traub on steiner

I should post this here too (I don’t usually do this anymore, and won’t begin again — if you want updates, this isn’t the place). There’s an article in the recent edition of RoSE by Hartmut Traub. (Who also wrote a book about Steiner, but so far it is so and will probably remain available only in German.) It’s interesting. He deals, among other things, with how anthroposophists tend to reinterpret the early Steiner through the lense of the later anthroposophical Steiner. Of course, Steiner himself did this; it makes psychological sense to a person to do this, I suppose, but it also makes sense for a guru with higher insight and devoted followers to make it seem that he had been on the same path always and that his earlier teachings were virtually identical to the later ones, only in some manner of disguise. I’m not saying he lied; I’m saying he did what made sense and what could be seen as necessary. That said, Steiner was Steiner, and did, of course, always retain some of his earlier (pre-theosophical) ideas, but he marketed them differently. But that doesn’t mean his earlier thinking was somehow anthroposophical despite appearances, only that anthroposophy — his body of thoughts, his spiritual philosophy –was Steiner’s teaching, his collection of insights, his creation, which unsurprisingly contained various elements that were and had been valuable and relevant to his life. Thus, if one is to engage in such exercises at all, it makes more sense to understand the older Steiner in the light of the younger Steiner’s ideas and interest, because those are indubitably a part of his past and his person, than to try to impose the older Steiner on the younger Steiner, despite his own — and his followers’ — wish to do so. (I consider his later claim that as a young man, trying to make it in the academic world, he had to keep silent about the occult realities and stuff. I think that’s bogus, and basically an opportunistic justification — which made sense, but we don’t need to take it too seriously, only note that he needed it. I think at some point, when he was already a theosophist, he writes that if he could have, he would have kept speaking only philosophically. That, somehow, strikes me, oddly, as more believable. Or perhaps it’s simply more attractive.) At least, this is sort of how I think of it.

Anyway. Here’s Traub:

On the one hand, then, we have Steiner’s universal strain of experience-based “concrete thinking”, which he derived from Goethe; on the other, the axiom of the individual “cogito”, reaching back to Descartes and from there continuing on into the philosophy of German idealism. In these two I see the first major opportunity for anthroposophy, in combination with the idealist roots of Steiner’s philosophical thinking, to take its place as an attractive alternative to the ruling analytical and neuro-biological philosophy of mind and consciousness.

The fact is that both these strains of philosophical tradition have always tended towards the emancipation of mind. The thinker, as subject involved in an active process is, insofar as his thinking lives in his perception, considered as an emancipated entity, rather than left to wither into a passive object of external analysis. It is precisely this tendency towards emancipation and liberation, in opposition to all theoretical and ideological dogmas, together with the intention to strengthen the individual’s capacity to find things out for himself, that makes both the young and the anthroposophical Steiner such an interesting ally of classical idealism (Steiner, 2003, p. 172). Conversely, this connection guarantees anthroposophy, in large part, a firm position within the history of European philosophy.


A pre-destined access to European mysticism, or mysticism in general, is not the only thing that emerges for anthroposophy out of this context, but also something which, in my opinion, is much more significant. The close kinship between the anthroposophical version of spiritual training and the pragmatic training of thought that has come down to us through classical, modern philosophy bestows upon anthroposophy its valid claim to being scientific in principle. In other words, it is aligned with that very style of thinking which distinguishes modern philosophy from various strains of mysticism, romantic fantasising and other forms of irrationalism.

Of course, you would have to sort of disregard Steiner’s (theo-/anthroposophical) clairvoyantly derived insights into stuff like life on the old Moon or the means of transportation on Atlantis to make philosophical sense out of him. I kind of like that Steiner, sans the theosophical junk, I must say, but I’m unsure of how close it is to anthroposophy as it is practiced today by the majority of anthroposophists; anthroposophists who prattle on about elemental beings or dark forces secretly trying to dominate the world are, in my humble opinion, far from making anthroposophy philosophically relevant. It’s far closer to irrationlism than to anything else. (Not that the article is about that. I know.)


Update, because I’m forgetful: there are some other articles in the same edition of the journal. Among them one by Zander. I recommend that article too. Do read.