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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Soul Economy
Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
GA 302

II. Education Based on Knowledge of the Human Being I

24 December 1921, Stuttgart

The art of education (about which we will say a great deal during this course of lectures) is based entirely on knowledge of the human being. If such knowledge is to have a deep foundation, however, it must be based on knowledge of the entire universe, because human beings, with all their inherent abilities and powers, are rooted in the universe. Therefore true knowledge of the human being can spring only from knowing the world in its entirety. On the other hand, one can say that the educational attitudes and ideas of any age reflect the general worldview of that age. Consequently, to correctly assess current views on education, we must examine them within the context of the general worldview of our time. In this sense, it will help to look at the ideas expressed by a typical representative of today’s worldview as it developed gradually during the last few centuries. There is no doubt that, since that time, humankind has been looking with great pride at the achievements accomplished through intellectuality, and this is still largely true today.

Basically, educated people today have become very intellectualized, even if they do not admit to it. Everything in the world is judged through the instrument of the intellect. When we think of names associated with the awakening of modern thinking, we are led to the founders of modern philosophy and of today’s attitudes toward life. Such individuals based all their work on a firm belief in human intellectual powers. Names such as Galileo, Copernicus, and Giordano Bruno come to mind, and we easily believe that their mode of thinking relates only to scientific matters; but this is not the case.

If one observes without prejudice the outlook on life among the vast majority of people today, one finds a bit of natural scientific thinking hidden almost everywhere, and intellectuality inhabits this mode of thinking. We may be under the impression that, in our moral concepts or impulses and in our religious ideas and experiences, we are free from scientific thinking. But we soon discover that, by being exposed to all that flows through newspapers and popular magazines into the masses, we are easily influenced in our thinking by an undertone of natural science.

People simply fail to see life as it really is if they are unaware that today’s citizens sit down to breakfast already filled with scientific concepts—that at night they take these notions to bed and to sleep, use them in their daily work, and raise their children with them. Such people live under the illusion that they are free from scientific thinking. We even take our scientific concepts to church and, although we may hear traditional views expressed from the pulpit, we hear them with ears attuned to natural scientific thinking. And natural science is fed by this intellectuality.

Science quite correctly stresses that its results are all based on external observation, experimentation, and interpretation. Nevertheless, the instrument of the soul used for experiments in chemistry or physics represents the most intellectual part of the human entity. Thus the picture of the world that people make for themselves is still the result of the intellect.

Educated people of the West have become quite enraptured by all the progress achieved through intellectuality, especially in our time. This has led to the opinion that, in earlier times, humankind more or less lacked intelligence. The ancients supposedly lived with naive and childish ideas about the world, whereas today we believe we have reached an intelligent comprehension of the world. It is generally felt that the modern worldview is the only one based on firm ground. People have become fearful of losing themselves in the world of fantasy if they relinquish the domain of the intellect. Anyone whose thinking follows modern lines, which have been gradually developing during the last few centuries, is bound to conclude that a realistic concept of life depends on the intellect.

Now something very remarkable can be seen; on the one hand, what people consider the most valuable asset, the most important feature of our modern civilization—intellectuality—has, on the other hand, become doubtful in relation to raising and educating children. This is especially true among those who are seriously concerned with education. Although one can see that humanity has made tremendous strides through the development of intellectuality, when we look at contemporary education, we also find that, if children are being educated only in an intellectual way, their inborn capacities and human potential become seriously impaired and wither away. For some, this realization has led to a longing to replace intellectuality with something else. One has appealed to children’s feelings and instincts. To steer clear of the intellect, we have appealed to their moral and religious impulses. But how can we find the right approach? Surely, only through a thorough knowledge of the human being, which, in turn, must be the result of a thorough knowledge of the world as a whole. As mentioned, looking at a representative thinker of our time, we find the present worldview reflected in educational trends. And if one considers all relevant features, Herbert Spencer could be chosen as one such representative thinker.

I do not quote Spencer because I consider his educational ideas to be especially valuable for today’s education. I am well aware of how open these are to all kinds of arguments and how, because of certain amateurish features, they would have to be greatly elaborated. On the other hand, Spencer, in all his concepts and ideas, is firmly grounded in the kind of thinking and culture developed during the last few centuries. Emerson wrote about those he considered representative of the development of humankind—people such as Swedenborg, Goethe, and Dante. For modern thinking and feeling, however, it is Herbert Spencer above all who represents our time. Although such thinking may be tinged with national traits according to whether the person is French, Italian, or Russian, Spencer transcends such national influences. It is not the conclusions in his many books on various aspects of life that are important, but the way he reaches those conclusions, for his mode of thinking is highly representative of the thinking of all educated people—those who are influenced by a scientific view and endeavor to live in accordance with it.

Intellectualistic natural science is the very matrix of all he has to say. And what did he conclude? Herbert Spencer, who naturally never loses sight of the theory that humankind evolved gradually from lower life forms, and who then compares the human being with animals, asks this question: Are we educating our youth according to our scientific ways of thinking? And he answers this question in the negative.

In his essay on education, he deals with some of the most important questions of the modern science of education, such as, Which kind of knowledge is most valuable? He critically surveys intellectual, moral, and physical education. But the core of all considerations is something that could have been postulated only by a modern thinker, that we educate our children so they can put their physical faculties to full use in later life. We educate them to fit into professional lives. We educate them to become good citizens. According to our concepts, we may educate them to be moral or religious. But there is one thing for which we do not educate them at all: to become educators themselves. This, according to Spencer, is absent in all our educational endeavors. He maintains that, fundamentally, people are not educated to become educators or parents. Now, as a genuine natural scientific thinker, he goes on to say that the development of a living creature is complete only when it has acquired the capacity of procreating its own species, and this is how it should be in a perfect education; educated people should be able to educate and guide growing children. Such a postulate aptly illustrates the way a modern person thinks.

Looking at education today, what are Spencer’s conclusions? Metaphorically, he makes a somewhat drastic but, in my opinion, very appropriate comparison. First he characterizes the tremendous claims of education today, including those made by Pestalozzi. Then, instead of qualifying these principles as being good or acceptable, he asks how they are implemented in practice and what life is actually like in schools. In this context, he uses a somewhat drastic picture, suggesting we imagine some five to six centuries from now, when archeologists dig up some archives and find a description of our present educational system. Studying these documents, they would find it difficult to believe that they represent the general practice of our time. They would discover that children were taught grammar in order to find their way into their language. Yet we know well that the grammar children are taught hardly teaches them to express themselves in a living way later in life. Our imaginary archeologists would also discover that a large portion of students were being taught Latin and Greek, which, in our time, are dead languages. Here, they would conclude that the people of those documents had no literature of their own or, if they did, little benefit would be gained by studying it.

Spencer tries to demonstrate how inadequately our present curricula prepare students for later life, despite all the claims to the contrary. Finally, he lets these archeologists conclude that, since the document could not be indicative of the general educational practice of their time, they must have discovered a syllabus used in some monastic order. He continues (and of course this represents his opinion) by saying that adults who have gone through such educational practice are not entirely alienated from society, behaving like monks, because of the pressures and the cruel demands of life. Nevertheless, according to our imaginary archeologists, when having to face life’s challenges, those ancient students responded clumsily, because they were educated as monks and trying to live within an entirely different milieu. These views—expressed by a man of the world and not by someone engaged in practical teaching—are in their own way characteristic of contemporary education.

Now we might ask, What value do people place on their lives after immersion in a natural scientific and intellectualistic attitude toward the world?

With the aid of natural laws, we can comprehend lifeless matter. This leads us to conclude that, following the same methods, we can also understand living organisms. This is not the time to go into the details of such a problem, but one can say that, at our present state of civilization, we tend to use thoughts that allow us to grasp only what is dead and, consequently, lies beyond the human sphere. Through research in physics and chemistry, we construct a whole system of concepts that we then apply to the entire universe, albeit only hypothetically. It is true that today there are already quite a few who question the validity of applying laboratory results or the information gained through a telescope or microscope to build a general picture of the world. Nevertheless, a natural scientific explanation of the world was bound to come and, with it, the ways it affects human feelings and emotions. And if one uses concepts from laboratory or observatory research to explain the origin and the future of the earth, what happens then? One is forced to imagine the primeval nebulae of the Kant-Laplace theory, or, since views have changed since their time, something similar. But this notion of primeval nebulae makes sense only when we apply to it the laws of aeromechanics. Such laws, however, contain nothing of a soul or spiritual character. People who long for such a soul and spiritual element, therefore, must imagine that all sorts of divine powers exist along side the aeromechanical view of the universe, and then these spirit beings must be somehow blended skillfully into the image of the nebulae. The human being, in terms of soul and spirit, is not part of this picture, but has been excluded from that worldview. Those who have gotten used to the idea that only an intellectually based natural science can provide concrete and satisfactory answers find themselves in a quandary when looking for some sort of divine participation at the beginning of existence.

Education Based on Knowledge of the Human Being 21 A hypothetical concept of the end of the cosmos is bound to follow the laws of physics. In this context, we encounter the socalled second fundamental law of thermodynamics. According to this theory, all living forces are mutually transformable. However, if they are transformed into heat, or if heat is transformed into living forces, the outcome is always an excess of heat. The final result for all earthly processes would therefore be a complete transformation of all living forces into heat. This destruction through heat would produce a desert world, containing no forces but differences of temperature. Such a theory conjures up a picture of a huge graveyard in which all human achievements lie buried—all intellectual, moral, and religious ideals and impulses. If we place human beings between a cosmic beginning from which we have been excluded and a cosmic end in which again we have no place, all human ideals and achievements become nothing but vague illusions. Thus, an intellectual, natural scientific philosophy reduces the reality of human existence to a mere illusion. Such an interpretation may be dismissed simply as a hypothesis, yet even if people today do not recognize the way science affects their attitudes toward life, the negative consequences are nevertheless real. But the majority are not prepared to face reality. Nor do such theories remain the prerogative of an educated minority, because they reach the masses through magazines and popular literature, often in very subtle ways.

And, against the background of this negative disposition of soul, we try to educate our children, True, we also give them religious meaning, but here we are faced above all with division. For if we introduce religious ideas alongside scientific ideas of life, which is bound to affect our soul attitude, we enter the realm of untruth. And untruth extracts a toll beyond what the intellect can perceive, because it is active through its own inner power. Untruth, even when it remains concealed in the realm of the unconscious, assumes a destructive power over life. We enter the realm of untruth when we refuse to search for clarity in our attitudes toward life. This clarity will show us that, given the prevailing ideas today, we gain knowledge of a world where there is no room for the human being.

Let us examine a scientific discovery that fills us with pride, as it should. We follow the chain of evolution in the animal world, from the simplest and most imperfect forms via the more fully developed animals, right up to the arrival of the human being, whom we consider the most highly developed. Does not this way of looking at evolution imply that we consider the human being the most perfect animal? In this way, however, we are not concerned with true human nature at all. Such a question, even if it remains unconscious, diminishes and sets aside any feeling we might have for our essential humanity.

Again I wish to quote Herbert Spencer, because his views on contemporary education are so characteristic, especially with the latest attempts to reform education and bring it into line with current scientific thinking. In general, such reforms are based on concepts that are alien to the human spirit. Again, Spencer represents what we encounter in practical life almost everywhere. He maintains that we should do away with the usual influences adults—parents or teachers—have on children. According to him, we have inherited the bad habit of becoming angry when a child has done something wrong. We punish children and make them aware of our displeasure. In other words, our reaction is not linked directly to what the child has done. The child may have left things strewn all over the room and we, as educators, may become angry when seeing it. To put it drastically, we might even hit the child. Now, what is the causal link (and the scientific researcher always looks for causal links) between hitting the child and the untidy child? There is none.

Spencer therefore suggests that, to educate properly, we should become “missionaries of causal processes.” For example, if we see a boy playing with fire by burning little pieces of paper in a flame, we should be able to understand that he does this because of his natural curiosity. We should not worry that he might burn himself or even set fire to the house; rather, we should recognize that he is acting out of an instinct of curiosity and allow him—with due caution, of course—to burn himself a little, because then, and only then, will he experience the causal connection. Following methods like this, we establish causal links and become missionaries of causal processes.

When you meet educational reformers, you hear the opinion that this principle of causality is the only one possible. Any open-minded person will reply that, as long as we consider the intellectualistic natural scientific approach the only right one, this principle of causality is also the only correct approach. As long as we adhere to accepted scientific thinking, there is no alternative in education. But, if we are absolutely truthful, where does all this lead when we follow these methods to their logical extremes? We completely fetter human beings, with all their powers of thinking and feeling, to natural processes. Thoughts and feelings become mere processes of nature, bereft of their own identity, mere products of unconscious, compulsory participation. If we are considered nothing more than a link in the chain of natural necessity, we cannot free ourselves in any way from nature’s bonds.

We have been opposed by people who, in all good faith, are convinced that the ordinary scientific explanation of evolution can be the only correct one. They equate the origin of everything with the primeval nebulae, comprehensible only through the laws of aeromechanics. They equate the end of everything with complete destruction by heat, resulting in a final universal grave. Into this framework they place human beings, who materialize from somewhere beyond the human sphere, destined to find that all moral aspirations, religious impulses, and ideals are no more than illusions. This may seem to be the very opposite of what I said a few minutes ago, when I said that, when seen as the last link in evolution, human beings loses their separate identity and are therefore cast out of the world order. But because human identity remains unknown, we are seen only as a part of nature. Instead of being elevated from the complexities of nature, humankind is merely added to them. We become beings that embody the causal nexus. Such an interpretation casts out the human being, and education thus places the human being into a sphere devoid of humanity; it completely loses sight of the human being as such. People fail to see this clearly, because they lack the courage. Nevertheless, we have reached a turning point in evolution, and we must summon the courage to face basic facts, because in the end our concepts will determine our life paths.

A mood of tragedy pervades such people. They have to live consciously with something that, for the majority of people, sleeps in the subconscious. This underlying mood has become the burden of today’s civilization. However, we cannot educate out of such a mood, because it eliminates the sort of knowledge from which knowledge of the human being can spring. It cannot sustain a knowledge of the human being in which we find our real value and true being—the kind of knowledge we need if we are to experience ourselves as real in the world. We can educate to satisfy the necessities of external life, but that sort of education hinders people from becoming free individuals. If we nevertheless see children grow up as free individuals, it happens despite of our education, not because of it.

Today it is not enough just to think about the world; we must think about the world so that our thinking gradually becomes a general feeling for the world, because out of such Education Based on Knowledge of the Human Being 25 feelings impulses for reform and progress grow. It is the aim of anthroposophy to present a way of knowing the world that does not remain abstract but enlivens the entire human being and becomes the proper basis for educational principles and methods.

Today we can already see the consequences of the materialistic worldview as a historical fact. Through a materialistic interpretation of the world, humankind was cast out. And the echo of what has thus lived in the thoughts of educated people for a long time can now be heard in the slogans of millions upon millions of the proletariat. The civilized world, however, shuts its eyes to the direct connection between its own worldview and the echo from the working classes. This mood of tragedy is experienced by discerning people who have decided that moral ideas and religious impulses are an illusion and that humanity exists only between the reality’s nebulous beginning and its ultimate destruction by heat. And we meet this same mood again in the views of millions of workers, for the only reality in their philosophy is economic processes and problems.

According to the proletarian view of life, nothing is more important than economics—economic solutions of the past, labor and production management, the organization of buying and selling, and how the process of production satisfies the physical needs of people. On the other hand, any moral aspirations, religious ideas, or political ideals are viewed as an illusory ideologies and considered to be an unrealistic superstructure imposed on the reality of life—the processes of material production. Consequently, something that was theoretical and, at best, a semi-religious conviction among certain educated social circles has, among the proletariat, become the determining factor for all human activity. This is the situation that humankind faces today. Under these conditions, people are trying to educate. To do this task justice, however, people must free themselves of all bias and observe and understand the present situation.

It is characteristic of intellectuality and its naturalistic worldview that it alienates people from the realities of life. From this perspective, you only need to look at earlier concepts of life. There you find ways of thinking that could very well be linked to life—thoughts that people of the past would never have seen as mere ideologies. They were rooted in life, and because of this they never treated their thinking as though it were some sort of vapor rising from the earth. Today, this attitude has invaded the practical areas of most of the educated world. People are groaning under the results of what has happened. Nevertheless, humankind is not prepared to recognize that the events in Russia today, which will spread into many other countries, are the natural result of the sort of teaching given at schools and universities. There one educates and while the people in one part of the earth lack the courage to recognize the dire consequences of their teaching, in the other part, these consequences ruthlessly push through to their extremes. We will not be able to stop this wheel from running away unless we understand clearly, especially in this domain, and place the laws of causality in their proper context. Then we shall realize that the human being is placed into a reality tht will leave him no room for maneuvering as long as he tries to comprehend the world by means of the intellect only. We will see that intellectuality, as an instrument, does not have the power of understanding realities.

I once knew a poet who, decades ago, tried to imagine how human beings would end up if they were to develop more and more in a onesided, intellectualistic way. In the district where he lived, there was a somewhat drastic idea of intellectual people; they were called “big heads” (grosskopfet). Metaphorically, they carried large heads on their shoulders. This poet took up the local expression, arguing that human development was becoming increasingly centered in the intellect and that, as a result, the human head would grow larger and larger, while the rest of the body would gradually degenerate into some sort of rudimentary organs. He predicted only rudimentary arms, ending in tiny hands, and rudimentary legs with tiny feet dangling from a disproportionately large head—until the moment when human beings would move by rolling along like balls. It would eventually come about that one would have to deal with large spheres from which arms and legs were hanging, like rudimentary appendages. A very melancholic mood came over him when he tried to foresee the consequences of one-sided intellectual development.

Looking objectively at the phenomenon of intellectuality, we can see that it alienates people from themselves and removes them from reality. Consequently, an intellectual will accept only the sort of reality that is recognized by the proletariat—the kind that cannot be denied, because one runs into it and suffers multiple bruises. In keeping with current educational systems (even those that are completely reformed), such people believe that one can draw conclusions only within the causal complex. On the other hand, if they must suffer from deprivation, again they limit their grasp of the situation to the laws of causality. Those who are deprived of the necessities of life can feel, see, and experience what is real only too well; but they are no longer able to penetrate the true causes. While distancing themselves from reality in this way, people become less and less differentiated. Metaphorically, they are, in fact, turning into the poet’s rolling sphere. We will need to gain insight into the ways our universities, colleges, and schools are cultivating the very things we abhor when we encounter them in real life, which, today, is mostly the way it is. People find fault with what they see, but little do they realize that they themselves have sown the seeds of what they criticize. The people of the West see Russia and are appalled by events there, but they do not realize that their western teachers have sown the seeds of those events.

As mentioned before, intellectuality is not an instrument with which we can reach reality, and therefore we cannot educate by its means. If this is true, however, it is important to ask whether we can use the intellect in any positive way in education, and this poignant question challenges us right at the beginning of our lecture course.

We must employ means other than those offered by intellectuality, and the best way to approach this is to look at a certain problem so that we can see it as part of a whole. What are the activities that modern society excels in, and what has become a favorite pastime? Well, public meetings. Instead of quietly familiarizing ourselves with the true nature of a problem, we prefer to attend conferences or meetings and thrash it out there, because intellectuality feels at home in such an environment. Often, it is not the real nature of a problem that is discussed, because it seems this has already been dealt with; rather, discussion continues for its own sake. Such a phenomenon is a typical by-product of intellectuality, which leads us away from the realities of a situation. And so we cannot help feeling that, fundamentally, such meetings or conferences are pervaded by an atmosphere of illusion hovering above the realities of life. While all sorts of things are happening down below at ground level, clever discourses are held about them in multifarious public conferences. I am not trying to criticize or to put down people’s efforts at such meetings; on the contrary, I find that brilliant arguments are often presented on such occasions. Usually the arguments are so convincingly built up that one cannot help but agree with two or even three speakers who, in fact, represent completely opposite viewpoints. From a certain perspective, one can agree with everything that is said. Why? Because it is all permeated by intellectuality, which is incapable of providing realistic solutions. Therefore, life might as well be allowed to assume its own course without the numerous meetings called to deal with problems. Life could well do without all these conferences and debates, even though one can enjoy and admire the ingenuity on display there.

During the past fifty or sixty years, it has been possible to follow very impressive theoretical arguments in the most varied areas of life. At the same time, if life was observed quietly and without prejudice, one could also notice that daily affairs moved in a direction opposite to that indicated by these often brilliant discussions. For example, some time ago, there were discussions in various countries regarding the gold standard, and brilliant speeches were made recommending it. One can certainly say (and I do not feel at all cynical about this but am sincere) that in various parliaments, chambers of commerce, and so on, there were erudite speeches about the benefits of the gold standard. Discriminating and intelligent experts—and those of real practical experience—proved that, if we accepted the gold standard, we would also have free trade, that the latter was the consequence of the former. But look at what really happened; in most countries that adopted the gold standard, unbearable import tariffs were introduced, which means that instead of allowing trade to flow freely it was restricted. Life presented just the opposite of what had been predicted by our clever intellectuals. One must be clear that intellectuality is alien to reality; it makes the human being into a big head. Hence it can never become the basis of a science of education, because it leads away from an understanding of the human being. Because teaching involves a relationship between human beings—between teacher and student—it must be based on human nature. This can be done only by truly knowing human nature. It is the aim of anthroposophy to offer such knowledge.