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Goethe's Theory of Knowledge

An Outline of the Epistemology of His Worldview (CW 2)

Rudolf Steiner Translated by Peter Clemm Introduction by Christopher Bamford

156 pp.  
6" x 9 1/4"



Published:  May 2008


Written 1884–1885; published 1886 (CW 2)

    “Steiner called [Karl Julius Schröer’s] view ‘objective idealism,’ and it was important to him to be able to harmonize it with ‘scientific’ knowledge of the sensory world. Thus gradually, even before working closely with Goethe’s approach to science, Steiner was wrestling with the relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds. Committed to the rigor of modern scientific thinking and recognizing its epochal nature in the evolution of human consciousness, he also recognized the profound, potentially lethal dangers of its materialistic view of human beings and the world, which dismissed as nonexistent the nonmaterial realities that he knew to be primary. As for what Goethe might offer to resolve his quandaries, Schröer could not help. He was not a scientist; and, though he knew Goethe’s poetry, dramas, and fictions intimately—perhaps better than anyone—Goethe’s scientific writings remained a cryptic and closed book to him. Steiner would have to make his own way there.” —Christopher Bamford (from his introduction)

As the editor of Goethe’s scientific writings during the 1880s, Rudolf Steiner became immersed in a worldview that paralleled and amplified his own views in relation to epistemology, the interface between science and philosophy, the theory of how we know the world and ourselves. At the time, like much of the thinking today and the foundation of modern natural science, the predominant theories held that individual knowledge is limited to thinking that reflects objective, sensory perception. Steiner’s view was eventually distilled in his Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts in 1924:

"There are those who believe that, with the limits of knowledge derived from sensory perception, the limits of all insight are given. Yet if they would carefully observe how they become conscious of these limits, they would find in the very consciousness of the limits the faculties to transcend them."

In this concise volume, Steiner lays out his argument for this view and, moreover, begins his explication of how one goes beyond thinking to the observation of thinking itself.

Goethe’s Theory of Knowledge is essential reading for a deeper understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s seminal work, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom.


    • Introduction by Christopher Bamford
    • Preface to the Edition of 1924 by Rudolf Steiner
    • Foreword to the First Edition (1886) by Rudolf Steiner

    Preliminary Question
    • The Point of Departure
    • Goethe’s Science According to Schiller’s Method
    • The Purpose of Our Science

  • Experience
    • Establishing the Concept of Experience
    • Examining the Essence of Experience
    • Correcting the Erroneous View of Experience as a Totality
    • The Experience of Each Individual Reader

  • Thinking
    • Thinking as a Higher Experience within Experience
    • Thinking and Consciousness
    • The Inner Nature of Thinking

  • Knowledge
    • Thought and Perception
    • Intellect and Reason
    • The Act of Cognition
    • Cognition and the Ultimate Ground of Things

  • Knowing Nature
    • Inorganic Nature
    • Organic Nature

  • The Humanities
    • Introduction: Mind and Nature
    • Psychological Cognition
    • Human Freedom
    • Optimism and Pessimism

  • Conclusion
    • Knowledge and Artistic Creation

    • Notes to the First Edition [1886]
    • Annotations to the Edition of 1924

A Theory of Knowledge is a translation from the German of Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung, mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Schiller (GA 2). Previous translations were published as The Science of Knowing (1988) and The Theory of Knowledge implicit in Goethe's World-Conception: Fundamental Outlines with Special Reference to Schiller (1940).


Related Titles

  • Goethe on Science : An Anthology of Goethe's Scientific Writings
  • Goethe and the Power of Rhythm : A Biographical Essay
  • Emerson and Science : Goethe, Monism, and the Search for Unity
  • Nature's Open Secret : Introductions to Goethe's Scientific Writings (CW 1)
  • Anthroposophy in the Light of Goethe's Faust : Writings and Lectures from Mid-1890s to 1916 (CW 272)
  • Goethe's Faust in the Light of Anthroposophy : Volume Two of Spiritual-Scientific Commentaries on Goethe’s Faust (CW 273)
  • Goethean Science : Introductions to Goethe's Natural-Scientific Writings (CW 1)

    Related Titles by Subject:

    Collected Works ; Anthroposophy: Esoteric Studies ; Anthroposophy: General ; Esoteric: Esoteric Studies and Science & Nature: Goethean Studies