Who Was Rudolf Steiner?

Rudolf Steiner's biography up to 1900.

Steiner's education was in Science and Philosophy. In his writings he was an advocate of the scientific worldview.

Timeline
1861
Born on February 27 in Kraljevec, Austria-Hungary, today Croatia, son of a railroad stationmaster. Parents came from Austria. Childhood and youth in various Austrian towns.
1872-1879 Junior and Senior high school in Wiener-Neustadt, which is close to Vienna.
1875-1889 Worked as a private teacher, many times to his own classmates, particularly in math and sciences.
1879-1883 Undergraduate studies at the Vienna Institute of Technology. Deep studies of Goethe.
1882-1897 Editor of the scientific works of Goethe (five volumes).
1884-1890 Private teacher/tutor of 4 children of a Vienna family.
1886 Worked in the "Duchess Sophia" complete edition of Goethe's writings.
1888 Editor of the "Weekly German Magazine" (Deutsche Wochenschrift).
1890-1897 Worked at the Schiller-Goethe Archives in Weimar. Edition of Goethe's scientific writings.
1891 Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Rostock, Germany. Publication of the dissertation (“Truth And Science”).
1894 Meeting with Haeckel; beginning of correspondence with him.
1897 Moved to Berlin, where he was the editor (up to 1900) of the "Literature Magazine" (Magazin für Literatur).
1899-1904 Instructor at the Berlin "Workers' School of Education".
1900 Beginning of activities as a lecturer on various Anthroposophic themes under the invitation of the Berlin Theosophic Society.

Biography
Steiner was born in 1861 in a town on the periphery of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He spent his student years in Vienna, where he concentrated on natural sciences and became involved in German nationalist student organizations.

After editing several volumes of Goethe’s scientific writings, Steiner moved to Weimar in 1890 to work at the Goethe and Schiller archive, eventually assisting at the Nietzsche archive as well.

He received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Rostock in 1891 with a thesis on Fichte’s epistemology, and in 1893 published what he considered his philosophical magnum opus, The Philosophy of Freedom.

In 1894 Steiner first met Ernst Haeckel and by the end of the decade became a vocal defender of Haeckel’s controversial evolutionary doctrine of Monism, one of several attempted syntheses of science and religion from the era. By the time he moved to Berlin in 1897, Steiner’s outlook combined elements of German Idealism, Romanticism, Nietzschean bohemianism and a radical individualism heavily indebted to Max Stirner.

Failing to establish himself in an academic career, Steiner pursued a series of literary and educational occupations, editing a prominent Berlin cultural journal, the Magazin für Litteratur, from 1897 to 1900 and teaching at the Workers’ Educational School, founded by the Social Democrats, from 1899 to 1904. Steiner also participated in the literary circle known as “Die Kommenden.”

Many of his views on religion in the 1890s displayed a basically atheist cast of mind, and Steiner at this time was harshly critical of the established Christian churches as well as of esoteric spiritual alternatives.

His involvement in Monist circles was particularly intensive around the turn of the century, above all within the Giordano Bruno League, although it is difficult to assess the impact of this phase on Steiner’s later intellectual development, not least because of the remarkably ambivalent ideological and political character of the Monist movement overall.

Between 1900 and 1902 Steiner underwent a profound transformation from unaffiliated free-thinker to committed occultist. His conversion to Theosophy, consolidated in January 1902 with his entry into the Theosophical Society, is somewhat difficult to explain biographically. While Steiner had briefly flirted with theosophical notions around 1890, his published discussions of Theosophy during the 1890s were without exception scathingly critical. The epistemological position outlined in his philosophical works from that decade, moreover, is decidedly this-worldly and makes no reference, even obliquely, to the “higher worlds” that stand at the center of theosophical and anthroposophical thought. Within the space of two years, however, Steiner was a convinced Theosophist.

Without minimizing the anomalies involved in Steiner’s conversion to an occult worldview, it is worth emphasizing that fin-de-siècle Theosophy was a notably labile construct that attracted many people seeking a “synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy.” A number of personal and circumstantial factors appear to have played a role in Steiner’s theosophical turn, but there was an unmistakable element of genuine conviction as well. -Peter Staudenmaier

Rudolf Steiner: Respected Scholar Period
The Philosophy Of Freedom was written during Rudolf Steiner’s Respected Scholar Period. After 1900 Steiner entered his Occult Period. This website is focused on his Scholar Period because it is a valuable resource that is filled with the spirit of The Philosophy Of Freedom. This is the period in his life when he was immersed in the books ideas and when he worked to persuade others to accept these ideas.

Steiner's reputation today is less than what it should be because this early period of his life is unknown. At the age of 40, after the turn of the century, Steiner's life suddenly took a controversial turn to the occult mysticism of theosophy. Steiner admitted that many would regard his occult writings as ...“mad”.

F. Rittlemeyer asked Rudolf Steiner why he never touched upon occult topics before his fortieth year? Steiner replied, "I first had to attain a certain position in the world. People could say of my present writings (occult) that they are "mad". Then, however, there are my earlier works, which cannot be ignored." Rudolf Steiner, Life and Work Volume 2 (1890-1900) by Peter Selg

The Philosophy Of Freedom stands on its own completely independent of his later spiritual research and independent of the Theosophical / Anthroposophical Society. At the time of its publication the Anthroposophical Society didn't exist. It was founded 18 years later. “this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters... What I have said in this book may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my research into the spiritual realm.” Rudolf Steiner, "The Philosophy of Freedom", 1918 Preface to the Revised Edition.

“You will find nothing at all in The Philosophy of Freedom that is derived from clairvoyant communications of spiritual science. It is written for the express purpose of disciplining thinking without any mention of theosophy.”  Rudolf Steiner

The ideas in The Philosophy Of Freedom were formed before Rudolf Steiner had any interest in theosophy. In fact he criticized theosophists and spiritualists for having no interest in science.

Steiner was an observer of human nature and up and coming philosopher. He presented a humanist philosophy of life called Ethical Individualism in a book entitled The Philosophy Of Freedom intended to lay the foundations of a social and political life based on human freedom, especially free thinking. It was not mere philosophy, but was based on the scientific study of mind through the introspective observation of the cognitive processes.

His study of human nature led to the discovery of the purest expression of human nature which he called the "free spirit". The free spirit expresses itself in those moments of free thinking and ethical deeds. Steiner's observations described in The Philosophy Of Freedom can be verified by anyone willing to observe their thought processes.

Steiner Declares Himself An Anarchist
Rudolf Steiner acquired a magazine named the Magazin für Literatur as a means to express his views to influence social and political life. He entered the public discussion by writing reviews and critical essays on books and events that were shaping the culture. He said that everything he wrote was "imbued with the spirit of The Philosophy of Freedom". In 1898 he published his correspondence with a leader of the “Individualist Anarchist” movement for he shared many of their views and considered himself an anarchist. He answered the question of was he an Individualist Anarchist with "an unconditional Yes!" Just two years after enthusiastically proclaiming to the world he was an Individualist Anarchist, Rudolf Steiner joins the theosophists. What happened?

 Just two years after enthusiastically proclaiming to the world he was an Individualist Anarchist, Rudolf Steiner joins the theosophists. What happened?

The Philosophy Of Freedom Is Banned
After declaring himself an anarchist the readers began canceling their subscriptions. The Individualist Anarchists were being incorrectly labeled as supporting violence like other anarchists such as the Marxists. His Magazin für Literatur and The Philosophy Of Freedom were banned in Russia and Steiner risked arrest after being accused of associating with terrorists. The magazine failed and Steiner was in serious need of income. His work with The Philosophy Of Freedom had been silenced and his audience was lost.

Accepts A Job To Establish A Local Theosophical Society
Steiner found a new audience with a small group of local theosophists who were meeting in someone's home. They were eager to hear about his occult experiences. Steiner had been having clairvoyant experiences since his youth. He was an excellent lecturer and the theosophists were impressed. A wealthy benefactor offered him a job to help establish and run a Berlin Theosophical Society. Steiner eventually accepted the offer only on the condition he would work alongside Marie Steiner-von Sivers who he later married. Joining the Theosophical Society disappointed his scholarly friends as Steiner now limited his associations to one group. Interest in theosophy peaked in Germany in 1925. Steiner's occult lectures were well attended.

"History cannot show one pioneer who is worth the digesting of absolutely everything. Isaac Newton won't be remembered for his speculations about the Apocalypse of St. John." said Peter Normann Waage

Near the end of his life, Steiner said The Philosophy of Freedom would outlive all his occult works. He encouraged science-minded people who refuse to have anything to do with his spiritual research to read The Philosophy Of Freedom.

The Theosophical Society in 1907

There are two English editions of The Philosophy Of Freedom translated by Prof. and Mrs. R. F. Alfred Hoernlé. The unrevised edition based on the original 1894 German "Die Philosophie der Freiheit" and the revised edition changed in 1918 to be more suitable to Steiner's new theosophy followers by attempting to connect The Philosophy Of Freedom to his later occult work. The original edition is recommended because it more fully expresses the spirit of freedom that motivated the author.

Rudolf Steiner: Publications As A Respected Scholar

Significant Written Works
1883 Goethean Science  Online  PDF  GA1-EPUB  GA1-MOBI
1886 Science of Knowing  Online   PDF  GA2-EPUB  GA2-MOBI
1892 Truth and Science   Online   PDF  GA3-EPUB   GA3-MOBI
1894 The Philosophy Of Freedom   Online   PDF   Mobi   EPUB  Purchase

 

 
© Tom Last 2017