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Discovering a Genius: Rudolf Steiner at 150

Anthroposophy is anthroposophy spiritual science. rigor. Francis Bacon’s triumphalist rhetoric would prove 

compatible with Partisans on both sides of this determinative: in his view the scientist should “omit no 

many different longstanding divide will in- means of vexing” the goddess Natura, and “hound her in 

religious traditions, evitably be disappointed, but her wanderings.” He imagines the scientist “leading to you 

but it is neither those who feel the pain of this Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and 

founded upon, nor deep wound in our humanity make her your slave.” In the “Plan” of The Great Instaura- 

reducible to, any will gravitate towards anthro- tion (1620), Bacon boasts, “I do not propose merely to 

combination of them.
survey these regions in my mind, like an augur taking 

Anthroposophy has little auspices, but to enter them like a general who means to 

to do with religion, and every- take possession.” Having treated nature as a slave and the 

thing to do with spirituality. To spoil of war, is it any wonder that we are beset by ecological 

the partisans, this is either too crises? Steiner foresaw them, and he offers solutions that go 

subtle a distinction, or an irrele- to the real root of the problem.

vant one. Steiner wrote and Following Descartes, modern science came to define 

spoke a great deal about subjects its method arbitrarily as the elimination of all notions of 

usually reserved for theology, causality but the mechanical, and to dismiss as “occult” 

especially Christian theology. phenomena that cannot be reduced. Hence, the Cartesians 

But his views are deeply ecu- accused even Newton of having imported “occult qualities” 
For Goethe and 
menical. What Steiner called into science, because his understanding of gravity and force 
Steiner both, the 
“the Christ” is a high spiritual implied no causal mechanisms. Unlike Descartes, the 
most precise scientific 
power transcending any specific greatest scientists were not skeptics. Newton devoted as 
instrument is – the 
religious creed or institution, and much time to Hermetic philosophy and theology as to 
human being who 
suffusing them all in subtle and math and physics. And Kepler (according to Kant, the most 
has cultivated his
complicated ways. Anthroposo- “acute” thinker who ever lived) claimed to have discovered, 
or her faculties.
phy is compatible with many
by his own intense efforts, the ancient wisdom that had 

been guarded and only partially revealed by Pythagoras and different religious traditions, but it is neither founded upon, 

the Egyptian Mysteries.
nor reducible to, any combination of them. Raised in a fam- 

Steiner worked out a scientific method for researching ily of freethinkers, Steiner took up spiritual research entirely 

just those qualities, and his voluminous books, essays, and out of his own inner impulses, and he sought to cultivate a 

lectures report the results of his own noetic experiments. free spirituality apart from any traditional religious institu- 

Steiner followed Goethe in recognizing that the perceiver is tion. He also lamented the latent appeal to egotism in the 

inextricably involved in the construction of experience; that evangelicals’ focus on their own personal salvation.

all perception is already “theory-laden.” For Goethe and Nothing about anthroposophy violates the spirit of 

Steiner both, the most precise scientific instrument is – the modern science, which Steiner honors, but he rightly 

human being who has cultivated his or her faculties. Hence criticizes historical developments that arbitrarily restricted 

Goethe devised an alternative scientific method employing the ways in which science has come to understand itself and 

disciplined imagination, a rigorous science of qualities. The is practiced. Steiner reminds us that science is characterized 

highest goals of science should be, not the disenchantment (or should be) not by a predetermined set of permissible 

objects of inquiry, but rather by rigor, objectivity, and 
of nature to the end of controlling it, but rather the expand- 

ing of one’s personal capacities in order gradually to enter verification. The springs of modern science were clouded 

into nature’s wisdom. Like Goethe, Steiner felt that the at their source by a desire to control nature, by unwarranted 

ultimate goal of science should be the transformation of the
reductionism, and by the confusion of skepticism with

10 • being human

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