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An organism (from Greekὄργανον organon "tool"), as it is also viewed today in a more abstract way by modern systems biology, is quite generally a system organised as a structured whole, developing in a living way, in which all the hierarchically structured parts not only mutually relate to each other in their form and function, but are decisively shaped by the whole itself. In the organism, the parts of the whole do not merely lie next to each other externally, as in a dead mechanistic structure, but they are internally connected to the whole and thereby mediate a unified process that relates to the whole itself. The archetype of an organism thus conceived is thinking itself:

„The content of this thinking appears to us as an inwardly perfect organism; everything is in the strictest coherence. The individual members of the system of thought determine each other; each individual concept has its ultimate root in the totality of our thought-building.“ (Lit.:GA 2, p. 63)

In a very concrete sense, all living beings are organisms in precisely this sense.

„A living being, when we look at its external appearance, presents us with a multitude of details which appear to us as its members or organs. The description of these members, according to their form, mutual position, size, etc., can form the subject of extensive lecture, to which the second of the directions we have designated has devoted itself. But in this way one can also describe any mechanical composition of inorganic bodies. It has been completely forgotten that in the case of the organism it must above all be stated that here the outer appearance is dominated by an inner principle, that in each organ the whole is active. This outer appearance, the spatial juxtaposition of the members, can also be observed after the destruction of life, for it continues for some time. But what we have before us in a dead organism is in truth no longer an organism. That principle has disappeared which pervades all details.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 16)

The term "organism" was coined at the beginning of the 18th century by Georg Ernst Stahl as an opposite term to mechanism.

In Goethe's Faust, it is famously said very aptly:

Whoever wants to recognise and describe something living,
Seeks first to drive out the spirit,
Then he has the parts in his hand,
Only the spiritual bond is missing, alas!
Encheiresin naturae[1] is what chemistry calls it,
Mocks itself and knows not how.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust, Part One, Study Room


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.


  1. Latin: "Handling of Nature"