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Epistemology (from Greekἐπιστήμη epistéme "cognition, knowledge, science" and λόγος lógos "word, also "science, doctrine" or "gnoseology") is a fundamental discipline of philosophy that seeks to grasp and systematically describe the process of cognition as such and the principal validity of its results and the knowledge based on them.

The epistemological basis of anthroposophy


Rudolf Steiner laid the epistemological foundation for his later developed anthroposophy in the "Introductions to Goethe's Natural Scientific Writings (1884 - 1897)". A further deepening and specification followed in the "The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethes World Conception with Special Regard to Schiller", in "Truth and Knowledge" and especially in his philosophical opus magnum "The Philosophy of Freedom". The preface to the new edition of 1918 states:

„If anyone should be surprised that in this book there is still no reference to the field of spiritual experience which has been presented in later writings of mine, let him consider that at that time I did not want to give a description of the results of spiritual research, but only to build the foundation on which such results can rest. This "Philosophy of Freedom" contains no such special results, just as little as it contains special scientific results; but what it contains, in my opinion, cannot be dispensed with by those who strive for certainty in such knowledge. What is said in the book can also be acceptable to some people who, for whatever reasons that apply to them, do not want to have anything to do with my spiritual-scientific research results. But to those who can regard these spiritual-scientific results as something to which they are drawn, what has been attempted here will also be important. It is this: to prove how an unbiased contemplation, which extends only over the two fundamental questions marked for all cognition, leads to the view that man lives in a true spiritual world within. The aim of this book is to justify a knowledge of the spiritual realm before entering into spiritual experience. And this justification is undertaken in such a way that nowhere in these remarks does one need to squint at the experiences I will later assert in order to find what is said here acceptable, if one can or may go into the nature of these remarks themselves.“ (Lit.:GA 4, p. 7f)

„In order to protest against the search for an unsubstantial metaphysics, which only arises from the fact that we allow thinking to continue beyond the veil of the senses out of inner inertia, I wrote as a motto for my "Philosophy of Freedom": "Mental results of observation according to the method of natural science. I pointed out that all that which is the content of a philosophy is not invented, but that it is in the strictest sense the result of observation inwardly, just as colour and tone are the results of observation outwardly. And by living in this element of pure thought, which, however, chills the human being, one makes a discovery. One makes the discovery that human beings can indeed instinctively speak of freedom, that in the human being there are impulses which certainly tend towards freedom, but which remain unconscious, instinctive, until one rediscovers freedom, knowing that out of thinking free of sensuality can flow impulses for our moral action, which, because we have grasped a thinking which itself no longer contains sensuality, are then themselves not determined out of sensuality, but are determined out of pure spirituality. And one experiences pure spirituality by observing, purely observing, how the power of the moral flows into thinking that is free from sensuality. And the best result that can be obtained from such a thing is that, first of all, one can say valet to every mystical superstition, for it has as its result something that is veiled in some way and is only accepted on the basis of some dark feeling. One can say valet to it for the reason that one now experiences something in one's consciousness which is inwardly transparent, which is no longer impulsed from without, but which fills itself with spirituality from within. One has grasped the existence of the world in one point by making oneself only the scene of cognition, one has grasped how the existence of the world proceeds in its true form and - if we submit to this inner observation - then surrenders to us. I would like to say that in only one point do we grasp what the essence of world existence actually is, and we grasp it as a reality, not as an abstract thought, in that we impute into the fabric of sensuality-free thought the moral impulses, which appear to be free because they now no longer live as instincts, but in the garment of sensuality-free thought. We experience freedom, albeit a freedom of which we know at the same time that man can only approach it as the hyperbola approaches its asymptote, but we know that this freedom lives in man in so far as the spiritual lives. We first seize the spiritual out of the element of freedom.“ (Lit.:GA 322, p. 52f)

Further information on the specific anthoposophical research method can be found in "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds And Its Attainment" and in "An Outline of Occult Science".

„Man attains knowledge of the higher worlds when, apart from sleeping and waking, he acquires a third state of soul. While awake, the soul is devoted to sensory impressions and the ideas which are stimulated by these sensory impressions. During sleep, the sensory impressions are silent; but the soul also loses consciousness. The experiences of the day sink into the sea of unconsciousness. - Think of it: the soul could become conscious during sleep, even though the impressions of the senses, as otherwise in deep sleep, remained switched off. Yes, even the memory of the day's experiences would not be present. Would the soul now be in a nothingness? Could it have no experiences at all? - An answer to this question is only possible if a state can really be produced which is the same or similar to this one. If the soul can experience something, even if no sense effects and no memories of such exist in it. Then the soul would be asleep in relation to the ordinary external world; and yet it would not be asleep, but would be as if awake in relation to a real world. - Now such a state of consciousness can be established if the human being brings about those experiences of the soul which spiritual science makes possible for him. And everything that this science communicates about those worlds which lie beyond the sensuous is explored through such a state of consciousness.“ (Lit.:GA 13, p. 299f)

See also


  • Reijo Wilenius u.a.: Erkenntnistheorie als Erkenntnispraxis, Beiheft 6/Juni 1993, Zeitschrift "Die Drei", Verlag Freies Geistesleben
  • Herbert Witzenmann: Die Philosophie der Freiheit als Grundlage künstlerischen Schaffens, Spicker-Verlag 1988, 2. erw. Auflage, ISBN 38-57041-52-8
  • Karl-Martin Dietz: Rudolf Steiners Philosophie der Freiheit: Eine Menschenkunde des höheren Selbst, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 1993, ISBN 37-72511-64-3
  • Thomas Kracht: Erfahrung des Denkens: Zum Studium der "Philosophie der Freiheit" Rudolf Steiners. Band 1: Kapitel 1-3, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 1996, ISBN 10: 37-72516-01-7
  • Frank Teichmann: Auferstehung im Denken: Der Christusimpuls in der "Philosophie der Freiheit" und in der Bewusstseinsgeschichte, Verlag Freies Geistesleben 1996, ISBN 37-72516-00-9
  • Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiners innere Situation zur Zeit der "Philosophie der Freiheit", Verlag am Goetheanum 2007, ISBN 3-7235-1307-7
  • Sergej O. Prokofieff: Anthroposophie und die "Philosophie der Freiheit", Verlag am Goetheanum 2006), ISBN 3-7235-1248-8
  • Heinrich Leiste: Von der Philosophie der Freiheit zur Christosophie, Philosophisch Anthroposophischer Verlag am Goetheanum 1933
  • Otto Palmer: Rudolf Steiner über seine 'Philosophie der Freiheit', Verlag Freies Geistesleben 1984, ISBN 3-7725-0665-8
  • Rudolf Steiners Wissenschaftsbegriff im Gespräch mit der Gegenwart. Beträge zu den >Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschaung<, mit Beiträgen von Günter Röschert, Lorenzo Ravagli, Reinhard Falter und Roland Halfen. Zeitschrift Die Drei, Beiheft 4/Juni 1991
  • Erkenntnistheorie als Erkenntnispraxis, mit Beiträgen von Reijo Wilenius, Thomas Kracht, Oskar B. Hansen, Walter Kugler, Klaus Hartmann, Jens Heisterkamp, Manfred Krüger. Zeitschrift Die Drei, Beiheft 6/Juni 1993
  • Ginges, Hal Jon: The act of knowing. Rudolf Steiner and the Neo-Kantian Tradition, Diss., University of Western Sydney, 2012 ; (Kritische Betrachtung mit Ausblick auf Eckart Förster und Richard Tarnas)
Schriften und Vorträge von Rudolf Steiner
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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.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
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
steinerbooks.org - 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.