Friday, 25 April 2014

Men of Yore: Rudolf Steiner

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

Rudolf Steiner, 1905 (aged 44)

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner
(25/27 February 1861[3] – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, and esotericist.[4][5] Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he founded a spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.
In the first, more philosophically oriented phase of this movement, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and spirituality;[6] his philosophical work of these years, which he termed spiritual science, sought to provide a connection between the cognitive path of Western philosophy and the inner and spiritual needs of the human being.[7]:291 He emphasized clarity of thinking in his spiritual work, differentiating his approach from what he considered to be vaguer approaches to mysticism. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of the Goetheanum, a cultural centre to house all the arts. In the third phase of his work, beginning after World War I, Steiner worked to establish various practical endeavors, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine.[8]
Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual component. He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe's world view, in which “Thinking … is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas."[9] A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.[10]

Rudolf Steiner's work extended into many academic disciplines including agriculture, medicine, teaching, literature and others.  He was what you could call a polymath, or someone who had an holistic worldview.  This is quite different to the common perception of academics as people who 'learn more and more about less and less' (to paraphrase the author of THIS website).  This holistic approach may have arisen because of his interest in the spiritual/metaphysical.  Once you find the foundation-stone that the world is built on it becomes easy, or considerably easier, to comprehend the rest of the world and it's contents.  This happens because you have a context, a lense, through which you can view and understand the world, and understand how the parts of the world relate to each other (be they rocks, plants, animals, ideas or whatever).  Theologians (who specialise in understand the foundation-stone) have, alas, over-focused on the foundation-stone.  They have ended up basically ignoring the rest of the world, treating it as 'other stuff', which has unfortunately led to a kind of detached view of the world.  Rudolf Steiner would be able to relate a muck spreader to the divine, a theologian would not. 

Breadth of activity
After the First World War, Steiner became active in a wide variety of cultural contexts. He founded a number of schools, the first of which was known as the Waldorf school,[56] which later evolved into a worldwide school network. He also founded a system of organic agriculture, now known as biodynamic agriculture, which was one of the very first forms of, and has contributed significantly to the development of, modern organic farming.[57] His work in medicine led to the development of a broad range of complementary medications and supportive artistic and biographic therapies.[58] Homes for children and adults with developmental disabilities based on his work (including those of the Camphill movement) are widespread.[59] His paintings and drawings influenced Joseph Beuys and other modern artists. His two Goetheanum buildings are generally accepted to be masterpieces of modern architecture,[60][61] and other anthroposophical architects have contributed thousands of buildings to the modern scene. One of the first institutions to practice ethical banking was an anthroposophical bank working out of Steiner's ideas; other anthroposophical social finance institutions have since been founded. 
Steiner's literary estate is correspondingly broad. Steiner's writings, published in about forty volumes, include books, essays, four plays ('mystery dramas'), mantric verse, and an autobiography. His collected lectures, making up another approximately 300 volumes, discuss an extremely wide range of themes. Steiner's drawings, chiefly illustrations done on blackboards during his lectures, are collected in a separate series of 28 volumes. Many publications have covered his architectural legacy and sculptural work.


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