Theory / Experience / Knowledge

It is only actual experience that gives knowledge; no theory ever does so. Every theory starts from some special domain and then proceeds to generalize. True knowledge can only be acquired when we start from life and from experience. We must not therefore consider the laws of gravity by themselves, or the laws of plant life, or the laws of animal instinct, or the laws of mental coercion, because if we do, we think only of their details, generalize them, and then arrive at entirely false conclusions. We must have in mind where the Nature-forces are revealed in their cooperation and mutual interaction.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 219 – Spiritual Communion: Lecture III: From Man’s Living Together with the Course of Cosmic Existence Arises the Cosmic Cult – Dornach, December 29, 1922

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Inherited tendency (1 of 3)

There is no phrase more frequently mentioned than ‘inherited tendency.’ No man is considered an educated man today who does not mention it at least two or three times a week! An educated man must at least make himself acquainted with what the learned, medical profession has ascertained as to ‘inherited tendencies.’ When a person does not know what to make of himself, most people say at once: ‘he is suffering from an inherited tendency.’ Anyone not saying that is regarded as badly educated, perhaps among other things an Anthroposophist!  

Here Science begins not only to go astray in theory, but also to be injurious to life. This is the boundary where theory encroaches on morality — where it is immoral to hold a wrong theory. Here life’s strength and security really depend on correct knowledge. What will a man be able to do who, through the right spiritual conception in his soul, strengthens, fortifies himself by taking in the elixir of life? No matter what he may have inherited, these inheritances are only in the physical body or at most in the etheric body. Through his right conception of the world he will be able to make his own vital centre stronger and stronger, and will be able to conquer his inherited tendencies; for the spiritual, if present in the right way, is able to equalise the body. 

To be continued

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 116 – The Christ Impulse and the Development of the Ego-Consciousness: LECTURE 2. THE LAW OF KARMA WITH RESPECT TO THE DETAILS OF LIFE – Berlin, 22nd December, 1909

Translated by Harry Collison

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Previously posted on November 13, 2017

It is only actual experience that gives knowledge

It is only actual experience that gives knowledge; no theory ever does so. Every theory starts from some special domain and then proceeds to generalize. True knowledge can only be acquired when we start from life and from experience. We must not therefore consider the laws of gravity by themselves, or the laws of plant life, or the laws of animal instinct, or the laws of mental coercion, because if we do, we think only of their details, generalize them, and then arrive at entirely false conclusions.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 219 – Man and the World of Stars: III: From Man’s Living Together with the Course of Cosmic Existence Arises the Cosmic Cult. –  Dornach, December 29, 1922

Translated by Dorothy S. Osmond

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Previously posted on July 4, 2017

A Working-man in America

An uncommonly interesting book has recently appeared, A Working-man in America (Als Arbeiter in Amerika, pub. Sigismund, Berlin). The author is State-Councillor Kolb, who had the enterprise to spend several months as a common worker in America. In this way he acquired a discrimination of men and of life which was obviously neither to be obtained along the educational paths that led to councillorship, nor from the mass of experience which he was able to accumulate in such a position and in all the other posts that a man fills before he becomes a Councillor of State. He was thus for years in a position of considerable responsibility; and yet, not until he had left this, and lived — just a short while — in a foreign land, did he learn the knowledge of life that enabled him to write the following memorable sentence in his book: “How often, in old days, when I saw a sound, sturdy man begging, had I not asked, in righteous indignation: Why doesn’t the lazy rascal work? I knew now, why. The fact is, it looks quite different in theory from what it does in practice; and at the study table one can deal quite comfortably with even the most unsavory chapters of political economy.

To prevent any possible misunderstanding, let it be said at once, that no one can feel anything but the warmest appreciation for a man who could bring himself to leave a comfortable position in life, in order to go and do hard labor in a brewery and a bicycle factory. It is a deed worthy of all respect, and it must be duly emphasized, lest it should be imagined that any disparagement is intended of the man who did it. Nevertheless, for anyone who will face the facts, it is unmistakably evident that all this man’s book-learning, all the schooling he had been through, had not given him the ability to read life.

Just try and realize all that is involved in such an admission! One may learn everything which, in these days, qualifies one to hold posts of considerable influence; and yet, with it all, one may be quite remote and aloof from that life where one’s sphere of action lies. Is it not much the same, as though a man were to go through a course of training in bridge construction, and then, when called upon actually to build a bridge, had no notion how to set about it? And yet, no! — it is not quite the same. Anyone who is not properly trained for bridge building will soon be enlightened as to his deficiencies when he comes to actual practice. He will soon show himself to be a bungler and find his services generally declined. But when a man is not properly trained for his work in social life, his deficiencies are not so readily demonstrated. A badly built bridge breaks down; and then even the most prejudiced can see that he who built it was a bungler. But the bungling that goes on in social work is not so directly apparent. It only shows itself in the suffering of one’s fellow-men. And the connection between this suffering and bungling is not one that people recognize as readily as the connection between the breakdown of a bridge and the incompetent bridge builder.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 34 – Anthroposophy and the Social Question – Part 1 (essay which first appeared in the journal “Lucifer-Gnosis”, October 1905/1906 – translated by Harry Collison)

Previously posted on October 17, 2014

Theories have no practical value

Nowadays people feel pleased with themselves when they hear Goethe’s maxim: matter in spirit, spirit in matter. – It is good that people feel comfortable with this saying, because after all, it really corresponds to reality. But for those who are used to seeing the spiritual and the physical together everywhere, it can also be a triviality, if one exhorts him to recognise that which is a matter-of fact truth. And when people feel so pleased with such a theoretical aphorism that is drawn up for them, it just proves that they do not themselves possess the reality that is expressed in the theory. As a rule, categorically stated theories are proof that we have not made it our own in practical life, as history shows. People only started to discuss theories about the Lord’s Supper, when they no longer could muster the necessary feeling for it in practice. Theories are generally drawn up for what we do not have in life, not for what we do have.

Source (German): Rudolf Steiner – GA 303 – Die gesunde Entwickelung des Menschenwesens -Eine Einführung in die anthroposophische Pädagogik und Didaktik – Dornach, 28 December 1921 (page 103-104)

Translated by Nesta Carsten-Krüger

Previously posted on July 8, 2017