Good and Evil

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Good and evil are not absolute values, but are determined by their relation to each other and to the degree of development of humanity as a whole. Human development, individually and as a whole, requires evil as a necessary counterbalance to good; only by balancing the two can the world goal of leading man to freedom be achieved, which is the prerequisite for man to be able to develop love, which is the actual goal of earth evolution. Accordingly, the Fall of Man, as it is imaginatively described in the Bible, is not only to be seen as a transgression on the part of man, but only gives him the knowledge of good and evil that is necessary for the development of his freedom. What is good in one area can become evil in another. Therefore, culture-specific moral rules cannot be generalised arbitrarily. What matters for human beings is that they consciously make the choice appropriate to their respective state of development - and this choice must increasingly be a completely individual one, in accordance with the moral intuition already described by Rudolf Steiner in his main philosophical work (The Philosophy of Freedom) as the basis for a true ethical individualism. Thus the cosmic struggle between good and evil gradually becomes a question of conscious human responsibility.

Evil, according to Rudolf Steiner the fifth of the so-called seven secrets of life, is an originally good which, instead of developing further, continues to have an effect in its unchanged earlier form in a later age. Evil, however, can also arise from the fact that something which is only to become effective in a later age appears too early in an immature form. Evil is a time-delayed good. In order to make evil possible, certain spiritual beings had to make the sacrifice of lagging behind in their regular development for the salvation of the overall development. They thereby become adversary powers, which, however, promote the overall development through their resistance. Thus development on earth always takes place through the harmony of that which progresses in the good and right sense with its own inhibition.

In fact, the matter is still somewhat more complicated, for there is not only one but two kinds of adversary powers: the Luciferic beings want to lead man early and still immaturely back to spiritualisation, but this would cut off his development to full freedom. The Ahrimanic adversaries, on the other hand, want to bind man to material existence and thereby prevent his further spiritual development. Both are indispensable powers for man's life on earth. He cannot and should not flee them, but must consciously establish the right balance between the two through his I. For this he needs the help of the Christ, who can work through his I without curtailing his freedom, in the sense of the Pauline word: Not I, but the Christ in me!

„How must we imagine the interaction of good and evil? We must explain it in terms of the interplay of life and form. By what does life become form? By finding resistance; by not expressing itself all at once - in one form. Notice how life in a plant, let us say a lily, rushes from form to form. The life of the lily has built up, shaped, a lily form. When this form is fleshed out, the life overcomes the form, passes into the germ, to be reborn later as the same life in a new form. And so life progresses from form to form. Life itself is formless and would not be able to live itself out perceptibly in itself. The life of the lily, for example, is in the first lily, progresses to the second, third, fourth, fifth. Everywhere the same life, which appears in a limited form, is spread out weaving. The fact that it appears in a limited form is an inhibition of this life that flows universally. There would be no form if life were not inhibited, if it were not stopped in its power flowing in all directions. It is precisely from that which has remained behind, that which appears to it as a fetter standing on a higher level, that form grows in the great cosmos.

That which is life is always embraced as form by that which existed as life in an earlier time. Example: the Catholic Church. The life that lives in the Catholic Church from Augustine to the 15th century is Christian life. The life within it is Christianity. Again and again this pulsating life comes out (mystics). The form, where is the form from? It is nothing but the life of the old Roman Empire. That which was still life in this old Roman Empire has congealed into form. What was first a republic, then an empire, what lived in its outward manifestations as a Roman state, has given up its life, which has solidified into form, to later Christianity, right up to the capital, just as Rome used to be the capital of the Roman world empire. Even the Roman provincial officials were continued by the presbyters and bishops. What used to be life later becomes form for a higher level of life.

Is it not the same with human beings? What is human life? The manasic fertilisation is today man's inner life, which was planted in the middle of the Lemurian period. The form is that which came over seed-like from the lunar epoch. At that time, in the lunar epoch, kamic development was the life of man; now it is the shell, the form. The life of a preceding epoch is always the form of a later epoch. In the harmonising of form and life the other problem is given at the same time: that of good and evil; in that the good of an earlier time is united with the good of a new time. And this is basically nothing other than the unison of progress with its own inhibition. This is at the same time the possibility of material appearance, the possibility of coming into manifest existence. This is our human existence within the mineral-solid earth: inner life and the residual life of the earlier time hardened into an inhibiting form. This is also the teaching of Manichaeism about evil.“ (Lit.:GA 93, p. 74f)

In the sixth cultural epoch - perhaps even earlier - the time will come "when one will treat medically those people who recognise something other than statutes of the state" (Lit.:GA 175, p. 249), who will speak from a spiritual background of good and evil:

„Today one thinks to meet with the rod of scorn, with the rod of ridicule, or, as it is often called, the rod of criticism, the one who tries to tell the truth from spiritual-scientific knowledge. In the sixth period one will begin to cure these people - to cure! That is to say, by then they will have invented remedies which will be forcibly taught to those who talk of there being a standard of good and evil, that good and evil are something other than human statutes. A time will come when people will say: How do you speak of good and evil? Good and evil, that is for the state to decide. What is written in the laws that it is good, that is good; what is written in the laws that it should not be done, that is evil. If you talk about there being moral good and evil, you are sick! - And you give them medicines, and you will cure people. That is the tendency. That is not an exaggeration, that is just the window through which I would like you to look. That is where the course of time is going. And what would follow in the seventh post-Atlantean period - I don't want to let you look through that window for the moment. But it is true.“ (Lit.:GA 175, p. 241)

See also


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.