Thing (Old Norse, Old English, New Icelandic þing; Old High German: thing, Middle High German: dinc, German: Ding) generally refers to an unspecified object or thing; in philosophical contexts "something that exists in a certain form, appearance, in a certain way and as such is the object of perception, knowledge". The word has its etymological origin in the court assembly of free men called Thing, which was common among the Germanic peoples. Common to both is the basic meaning of an assemblage, a coming together of parts" - in one case an "assembly" or a "meeting", in the other a "unit", an "object" or a "thing".
As a rule, the sensually perceptible, spatially extended physical objects are referred to as individual things, in contrast to the genus or species to which they belong, which can only be grasped in thought. According to the Platonic Theory of Ideas, the latter represent the actual and imperishable spiritual reality, while the perishable sensual things are merely their perishable images. For Aristotle, on the other hand, the ideas, i.e. the general concepts, are realised in the things themselves and are inseparable from them. They are not real, but only mentally separable from the things whose essence they constitute. This also applies to the human soul, which is the form of the body, and even to the purely mentally comprehensible mathematical ideas, which, however, can also only be realised in the things themselves.
According to Immanuel Kant, the "thing-in-itself" is fundamentally inaccessible to experience, since reality can only be grasped through the forms of perception of space and time and through thinking in categories, which, however, only exist in the relation of reality to the experiencing consciousness, but are not constitutive for being in itself. The things perceived are therefore only appearances or subjective ideas. The true essence of reality, which lies beyond sensual-categorical experience, remains fundamentally hidden from man.
Rudolf Steiner decisively contradicted Kant's view in his fundamental epistemological writings. That the "in itself" of things, their essence, can be grasped in human consciousness is the foundation of the anthroposophical spiritual science he later founded.
„Anyone who still seeks something behind things that is supposed to signify their actual essence has not made himself aware that all questions about the essence of things arise only from a human need: to penetrate what one perceives with thought. Things speak to us, and our inner being speaks when we observe things. These two languages come 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. That is why he assumes that this essence is hidden behind things. He believes in an outer world still behind the world of perception. But things are only external things as long as one merely observes them. When one thinks about them, they cease to be apart from us. One merges with their inner being. For the human being, 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 is the inner world of nature.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 333)
- Rudolf Steiner: Einleitungen zu Goethes Naturwissenschaftlichen Schriften, GA 1 (1987), ISBN 3-7274-0011-0 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.