Materialism U.

Steiner said his opponents embraced

 “university materialistic science." [1] 

He found evil in all three elements: 

universities, materialistic thinking, and science. [2]

Here are some relevant — and revealing — quotations.

"Human beings must embark upon the unpleasant task of abandoning the mode of thinking which the universities produce in the so-called educated classes today; a time must come when a number of human beings declare themselves ready to accept this uncomfortable world-conception which takes its direction, its concepts, its ideas, from the spiritual world. For men must not, dare not, linger in the condition of sleep that is so congenial to those abstract concepts for which the age of materialism strives and then calls “noble” ... The year 1841 was, in truth, the critical year in respect of the onset of the age of materialism, for at that time a very definite battle began in the spiritual worlds — a battle waged by certain Spirits, Spirits of Darkness as we may call them, belonging to the hierarchical rank of the Angeloi. In the spiritual worlds they fought out this battle until the autumn of 1879. They were striving for many and definite aims, only one of which shall be mentioned today. Between the years 1841 and 1879, decision was to be taken as to whether a certain store of spiritual wisdom could be made sufficiently mature to trickle gradually down to the Earth from the last third of the nineteenth century onwards, that is to say, to enter into the souls of men as a stimulus to spiritual knowledge, to the knowledge described today as that of Spiritual Science, which has only been possible since that time." — Rudolf Steiner, BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXTERNAL HAPPENINGS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1947), lecture 1, GA 178.

"The kind of life and thinking emanating from the Universities started the trend towards abstraction — towards what was subsequently to be idolised and venerated as the pure, natural scientific thinking which to-day invades the customary ways of thought with such devastating results ... Two ways are open here. Either a man can give himself up to natural science, contenting himself — as often happens to-day — with what natural science has to offer; then he will certainly equip his mind with a number of scientific laws and ideas concerning nature — but he loses the spirit. Along this path it is possible to become a truly great investigator, but at the cost of losing all spirituality. That is the one way. The other is to be inwardly aware of the tragic element arising from the lack of spirituality in natural science, precisely where science appears in all its greatness. Man immerses his soul in the scientific lore of nature, in the abstract, unspiritual laws of chemistry, physics, biology, which, having been discovered at the dissecting table, indicate by this very fact that from the living they yield only the dead. The soul delves into what natural science has to impart concerning the laws of human evolution. When a man allows all this to stream into him, when he endeavours not to pride himself on his knowledge, but asks: ‘What does this really give to the human soul?’ — then he experiences something true; then spirit is not absent ... It is not essential for the whole of mankind to become clairvoyant; but what is essential, and moreover within the reach of every human being, is to develop insight into the spiritual world through the healthy human intelligence. Only thus can harmony enter into souls of the modern age: for the loss of this harmony is due to the conditions of evolution in our time. The development of Europe, with her American affinities on the one hand and the Asiatic frontier on the other, has reached a parting of the ways. Spiritual Beings of higher worlds are bringing to a decisive issue the overwhelming difference between former ages and modern times as regards the living side-by-side of diverse populations on the earth." — Rudolf Steiner, “Spiritual Emptiness and Social Life” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1954), GA 190.

"Through the Mystery of Golgotha the Christ Impulse has taken effect on the earth as a reality which can only be perceived and grasped by spiritual cognition. No materialistic knowledge, no materialistic science can understand the Mystery of Golgotha. Hence the soul must acquire the power of spiritual cognition, spiritual perception, spiritual feeling, in order to be able to understand how, on Golgotha, the Christ Impulse was united with the impulses of the earth.

"Christ Jesus fulfilled His Deed on Golgotha for this purpose, fulfilled it in such a way that ten days after the event of the Ascension He sent man the possibility of imbuing also his inner spirit-soul, his ego and astral body, with the Christ Impulse. The permeation of the human spirit-and-soul with the power to understand the Mystery of Golgotha, the sending of the Holy Spirit, is the picture of the Whitsun festival, of Pentecost ... This picture of the Ascension tells him: 'You can with confidence entrust all your following incarnations to earth-evolution....'” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 247-249.

"Spiritual science takes its start from the knowledge that behind all that is sense perceptible stands a soul-spiritual nature. Only when we turn our gaze towards the spiritual lying behind the sense world, will the questions with which we wish to concern ourselves appear in their right light ... What then does materialism have to say about the nature of the sexes?  ... In so far as women have stepped into the struggle for their rights, it is important for us to learn what materialism has to say about female nature ... [T]he spiritual and physical worlds have a unique relationship to one another, for everything physical is only a very dense form of the spiritual. In the same way as ice is densified water, so are the physical and etheric bodies a densification of the astral body. Present day materialism will find it very hard to admit that the spirit creates everything material. It is, however, the tragedy of materialism that it understands the nature of matter least of all ... [T]he origin of the two sexes is to be found in the astral sphere. In the same way as ice is formed from water, that which meets us in the physical world as masculine and feminine is formed out of the polarity of higher principles." — Rudolf Steiner, “Man and Woman in Light of Spiritual Science” (THE ANTHROPOSOPHICAL REVIEW, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1980), GA 56.

"The materialist agrees that injury is caused if he throws a stone at a man, but he thinks that a thought of hatred which he may harbour against a fellow-creature, does not hurt him. Those however who have real knowledge of the world know that far, far stronger effects proceed from a thought filled with hatred than can ever be caused by a stone. Everything that a man thinks and feels has its effects in the outer world and the seer can follow with great precision the effect of a loving thought that goes out to another man, and the very different effect that is produced by a thought filled with hatred. When you send out a loving thought to someone the seer perceives a form of light shaped like a sort of flower-calyx, playing around his etheric and astral bodies, thereby contributing something to his vitality and happiness. On the other hand a thought of hatred bores its way into the etheric and astral bodies like a wounding arrow.

"...In order to understand the Law of Karma we shall have to speak about many other things. The Movement of Spiritual Science itself is the outcome of an intimate knowledge of the Law of Karma.

"...A spiritual or a materialistic attitude of mind is by no means without importance for the next incarnation. A man who has some knowledge of the higher worlds — he need only believe in their existence — has in his next life a well centred physical body and tranquil nervous system, a body which he has well in hand, including the very nerves. On the other hand, a man who believes in nothing except what is to be found in the world of the senses, communicates this kind of thinking to his physical body and in the next incarnation has a body prone to nervous diseases, a frail, fidgety body in which there is no steadfast centre of will. The materialist scatters himself in pure details; the Spirit binds together, for Spirit is Unity!

"The tendency or disposition comes to light, in the case of the individual, through destiny in his next incarnation, but it continues through the generations, so that the sons and grand-children of materialistic fathers have to pay for this by badly constituted nervous systems and nervous disorders. An “epoch” of nerves is the outcome of the materialistic attitude of the last century. And as a counteraction, the Great Teachers of mankind have recognised the necessity of allowing the inflow of spiritual ways of thinking." — Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), pp. 60-70.

"It is the work done at the universities that has brought us to these disastrous situations, because it has become the materialistic view of a few leading personalities. This is now to be presented to the masses; that is, millions are to head for the disasters that so far have come about because the wrong lead was given by a few. Something that proved useless for a few is now to be spread among the many.” — Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987), pp. 59-60.

[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987]

"People think too superficially about the spiritual progress of humanity. For example, someone remarks about Copernicus that a man with such ideas as his was possible, because in the age in which he lived a change in thought had arisen regarding the solar system. [Copernicus’s basic insight was that the planets orbit the Sun.] Anyone holding such an opinion has never studied, even exoterically [i.e, in a way comprehensible to the general public], how Copernicus arrived at his ideas concerning the relationship of the heavenly bodies. One who has done this, and who more especially has followed the grand ideas of Kepler, knows differently, and he will be strengthened even more in these ideas by what occultism has to say about it.

"Let us consider this so that we may see the matter clearly, and try to enter into the soul of Copernicus. This soul had lived in the age of ancient Egypt [i.e., in a prior incarnation, Copernicus was a ancient Egyptian], and had then occupied an important position in the cult of Osiris; it knew that Osiris was held to be the same as the high Sun-Being.

"The sun, in a spiritual sense, was at the centre of Egyptian thought and feeling; I do not mean the outwardly visible sun; it was regarded only as the bodily expression of the spiritual sun. Just as the eye is the expression for the power of sight, so to the Egyptian the Sun was the eye of Osiris, the embodiment of the Spirit of the Sun. All this had been experienced at one time by the soul of Copernicus, and it was the unconscious memory of it that impelled him to renew, in a form possible to a materialistic age, this ancient idea of Osiris, which at that time had been entirely spiritual. When humanity had sunk more deeply within the physical plane, this idea confronts us again in its materialistic form, as the Copernican theory." — Rudolf Steiner, UNIVERSE, EARTH AND MAN (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1931), lecture 11, GA 105.

"One day, because of my publications on Goethe, I was commissioned to write a chapter on Goethe's relation to natural science. The manuscript lay in the hands of the editor for a long time and the work did not appear. In those days it was practically a foregone conclusion that this particular section would been trusted to me and not one of the persons concerned had any doubt about it. But you see, I had begun to use the word “Theosophy” and at the time I actually held an official position in the Theosophical Movement. The treatise was returned to me as “unusable”! You can see what was going on behind the scenes then, and also in the present case If our friend had not been a theosophist, nobody would have failed to recognise that here was a logical, dialectical thesis on The Relation of the Ego to Thinking ... [B]ut the university town where this episode took place is not very big. The writer was known to be a theosophist and so the professors had no use for his work. As the professors themselves happened also to be engaged in experimental psychology, their attitude was: We recognise law only where external compulsion holds sway. If any body recognises law where there is no external compulsion, as is the case in the relation of the Ego to Thinking, his thesis is rejected as a matter of course! And so the thesis was turned down. But something else transpired. The thesis is written in a northern language with which very few people are conversant, and it was sent to an old German professor who “by chance” — I say this advisedly — understands this language. He gave his verdict quite objectively and it was an extremely favourable one." — Rudolf Steiner, EARTHLY AND COSMIC MAN (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1948), p. 65.

“A humanity that thinks materialistically will produce frightful beings in the future ... We have two streams today, a great [i.e., huge] materialistic one which fills the earth, and the small spiritual stream which is restricted to but few human beings [think of Steiner and his adherents] ... All materialistically thinking souls work on the production of evil race-formations ... Just as older conditions which have degenerated to the ape species seem grotesque to us today, so do materialistic races remain at the standpoint of evil, and will people the earth as evil races. It will lie entirely with humanity as to whether a soul will remain in the bad race or will ascend by spiritual culture to a good race.” — Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 150.

From Steiner's perspective, the chief error natural scientists 
and indeed all academics make is to rely on their brains 
in a vain effort to come up with ideas. 
Steiner taught that ideas do not come from the brain — 
they reach us through our higher bodies 
and the immaterial regions in which they function.

"Take the most pedantic of modern professors with his ideas. (He must at least have ideas. You would first have to make sure of it in the individual case; modern professors seldom have ideas!) But if he has ideas, then they are entered through the warmth-ether in the astral light." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING, IV, Michaelmas (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1957), GA 233a.

Waldorf schools are meant to stand as correctives for, 

and polar opposites of, the things Steiner opposed. 

You will find Waldorf schools truly right 

only if you find Steiner truly right — 

which means finding the things he opposed truly wrong.

From the Waldorf Watch "news" page,

May 23, 2018:


Today's quotation posted at The great [sic] Rudolf Steiner Quotes Site:

"At the present time, one regards every man as intelligent, even as if he were wise. However, that is not the case. One can be intelligent and have the most stupid thoughts. The greatest foolishness is thought out very intelligently. Especially if one looks at a large part of contemporary science, it must be said: This science is actually intelligent in all areas, but it is certainly not wise."

Source (German): Rudolf Steiner – GA 353 – Die Geschichte der Menschheit und die Weltanschauungen der Kulturvölker – Dornach, May 10, 1924 (page 214)

Translated by Nesta Carsten-Krüger

Waldorf Watch Response:

This quotation touches on a subject we have discussed here recently: the relationship between Anthroposophy and modern science. Although Rudolf Steiner sometimes said that there are no real contradictions between Anthroposophy (which he classified as a spiritual science) and the modern physical sciences, he in fact harbored a deep hostility to modern science. There is a fundamental conflict between Steiner's teachings and the findings of modern science. The universe described by "spiritual science" — in particular the description propounded by Rudolf Steiner — is utterly unlike the universe described by modern physical science — built on the insights of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and others. [See, e.g., "Science" and "Steiner's 'Science'".]

Modern physical science is wrong. That's part of what we can find in today's quotation. But Steiner's words are also interesting at a deeper level. Steiner meant his statement one way; we may read it another way.

"One can be intelligent and have the most stupid thoughts." Steiner presumably meant that it is possible to be quite intelligent and yet to disbelieve his teachings — a smart person may stupidly accept the modern physical-scientific description of reality instead.

Steiner's followers will read his words as he meant them. But many other people nowadays would be inclined to turn Steiner's words around. They would agree that a smart people can believe stupid things, but one example that would likely spring to mind is Anthroposophy itself. [3] A smart person may fall under Steiner's sway — but how can this be? Why would any intelligent person accept Steiner's phantasmagoric, irrational teachings?

It's a deep question, touching on many deep yearnings in the human psyche. We would all like to think that our lives have meaning. We would all like to think that we matter. We would all like to think that life is more than a series of random, serendipitous accidents. We would all like for life to be more fulfilling, more meaningful, more magical than that. Steiner was one of the many seers and prophets who have volunteered to answer our questions and satisfy our yearnings.

The chief problem with believing Steiner is that he requires us to reject virtually all real knowledge. If we are to believe him, we must reject real knowledge, and established facts, and the testimony of our own senses.

Steiner did not just oppose modern physical science; he rejected most modern scholarship of all stripes. He said we need a wholly different mindset than the kind of thinking used by "so-called educated people." Steiner said the following, for instance:

"The time must come when [we] take up the irksome task of [getting beyond] the way thinking is taught by the so-called educated people in the universities." — Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 92.

The "so-called educated people" — these were his real opponents, he knew. Steiner stood against education as it is usually understood; he stood against modern knowledge, as university-educated people understand it. [4] The knowledge found in universities is, he knew, ultimately incompatible with his own teachings:

"The kind of life and thinking emanating from the Universities started the trend towards abstraction — towards what was subsequently to be idolised and venerated as the pure, natural scientific thinking which to-day invades the customary ways of thought with such devastating results."  — Rudolf Steiner, “Spiritual Emptiness and Social Life” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1954), GA 190.

Actual knowledge, such as that found in universities, is "devastating" for "customary ways of thought." The customary ways come to us from out of the past; they are suffused with superstition, fantasy, and ignorance. [See "The Ancients".] But Steiner embraced those antique ways of thinking, turning to them to develop his fantastical belief system, Anthroposophy. We must reject factual, knowledge-based, university-based thinking, Steiner said:

"Human beings must embark upon the unpleasant task of abandoning the mode of thinking which the universities produce in the so-called educated classes today...." — Rudolf Steiner, BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXTERNAL HAPPENINGS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1947), lecture 1, GA 178.

The "so-called educated classes" (that is, college graduates) and the "so-called educated people in universities" (that is, college professors and students) — Steiner set himself up in opposition to these people, people who actually pursue and may even possess actual knowledge about the actual universe. Steiner wanted us to accept a different way of thinking instead. He want us to accept his way of thinking — his dreams and fantasies and falsifications.

Come to Anthroposophy, Steiner urged. All that is required is to repudiate rationality, and knowledge, and real education.

So, yes, it is possible to be quite intelligent (as Steiner was) and yet think the most stupid thoughts (such as the doctrines of Anthroposophy). Steiner was, in this sense — and quite contrary to his intended meaning — completely correct.

[To delve more into the question why intelligent people might fall for Steiner's falsehoods, see, e.g., "Why? Oh Why?", "Fooling (Ourselves)", and "Inside Scoop".]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] Rudolf Steiner, THE AHRIMANIC DECEPTION (Anthroposophic Press, 1985), a lecture, GA 193.

By "materialistic science" Steiner meant natural science, or real science — that is, a process that seeks answers about the observable universe through use of the scientific method. Steiner taught that the universe is primarily spiritual and that all true answers and causes are located within the spiritual realm. "Materialistic" science confines itself to the physical universe because only physical phenomena are observable using our ordinary senses and implements, and Steiner considered this an overwhelming limitation.

At a broader level, Steiner opposed "materialistic thinking," by which he meant thinking that is largely if not wholly confined to the physical universe. One of the many problems with such thinking, Steiner said, was that it is produced by the physical organ called the brain. No truth can come from such thinking, he said. True answers come from the spirit realm and are produced spiritually, not through any physical organ or medium, he said.

[2] Steiner claimed to be a spiritual scientist, and he sometimes — quite incorrectly — said that natural science would increasingly confirm the "findings" of spiritual science (Anthroposophy). But in fact his own work was wholly unscientific, and natural science has — as it progressed — tended more and more to undercut the tenets of Anthroposophy.

[3] If you are unacquainted with Steiner's teachings and the many bloopers they contain, you might take a gander at "Steiner's Blunders".

[4] Steiner's repudiation of regular, rational education has clear implications for the sort of education he founded: Waldorf education. [To consider the actual nature of Waldorf "education," see, e.g., "Here's the Answer", "Soul School", and "Spiritual Agenda".] Waldorf education is ultimately religious. [See "Schools as Churches".] This may appeal to you. But make sure that you understand the particular religion on which Waldorf is based: Anthroposophy. [See "Is Anrothroposophy a Religion?"]

From the Waldorf Watch "news" page,

November 21, 2019:


A sponsored article appearing in Chicago Parent [Illinois, USA]:

How schools are moving away 
from teaching to the test 

by Shannan Younger

The educational landscape has changed, and many private and independent schools have shifted their focus away from memorization and learning by rote. Educators in the area’s top schools are not simply teaching to a specific test, but rather are helping children develop the skills necessary to problem solve in a changing world...

Shifting the focus away from facts

Facts matter, but a “fact-based education system is outdated and filling students up with facts is not needed in our world the way that it used to be,” says Luke Goodwin, administrative director at Chicago Waldorf School, who notes that facts are easily accessible in a way they were not a few decades ago. Goodwin says students “are coming to school not for facts, but rather searching for the truth about the world. That’s what we’re helping them understand.”

“We think you need to be able to think and act compassionately, creatively, resiliently. You need higher order skills,” he says....

Waldorf Watch Response

Memorization and rote learning are surely not the end-all and be-all of education. And "teaching to a specific test" is clearly not a formula for a good education. So we can probably all agree that helping kids to develop "higher order skills" — helping them "to problem solve in a changing world" — are good ideas.

But slow down, a moment. Should we really devalue facts? Should kids not memorize some real information about the real world? Do we agree that a "fact-based education system is outdated"?

Facts are bits of knowledge. They are portions of actuality. They are pieces of real information. And as such, they are crucial. Any search for "the truth about the world" must be based on facts — knowledge, actuality, information.

Waldorf schools have long been opposed to fact-based education. At least in part, this is because their conception of truth requires them to reject most of modern science and modern scholarship. The foundations of the Waldorf movement are anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, and even anti-rational. The "truths" propounded by Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner are mystical, not factual — they are largely unsupported by science, or reason, or facts.

The Waldorf aversion to facts has often be expressed. Consider the following:

“When I was a child, I received The Weekly Reader in school regularly … I remember [an article] about ‘The Miracle Fiber of the Future’…about the benefits of asbestos. Forty years ago, Americans were so enthusiastic about asbestos that we put it in our floor tiles, our ceiling tiles, and our house shingles … Today we are spending millions of dollars for its removal. This is the obvious flaw in fact-based education. Whether we were taught about the solar system, the Soviet Union, or computers, much of what we had to learn in school is now outdated.” — Waldorf teacher Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Gryphon House, 2002, reprinted 2009), pp. 25-26.

Indeed, knowledge evolves. Old knowledge is replaced by new, better knowledge. But this does not mean we should downplay the importance of knowledge (facts, information). Just the opposite. It means we should educate children to know the difference between knowledge and ignorance, and we should equip students with the mental tools to keep abreast of newly evolving knowledge. 

Easy access to "facts" via computers and the Internet is no substitute. If you don't possess knowledge of your own, you will be unable to judge whether or not to accept statements you find through electronic gizmos. You need to know stuff. You need facts. 

Deciding what is or is not a "fact" is, of course, difficult. People may disagree; reality can be confusing; truths are hard to discern. But this is the central task of education — indeed, the central task of the thinking life — to grapple with these matters, to carefully and judiciously work our way toward firm factual knowledge and the truths such knowledge affords. This is what our schools should help students to understand and undertake. But this is not the Waldorf approach.

The Waldorf approach essentially devalues modern knowledge. And the problem with the Waldorf approach runs very deeper. According to Rudolf Steiner, the brain itself — including the use of the brain — has little or no ultimate value. Consider these statements:

◊ “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

◊ "Within the brain there is absolutely no thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 119.

◊ “The brain is an instrument for purely intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same ... [T]he materialistic brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 147-148.

◊ “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233.

◊ "Intellectuality flows forth from Ahriman [a terrible demon] as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse.” — Rudolf Steiner, ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 98.

◊ "You will injure children if you educate them rationally.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 61.

Waldorf education disparages factual knowledge. It disparages science and intellect. It disparages the brain.

Can a real education be based on such a perspective? Will we really harm children if we educate them rationally? 

Surely not.

[To delve further into these issues, see, e.g., "Thinking", "Thinking Cap", "Steiner's Specific", and "Materialism U.".]

— R.R.

— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


A look back, plus

Mystical thinking, realistic thinking


Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

Describing the near-collapse of the Waldorf school I attended

Deprogramming myself after Waldorf

Who the heck am I?

Doom and deliverance

Short and sweet

Can you trust me?