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Plato, copy of the portrait made by Silanion ca. 370 BC for the Academia in Athens

Platonism in the narrower sense refers to the teachings of Plato, whose followers are accordingly called Platonists. In a broader sense, it also includes later ancient, medieval or modern poets, philosophers, theologians, church teachers, etc. who adopted only parts of Plato's teachings or combined them with new (e.g. Jewish or Christian) elements, as was the case in Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism.

Rudolf Steiner's fundamental critique of Platonism

With regard to Goethe's world view, Rudolf Steiner expressed his fundamental criticism of Platonist dualism:

„Platonism is the conviction that the goal of all striving for knowledge must be the appropriation of the ideas that support the world and form its foundation. Anyone who cannot awaken this conviction in himself does not understand the Platonic worldview. - But insofar as Platonism has intervened in the development of Western thought, it shows another side. Plato did not stop at emphasising the realisation that in human observation the world of sense becomes an illusion if the light of the world of ideas is not thrown upon it, but by his presentation of this fact he encouraged the opinion as if the world of sense for itself, apart from man, were an illusory world and true reality could only be found in the ideas. From this opinion arises the question: how do idea and sense world (nature) come to each other outside of man? Whoever cannot recognise an idea-less sense world outside of man, for him the question of the relationship between idea and sense world is one that must be sought and solved within the human being. And so the matter stands before Goethe's worldview. For the latter, the question: "what relation exists outside of man between idea and sense-world?" is an unhealthy one, because for it there is no sense-world (nature) without idea outside of man. Only man can detach the idea from the sense world for himself and thus imagine nature without an idea.“ (Lit.:GA 6, p. 28f)

Platonists and Anthroposophy

In his Karma Lectures Rudolf Steiner made it clear that towards the end of the twentieth century the "Aristotelians", who had been predominantly active in the anthroposophical movement up to that time, would be joined by the "Platonists", who had been closely associated with the School of Chartres in an earlier incarnation.

„First of all, those had to descend again who had been more or less active as Aristotelians; for under the influence of intellectualism, the time had not yet come for spirituality to deepen again. But there was an unbreakable agreement that continues to work. And according to this agreement, something must emerge from the anthroposophical movement which must find its completion before the end of this century. For a destiny hangs over the Anthroposophical Society: the destiny that many of those who are now in the Anthroposophical Society must come down to Earth again by the end of the twentieth century, but then also united with those who were either themselves leaders in the School of Chartres or who were disciples of Chartres. So that before the expiration of the 20th century, if civilisation is not to come to complete decadence, the Platonists of Chartres and the later Aristotelians must work together on Earth.“ (Lit.:GA 240, p. 157)

In order to strengthen I-consciousness, imaginative Platonic thinking had to give way for a time to Aristotelian thinking:

„The old times still had remnants of the old clairvoyance, through which in ancient times people looked into the spiritual world, where they really saw how man does when he is outside the physical and etheric body with his I and astral body and outside in the cosmos. Man would never have attained full freedom and individuality if he had remained with the old clairvoyance. Man had to lose the old clairvoyance; he had to take possession, as it were, of his physical self. The thinking he would develop if he were to see the whole of the moving mass under his consciousness, which is there as thinking, feeling, willing, would be heavenly thinking, but not independent thinking. How does man come to this independent thinking?

Well, think of yourself as sleeping at night, lying in bed. That is to say, the physical body and etheric body lie in bed. Now, when you wake up, the I and the astral body come in from outside. There is further thought in the etheric body. Now the I and the astral body submerge, they first take hold of the etheric body. But it does not last long, for at this moment the thought may flash up: What was I thinking, what was that clever thing? But the human being has the desire to grasp the physical body as well, and at this moment all this disappears; now the human being is completely in the sphere of earthly life. It is therefore because man immediately seizes the earthly body that he cannot bring to consciousness the subtle swirl of etheric thought. In order to be able to develop the consciousness "it is I who think", man must seize his earthly body as an instrument, otherwise he would not have the consciousness "it is I who think", but "it is the angel protecting me who thinks". This consciousness "I think" is only possible through the grasping of the earthly body. That is why it is necessary that in earthly life man is enabled to use his earthly body. In the time to come he will have to take hold of this earthly body more and more through what the Earth gives him. His justified egoism will become greater and greater. This must be counterbalanced by gaining the knowledge that spiritual science gives. We are at the starting point of this time.“ (Lit.:GA 157, p. 300f)


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: URL:
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.
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.