Rudolf Joseph Steiner was a philosopher, educationist and a social reformer from Austria. He was also the founder of anthroposophy, a spiritual movement stemming from German idealism. He was deeply influenced by the works of Goethe and worked greatly towards relating science with spiritualism.
The evolution of Steiner’s philosophy and work can be classified into three phases. In the first phase, he worked on what he called the ‘spiritual science’, an attempt at bridging the gap between physical sciences and the human spirit. The second phase consisted of Steiner’s collaboration of various media, such as music, drama and arts and architecture with his work. After the First World War began the third phase of his thought evolution, during which he practically applied anthroposophy to the fields of agriculture and medicine.
He based his theory of knowledge mostly on the ideas presented by Goethe. According to him, the ability to think is equal to the sensory ability, such as the sight and sound. Steiner’s contribution to epistemology is the theory that our mind perceives ideas just like the eye perceives an image and the concept that human knowledge is limitless.
Steiner commented extensively on Goethe’s works between the period of 1884 to 1887, presenting Goethe’s perspective of the world in his 1886 and 1897 books The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World-Conception and Goethe’s Conception of the World. In his later books, Steiner said that Goethe’s approach changed from experimentation to imagination as he delved into the world of biological sciences. Goethe also believed that human anatomy is the evolutionary form of the animal anatomy, according to Steiner.
Steiner’s major philosophical contribution is his two-stage answer to epistemological questions relating knowledge and freedom, presented as Truth and Knowledge (1892) and Philosophy of Freedom (1894). In the former he argues that the world is divided into tangible, perceivable objects and ideas reachable only by the mind. For the complete understanding of the world, we must find a path which makes use of both our perception and thinking capabilities. For Steiner, truth is not just a discovery but also an invention. Therefore, one individual’s version of truth differs from other.
In his most famous work, the Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner probes deeper into the process of thinking, and comes up with the theory that freedom can be achieved only through the action of creative thinking. By ‘being free’ he means to be fully conscious of the results of our deeds, and to think about things which do not originate from the body, or the society, but from our spirit.
Steiner believed that is was this book which laid the foundation of the philosophy of anthroposophy, movement which claimed of the existence of a spiritual world which can be reached through the highest level of knowledge. Steiner presented the idea that the human mind is capable of contacting the spiritual world through the power of thinking. To propagate this notion further, he formed an Anthroposophical Society in 1912, which developed over the period of time and currently has many branches around the world.
Rudolf Steiner’s contributions as an educationist can never be forgotten. Through his essay “Education in the Light of Spiritual Science”, he gave his method as to how a child can be mentally developed through education. He believed that schools should not be under the control of the government. In 1913, he laid the foundation of the first Goetheanum, as a spiritual science school, which changed into the Waldorf School Movement, currently having more than thousand schools globally. He also inspired various educational projects for disabled persons, and schools of arts and drama.