Knowledge and freedom
See also: Philosophy of Freedom
Steiner approached the philosophical questions of knowledge and freedom in two stages. The first was his dissertation, published in expanded form in 1892 as Truth and Knowledge. Here Steiner suggests that there is an inconsistency between Kant's philosophy, which postulated that the essential verity of the world was inaccessible to human consciousness, and modern science, which assumes that all influences can be found in what Steiner termed the “sinnlichen und geistlichen” (sensory and mental/spiritual) world to which we have access. Steiner terms Kant's “Jenseits-Philosophie” (philosophy of an inaccessible beyond) a stumbling block in achieving a satisfying philosophical viewpoint. [ 39 ]
Steiner postulates that the world is essentially an indivisible unity, but that our consciousness divides it into the sense-perceptible appearance, on the one hand, and the formal nature accessible to our thinking, on the other. He sees in thinking itself an element that can be strengthened and deepened sufficiently to penetrate all that our senses do not reveal to us. Steiner thus explicitly denies all justification to a division between faith and knowledge; otherwise expressed, between the spiritual and natural worlds. Their apparent duality is conditioned by the structure of our consciousness, which separates perception and thinking, but these two faculties give us two complementary views of the same world; neither has primacy and the two together are necessary and sufficient to arrive at a complete understanding of the world. In thinking about perception (the path of natural science) and perceiving the process of thinking (the path of spiritual training), it is possible to discover a hidden inner unity between the two poles of our experience. [ 34 ] :Chapter 4
Truth, for Steiner, is paradoxically both an objective discovery and yet "a free creation of the human spirit, that never would exist at all if we did not generate it ourselves. The task of understanding is not to replicate in conceptual form something that already exists, but rather to create a wholly new realm, that together with the world given to our senses constitutes the fullness of reality." [ 40 ]
A new stage of Steiner's philosophical development is expressed in his Philosophy of Freedom. Here, he further explores potentials within thinking: freedom, he suggests, can only be approached asymptotically and with the aid of the "creative activity" of thinking. Thinking can be a free deed; in addition, it can liberate our will from its subservience to our instincts and drives. Free deeds, he suggests, are those for which we are fully conscious of the motive for our action; freedom is the spiritual activity of penetrating with consciousness our own nature and that of the world, [ 41 ] and the real activity of acting in full consciousness. [ 34 ] :133-4 This includes overcoming influences of both heredity and environment: "To be free is to be capable of thinking one's own thoughts - not the thoughts merely of the body, or of society, but thoughts generated by one's deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self, one's individuality." [ 6 ]
Steiner affirms Darwin's and Haeckel's evolutionary perspectives but extends this beyond its materialistic consequences; he sees human consciousness, indeed, all human culture, as a product of natural evolution that transcends itself. For Steiner, nature becomes self-conscious in the human being. Steiner's description of the nature of human consciousness thus closely parallels that of Solovyov: [ 42 ]
In human beings, the absolute subject-object appears as such, i.e. as pure spiritual activity, containing all of its own objectivity, the whole process of its natural manifestation, but containing it totally ideally - in consciousness....The subject knows here only its own activity as an objective activity (sub specie object). Thus, the original identity of subject and object is restored in philosophical knowledge. [ 43 ]
 Spiritual science
See also: Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner's exercises for spiritual development
In his earliest works, Steiner already spoke of the "natural and spiritual worlds" as a unity. [ 19 ] From 1900 on, he began lecturing about concrete details of the spiritual world(s), culminating in the publication in 1904 of the first of several systematic presentations, his Theosophy: An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos, followed by How to Know Higher Worlds (1904/5), Cosmic Memory (a collection of articles written between 1904 and 1908), and An Outline of Esoteric Science (1910). Important themes include:
- the human being as body, soul and spirit;
- the path of spiritual development;
- spiritual influences on world-evolution and history; and
- reincarnation and karma.
Steiner emphasized that there is an objective natural and spiritual world that can be known, and that perceptions of the spiritual world and incorporeal beings are, under conditions of training comparable to that required for the natural sciences, including self-discipline, replicable by multiple observers. It is on this basis that spiritual science is possible, with radically different epistemological foundations than those of natural science.
For Steiner, the cosmos is permeated and continually transformed by the creative activity of non-physical processes and spiritual beings. For the human being to become conscious of the objective reality of these processes and beings, it is necessary to creatively enact and reenact, within, their creative activity. Thus objective spiritual knowledge always entails creative inner activity. [ 19 ] Steiner articulated three stages of any creative deed: [ 34 ] :Pt II, Chapter 1
- Moral intuition: the ability to discover or, preferably, develop valid ethical principles;
- Moral imagination: the imaginative transformation of such principles into a concrete intention applicable to the particular situation (situational ethics); and
- Moral technique: the realization of the intended transformation, depending on a mastery of practical skills.
Steiner termed his work from this period on Anthroposophy. He emphasized that the spiritual path he articulated builds upon and supports individual freedom and independent judgment; for the results of spiritual research to be appropriately presented in a modern context they must be in a form accessible to logical understanding, so that those who do not have access to the spiritual experiences underlying anthroposophical research can make independent evaluations of the latter's results. [ 34 ] Spiritual training is to support what Steiner considered the overall purpose of human evolution, the development of the mutually interdependent qualities of love and freedom. [ 6 ]