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Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Anthroposophy (from Greekἄνθρωπος ánthropos 'man' and σοφία sophίa 'wisdom') was founded by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) as a "path of knowledge, which wants to lead the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe" (Lit.:GA 26, p. 14). In this sense it wants to expand the "consciousness of his humanity" (Lit.:GA 257, p. 76). Starting from a deepened knowledge of man based on spiritual experience, anthroposophy opens a new, fully conscious thought-clear and scientifically exact access to the objective spiritual world. As a modern Spiritual science, it orients itself methodically to natural science and complements and expands its findings, corresponding to the demands of our time.

„By anthroposophy I understand a scientific investigation of the spiritual world which recognizes the one-sidedness of a mere knowledge of nature as well as that of ordinary mysticism, and which, before it makes the attempt to penetrate into the supersensible world, first develops in the discerning soul those forces which are not yet active in ordinary consciousness and in ordinary science and which make such a penetration possible.“ (Lit.:GA 35, p. 66)

What is Anthroposophy?

Whereas anthropology, which is predominantly oriented towards the natural sciences, describes only the outwardly tangible human being, anthroposophy aims to explore beyond this the soul and spiritual man, who can only be experienced inwardly, and the soul and spiritual world that can be perceived by him through consistent training of consciousness, purely empirically - without metaphysical speculation and independently of any religious dogmatism or conventional mysticism. However, the essence of the whole world is also founded in this spiritual world. All effects in the world, as Rudolf Steiner emphasises, ultimately emanate from spiritual beings living in different conditions of consciousness. In their consciousness, to which man can rise through higher knowledge, lies the source of origin and the actual substance from which reality is woven:

„So, the real realities of the world are beings in the various conditions of consciousness.“ (Lit.:GA 148, p. 306)

The spiritually deepened self-knowledge thus becomes at the same time a comprehensive knowledge of the world, cosmology or cosmosophy in the broadest sense.

„If we can look back on ourselves and recognise ourselves, then we can also observe in the cosmos. And then such observations result which provide us with a real cosmology, a cosmosophy, as I have tried to give it in my book "Occult Science".“ (Lit.:GA 82, p. 171)

„Nothing at all is considered in the cosmos without man being in it at the same time. Everything is only given meaning and at the same time a basis of knowledge by being considered in relation to man. Nowhere is the human being excluded. This anthroposophically oriented spiritual science leads our view of the world back again to a view of the human being.“ (Lit.:GA 338, p. 114)

Rudolf Steiner also referred to the anthroposophy he developed methodically as anthroposophically oriented spiritual science or, more briefly, as anthroposophical spiritual science and, very briefly, simply as spiritual science, in order to refer to the exact scientific investigation of the spiritual, based on concrete spiritual experience, that he was striving for. Even his main epistemological work, the "Philosophy of Freedom" (Lit.:GA 4), bears the subtitle: "Mental observation results according to the scientific method" ("Seelische Beobachtungsresultate nach naturwissenschaftlicher Methode").

Anthroposophy, which is represented worldwide today, has provided fruitful inspiration for many different areas of life, such as Waldorf education and curative education, anthroposophically extended medicine, the production of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics (Weleda, Wala), biodynamic agriculture (Demeter), for practically all areas of art (such as architecture), including eurythmy, the new spatial movement art that emerged from anthroposophy, for threefolding social life and finance (GLS Gemeinschaftsbank, Freie Gemeinschaftsbank), for the further deepening of Goethean natural science (Goetheanism), for the Christian Community as a movement for religious renewal and for the lay priestly movement "The Free Christian Impulse" (Der freie christliche Impuls).

General points of view

Anthroposophy sees itself as a method of individual development of consciousness. Its basis is an epistemologically founded concept of human individuality[1] and furthermore a "trained Goetheanism".[2]] It contains contents of Rosicrucianism, insofar as they have been elaborated by Rudolf Steiner[3], a detailed presentation of the stages of world development as well as a conception of re-embodiment and destiny, which differs fundamentally from many Eastern approaches.

Spiritual Science and Natural Science

Anthroposophical spiritual science in Rudolf Steiner's sense does not see itself as a speculative science, but as a strictly empirical science, which methodically orients itself to natural science, but unlike natural science does not have the outer physical nature as its primary object, but dedicates itself to the study of the spiritual world, in which it sees an independent reality that is superior to the physical world and conditions the latter, which is accessible to experience through the specific development of corresponding soul organs of perception and can be understood in its inner context through thinking.

„Spiritual science is the true continuator of natural scientific research in that it strives to know the realm of the spirit with those means which are suitable for this realm. As the continuator of natural science, it cannot itself be mere natural science. For those means which have brought this science such tremendous triumphs were able to do so precisely because they were adapted to the study of nature to the highest degree, and because this research did not interfere with them by other means not suited to the field of nature. In order to achieve in the field of the spirit something similar to what natural science has achieved in the field of nature, spiritual science must develop other cognitive faculties than those applicable to natural research. In doing so, however, it must assert a point of view that can understandably meet with many doubts in the present day. Just consider impartially what is said about these "other cognitive faculties". They are faculties which lie entirely in the line of development of the ordinary human powers of the soul. How must spiritual science understand its difference from natural science? The study of nature can only be cultivated with the powers of knowledge which man acquires in the natural course of his life and which, for the purpose of this study, are supported by regulated observation and scientific experimental tools. In order to penetrate the spiritual world, man must develop them by spiritual-soul exercises beyond the point to which they form themselves - as it were of their own accord - without such exercises.“ (Lit.:GA 35, p. 159)

„It wants to be an opening of the gates to a supersensible world. And it does not want to find this world through mere speculative thinking, but through real perception, which is just as accessible to the human soul as the perception of the physical senses. It is usually thought that such perception of a spiritual kind only occurs in states of vision, of ecstasy in the soul, and that it is not subject to scientific control in those who are gifted with it. For this reason, no other value is attached to it than that of the personal experiences of the individual human beings. Modern theosophy has nothing in common with this kind of soul experience. It shows that there are powers of knowledge slumbering in the human soul which do not come to light in ordinary life or in external science. These powers can be awakened by meditation and by an energetic concentration of the inner life of feeling and will. In order to achieve this, the soul must be able to close itself off from all outer impressions and also from everything that the memory retains of such outer impressions. Meditation is the intense devotion of the soul to ideas, sensations and feelings, in such a way that one does not develop any consciousness of what these ideas or feelings mean for the physical world, but in such a way that they prove to be forces within the life of the soul which, as it were, radiate through the soul and thus bring out of its depths powers of which man is not conscious in ordinary life. The effect of this inner immersion is such that through it the human being becomes conscious of his own being as a spiritual reality of which he otherwise has no perception. Before he undertakes such exercises, he recognises himself as a being which knows something of himself and of the world through bodily organs. After such exercises he knows that he can unfold a life in himself even without his bodily organs imparting such a life to him. He knows that he can separate himself spiritually from his physical body and that through this separation he need not sink into a state of unconsciousness. And he attains such knowledge not only of himself, but also of a supersensible world, which for ordinary knowledge is hidden behind the physical-sensible world and in which the true causes of the latter lie.“ (Lit.:GA 35, p. 145ff)

Anthroposophical spiritual science, initially also called occultscience or secret science by Rudolf Steiner because it serves to investigate the "occult", the "secret", i.e. that which cannot be experienced sensually but only supersensually, sees itself, because it is oriented towards the strict methodology of the natural sciences, as a science that systematically investigates the higher worlds.

„Secret science wants to detach the scientific method of research and the spirit of research, which in its field adheres to the context and course of sensory facts, from this particular application, but to retain it in its intellectual and other characteristics. It wants to speak about the non-sensible in the same way that natural science speaks about the sensible. While natural science remains in the sensuous with this way of research and thinking, secret science wants to regard the soul's work on nature as a kind of self-education of the soul and apply what it has learned to the non-sensuous realm. It wants to proceed in such a way that it does not speak about sensuous phenomena as such, but about the non-sensuous world contents in the same way as the naturalist speaks about the sensuous ones. It records the mental constitution of the natural-scientific procedure within this procedure, that is, precisely that through which knowledge of nature first becomes science. It may therefore call itself a science.“ (Lit.:GA 13, p. 36)

Natural science is not only the best preparation for spiritual science through its methodical approach, it also leads to those borders where the consciousness for the spiritual can awaken.

„This modern science of nature not only gives those who devote themselves to it information, which no one can admire more than the spiritual researcher himself, about the outer course of nature, about many things which also have an impact on practical life, but this science of nature gives those who devote themselves to it from certain points of view an inner education of the life of the human soul. And more than we were able to do in earlier stages of scientific knowledge, today we are actually prepared for spiritual research through natural science. One should not allow oneself to be confined by what natural science has to say about the outer world in its own field. Rather, one should be able to rise to an inner discipline, to an inner discipline of the spiritual life through the way in which one researches nature. The ideas which natural science itself provides can only give information about outer nature; their content will say nothing about spiritual life. But by using them, by using them devotedly in the study of nature, in the knowledge of nature, they educate, I would say, incidentally, in that man who is able to pay attention to what is going on in him, certain inner conditions of life which lead him to receive a concept, an inner experience of what it means to live with his soul outside the body.

I know very well that this concept - living with one's soul outside the body - is the height of nonsense for many today. But that does not matter. Everyone can convince himself that inner experience gives him a certain insight into life outside the body if he goes through such exercises of soul life as are indicated in my writings or as I want to express in principle here.

One can go through particularly significant things when one comes to that frontier of the life of knowledge to which natural science so often leads one. Frontier! You see, many people speak of the great frontiers of cognition. They say that the human soul comes to a limit when it wants to investigate whether the world is spatial or temporal, infinite or finite, when the soul wants to investigate whether it is subject to an irresistible compulsion in all its actions or whether it is free. Certainly, these are supreme borderline questions. In his famous speech on the limits of natural knowledge, on the seven riddles of the world, Du Bois-Reymond posed other such questions. The deepest impression can be made on one when one feels, I would like to say, out of the pain of knowledge of a man of knowledge, how such a man stands at such a frontier.“ (Lit.:GA 72, p. 25f)

„Therefore, one can say that today real knowledge is only offered to those who seek it by natural science. But what does natural science teach about man? It teaches what comes into being in the human being at birth or conception and passes away at death. Nothing else! If one wants to be honest, it has nothing else. Therefore, for one who wants to be honest in this field, there is no other way than to direct his gaze to that which today cannot be achieved by the usual means of natural science, that is, to establish a real science of the soul and the spirit, which in turn is based on an experience and observation of the spiritual, like the old spiritual knowledge. And this cannot be done in any other way than by the means which you will find in my books "How to attain knowledge of the higher worlds?", "The Secret Science" and others, in that the human being thereby puts himself in a position to really see the spiritual and to speak about it in the same way as he speaks about that which is present in the sensuous-material and has led to a sound natural science. All that is given to the senses on Earth, all that can be brought to experimentation, is of course not yet complete, but it is well on its way. But all this only provides knowledge about the transient, the sensual, the temporal human being. Therefore, we cannot look beyond the earthly at all if we want to grasp the human being with these means. For if we look only at the earthly, we look only at that which is transient of man.“ (Lit.:GA 231, p. 61f)

Philosophy and Anthroposophy

Whereas philosophy, at least since Aristotle, has been based primarily on speculative or discursive thinking, anthroposophy is based directly on thought-clear, fully conscious spiritual perception. Intuitive thinking, already mentioned in Rudolf Steiner's basic epistemological works, represents an elementary form of such spiritual perception.

„Anthroposophy is slandered if it is called merely a philosophy. It is not based on philosophical speculation, but on a perception which is as alive as only a sensual perception can ever be, but which must be attained by the human being developing the forces which are otherwise only dormant in his soul, in the way I have indicated in principle...“ (Lit.: R. Steiner: Anthroposophy and the Riddles of the Soul, lecture in Bern, 20 March 1922 pdf)

In his introduction to SKA 5, Christian Clement quite rightly points out that Rudolf Steiner always emphasised,

„... that real knowledge cannot be acquired solely through the mental processing and interpretation of sensual observations, but that a completely different way of thinking and perceiving must be added to this "sensual" knowledge. A "higher", "supersensible" consciousness had to be developed, a new "organ" had to be opened up, the contents of which were not simply "given", like those of sensual perception, but which first had to be brought forth inwardly in energetic spiritual-soul self-education. At present, humanity as a whole is still on its way to this higher consciousness, but it can already be consciously brought forth by the philosopher or mystic through mental and spiritual practice, as it were as an early birth of consciousness. In Steiner's view, this fundamental postulate of a 'higher' consciousness slumbering in the human being as a potential, not based on sensual content, connects his own philosophy with such disparate intellectual currents as Platonism and Neoplatonism, medieval mysticism, with Cusanus, Paracelsus and Böhme, with the views of Goethe and Schiller and the idealism of a Fichte, Schelling and Hegel.“ (Lit.: Christian Clement, SKA 5, XXXV)

„We see the child entering the world with little ability to gain insight into the environment, we see how the abilities lead deeper and deeper into the outer and inner world and how these abilities develop. In ordinary life we complete this development at a certain point and, having acquired a certain way of thinking, a certain way of feeling and a certain way of willing as adults, we remain with this, carrying on our everyday life and our ordinary science with this.

He who wants to pursue anthroposophical research must continue the development, he must say to himself at a certain point in his life: That which is in the soul in terms of abilities is not fully developed in this way; it can be further lifted up from the subsoil of the soul. And this lifting up then leads to those faculties of cognition which can lead into the supersensible worlds.“ (Lit.: Rudolf Steiner, Munich, 16 January 1922 pdf)


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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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A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may find at Rudolf Steiner's Complete Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - books, lectures and articles by Rudolf Steiner online (Jim Stewart). - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Steiner's complete works for free download as PDF.


  1. Rudolf Steiner: Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung. 8. Auflage. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach 2002
  2. Rudolf Steiner: Innere Entwicklungsimpulse der Menschheit - Goethe und die Krisis des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, 1984, p. 136
  3. Rudolf Steiner: Die Theosophie des Rosenkreuzers, GA 99 (1985)