The intellect (from Latin: intellectus 'cognitive faculty', 'insight', 'mind') refers to the human ability to grasp something mentally. It is the instance in man that is responsible for cognition and thinking. "Intellect" is often used as a synonym for "mind" and understanding, but can also have the meanings "reason", "consciousness" or "spirit". A person who, supported by the intellect, more or less frequently expresses analytical or critical views on contemporary issues is commonly classified as an intellectual. The lord of the intellect is Ahriman: "He is a knower, a sage of death. He is therefore also the lord of the intellect." (Lit.:GA 211, p. 111)
The intellect as a necessary basis for a modern understanding of the spirit
The modern intellect, which we owe to Lucifer, is the last diluted remnant, seized by Ahriman, of the old dreamlike atavistic clairvoyance. As such, however, it forms precisely the indispensable basis for contemporary spiritual cognition. Only when one trains one's thinking on the contents of spiritual science conveyed in clear intellectual language can one attain to one's own fully conscious spiritual experiences.
„In ancient times men had clairvoyant revelations and they did not understand them; they learned to understand them only later. Today man must first understand, must exert his intellectuality, must exert his intellect, and if he exerts it through what is available in spiritual science, then humanity will again develop towards the clairvoyant reception of the spiritual. However, this is something that most people still want to avoid today: to use their common sense in order to understand spiritual science. If one wanted to avoid it, one would also want to avoid letting the spiritual revelations into our earthly world at all.“ (Lit.:GA 195, p. 63)
Rudolf Steiner also spoke about the one-sidedness and the dangers of the modern intellect, but also about the clarity that is gained through it, among other things, in the preparatory talks for the founding of the Esoteric Youth Circle. Herbert Hahn writes about this in his memoir notes:
„In connection with the intellectualistic culture of the present day, he explained that the one-sidedness and the dangers of this culture are already recognised today by not a few people. However, the tendency arises to switch off the head, so to speak, in order to sink into the pleasantly irrational regions of feeling and the dark depths of the will. In order to experience oneself fully as a human being, one should therefore choose the path from the head downwards. We should - he said - become aware of the dangers and deceptions associated with this downward path. For this path is a downward path that completely contradicts what the spirit of the age wants.
The head - as Rudolf Steiner emphasised - has not acquired clarity for nothing, despite all one-sidedness. This clarity must not be lost, but must be taken along on the spiritual path wanted by the spirit of the age. And it must be taken along the way: from the head upwards beyond the head. On this path the irrational is won through super-clarity. This is the path that a Michaelic thinking wants to take.“ (Lit.:GA 266c, p. 465)
Sacrifice of intellect
The intellect, as described above, is the prerequisite for coming to one's own spiritual experiences today in a healthy way. It serves as preparation, but must then be sacrificed - and one can only sacrifice what one possesses. And this sacrifice now consists in consciously renouncing one's own thinking in order to be able to receive real inspiration from the spiritual world. One then places one's own thinking at the disposal of the spiritual world so that it can thereby express itself in clear thoughts.
„If you ask yourself: Who thinks?, you will have to say to yourself: I think. You connect object and predicate with each other when you form a sentence. As long as it is you yourself who connects the individual terms, you are not able to read the Akasha Chronicle. You are not able to read because you connect your thoughts with your own ego. But you have to switch off your ego. You have to renounce any sense of your own. You only have to put down the ideas in order to let the connection of the individual ideas be established by forces outside of you, by the spirit.
So renunciation - not of thinking, but of connecting the individual thoughts of your own accord - is necessary in order to read the Akasha Chronicle. Then the Master can come and teach you to let the spirit from outside join your thoughts to what the universal world spirit is able to show you about what has taken place in history. Then you will no longer judge the facts, but then the universal world spirit itself will speak to you. And you place your thought material at its disposal.“ (Lit.:GA 265, p. 29)
The brain as a tool of the intellect
„Now, what is the basis of this intellectualism which is particularly peculiar to man today? I would like to make this clear to you again by means of a kind of schematic drawing [see p. 78, Plate 6]. I said yesterday: If we take the human brain (white), we can imagine that through that which has been conceived as the oblivion drink, the very spiritual-soul which otherwise stops short of the brain penetrated the brain (red), and that, as it were, through the old initiate, the spiritual-soul rose up from within through the prepared brain. - The intellectualism of today is based on the fact that in comparison with the older man, let us say before the Mystery of Golgotha, the soul-spirit has become inwardly stronger, more intense in the man of today. The older man did not have so much intellectualism at all. His soul-spirituality did not develop into such sharp lines of thought as is the case with today's man. For if you are an intellectualist, you think everything in straight lines. Older people did not think like that. The older man thought more pictorially, more dreamily, more softly, I would say. In today's man, thoughts are angular, are gifted with sharp contours. But this man of today, although his soul-spirit has become stronger than it was in older times, still could not grasp these thoughts from the soul-spirit.
Let us understand each other correctly, my dear friends. The human being of today already has a good deal of mental-spiritual strength in comparison with the older man. He no longer dreams as the older man dreamed, he tightens up his thoughts. Nevertheless, these thoughts would remain subdued if only the soul-spiritual had to work in modern man. Actually, man still cannot think from his soul. What takes away the power of thought from man is the body. If, for example, we have a sense perception, we have it, however, with the soul-spiritual. But if we then want to think it, this sense perception, then the body must help us. The body is actually the thinker. So that today the thing is like this: sense perception affects the human being, the soul-spirit (red above) penetrates sense perception, but the body acts like a mirror and continually throws back the rays of thought (green arrows). Thus they become conscious. So the body is that which relieves man of the trouble of thinking, but not of the trouble of sense perception. And if man wants to strive for initiation on this side of thought, then he must, through his exercises, which we know from "How to attain knowledge of the higher worlds" and from the second part of "Occult Science in Outline", strengthen the soul-spirit even more; then he will gradually bring it to make this soul-spirit so independent in himself that it no longer needs the body.
So let's understand each other correctly: when people think today in ordinary life, then the soul-spirit is active. Above all, it takes in the sensory perceptions, but it could not develop those thoughts that are developed today. Hence the body comes and relieves man of the trouble of thinking. In ordinary life one certainly thinks with the body, the body is the thought apparatus. If one does the exercises referred to in the books mentioned, then the soul becomes so strong through these exercises that it no longer needs the body to think, that it thinks for itself. And this is basically the first stage of the development towards higher cognition, that the soul-spirit begins to replace the body as the actual organ of thought for higher cognition. It must be emphasised again and again that man, in advancing to higher knowledge, that is, to imagination, always remains beside himself with his common sense as one who controls himself, criticises himself. In other words, one remains the same as one otherwise is in ordinary life. Only the second human being develops out of the first human being, who is then able to think no longer with the help of the body, but without the help of the body.
So that which revealed itself to the old mystery student as spiritual-soul came out of the body, penetrated through the brain and in the oozing out, so to speak, the human being perceived it. But what man perceives today as an initiate is intensified thinking, which now does not occupy the brain at all. Whereas the old man drew out of his organisation what he perceived as spiritual-mental, man today perceives the spiritual-mental on the thought side in such a way that it penetrates into him, just as sensory perceptions penetrate into him. In climbing this first stage of higher knowledge, man must become accustomed to saying: I begin to perceive myself according to my eternal soul-spirit, for that penetrates through my eye, that penetrates into me from outside.
At a public lecture in the Bernoullianum in Basel I said: Spiritual science in the anthroposophical sense must regard sense perception as its ideal. One must progress from sense perception. We must not go back to dreamlike cognition, but we must go forward to a clearer cognition than this perception. Therefore our own being must approach us as colours and sounds approach the senses.“ (Lit.:GA 210, p. 76ff)
As much as man has developed his self-consciousness, or more precisely the consciousness of his ego, through the intellect, it has at the same time alienated him from the world. He only looks at it from the outside and cannot grasp its inner essence. Thus he faces both his real I and the outer world not awake, but basically only dreaming. Probably no other age than ours was so inclined to lose itself in illusions about reality.
„It is true that people have come a long way in intellect since the fifteenth century. This intellect has something shudderingly seductive about it, because in the intellect all men think they are awake. But the intellect teaches us nothing about the world. In reality, it is merely a dream of the world. It is in the intellect that one dreams most intensely, and since objective science works most with the intellect, which it applies to observation and experiment, it basically dreams about the world. But it remains dreaming. Through the intellect, one is no longer in any objective connection with the world. The intellect is the automatic continuation of thinking after one has long since been cut off from the world.“ (Lit.:GA 217, p. 37)
- Reinhard Romberg: Intellekt. In: Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, Band 4, Schwabe, Basel 1976, Sp. 435–438
- Mildred Galland-Szymkowiak: Intellekt. In: Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie Philosophie, Band 2, Felix Meiner, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-7873-1999-2, S. 1115–1118
- Rudolf Steiner: Weltsilvester und Neujahrsgedanken, GA 195 (1986), ISBN 3-7274-1950-4 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Alte und neue Einweihungsmethoden. Drama und Dichtung im Bewußtseins-Umschwung der Neuzeit, GA 210 (2001), ISBN 3-7274-2102-9 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Das Sonnenmysterium und das Mysterium von Tod und Auferstehung, GA 211 (1986), ISBN 3-7274-2110-X English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Geistige Wirkenskräfte im Zusammenleben von alter und junger Generation. Pädagogischer Jugendkurs., GA 217 (1988), ISBN 3-7274-2170-3 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Zur Geschichte und aus den Inhalten der erkenntniskultischen Abteilung der Esoterischen Schule von 1904 bis 1914, GA 265 (1987), ISBN 3-7274-2650-0 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Aus den Inhalten der esoterischen Stunden, Band III: 1913 und 1914; 1920 – 1923, GA 266/3 (1998), ISBN 3-7274-2663-2 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
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
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.