed over by science. Thus we possess a philosophical knowledge which no one is seeking and suffer from a philosophical need which no one satisfies. Our central branch of knowledge, that which ought to solve for us the real world-riddle, must not be an exception in comparison with all other branches of the intellectual life.

It must seek for its sources where these have been found by the others. It must not only take cognizance of the great classic thinkers, but also seek in them the germs for its own evolution. The same wind must blow through this as through the rest of our culture. This is a necessity inhering in the very nature of things. To this necessity must we ascribe the fact that modern researchers have undertaken to interpret our classic writers as we have explained above.

These interpretations reveal nothing more than a vague feeling that it will not suffice simply to pass over the convictions of those thinkers and proceed with the order of the day. But they prove only that no one has arrived at the point of a further developing of their opinions.


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This is evidenced by the manner in which the approach is made to Lessing, Herder, Goethe, and Schiller. In spite of all the excellence of many productions of this class, it must be said of almost everything that has been written in regard to the scientific works of Schiller and Goethe that it is not developed organically from Schiller's or Goethe's own views but takes a retrospective relationship to them.

Nothing can more strongly substantiate this than the fact that representatives of the most diverse tendencies in science have seen in Goethe the genius who experienced beforehand premonitions of their points of view. Representatives of world-conceptions which possess absolutely nothing in common refer with seemingly equal justification to Goethe, when they feel the need to see their respective points of view recognized at a high point in human history.

One can scarcely imagine a sharper contrast than that between the teachings of Hegel and Schopenhauer. The latter calls Hegel a charlatan and his philosophy a meaningless rubbish of words, mere nonsense, barbaric word-combinations. The two men actually have nothing whatever in common except their unlimited admiration for Goethe, and their belief that he acknowledged himself as adhering to their respective views of the world.

Nor is the case different as regards more recent scientific tendencies. Haeckel, who has elaborated Darwinism with the gift of genius and with a logic as inflexible as iron, and whom we must consider by far the most significant follower of the English investigator, sees in Goethe's point of view the anticipation of his own. Another contemporary scientific investigator, A.

Jessen: Botanik, der Gegenwart und Vorzeit, p. The basis of this phenomenon, however, lies in the very fact that neither of these points of view really grows out of Goethe's world-conception, but each has its roots quite outside that conception. The phenomenon arises from the fact that men seek out external agreement as to details, torn out of the totality of Goethe's thought and thus deprived of their meaning, but are not willing to attribute to this totality the inner fitness to serve as the basis for a scientific trend of thought.

Goethe's opinions have never been made points of departure for scientific researches but always only material for instituting comparisons. Those who have busied themselves with these opinions have seldom been students surrendering themselves with unprejudiced minds to his ideas, but usually critics sitting in judgment upon him. It is even said that Goethe had far too little scientific sense; that he was all the worse philosopher for being so excellent a poet; that for this reason it would be impossible to find in him the basis for a scientific point of view.

This is an utter misconception of Goethe's nature.

No element belonging to the very highest form of the universally human was lacking in his personality.