Nothing is accomplished by definitions

Nothing is accomplished by definitions, though their insufficiency is generally not observed. Many definitions, especially those which are considered scientific, appear very clever; but they all have a hitch somewhere — which recalls that definition once given in ancient Greece to the question, What is man? “Man is a two-legged creature without feathers.” Whereupon the next day a pupil brought a plucked fowl and said: “This is a man, for it is a two-legged creature without feathers.” Things are not so simple that they can be treated thus with the ordinary intellectual tools.

Source: GA 194 – The Mysteries of Light, of Space, and of the Earth: Lecture III – Dornach, December 14, 1919

Translated by Frances E. Dawson

Previously posted on March 10, 2018

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     Franziska Steiner-Blie, mother of Rudolf

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Both sides

People will only learn to think in a thorough, energetic way when they use the spiritual philosophy of life and train themselves to be all-rounders in this way, when they come to realize that everything needs to be considered from different angles. Practical life does already force us to do so day by day. People are quite right when they say that fire is a great boon. Yet it is also true to say that fire causes great harm, burning down towns and villages. It is not possible to be absolute and say “Fire is good”, or “Fire is evil”.  When it comes to fire, practical life teaches us to accept that there are two sides to it.

Yet when we are asked to do the same with spirits of the higher worlds, Lucifer and Ahriman, for instance, we are redundant to accept this. Instead we tend to ask: “is Lucifer a good or an evil spirit?” and “is Ahriman a good or an evil spirit?”. People want to have definitions to answer those questions, and an answer like “Lucifer and Ahriman may be both good and evil” is considered unsatisfactory. There is no such demand when it comes to fire.  There everyday life makes us change a wrong opinion into a right one.

Source (German): Rudolf Steiner – GA 150 – Die Welt des Geistes und ihr Hereinragen in das physische Dasein – Stockholm, June 10, 1913 (page 86)

This English translation has been copied from the book: How the Spiritual World Projects into Physical Existence – The Influence of the Dead (page 65) – Published by Rudolf Steiner Press

Previously posted on December 19, 2016

Not concepts and definitions, but direct observation of reality

At the present time people generally give validity only to natural phenomena, phenomena of the physical world which are part of historical evolution. They will have to give validity again to spiritual events, which can be perceived with the aid of spiritual science, for only then can the events in which human beings are caught up be really understood.

With reference to this important event it is quite easy to establish how seriously people are in error if they base themselves only on concepts and definitions when considering the world and not on direct observation of reality. One always has the feeling one ought to base oneself on defined concepts — what is Ahriman, what is Lucifer, what are the particular spirits in one hierarchy or another? Those are the questions we ask, and we believe that having got the definitions we have also understood something about the way these entities work. An extreme example of the inadequacy of definitions is the following, which I have quoted before. It may not have been the ideal way of defining the human being, but it is the definition which was given in a school in Greece: A human being is a creature who walks on two legs and does not have feathers. The next time the pupil came to school he brought a plucked cockerel: a creature who walked on two legs and had no feathers. This is a human being, he said, according to the definition.

Many definitions of this kind are generally accepted, and many of our scientific definitions are therefore more or less in accord with the truth. We must not base ourselves on such definitions in anthroposophy, however. Perception will be poor if we base ourselves on abstract definitions.

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Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 177 – Fall of the Spirits of Darkness – Lecture 12: – The Spirits of Light and the Spirits of Darkness – Dornach, 26 October 1917

Translated by Anna R. Meuss

Previously posted on August 19, 2016

Nothing is accomplished by definitions

Nothing is accomplished by definitions, though their insufficiency is generally not observed. Many definitions, especially those which are considered scientific, appear very clever; but they all have a hitch somewhere — which recalls that definition once given in ancient Greece to the question, What is man? “Man is a two-legged creature without feathers.” Whereupon the next day a pupil brought a plucked fowl and said: “This is a man, for it is a two-legged creature without feathers.” Things are not so simple that they can be treated thus with the ordinary intellectual tools.

Source: GA 194 – The Mysteries of Light, of Space, and of the Earth: Lecture III – Dornach, December 14, 1919

Translated by Frances E. Dawson

Previously posted on January 11, 2015

Both sides

People will only learn to think in a thorough, energetic way when they use the spiritual philosophy of life and train themselves to be all-rounders in this way, when they come to realize that everything needs to be considered from different angles.  Practical life does already force us to do so day by day. People are quite right when they say that fire is a great boon. Yet it is also true to say that fire causes great harm, burning down towns and villages. It is not possible to be absolute and say “Fire is good”, or “Fire is evil”.  

When it comes to fire, practical life teaches us to accept that there are two sides to it. Yet when we are asked to do the same with spirits of the higher worlds, Lucifer and Ahriman, for instance, we are redundant to accept this.  Instead we tend to ask: “is Lucifer a good or an evil spirit?” and “is Ahriman a good or an evil spirit?”. People want to have definitions to answer those questions, and an answer like “Lucifer and Ahriman may be both good and evil” is considered unsatisfactory.  There is no such demand when it comes to fire.  There everyday life makes us change a wrong opinion into a right one.

Source (German): Rudolf Steiner – GA 150 – Die Welt des Geistes und ihr Hereinragen in das physische Dasein – Stockholm, June 10, 1913 (page 86)

Previously posted on November 9, 2015