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Some Quotes from Rudolf Steiner

Most of the following quotes were translated by Craig Holdrege (CH) from the German original. Each quote is cited by its volume number in the German collected works. Many of the quotes are from lectures Steiner gave and are included in the collected works. English translations are cited where available.

On Goethe's mobile thinking:

“Goethe's thinking was mobile. It followed the whole growth process of the plant and followed how one plant form is a modification of the other. Goethe's thinking was not rigid with inflexible contours; it was a thinking in which the concepts continually metamorphose. Thereby his concepts became, if I may put it this way, intimately adapted to the process that plant nature itself goes through.”

Rudolf Steiner, lecture from August 30, 1921; German Bibl. Nr. 78; transl. CH

On the importance of method:

“Two things are possible: One can stop at the results of natural science or one can investigate how scientists proceed in order to arrive at scientific results. ... One path of overcoming materialism in our times is to understand the methods of scientific research [die Art des Forschens]. People become scientific materialists because they do not — or only to a small degree — concern themselves with the manner in which research proceeds. ...They don't move to Goetheanism, that is, to the consideration of the methods of research.”

Rudolf Steiner, lecture from October 17, 1919; German Bibl. Nr. 191; transl. CH

On how we view and work with concepts:

“The basic mistake of many scientific endeavors in the present is that they believe they are presenting pure experience, while in reality they are reading out the concepts that they put into their experience in the first place.”

Rudolf Steiner, 1886. Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung, German Bibl. Nr. 1; transl. CH (available in English: The Science of Knowing; Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1988)

“To speak with Goethe — whoever thrusts forth a concept to delimit the richness of life has no sense for the fact that life shapes itself in relations. These relations take different directions and work differently in different directions. It is of course easier to let a schematic concept take the place of a view of full life; we can easily judge schematically with schematic concepts. We live, however, through such a process in empty abstractions. Human concepts become such abstractions when we believe we can treat them in our intellect the way things [in the world] interact with each other. But concepts are much more like images or pictures that we take of a thing from different sides. The thing itself is one; the images are many. What leads to a perceptive understanding [Anschauung] of the thing is not the focus on one image, but the viewing of many images together.”

Rudolf Steiner, 1897; German Bibl. Nr. 6; transl. CH. (available in English: Goethe's World View; Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1992)

“... When we consider the ideas that are formed about nature in the most scholarly circles, we find that human consciousness in our day does nothing but construct specters. ... What modern human beings picture as the science of nature is not nature, but relates to nature as a specter relates to reality. ... It is fitting for [our] age ... to realize that this is the case, that we live in specters when we live in mental pictures.”

Rudolf Steiner, a lecture from October 11, 1918; German Bibl. Nr. 184; transl. CH

On truthfulness:

“When we as human beings confront a simple fact, we can rigorously attempt to form a mental picture that exactly corresponds to this fact. This mental picture is then true. Or, we can-whether due to inexactness, lassitude, or even an aversion to truth, that is, out of falseness-form a mental picture that is not connected with the fact, that does not fit the fact. ... If we want to develop inner truthfulness, we must never go further than facts of the outer world speak to us. And we must, strictly speaking, attempt to formulate our words in such a way that we only confirm the facts of the outer sensory world. ... When we feel an obligation to test the things we say and to find the boundaries within which what we say has validity, then we are contributing to a real inner consolidation of our human feeling for existence.”

Rudolf Steiner, lectures from Jan 19 and 20, 1923; German Bibl. Nr: 220; translation CH

Concerning unegocentric, contextual knowing:

“Let us assume that we as contemporary human beings lay a fish on the table or put a bird in a cage. Then we look at the fish and the bird outwardly with our senses. But we are so egotistical in our way of knowing that we hold fast to what is immediately in front of us. We become unegocentric in our way of knowing when we not only see the fish in water or the bird in the air, but when we can see in their forms, that the fish is an animal of the water and through water, and that the bird is an animal of the air and through the air. ... I proceed in this way from a mere unrefined perception to a perception-if I am not too lazy-that allows me to see the water with the fish I'm observing on the table. I look at the bird in the cage and see the air, not only the air that is around the bird when it flies, but I see and feel the formative tendency of air in its form. When I do all this, then what lives in the forms becomes enlivened and spiritualized for me. ...

“We cannot come to a real feeling for beauty other than by starting in this way, by viewing things differently. We begin to see why the bird has a beak, why the fish has a strange snout covering its tender jaw, and so forth. To really learn to live with the things gives us a sense a beauty.”

Rudolf Steiner, Lecture from Jan. 20, 1923; Bibl. Nr. 220; transl. CH

From spatial to temporal, “morphological” thinking:

“In our ordinary thinking everything is arranged spatially. Consider that even time is expressed by the movements of the clock. The same process in fact is also contained in our physical formulae. In short, we must come to the conclusion that ordinary thinking is a combining way of thinking, one that collects scattered elements. We use this way of thinking in our ordinary sound conditions of life, and in ordinary science.

“[Morphological] thinking is not limited to space; it lives within the medium of time, in the same way ordinary thinking remains within the medium of space. This thinking ... sets before the soul a kind of thought-organism. When we have a concept, an idea or a thought, we cannot arbitrarily move from one thought to the next. Similarly, in the human organism we cannot connect the head arbitrarily to some other body part. Rather, we must proceed from the neck, then to the shoulders, then to the thorax, etc. Just as the organism must be considered as a whole, so must the kind of thinking I call morphological thinking be inwardly mobile. It must be so inwardly mobile — living in the medium of time and not space — that it elicits one form (Gestalt) out of the other. This thinking differentiates in an organic way; it continually grows.”

Rudolf Steiner, lecture from November 26, 1921. In German Bibl. Nr 79; transl. CH

On the difference between a machine and an organism:

“What is essential in the machine is only the interaction of its parts. The unifying principle that governs that interaction does not exist in the object itself but outside it as a plan in the head of its builder. Only the most extreme shortsightedness can deny that the difference between an organism and a mechanism is precisely the fact that in a machine the determining principle governing the interrelationship of its parts is external (and abstract), whereas in an organism it assumes a real existence in the object itself. Thus, the sense — perceptible conditions of an organism do not appear merely to follow one from another, but are governed by an inner principle that is imperceptible to the senses. In this sense this principle is no more perceptible to the senses than the plan in the builder's head, which is also present only to the mind. Essentially, it is such a plan, except that it has entered the organism's inner being and affects it directly, not through a third party, the builder.”

Rudolf Steiner, 1883; German Bibl. Nr. 1. Nature's Open Secret: Introductions to Goethe's Scientific Writings (Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 2000, p. 44)

To find out more about the collected works (in German) go to:

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