Page 11 - The Philosophy of Freedom By Rudolf Steiner
P. 11

Concept And Percept

Concept And Percept are the direct equivalents of Begriff and Wahrnehmung. The concept is 

something grasped by thinking, an element of the world of ideas. Steiner describes what it is at the 

beginning of Chapter 4 (see Chapter 4).

In describing the percept (see Chapter 4), Steiner mentions the ambiguity of current speech. The 

German word Wahrnehmung, like the English "perception", can mean either the process of perceiving 

or the object perceived as an element of observation. Steiner uses the word in the latter sense, and the 

word "percept", though not perhaps in common use, does avoid the ambiguity.

The word does not refer to an actual concrete object that is being observed, for this would only be 

recognized as such after the appropriate concept had been attached to it, but to the content of 

observation devoid of any conceptual element. This includes not only sensations of color, sound, 

pressure, warmth, taste, smell, and so on, but feelings of pleasure and pain and even thoughts, once the 

thinking is done.

Modern science has come to the conclusion that one cannot deal with a sensation devoid of any 

conceptual element, and uses the term "perception" to include the whole response to a stimulus, in 

other words, to mean the result of perceiving. But even if one cannot communicate the nature of an 

experience of pure percept to another person, one must still be able to deal with it as an essential part 

of the analysis of the process of knowledge. Using the word "percept" for this element of the analysis, 

we are free to keep the word "perception" for the process of perceiving.

Idea And Mental Picture

Idea And Mental Picture, as used here, correspond to the German words Idee and Vorstellung 

respectively. Normally these would both be rendered as "idea", and this practice led to an ambiguity 

that obscured a distinction central to Steiner's argument. This was the main cause of Dr. Poppelbaum's 

concern, and his solution was to render Vorstellung as "representation" and Idee as "Idea" with a 

capital "I". Though this usage may have philosophical justification, it has been my experience in group 

studies of this book over many years that it has never been fully accepted in practice; "representation" 

remains a specialist term with a sense rather different from its usual meaning in English, and it 

certainly does not have the same obvious meaning for the English reader that Vorstellung has for the 


In explaining his use of the word "representation", Dr. Poppelbaum wrote in his preface as follows:

The mental picture which the thinker forms to represent the concept in an individual way is here called 

a "representation" ...

Since "mental picture" is here used to explain the term "representation", it seems simpler to use 

"mental picture" throughout. It fits Steiner's treatment very well, since it conveys to the reader both the 

sense of something conceptual, in that it is mental, and the sense of something perceptual, in that it is a 

picture. In fact, Steiner gives two definitions of the mental picture, one as a "percept in my self" (see

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