From AnthroWiki
The skull of the humans in lateral view.

Anthropology (from Greekἄνθρωπος ánthrōpos 'human being' and λόγος lógos 'doctrine'), as the doctrine or science of man and in this sense as the basic study of man, is today predominantly understood as natural scientific anthropology and conceives of man as a physical being in a physical environment. Biological anthropology attempts to understand the various biological characteristics of humans on the basis of evolutionary theory. Forensic anthropology is specifically used to solve crimes by establishing identity, providing ancestry reports, diagnosing age and the like. There are also areas of anthropology oriented towards the humanities or cultural sciences, such as philosophical anthropology, historical anthropology, cultural anthropology, psychological anthropology, theological anthropology, etc., as well as mixed forms, such as cyborg anthropology.

Anthropology, Anthroposophy and Theosophy

While anthropology strives to recognise the sensuous human being through predominantly scientific and cultural methods, theosophy focuses on the purely spiritual human being who can only be experienced supersensually. According to Rudolf Steiner's understanding, anthroposophy tries to bridge the gap that opens up between these two opposing ways of looking at things.

„Anthroposophy will look at the human being as he stands before physical observation. But it will cultivate observation in such a way that from the physical fact the hint of a spiritual background is sought. Thus anthroposophy can lead from anthropology into theosophy.“ (Lit.:GA 45, p. 20)

„Theosophy is that which is explored when the God in man speaks. - That is basically the real definition of theosophy: let the God in you speak, and what he then tells you about the world is theosophy. Anthroposophy can be characterised by saying: Place yourself in the middle between God and Nature, let the human being in you speak about that which is above you and shines into you, and about that which projects into you from below, then you have Anthroposophy, the wisdom which the human being speaks. - But this wisdom which the human being speaks will be able to be an important support and key to the whole field of Theosophy. And you can hardly do better, after you have absorbed Theosophy for some time, than to gain this firm base by really seeking it. I shall therefore see to it that a brief outline of what Anthroposophy is will be available as soon as possible after these lectures.

What I have said here can also be proved historically in various ways. We need not go far. We have, for example, a science - you can inform yourself about it from the most varied popular handbooks - this science is usually called anthropology. It encompasses, as it is practised today, not only the human being, but, if the term is correctly understood, everything that belongs to the human being, everything that can be experienced in nature, everything that is needed to understand the human being. But how does anthropology proceed? This science takes its starting point from wandering among things, it is itself at the bottom. It goes from detail to detail. It is research that observes the human with the senses with the help of the microscope. This science, anthropology, which in the widest circles today is regarded solely as the science of man, really takes its standpoint below the capacities of man. It does not apply all that man has in the way of abilities for investigation. Keep together with this anthropology which, so to speak, clings to the ground, which cannot penetrate to any answer to the burning riddles of existence, keep together with what is brought to one as Theosophy. There we ascend to the highest heights, there it is a question of finding an answer to the most burning questions of existence. But you will have had the experience that people who have not slowly and gradually found their way into it, who have not had the patience to go along with all that we have been able to say during the last few years, who have not been able to come along step by step, that people who have remained on the standpoint of anthropology feel that Theosophy is an airy edifice, that it is something which lacks any foundation. They cannot see how the soul ascends from step to step, from imagination to inspiration and intuition. They cannot rise to the summit, they cannot see what the goal of all human and world development is.

Thus, as it were, anthropology stands on the lowest ladder, theosophy on the highest, where the ability to recognise dwindles for many, and anthroposophy in the middle.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 17ff)

„In this sense, anthroposophy thinks it can begin its research where anthropology leaves off.[1]

The representative of anthropology stops at relating the concepts of understanding that can be experienced in the soul to the experiences of the senses. The representative of Anthroposophy makes the experience that these concepts, apart from the fact that they are to be related to the sense impressions, can still unfold a life of their own in the soul. And that by developing this life within the soul, they bring about a development in the soul itself. He becomes aware of how the soul, when it turns the necessary attention to this development, makes the discovery within its being that spiritual organs reveal themselves in it. (I use this expression "organs of the spirit" by extending the use of language which Goethe followed out of his world view when he used the expressions "spirit-eyes", "spirit-ears".)[2] Such organs of the spirit then represent formations for the soul which may be thought of for it in a similar way as the sense organs for the body. Of course, they may only be thought of in terms of the soul. Any attempt to bring them together with any bodily formation must be strictly rejected by Anthroposophy. It must conceive of its spiritual organs in such a way that they in no way step out of the realm of the soul and encroach upon the structure of the body. Such an encroachment is regarded by it as a pathological formation which it strictly excludes from its sphere. The way in which the development of the organs of the spirit is thought of within Anthroposophy should be sufficiently strong proof for those who really inform themselves about this kind, that abnormal experiences of the soul, illusions, visions, hallucinations, etc., are of no importance to the investigator of the real world.[3] A confusion of anthroposophical results with abnormal so-called soul experiences is always based on misunderstanding or insufficient knowledge of what is meant in anthroposophy. Nor can anyone who insightfully follows the way in which Anthroposophy shows the way to the development of the organs of the spirit, fall into the opinion that this way can lead to pathological formations or conditions. The discerning person should rather recognise that all the stages of soul experience which the human being experiences in the sense of Anthroposophy on the way to spirit-view lie in a region which is entirely purely soul, and beside which the experience of the senses and the ordinary activity of the intellect proceed unchanged as they did before this region came into being.“ (Lit.:GA 21, p. 13ff)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
  1. Although what I advocate as "Anthroposophy" stands in its results on quite different ground from the explanations of Robert Zimmermann in his book "Anthroposophy" published in 1881, I nevertheless believe I may use the concept of the difference between Anthroposophy and Anthropology marked by Zimmermann. Zimmermann, however, only grasps as the content of his "Anthroposophy" the concepts supplied by anthropology in an abstract scheme. For him, the cognitive vision on which the anthroposophy I am referring to rests does not lie in the realm of scientific research. His anthroposophy differs from anthropology only in that the former first subjects the concepts received from the latter to a procedure similar to Herbartian philosophising before it makes them the content of its purely intellectual scheme of ideas.
  2. For a more elaborate exposition and justification of this conception of "spirit-organs" can be found in my book "Vom Menschenrätsel" (Lit.:GA 20, p. 146ff) and in my writings on Goethe's world-view.
  3. The inner experiences which the soul has to go through in order to come to the use of its spiritual organs are described in a number of my writings, especially in my book: "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds" and in the second part of my "Occult Science".