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You will know the truth, and
the truth will set you free.

Truth (from Indo-European: *wēr- "trust, faithfulness, assent"; Latin: veritas; Greekἀλήθεια Aletheia, from α privativum and λῆθος, P.P.P. from λανθάνω, "conceal", thus literally meaning "that which is unconcealed") is a basic philosophical concept, but one that has been conceived very differently by different thinkers → truth.

„Truth, however, is not something about which one can have opinions. One knows a truth or one does not know it. No one can say that the three angles in the triangle are 725 degrees instead of 180.“ (Lit.:GA 93, p. 108)

What is truth?

Nikolai Nikolajewitsch Ge: What is truth? – Quid est veritas? (1890); Pontius Pilate to Jesus John 18:38.

Feeling for truth

„All that we call inventing, discovering in the higher sense, is the significant exercise, activity of an original feeling for truth, which, formed long ago in silence, leads unexpectedly, with lightning speed, to a fruitful knowledge. It is a revelation coursing from its inner source to its outer unfolding manifestation, which makes man sense his likeness to God. It is a synthesis of world and spirit, which gives the most blessed assurance of the eternal harmony of existence.“

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre[1]

The question of Pilate

As long as men could still draw on the old wisdom of the gods, which they had received clairvoyantly, even if only through tradition, they did not need to ask the question of truth. Paul, when he was still Saul, still trusted completely in this old revelation. A last remnant of this attitude - which has meanwhile become insubstantial - still lives in the dogma of papal infallibility for all doctrines of faith and morals proclaimed ex cathedra, which was laid down in 1870. The source of truth here is not man, but an omnipotent God can, according to the claim of this dogma, bring about the infallibility of a man, namely the Pope.

Pilate, when he interrogated the Christ, could no longer be sure of the truth:

„33 Then Pilate went again into the praetorium, and called Jesus, and asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? 34 Jesus answered, 'Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me? 35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Your people and the chief priests have delivered you up to me. What hast thou done? 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not of this world. 37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou therefore a king? Jesus answered, You say it, I am a king. I was born for this purpose and came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. He that is of the truth heareth my voice. 38 Said Pilate unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and saith unto them: I find no fault in him.“

Through Lucifer, man had been transferred to the earthly-sensual world. Through this he came at the same time more and more into the sphere of influence of Ahriman and fell into error and sin.

„Because man was prematurely transferred to the earthly sphere, because his earthly interests and desires forced him down, things turned out differently from what they would otherwise have been in the middle of the Atlantean era.

As a result, the Ahrimanic spirits, those spirits which can also be called Mephistophelian spirits, mixed themselves into what man was able to see and comprehend. As a result, man fell into error, fell into what one could actually call conscious sin. So from the middle of the Atlantean period onwards, the host of Ahrimanic spirits has acted upon man. What has this host of ahrimanic spirits, so to speak, seduced man into doing? It has seduced him into thinking that what is in his environment is material, that he does not see through this materiality to the true substratum of the material, to the spiritual. If man were to see the spiritual in every stone, in every plant and in every animal, he would never have fallen into error and thus into evil, but man, if only the advancing spirits had worked upon him, would have remained preserved from those illusions to which he must always fall prey if he relies only on the testimony of the sense world.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 244ff)

Only after man had learned to make use of his own intellect, which, however, can also be subject to error through the influence of Ahriman, does the question arise again and again, which Pontius Pilate also had to ask: "What is truth?"

„Among the Hebrew people there were scribes who knew from the Scriptures what had been preserved from the ancient wisdom of the gods. Out of these scribes came the judgment that condemned the Christ Jesus to death. Such a man as Paul, when he was still Saul, looks up to the primeval wisdom of the gods. From it flowed down to the scribes of his time that which this godly wisdom had become for man. Because outstanding men devoted themselves to writing, this wisdom of the gods was maintained and just judgements being pronounced. An innocent man condemned to the death on the Cross: impossible, impossible! if everything took place as it did in the condemnation of the Christ Jesus. Only the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who was already instinctively involved in a completely different world view, could pronounce the meaningful word: What is truth? - For Paul, when he was still Saul, there was no possibility of even thinking that what took place according to just judgement should not have been truth.

What conviction did Paul have to come to? The conviction that what once came from the gods as truth can be error among men, that men can make it into error, into such strong error that the most blameless goes through the death on the cross.

In order to become quite clear, let us make a schematic drawing of this:

GA 211, p. 118
GA 211, p. 118

Original godly wisdom, it flows down to the wisdom of the scribes who were the contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha within Hebrews (white). There can only be truth in it, Saul had to think. But one had to think another way. Paul, when he was still Saul, said to himself: If this is really the Christ, the Messiah, who has gone through the death on the cross, then there must be error in this current (red). There must be error mixed in with the truth, for it must be error that brought the Christ to the cross; that is, the former Gods' truth must have become error in man.

Of course, Saul could only convince himself by the fact that this was so. Only the Christ Himself could convince him when He appeared to him, as happened through the event at Damascus. But what did that mean for Saul? It meant that the old wisdom of the gods was no longer there, but that the Ahrimanic had flowed into it.

Thus Paul came to realise that the evolution of mankind was seized by an enemy, and that this enemy was the source of error on Earth“ (Lit.:GA 211, p. 117ff)

I am the Way and the Truth and the Life

I have seen the HUMAN in his deepest form,
I know the world down to its basic content.

I know that love, love is its deepest meaning,
and that I am there to love more and more.

I spread out my arms as HE did,
I want to embrace the whole world, like HE did.

Hans Holbein the Younger: Christ at Rest, 1519

The answer to Pilate's question is already anticipated by the Christ during the Last Supper in his farewell discourses, as they are handed down in John's Gospel, when he says: "I am the way and the truth and the life". Christ himself is the living truth to which he also prepares the way - and this way leads through the Christ to the Father, i.e. into the innermost centre and the actual source of the highest divine. By permeating himself with the power of Christ in a completely individual way by his own free decision, in the sense of Pauline words "I live, yet now not I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20), the truth lives in him.

„1 Let not your heart be troubled! Believe in God and believe in me! 2 In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have said unto you, I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that ye may be where I am. 4 And whither I go ye know the way. 5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest: how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye have known me, ye shall know my Father also. And from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, How long am I with you, and thou knowest me not, Philip? He who sees me sees the Father! How then do you say, Show us the Father? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself. And the Father that dwelleth in me doeth his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: if not, believe for the works' sake. 12 Verily, verily, I say unto you: He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do: for I go unto the Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 Whatsoever ye shall ask me in my name, that will I do.“

Ecce homo

In the Christ Jesus, the truth became incarnate for the first time and in full. With full justification, therefore, Pilate, when he presents Jesus Christ to the people, scourged, covered in blood, clothed in the purple royal robe and crowned with the crown of thorns, speaks of his Ecce homo (GreekἸδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος idoù ho ánthropos "Behold, the man") (John 19:5).

To know the truth, therefore, is to know Christ! That Christ whose essence is pure love, who gives himself freely and therefore also gives freedom. And wherever a piece of the truth is recognised, the Christ is also recognised.

„When we speak of "truth", we mean a general meaning, namely the fact that we recognise something in the light of the eternal essence. But John says in the prologue: 'This is a mere intermediate thought, which is only conditionally valid. In the last analysis, truth is He, the Logos; and to know in the last analysis means to know the Logos, Christ, and all things in Him.“ (Lit.: Guardini, p. 103f)

And because the Christ is true God and true man at the same time, truth is also divine and human at the same time.

Theories of Truth

In the course of the history of philosophy, various theories of truth have been developed. The following table gives an overview of the most important approaches:

Position Definition of Truth Carrier of Truth Criteria of Truth
Theory of Ontological-metaphysical correspondence „Veritas est adaequatio intellectus et rei“
Truth is the correspondence of cognizing intellect and thing
Thinking Things in the world
Dialectical-materialist theory of reflection Agreement between consciousness and objective reality Consciousness (orthodox Marxism)
Statement (modern Marxism)
Logical-empirical pictorial theory Conformity of the logical structure of the proposition with that of the facts it depicts Structure of propositions Structure of facts
Semantic theory of truth "x is a true statement if and only if p" (For "p" insert any statement, for "x" insert any proper noun of this statement) Proposition (of the object language) ‘Universe of discourse’ (of the object language)
Redundancy theory The concept of truth only being used for stylistic reasons, or to lend emphasis to one's own assertion. Sentences
Performative theory what one does when one says a statement is true Action / speech act / self-commitment Own behaviour
Coherence theory freedom from contradiction / deriving relations of a statement to the system of accepted statements Statement No contradiction of statement and already accepted statement system
Consensus theory Discursively redeemable claim to validity associated with a constitutive act of speech Statement/proposition[4] Justified consensus under conditions of an ideal speech situation[4]

Truth is a free creative product of the human being

„If ye abide in my word, ye are truly my disciples, and shall know the truth; and the truth shall make you free.“

Rudolf Steiner's concept of truth does not coincide in its essential core with any of the above-mentioned theories of truth, but is based on the creative freedom of the individual human being.

For Fichte, to whom Rudolf Steiner refers in his dissertation, truth "must be produced actively and with freedom, through effort and the use of one's own strength"[5] and ultimately consists in thinking in agreement with oneself.

„The question is not whether we think in agreement with others, but whether we think in agreement with ourselves. If the latter is the case, then we can be certain of the former without any effort on our part, and without first collecting the opinions of all those who are in agreement with themselves; for the essence of reason is one and precisely the same in all rational beings. How others think, we do not know, and we cannot assume. How we ought to think, if we wish to think rationally, we can find (out); and so, as we ought to think (for ourselves), all rational beings ought to think. All enquiry must be from within, not from without. I should not think as others think; but as I should think, so, I should suppose, do others think. - To be in agreement with those who are not in agreement with themselves, would that (actually) be a worthy goal for a rational being?“

Johann Gottlieb Fichte:: On the Revival and Enhancement of the Pure Interest in Truth[6]

Truth is not something ready-made in the world, but something to be created freely and individually by the I-self - Rudolf Steiner also took this standpoint in his fundamental philosophical work Truth and Knowledge (1892):

„The result of these investigations is that truth is not, as is usually assumed, the ideal reflection of some real thing, but a free product of the human spirit, which would not exist anywhere at all if we did not bring it forth ourselves. The task of cognition is not to repeat in conceptual form something that already exists elsewhere, but to create an entirely new realm which, together with the sensuously given world, only results in full reality. Thus the highest activity of man, his spiritual creation, is organically integrated into the general world event. Without this activity, world events could not be thought of as a self-contained whole. In relation to the course of the world, man is not an idle spectator who figuratively repeats within his spirit what takes place in the cosmos without his intervention, but the active co-creator of the world process; and cognition is the most complete link in the organism of the universe.“ (Lit.:GA 3, p. 11f)

Rudolf Steiner sees himself thus in harmony with Goethe:

„Different people have different subjective experiences. For those who do not believe in the objective nature of the inner world, this is one more reason to deny man the ability to penetrate into the essence of things. For how can the essence of things be what appears one way to the one and another to the other. For the one who sees through the true nature of the inner world, it only follows from the diversity of inner experiences that nature can express its rich content in different ways. Truth appears to the individual in an individual dress. It adapts itself to the peculiarity of his personality. This is especially true of the highest truths, the truths that are most important to man. In order to gain them, the human being transfers his spiritual, most intimate experiences to the world he is looking at, and with them, at the same time, the most peculiar aspects of his personality. There are also universally valid truths that every human being absorbs without giving them an individual colouring. But these are the most superficial, the most trivial. They correspond to the general generic character of human beings, which is the same in all. Certain qualities that are the same in all people also produce the same judgements about things. The way people look at things in terms of measure and number is the same in all. Therefore all find the same mathematical truths. But in the qualities in which the individual personality differs from the general character of the species, lies also the reason for the individual formations of truth. It is not a question of the truth appearing differently in one person than in another, but of the fact that all the individual forms that come to light belong to a single whole, the unified ideal world. Truth speaks different languages and dialects within individual human beings; in each great person it speaks its own language, which belongs only to that one personality. But it is always the one truth that speaks. "If I know my relationship to myself and to the outside world, I call it truth. And so everyone can have his own truth, and it is still always the same." This is Goethe's opinion. Truth is not a rigid, dead system of concepts capable of only one form; it is a living sea in which the spirit of man lives, and which can show waves of the most diverse forms on its surface. "Theory in and of itself is of no use except in so far as it makes us believe in the connection of phenomena," says Goethe. He does not value a theory that wants to be concluded once and for all, and in this guise is supposed to represent an eternal truth. He wants living concepts through which the spirit of the individual, according to its individual character, summarises the views.“ (Lit.:GA 6, p. 65f)

The "one single truth" can only refer to what is past, what has become, what is dead - and fails in relation to what is alive.

„That which is considered true in the ordinary sense of the physical plan can basically, if we understand truth to mean conformity with what already is, only refer to the past, that is, to what is necessary. What is in the process of living emergence, is what always must be created by us. We must live in it. We must acquire living concepts flowing out of the given necessities in relation to the living world. There we cannot look towards something with which the concept agrees, but have got to inhabit the living concept ourselves.“ (Lit.:GA 163, p. 88)

Rudolf Steiner also emphasised this creative character of cognition quite clearly in the outlook with which his "Welt- und Lebensanschauungen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert" (World and Life Views in the Nineteenth Century), published in 1900 and later expanded into "Die Rätsel der Philosophie in ihrer Geschichte als Umriss dargestellt" (GA 18), ( A Historical Outline of the The Enigma of Philosophy)

„When I penetrate things with my thoughts, I therefore add to things something that is experienced in me according to its essence. The essence of things does not come to me from them, but I add it to them. I create a world of ideas that I regard as the essence of things. Things receive their essence through me. It is therefore impossible to ask about the essence of being. In the recognition of ideas, nothing at all is revealed to me that has any existence in things. The world of ideas is my experience. It exists in no other form than the one I experience.“ (Lit.: Rudolf Steiner: Welt- und Lebensanschauungen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert, Berlin 1900, p. 188)

Rudolf Steiner had already written in the "Introductions to Goethe's Natural Scientific Writings" that man inevitably carries a revealed or veiled anthropomorphism into his cognitive activity, indeed that, if it is done in the right way, it is through this that cognition becomes possible in the first place. He thereby in no way distances himself from reality, which can fundamentally only be achieved in a process that transcends subject and object:

„Man must let things speak from his spirit (impulses of I-self) if he wants to recognise their essence. Everything he has to say about this essence is borrowed from the spiritual experiences of his inner being. Man can only judge the world from himself. He must think anthropomorphically. An anthropomorphism is introduced into the simplest phenomenon, e.g. into the collision of two bodies, when one speaks about it. The judgement: "One body pushes the other" is already anthropomorphic. For if one wants to get beyond the mere observation of the process, one must transfer to it the experience that our own body has when it sets a body of the external world in motion. All physical explanations are hidden anthropomorphisms. One anthropomorphises nature when one explains it, one puts man's inner experiences into it. But these subjective experiences are the inner essence of things. And it cannot therefore be said that man does not recognise the objective truth, the "in itself" of things, because he can only form subjective ideas about them.[7] There can be no question of any other than a subjective human truth. For truth is the insertion of subjective experiences into the objective context of appearance. These subjective experiences can even assume a very individual character. They are nevertheless the expression of the inner essence of things. One can only put into things what one has experienced oneself. Accordingly, every human being, according to his or her individual experiences, will put something, in a certain sense, different into things. How I interpret certain processes of nature cannot be fully understood by another who has not experienced the same thing inwardly. But it is not at all a question of all men thinking the same thing about things, but only of their living in the essential element of truth when they think about things. One cannot therefore regard the thoughts of another as such and accept or reject them, but one should regard them as the proclaimers of one's individuality. "Those who contradict and argue should sometimes consider that not every language is intelligible to everyone" (Natw. Schr., 4th vol., 2nd ed., p. 355). A philosophy can never transmit a universally valid truth, but it describes the inner experiences of the philosopher through which he interprets the outer phenomena.

When a thing expresses its essence through the organ of the human spirit, the full reality only comes about through the confluence of the outer objective and the inner subjective. Neither through one-sided observation nor through one-sided thinking does man recognise reality. This is not present as something finished in the objective world, but is only brought forth by the human spirit in connection with things. Objective things are only a part of reality. Whoever praises exclusively sensuous experience must be answered with Goethe, "that experience is only half of experience" (Natw. Schr., 4. Bd., 2. Abt., p. 503). "All that is factual is already theory," i.e. an ideal reveals itself in the human mind when it contemplates a factual. This conception of the world, which recognises the essence of things in ideas and understands knowledge as a living into the essence of things, is not mysticism. But it has in common with mysticism that it does not regard objective truth as something existing in the external world, but as something that can really be grasped within the human being. The opposite world-view places the causes of things behind the appearances, in a realm beyond human experience. It can either give itself over to a blind faith in these causes, which receives its content from a positive religion of revelation, or it can set up intellectual hypotheses and theories about how this otherworldly realm of reality is constituted. The mystic as well as the confessor of Goethe's world-view reject both the belief in a beyond and the hypotheses about such a thing, and hold to the real spiritual which expresses itself in man himself.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 335ff)

Here Steiner also makes it clear that the different perspectives through which truth reveals itself in each case in quite individual form is conditioned by the diversity of the worlds of understanding. The intellect, as it were, cuts up reality into concepts in a quite individual way. Reason (ideally) reassembles them into ideas appropriate to the matter:

„All the concepts that the reasoning mind creates has to seek out the inner unity in the multiplicity of cause and effect, substance and property, body and soul, idea and reality, God and world, etc.. These are only kept separate artificially to keep apart the unified reality and reason, without blurring the content thus created, or mystically obscuring the clarity of the understanding, It thus returns to that from which the understanding has distanced itself, to the unified reality. If one wants to have an exact nomenclature, then one calls the mind-creations 'concepts', the reason-creations 'ideas'. And one sees that the way of science is this: to rise through the concept to the idea. And here is the place where the subjective and the objective element of our cognition are separated in the clearest way. It is evident that the separation is only subjective, created only by our understanding. It cannot prevent me from dissecting one and the same objective unity into thought-forms that are different from those of my fellow man; this does not prevent my reason from arriving again at the same objective unity that both of us started with.

Drawing from GA 1, S. 173
Drawing from GA 1, S. 173

The unified reality structure represented symbolically (Figure 1). I separate it rationally as in Fig. 2; someone else otherwise, as in Fig. 3.

We combine them rationally and obtain the same structure. This explains how men can have such different concepts, such different views of reality, even though it can only be one. The difference lies in the difference of our worlds of understanding. This sheds light on the development of different scientific standpoints. We understand where the multiple philosophical standpoints originate, and we need not attribute the quality of truth exclusively to one of them. We also know what standpoint we ourselves have to take in relation to the multiplicity of human views.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 172f)

In his "Goethe Studies" Steiner writes:

„What springs from the human spirit when it confronts the outer world by observing and thinking is truth. Man cannot demand any other knowledge than that which he himself produces. Anyone who still seeks something behind things that is supposed to signify their actual essence is not sufficiently aware that all questions about the essence of things arise solely from a human need: to penetrate what we perceive with our thoughts. Things speak to us, and our inner being speaks when we observe things. Both of these languages originate from the same primordial being, and man is called to bring about their mutual understanding. This is what is called knowledge. And this and nothing else is what he seeks who understands the needs of human nature. Whoever does not attain to this understanding, the things of the outer world remain strange to him. He does not hear the essence of things speaking to him from within. Therefore he assumes that this essence is hidden behind the things. He believes in an outer world still behind the world of perception. But things are only alien to us as long as we merely observe them. For man, the contrast between objective outer perception and subjective inner world of thought exists only as long as he does not recognise that these worlds belong together. The human inner world belongs as a member to the world process like every other process.

These thoughts are not refuted by the fact that different people have different ideas about things. Nor by the fact that people's organisations are different, so that it is not known whether one and the same colour is seen in quite the same way by different people. For it is not a question of whether people form exactly the same judgement about one and the same thing, but of whether the language which the inner man speaks is precisely the language which expresses the essence of things. The individual judgements differ according to the organisation of man and the point of view from which he looks at things; but all judgements spring from the same element and lead into the essence of things. This may be expressed in different nuances of thought; but it remains, therefore, the essence of things. Man is the organ through which nature reveals its secrets. The deepest content of the world appears in the subjective personality.“ (Lit.:GA 30, p. 203f)

It goes on to say:

„When a 'Thing' expresses its Beingness through the organ of the human spirit, its full reality comes about only through the confluence of observation and thought. Neither through one-sided observation nor through one-sided thinking does man recognise reality. This is not present as something finished in the objective world, but is only brought forth by the human spirit in connection with 'Things'. Whoever praises experience exclusively must be answered with Goethe, "that experience is only half of experience"(Natw. Schr., 4. Bd., 2. Abt., p. 503). . "All that is factual is already theory" (Proverbs in Prose), that is, a lawful thing reveals itself in the human mind when it contemplates a factual thing. This conception of the world, which recognises the essence of things in ideas and understands knowledge as a living into the essence of things, is not mysticism. But it has in common with mysticism that it does not regard objective truth as something existing in the external world, but as something that can really be grasped within the human being. The opposite world-view places the causes of things behind the appearances, in a realm beyond human experience. It can either give itself over to a blind faith in these causes, which receives its content from a positive religion of revelation, or it can set up intellectual hypotheses and theories about how this otherworldly realm of reality is constituted. The mystic as well as the confessor of Goethe's world-view reject both the belief in a beyond and the hypotheses about such a thing, and hold to the real spiritual which expresses itself in man himself.“ (Lit.:GA 30, p. 204f)

Sense of truth

Every human being has a sense of truth with which he can grasp spiritual-scientific knowledge and also understand and examine it consistently with impartial logic.

„Every soul is predisposed in itself, even if it has not yet given itself over to the marked lonely struggle, to absorb through impartial logic and through a healthy sense of truth what is imparted by spiritual science. Even if it must be admitted that in the widest circle in which this or that is done by spiritual science today, this healthy sense of truth and this healthy logic do not everywhere prevail in the reception of the messages of spiritual research, this is a deficiency of every spiritual movement. In principle, however, what has been said is quite correct. Yes, in principle it should even be noted that it must lead to error upon error if that which is so often brought to humanity today as spiritual science is accepted lightly and with blind faith. He who really stands on the ground of spiritual science feels strictly bound to communicate logically and rationally what he has to say, so that it can really be examined by a healthy sense of truth and by means of all logic.“ (Lit.:GA 60, p. 18f)

Subject and Object

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

No being can decay into nothing!
The eternal continues to stir in all,
In being keep yourself happy!
Being is eternal: for laws
Preserve the living treasures,
From which the universe is adorned.

The 'True' was found long ago,
Has united noble spirits;
The old 'True', take hold of it!
Owe it, son of earth, to the wise,
Who, orbiting the sun,
And showed the sibling the path,

Now immediately turn inward:
The centre you will find within,
Which no noble man may doubt.
You will miss no rule there:
For the independent conscience
Is the sun of thy moral day.

Then you have to trust your senses,
They let thee see no wrong,
If thy wits keep thee awake.
With fresh eyes joyfully observe
And walk confidently as smoothly,
Through meadows of richly gifted world.

Enjoy moderately filling and blessing;
Reason be everywhere present,
Where life rejoices in life.
Then the past is constant,
The future ahead living
The moment is eternity.

And have you at last succeeded,
And are you imbued with the feeling
What is fruitful, alone is true -
You test the general rule,
It will work in its own way,
Join the smallest band.

And as of old, in silence,
A work of love according to his own will
The philosopher, the poet created,
So shalt thou obtain most fair favour:
For to sense noble souls
Is most desirable profession.[7]

In fact, the concept of truth can only be meaningfully formulated in an individual reference to reality that transcends subject and object, but this does not necessarily establish an arbitrary relativism. Rather, it is a matter of consciously including the subjective standpoint from which one views the objective world in the search for truth. The US philosopher Thomas Nagel also emphasised this in his book "The View from Nowhere":

„How is the subjective perspective of an individual and particular person in the world to be mediated with an objective conception of that same world, which includes the person and his or her endpoint? This problem confronts every being that has the impetus and the capacity to transcend its own perspective and to understand world events as a whole....

The difficulty of mediating between the two points of view arises in concrete life as well as in thought. It proves to be the key question for morality, cognition, freedom, subjectivity and the relationship of the psychic to the material world.“ (Lit.: Nagel, p. 11)

The problem that the observed object cannot be separated from the subjective presuppositions of observation came to the fore especially in modern quantum physics. The quantum chemist Hans Primas writes about this:

„In the philosophy founded by René Descartes (1596 - 1650), the subject breaks down the world into simple facts and regards the objective world simply as the sum of these elementary facts. In contrast, in quantum mechanics, something like a "thing in itself" is no longer up for discussion. A subject is a subject because it stands in relation to an object. An object is an object because it stands in relation to a subject. The hitherto customary thinking that tends to compartmentalise must be abandoned. Quantum mechanics describes the material world primarily as an indivisible whole; the separation of individual objects requires a justification that is in principle outside the principles of quantum mechanics.

In any holistic theory, one can only speak about a phenomenon with clarity and distinctness if one simultaneously states the context from which it is determined. Isolated "facts" prove little; they acquire their evidential value only by specifying the context in which they were observed. Every context has its implicit specifications, which we select as reference points for describing nature. If one chooses other defaults, one chooses a different context with a different perspective, so that nature is seen differently.“ (Lit.: Primas, p. 114f.)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe already thought similarly:

„In a monumental way, Goethe indicated the point of view of the highest knowledge in the words:

"If I know my relationship to myself and to the outside world, I call it truth. And so everyone can have his own truth, and yet it is always the same."[9]

Everyone has his own truth: because everyone is an individual, special being alongside and with others. These other beings act upon him through his organs. From the individual standpoint on which he is placed, and according to the nature of his perceptive faculty, he forms his own truth in his intercourse with things. He gains his relationship to things. If he then enters into self-knowledge, learns to know his relation to himself, then his particular truth dissolves into the general truth; this general truth is the same in all.

The understanding of the dissolution of the individuating, of the individual ego into the all-ego in the personality, is regarded by profounder natures as the secret revealing itself in the inner being of man, as the primordial mystery of life. Goethe also found a fitting expression for this: "And as long as you do not have that: Die and become! you are but a dull guest on the dark earth."

Not a mental repetition, but a real part of the world process is what takes place in the human inner life. The world would not be what it is if the link belonging to it did not take place in the human soul. And if one calls the highest that is attainable to man the divine, then one must say that this divine is not present as an external 'thing' to be figuratively repeated in the human spirit, but that this divine is being awakened in man. Angelus Silesius found the right words for this: "I know that without me God cannot live a single moment; if I do not become one, he must of necessity give up the ghost." "God may not make a single worm without me: if I do not keep it with him, then it must break to pieces." Such an assertion can only be made by one who presupposes that something comes into being in man without which an external being cannot exist. If everything that belongs to the "little worm" were also there without man, then it would be impossible to speak of it having to "crack" if man did not receive it.

As spiritual content, the innermost core of the world comes to life in self-knowledge. For the human being, the experience of self-knowledge means weaving and working within the core of the world.“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 33f)

Or as Johannes Scotus Eriugena puts it with reference to Dionysius Areopagita:

„For the thoughts of things are truly the things themselves, as St. Dionysius says: "the knowledge of the existing is the existing itself;" but their primordial causes and reasons are led to union by thought-activity, not by the things themselves.“

John Scotus Eriugena: On the Division of Nature[8]

The subject-object division, without which our I-consciousness would not be possible, but through which the truth is initially veiled under the veil of objects, is brought about by the I-self in each individual way and can also only be revealed again by the individual I-self. By illuminating the truth in the act of cognition, the gap between ego and world, torn open by our ego-consciousness, is overcome again.

With the mind bound to senses, we face things, we are separated from them. We only see them from the outside, and thus they ultimately remain alien to us. It is not like this in true knowledge, as the Gnostics also emphasise. Here the separation is abolished. We ourselves become what we recognise - and that is why this knowledge that transcends subject and object is at the same time always true self-knowledge. In the apocryphal Valentinian Gospel of Philip it says accordingly:

„No one can perceive anything imperishable unless he himself becomes imperishable.

Truth is not like the world, where a man sees the sun without being the sun himself, where he sees heaven and earth and all the rest without being heaven, earth and the like. But in the kingdom of truth you see something of it and become it yourself. You see the spirit and become spirit yourself. You see Christ: you become Christ. You see the Father: you become the Father. So here in this world you see all things, but you do not see yourself. In the other world, however, you see yourself. For what you see there, that you yourself become.“

Gospel of Philipp: Proverbs 44 [9]

Or as the Austrian workers' poet Alfons Petzold poetically put it:


The earth's existence is founded in me,
I am its space and am also its time,
and what the day ignites in me in power,
it takes up into its eternity.

I am the world, in my pulsing gears
every beat says this to me loud and clear,
and what makes me eternal is love,
with which a god created the first day.

Alfons Petzold:: Path out of the Dawn, Vienna 1947

The living truth lives in the etheric body

With the intellectualising mind bound to the tool of the physical brain, one can only grasp dead truths that refer to what has already become, which is already more or less ready in the world. Although in this way the most manifold lawful relationships between the individual phenomena of the world that has become can be illuminated and presented in a logically coherent way, which is absolutely necessary for the knowledge of the physical world, the knowledge. nevertheless, remains incomplete as long as what has now become finished is not grasped in its original becoming, from which it once emerged. It is true that changes in what has already become, which need by no means be thought of as rigid and unchanging, can be described with intellectual thinking by relating them to the lawful interaction of individual partial elements of what has become. However, this does not yet capture the actual living becoming. We are still left with the mere combination of finished dead elements. True becoming is only given where something completely new, something that did not exist before and that cannot be derived from something that already exists, arises, as it were, out of nothing. As long as the living becoming is not comprehended, it is condemned to remain incomprehensible in terms of its actual origin, just as the corpse remains incomprehensible as long as it is not recognised as the result of a formerly living being. The full truth, which includes the living becoming, can only be grasped through the living activity of the etheric body:

„By living in man in the form of thoughts, truth lives in the etheric body. Truth directly grasps the etheric part of the head and there naturally transfers itself as truth to the physical part of the head.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 72)

„One actually perceives the true only when one succeeds in grasping the judgements in such a way that one detaches them from the physical body, that one detaches the etheric body from the physical body. The initial clairvoyance is already truly pure thinking. He who conceives a pure thought is already clairvoyant. But ordinary human thinking is not pure thinking, but thinking filled with sensual ideas, with phantasms. But he who grasps a pure thought is actually already clairvoyant, for the pure thought can only be grasped in the etheric body.“ (Lit.:GA 176, p. 116)

„Because man's consciousness is not so immersed in his etheric body, truth appears to him as something finished. That is precisely the startling, the surprising thing about initiation, that one begins to feel truth, as it pulses into the etheric body, as something just as free as one otherwise feels the pulsing of morality or beauty into the astral body. It is this startling, surprising thing for the reason that it brings the man who has undergone some initiation into a much freer relation to the truth, and thereby into a much more responsible relation to the truth. If the truth enters us quite unconsciously, then it is ready, and then we simply say with ordinary logic: this is true, this is untrue. Then we have a much smaller sense of responsibility towards truth than if we know that truth is just as basically dependent on deep-seated feelings of sympathy and antipathy as morality and beauty, so that we enjoy a somewhat free relationship to truth. Herein lies a subjective mystery which manifests itself in the fact that some who do not approach the experience of initiation in a right, dignified manner do not gain in their sense of truth in such a way that they lose a greater sense of responsibility which they have towards the imposed truth and enter into a certain untrue element.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 72f)

The Origin of Truth on the Old Sun

Truth, beauty and goodness are the three great virtues of the initiate, who in this respect only sets an example to other people, so that they may one day also acquire these virtues to the full. We have to look for the disposition to these virtues already in the past, but they are of very different ages. Since truth lives in the etheric body, we must look for its origin where the etheric body of man came into being. The first disposition of the human etheric body was formed on the ancient sun as a gift of the spirits of wisdom. Truth was also predisposed at that time, and it is thus the oldest of the three virtues mentioned; beauty goes back to the old lunar existence, where at the same time truth was further purified into wisdom, and the sense of the good is only developed on earth:

„Thus man stands by the true, the beautiful, the good. In the true he opens his etheric body, first the etheric part of the head, directly to the cosmos. In the beautiful he opens his astral body directly to the cosmos. In morality, he directly opens his I-self to the cosmos. In the true - we will go into these things further tomorrow and then also mention the laws of life between birth and death and also between death and a new birth - in the true we have something that has been prepared for man for the longest time. In the beautiful we have something that has been prepared for a comparatively shorter time; and in the moral we have something that is only now beginning on earth. That which lives in truth, which purifies itself into wisdom, actually begins during the evolution of the sun, then reaches its climax in a certain way in the evolution of the moon, lives on in the evolution of the earth, and will be essentially completed in what we know as the evolution of Jupiter. There the human being will have attained a certain full completion with regard to the content of wisdom. Beauty - which is a very inner thing for man - takes its beginning during the lunar evolution, continues during the terrestrial evolution, and will attain completion during the Venusian evolution, which we call the Venusian evolution.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 74)

On the Old Sun, truth could not yet be grasped individually by man, nor on the Old Moon the wisdom that developed there. This could only begin on earth, since man developed his I-self here. Since then, divine wisdom has been joined by individual human wisdom.


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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  1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Berliner Ausgabe. Kunsttheoretische Schriften und Übersetzungen [Band 17–22], Band 18, Berlin 1960 ff, S. 564 Betrachtungen im Sinne der Wanderer. In:
  2. Christian Morgenstern: Wir fanden einen Pfad, Piper, München 1914, S. 52
  3. Artikel „Wahrheit“. In: Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr (Hrsg.): Philosophisches Wörterbuch. 11. Aufl., Leipzig 1975.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jürgen Habermas: Wahrheitstheorien. In: Helmut Fahrenbach (ed.): Wirklichkeit und Reflexion. Walter Schulz zum 60. Geburtstag. Neske, Pfullingen 1973, S. 211–265, hier S. 249: „Nur Aussagen können wahr oder falsch sein.“
  5. Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Ueber Belebung und Erhöhung des reinen Interesses für Wahrheit. In: Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Werke. Bd. 8, S. 351
  6. Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Über Belebung und Erhöhung des reinen Interesses für Wahrheit
  7. Goethe: Gedichte - Ausgabe letzter Hand 1827, Goethe-BA Bd. 1, 541 [1]
  8. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 133f [2]
  9. Dietzfelbringer, S. 107