Social Understanding Through Spiritual Scientific Knowledge

A Lecture By
Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, October 4, 1919
GA 191

This lecture was given in Dornach, Switzerland on October 4, 1919. In the Collected Edition of Rudolf Steiner's works it appears as the second lecture in GA 191 which has the German title Social Verst�ndnis aus geisteswissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis.

In the middle one of these three lectures there are a number of anthroposophical truths in particular that I would like to develop for you. We shall then see what a great impact on a person's everyday life these particular truths have, and that is what we will talk about tomorrow. Today I just want to draw your attention to some deeper aspect of the being of man.

People very often do not ask the question as to which of man's forces are used to acquire knowledge of supersensible worlds. They try to answer this question merely by saying that there is a possibility of acquiring supersensible knowledge by means of certain forces in man. But what the actual connections are between these forces and man's being, they do not usually ask. That is why so little importance is attached to making knowledge of supersensible worlds really fruitful in ordinary life. It can be said that supersensible knowledge is becoming more and more essential to man, just in our time. In that case it is vital to understand what its connection is with ordinary everyday life.

As you know, the first of the capacities that leads man into supersensible realms is the force of Imagination, the second capacity is the force of Inspiration and the third capacity the force of Intuition. The question now is whether these capacities need concern us at all except in their connection with knowledge of supersensible worlds or whether these capacities have any part to play in the rest of man's life? You will see that the latter is the case. As my little book Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy tells you, we can see human life running its course in three stages: from birth to the change of teeth, from the change of teeth to puberty, and from puberty till about the twenty-first year. If you do not regard man purely superficially, you will be struck by the fact that the nature of man's development is entirely different in the three different seven-year stages. The pushing through of our permanent teeth, as I have often mentioned, is connected with the development of forces that are not merely confined, let us say, to our jaws or their neighboring organs, but fill our whole physical body. There is work in progress within our physical body between birth and the seventh year, and this work comes to an end with the pushing through of our permanent teeth.

It is obvious that the forces doing this work of developing the physical body are supersensible, isn't it? The perceptible body is only the material in which they work. These supersensible forces, active in the whole of man's organization during the first seven years of his life, become, as it were, suspended when their purpose has been achieved and the permanent teeth have appeared. At the age of seven these forces go to sleep. They are hidden within the being of man; they go to sleep within him. And they can be drawn forth from your being when you do the sort of exercises I describe in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds as leading to Intuition. For the forces that are applied in the acquisition of intuitive knowledge are the same forces that you grow with at the time of life when this growth culminates in the change of teeth. These sleeping forces that are active within the human body until the seventh year are the forces you use in supersensible knowledge to reach Intuition.

Now the forces that are active from the seventh year to the fourteenth year and go to sleep at puberty in the depths of the body, are drawn forth and form the power of Inspiration. And the forces that in bygone times used to be the source of youthful ideals between the fourteenth and the twenty-first year � it would be too much of an assertion to say that this still happens today � the forces that create organs in the physical body for these ideals of youth, are the same forces you can draw forth from their state of slumber and use for the acquisition of Imagination.

From this you will see that the forces of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition are not just any old forces gotten from we do not know where, but are the same forces as those we grow with from our birth to the age of twenty-one. So the forces that live in Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition are very healthy forces. They are the forces a human being uses for his healthy growth and that go to sleep within his body when the corresponding phases of growth are completed.

I have just shown you the connections between the forces of supersensible knowledge and man's everyday existence. Something similar, though, can be said about the forces of man's normal nature, man's nature as it appears in ordinary life. Only there it is not so obvious. A very important force in ordinary life � and we have discussed it many times � is the force of memory. The power of memory is active within us when, as we say, we remember something we have experienced. But, as you all know, there is something peculiar about the power of memory. We have got it and yet we haven't got it. Many a person struggles at some moment of his life to try and remember something that he cannot remember. This wanting to remember but not being able to remember entirely, arises through the fact that the force in our souls with which we remember is the same force that transforms the food we eat into the sort of substances of which our body can make use. If you eat a piece of bread and this bread is transformed inside your body into the sort of substance that serves life, this is apparently a physical process. This physical process, however, is governed by supersensible forces. These supersensible forces are the same forces you use when you remember. So the same kinds of forces are being used on the one hand for memory and on the other hand for the assimilation of foodstuffs in the human body. And you actually always have to oscillate a bit between your soul and your body if you want to dwell in memory. If your body is carrying out the process of digesting too well, you may find you will not be able to draw enough forces away from it to remember certain things. There is an inner struggle going on the whole time in the unconscious between a soul process and a bodily process every time you want to remember something. Looking at memory is the best way to understand how absurd it is basically, from a higher point of view, for some people to be idealists and other people materialists. The assimilation of foodstuffs in the human body is doubtless a material process. The forces controlling it are the same as the forces at work in a process of ideas, namely the force of memory. You only see the world aright if you see it as being neither materialistic nor idealistic, but are capable of following up the ideal aspect of what is presented in a material way and following up the material aspect of what is presented as idea. The spiritual quality of a world conception is not being able to say �Over there is base materialism, which is for the �dregs� of humanity, and over here is idealism, which is for the elect� � and the speaker usually includes himself among these � but the essential quality of a really spiritual world conception lies in its capacity to take what it has grasped in the spirit and bring it down into material existence so that material existence can be understood and not despised. That is the fallacy of many religious denominations, that they despise material existence instead of understanding it and looking for the spirit within it.

The crux of the matter is really to go into these things, and not, as is still largely the case, to deal in empty phrases where mysticism is concerned. After having shown you how these things can really be gone into, I would now like to bring something of very great importance. When people speak of material existence and supersensible existence, they usually speak of them as though material existence were spread out in the world and as though supersensible, non-perceptible existence were somewhere behind or above this. If you imagine you simply have physical-perceptible existence on the one hand and supersensible existence on the other, you will never understand man. There is no way of really grasping man if you look at things from the point of view of the perceptible world versus the supersensible world. In reality it is like this: The world of the senses and the world in which we work and live socially are spread out around us. Let us represent diagrammatically by means of this line this world that is spread out around us (see horizontal line of drawing). You will only have a complete picture of what is actually there in the world if you imagine that there are forces above this line, supersensible forces (red side). We neither perceive these supersensible forces by means of our ordinary senses nor by means of our intellect bound to our ordinary senses. We perceive only what is in the realm of this line.

But there are forces under this line as well. If we actually want to include the whole of the imperceptible or spiritual realm, we must speak of subsensible as well as supersensible forces. So we must imagine that there are also subsensible forces here (orange side).

Thus we have the sense world, supersensible forces and subsensible forces. Where does man himself, as an ordinary person, belong? The part of him you see standing in front of you belongs entirely to this [white] line. But supersensible forces from one side and subsensible forces from the other side work into the part of man that belongs to the line. Man is the result of supersensible and subsensible forces. Now which of man's forces are supersensible and which are subsensible? All the forces connected with understanding are supersensible, that is, everything we make use of for understanding. And these are the same forces that also form our head. So we can say that the supersensible forces are the forces of understanding.

Now subsensible forces also work into man. What kind of forces are these? These are will forces. All the will forces, everything in man that is of the nature of will, is subsensible.

An obvious question is where do these subsensible forces, these will forces, come from? They are the same forces as the forces of the planets, that is, from our point of view, the forces of the earth. Yes indeed, the forces of the earth are perpetually working into man. And it is our forces of will that are connected with these forces of the planets, these forces of the earth. The forces of understanding come to us from the world's periphery, and pour into us from outside, from the outside of the planet. The forces of will enter into us from the planet itself. This is how the forces of our own planet earth live within us. The moment we enter birth the forces of planet earth are active within us.

The question now arises as to how this activity is distributed. There is a considerable difference in this respect in the first, second and third stage of life, that is, up till the seventh year, the fourteenth year and the twenty-first year. The will working in us up till the seventh year works entirely from out of the planet's interior. It is very interesting to see spiritual-scientifically that in everything working in the child up till the age of seven, it is the force of the earth's depths that are active. If you want to see an actual manifestation of the forces of the earth's interior, then make a study of everything going on in the child up till the age of seven, for these are the forces from within the earth. To delve down into the earth to find the forces of the earth's interior would be absolutely wrong. You would only find earth substances. The forces that are active in the earth come to manifestation in the work they do in the human being up till his seventh year. And from the seventh to the fourteenth year, it is the forces of the encircling air that work in man, forces that still belong to the earth, to the earth's atmosphere. These are predominantly at work in everything developing in the human being between seven and fourteen. Then comes the most important stage of all, from fourteen to twenty-one. At this stage the subsensible passes over into the supersensible. Here a kind of balance is created between the subsensible and supersensible. Now the forces of the earth's whole solar system work at organizing the human being.

So we have the earth's interior in the first period of life; encircling air in the second period of life, that is, what the earth itself is embedded in. The forces streaming down from cosmic spaces in so far as these cosmic spaces are filled with our own actual planetary system, up till the twenty- first year. Not until the age of twenty-one does man tear himself away from the influences brought about in him from outside by the planets and the planetary system belonging to these.

Please notice that in everything I have referred to as having an influence on man, bodily influences are of course included. They are bodily processes that the forces from the planet's interior bring about up till the seventh year. They are bodily processes that are formed by the circulating air in connection with the breathing and so on between the seventh and the fourteenth year. There is no doubt that they are bodily processes, in fact actual transformations of bodily organs are brought about; everything being connected with man's growing and becoming larger. Thus man grows beyond all this work being done on him by the earth; all this ceases at twenty-one.

What happens then, however? What happens after twenty-one? Up till twenty-one we draw on what comes from the earth and its planetary system in the way we have described. We build up our constitution with the earth's help. Then, after we have reached the age of twenty-one, we have to draw on ourselves. We gradually have to release what we have put into our organism from out of the forces of the planet and the planetary system.

Activities going on in the blood forces always used to ensure that this happened in the past. As you will probably know, man has not learned to release the planetary forces himself, after the age of twenty-one. And yet he has been doing so. He did it as an unconscious process. The capacity was in his blood. It was built into him to do it. The important change in our present time � and the present extends over a long period of several centuries, of course � is that man's blood is losing the capacity to release what we have put into the organism in this way, before twenty- one.

The important changes taking place in humanity at the present time are based on the waning of the forces in the blood. These things cannot be testified by external anatomy and physiology; to do that they would need to investigate bodies from the tenth or ninth centuries in order to discover that blood was different then. And they would not even have had the chemical tests to do it. But through spiritual science we can know with certainty that man's blood has grown weaker. And the great turning-point when human blood began to grow weak lay in the middle of the fifteenth century.

What are the consequences? The consequences of this are that what we cannot carry out unconsciously any more by means of our blood, we have to carry out consciously. We have to educate ourselves to do consciously what was simply done unconsciously by man's blood in the past. For the strength in our blood is in the process of fading away. What would happen if a time were to come when human beings completely lost hold of their youth, and were unable to draw on their youthful forces, if there were no means of resorting to doing consciously what was once done unconsciously by the blood?

You must not take these things in a purely theoretical way, of course. As theories, they may be interesting, but to take them as theories is not enough. Nowadays they have to be put into practice, for they are connected with the practical matter of the evolution of mankind. They must be put into practice to the point of making us conscious that man's whole educational system has to change. We have to help man to develop a strong, conscious capacity to re-experience later in life, as though with the force of elemental memory, what he has received in his youth.

Everywhere, people are still working contrary to this requirement. For instance, they are proud of the visual aids used in primary school education, and they attach great importance to getting down to the mental level of the child as far as possible, and not teaching him anything that extends beyond his mental capacity. They actually rig up calculating machines so that they can teach the children to do all kinds of sums by counting balls. Nothing must go beyond the child's mental capacity. These visual aid lessons get frightfully trivial and trite. It is bound to lead to nothing but commonplace concepts if they avoid giving the child anything beyond its own mental capacity. People who do this thoroughly overlook an important yet subtle observation of human life.

Suppose a child is taught in such a way that he takes a particular thing in, not because it is absolutely on his own mental level, but because his teacher's warmth of enthusiasm gets passed on to him, and the child takes the thing in because the teacher in his enthusiasm tells him about it. The child takes it in just because it lives in the warmth emanating from the teacher. If the child absorbs something that reaches beyond his understanding, purely because of the infectious quality of his teacher's enthusiasm, he will not yet understand what he has taken in, as people say in superficial life. Yet what he has taken in lives in his soul. At the age of thirty the grownup will remember what the child took in, perhaps, at the age of ten. He re-experiences it. He has become mature now, and he can understand what he is able to release from the depths of his soul; he can understand the thing he was taught purely through the force of enthusiasm, and which he is now able to release from his mature mind. You know, these are the most valuable moments in life, when your mental life does not have to be restricted to what comes to meet you from outside, but you re-experience what you took in your younger days with inadequate understanding, and which you can now release and absorb with your more mature mind. The more care you take that the child does not just get the sort of lessons where it matter-of-factly takes in what it understands � for that will disappear with the passing years, and neither joy nor enthusiasm will come from it later � the more you will be doing for the person's later development; for lessons taken in purely through the teacher's warmth are life-giving when they are re-experienced.

Nowadays this is of particular importance in teaching. In earlier times it was not so important, for in those days the releasing was carried out by the blood, whereas now it has to be brought to consciousness. It certainly makes a difference if you understand the kinds of things that are being put to practical use by spiritual science. Because if you understand them in the right way, you will find an opportunity somewhere in life of making practical use of them for the good of humanity. In this case, if you understand it properly, you will find an opportunity to make use of the fact that our blood is becoming weak, by attaching all the more importance to the teacher's capacity for enthusiasm.

But people are so little aware nowadays of what is at stake. For standardized education still plays a great part, that is, the kind of education that works with a whole set of standard rules. Education is learned, how to teach a child is learned, how to arrange the lesson is learned. Comparing this with our present-day consciousness it would be like learning that man consists of carbohydrates, protein and so on � these are our constituents and they undergo such and such changes inside our body, and we cannot eat before we have understood this; for we do not eat in a physiological sense until we understand it. I told you once, and you may even have experienced this yourselves, that you can already come across a thing like this: You visit someone who has a scale standing beside his plate, and he carefully puts a piece of meat on the scale to find out how much it weighs, for he may only eat a piece of meat of a quite specific weight. Physiology already determines his appetite. But not everybody does it this way yet, thank goodness! It is important to understand that physiology is not part of the eating process but covers other aspects, and that a person can eat without having studied physiology, the physiology of the nutritional process. But we do not take it for granted that we also ought to teach, that is, teach in a living way, without having absorbed standardized education. This standardized education is exactly the same thing to a good teacher as the aesthetics of color is to an artist. He can have studied aesthetics of color very well, but he will not be able to paint because of that. The ability to paint comes from an entirely different quarter than the study of the aesthetics of color. The ability to teach comes from an entirely different quarter than the study of education. The important thing, today, is not to give would-be teachers a seminar of some sort of standardized education that prescribes dogmas, but to give them the sort of thing that makes them become teachers and educators in the same way as people become artists or botanists. It is that the educator has to be born in a person and not that education has to be learned.

What has to be understood just because of this very change in man's setup is that education has to be a real art. In the time of transition people were at sixes and sevens as to what to do about education. That is why they invented so many abstract educational systems. The essential thing today, however, is to give people a real knowledge of man, especially if they are teachers, You see, if you possess this real knowledge of man and work out of it with children, a remarkable thing will happen: Let us suppose you are a teacher and have your pupils in front of you. If you are a student of standardized education, the kind that follows the rules, then you will know exactly how you have to teach, because you will have learned the rules. You will teach according to these rules, today, just as you taught according to these rules yesterday and will teach according to them tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. But if you are the artist kind of teacher you are not nearly so well off. For now you cannot teach yesterday, today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow according to the same rules, but have to learn from the child afresh each time, how he has to be taught; it must be man's own nature every time that determines what you do. And it is ideal if the teacher can teach the way the child tells him to teach, and can keep on forgetting actual education and has not got a clue about the rules. For the moment the child stands in front of him again he will again be electrified by the growing child and will know what he has to do with him.

You must pay attention to the way things have to be said, to the way things have to be spoken about today. You cannot speak about these things today in such a way that they can be put into so and so many satisfying principles, but you can only speak about them by pointing to something alive, something that cannot be reduced to abstract principles but which is alive and produces ever more life. That is the crux of the matter. That is why spiritual science is needed in actual life today, because spiritual science is not merely for the head but is for the whole of man and releases will impulses. Indeed it ought to enter into many realms of life, so that impulses of will are eventually brought into every sphere of human activity.

I have demonstrated this in one particular realm of life, namely education, and shown how the education of children under the age of twenty-one can be made to bear fruit for later life. People do not receive an education only up to the age of twenty-one, though, for education carries on throughout the whole of life. But this only happens in a healthy way if people learn from one another.

This too was done by the blood in earlier ages of history. When people met in social life they used to learn things from one another unconsciously, some people learning more and others less, according to the way their blood worked. But our blood has grown weak and has lost its power. This activity, too, has to be replaced by more consciousness. People must achieve the art of acquiring relatively more for themselves from other people compared with what they produce from out of themselves. In earlier times it was sufficient to rely on life. The blood did everything. Now it is essential for people really to develop a sense for the other person's being. This will come about as a matter of course if people steer their thoughts in the direction of spiritual science. Different kinds of thoughts are stimulated with spiritual science than without it.

You will not doubt this fact, for the way spiritual science is received by people who do not want to know anything about their thoughts shows that spiritual scientific thoughts are different from thoughts without spiritual science. It is necessary to develop a totally new way of thinking. The kind of thinking we develop when we accustom ourselves to working with supersensible thoughts is the kind of thinking that has an effect on our organism. And when I told you today that memory is the same force that transforms food into substances man needs for his organism, you will no longer be astonished to find that other forces can be transformed in man, like for instance the force with which we understand supersensible things being the same one that helps us to know the human being better than we would know him if we had no healthy longing for supersensible knowledge.

You people study what is in my Occult Science, and to do that you have to develop certain concepts that most people would still call �utter madness.� A few days ago, I got yet another letter from someone studying Occult Science, and he said that nearly every chapter was pure nonsense. You can understand people saying it is pure nonsense. Why, it is quite obvious that they often say it these days. Yet these people who do not put themselves out to accept the kind of concepts that lead to Saturn, Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan, and do not get down to developing ideas about a world that is not limited to the senses will also not acquire any knowledge of man. They do not see the human being in the other person but notice at the most that one person has a more pointed nose than the other, and one has blue eyes whereas the other has brown. But they notice nothing of man's inner being that manifests as his soul and organizes his body. The same force which enables us to take an interest - and I am not saying now that it enables us to have supersensible occult powers - but the same force that enables us to take an interest in supersensible knowledge also gives us the kind of knowledge of man that we need today.

You can set up the most grandiose social programs and develop the finest social ideas, but if people shy away from acquiring any knowledge of man and do not see any real humanity in one another, they will never be able to bring about social conditions. They cannot produce social conditions unless they establish the possibility that people can be social. But people cannot be social if they do not see the human quality in one another, but live entirely within themselves. Human beings can only become social if they really meet one another in life, and something passes between them. This is the root of the social problem. Most people say of the social question nowadays, that if certain things were arranged in such and such a way people would be able to lead a social existence. But it is not like that. If things are arranged like that, social people will be good people in a social sense, and anti-social people will be anti-social with any sort of arrangement.

The essential thing is to make the sort of arrangements that allow for human beings to develop really social impulses. And one of these social impulses is knowledge. But as long as you go on educating people, for instance, with an eye to their becoming clerks or army officers or some other kind of civil servant, you will not educate them to recognize the human quality in others. For the sort of education that is good for becoming a clerk or an officer only helps you to see clerks and officers in other people. The kind of education that makes human beings of people also enables them to recognize people as human beings. But it is impossible to recognize people as human beings if you do not develop a sense for supersensible knowledge. And the realm in which supersensible knowledge is most indispensable is in the art of education. Therefore the natural scientific, materialistic way of thinking has done more damage in the field of education than anywhere else. And here you can experience the most amazing things.

In every department you find well-meaning people today, who want to reform everything, even revolutionize them. But if you talk to these people about these things, something very strange transpires. They will admit quite honestly to a particular conviction about reforming things. Yet one of them who happens to be a tailor will ask you how his existence as a tailor is going to be affected when things change. And another person, who is, let us say, a railway clerk, asks you how his life as a railway clerk is going to suffer when things are changed. These are only given as examples to show you that people are perfectly in agreement that everything should be changed as long as nothing changes and everything remains exactly the same. The vast majority of people today are convinced that everything must stay exactly the same when it changes. Make no mistake about the fact that the sort of social improvement people long for today is of extremely abstract dimensions. People long for a great deal, but nothing must change where their comfort is concerned.

And this is particularly true where it is a matter of people taking an inner step into an entirely new situation. Nevertheless the essential thing is that people open themselves to the possibility of making the transition to thinking in quite a new way about man changing himself in his innermost being.

All sorts of questions arise from these considerations, questions that are absolutely pertinent to life. What we must realize is that we have constructed a deeper foundation for these questions, by saying that although certain forces appear to be of a spiritual-soul nature, they also come to expression in our bodily nature. For the capacity is terribly lacking today, to bring down to a material level what we think of on a spiritual level. Not until we are capable of bringing down onto a material level what we think of as being spiritual shall we be able to grasp the actual nerve of the social question.

Thus it is virtually a matter of aiming towards a way of thinking that really develops a knowledge of man that is at one and the same time a social impulse. A way of thinking based on anything else is not adequate. A mentality based on the [political] state or economics creates clerks and officers. But the sort of mentality we need creates human beings. This can only be the sort of thought life that breaks away from the sphere of economics and the life of the state. That is why our Basic Issues of the Social Question had to be written. We had to show in a radical way that any kind of dependency of thinking on economics or on the life of the state must stop, and thinking must be based on itself. Then thinking will be able to give economics and the state what economics and the state cannot give to thinking.

That is the important thing, that is what is vital! Whole human beings will only arise again when we work out of an independent life of thought.

Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive, where many more books and lectures by Rudolf Steiner may be found.