Rudolf Steiner, Spiritual Monist

Rudolf Steiner, Spiritual Monist

I’ve known of Rudolf Steiner since about 1993. My brother had acquired a copy of An Outline of Occult Science around that time. After perusing through it, I knew I had to buy it for myself. I had been reading C.G. Jung for about two years at the time. The book proved very difficult, especially for one so new to this type of thinking. But, somehow, I knew there were important ideas contained therein. Since then, I’ve read several of his books, never quite understanding them properly, I suspect.

As you know, I’ve recently become interested in Husserl’s phenomenology. Synchronistically, just this week I ran across an article that discusses Steiner’s ideas about the process of thinking, and actually concludes with how this relates to Husserl’s transcendental reduction. I was quite surprised to learn something new about Steiner, something about his teaching that had confused me in the past. The article is called Origins of Consciousness and Conscious (Free) Intention from the Viewpoint of Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Science (Anthroposophy) in Relation to Husserl’s Transcendental Reduction, by Marek B. Marjorek. It is part of a collection of essays in Phenomenology of Life from the Animal Soul to the Human Mind: Book II The Human Soul in the Creative Transformation of the Mind.

I myself have been somewhat of an ontological monist for several years, after deciding that my view of what I call animaterialism makes the most sense to me. I always thought Steiner may have been a dualist, since he clearly believes spirit and soul are “ontologically different from, and independent of the body.”1 I had jumped to the conclusion that Steiner believed in two distinct substances, as Descartes did. I was wrong. As Marek writes, “Ontologically speaking Steiner is a monist, but a spiritual, not a materialistic one.”2 Steiner uses the metaphor of water as an example to show what he means:

. . . the sense-perceptible world is only part of what surrounds us. It is distinct from, and to a certain extent independent of, our overall surroundings simply because it can be perceived with senses that disregard the soul and spiritual aspects of these surroundings. It is like a piece of ice floating on water—the ice consists of the same substance as the surrounding water but stands out because of certain qualities it possesses. In the same way, sense-perceptible things are of the same substance as the soul and spirit worlds surrounding them, but they stand out because of certain characteristics that make them perceptible to our senses. To put it somewhat figuratively, they are condensed spirit and soul formations, and the condensation makes it possible for our senses to acquire knowledge about them. Ice is just one of the manifestations of water, and sense-perceptible things are just one form in which soul and spirit beings exist. Having grasped this, we can also understand that the spirit world can change into the soul world and the soul world into the sensory world, just as water can turn to ice.3

Water can take the forms of solid, liquid, and gas, but they are all essentially water. Similarly, the single reality known as human being can take several forms (seven, according to Steiner), but all are essentially the same human being. I would say, along with Jung, that all is Soul. For a dualistic viewpoint, such as Descartes’, one must explain how one substance, mind or spirit, can exert an influence over another very different substance, matter. This is why we hear talk of a “mind-body problem.” But with ontological monism, there is no problem. A chunk of ice can float in water. They seem to be two different entities, but, essentially, they are not. Steam can melt ice, but they are one. The soul-spirit entity can experience sensible things when in the body, but they are the same “substance.”

Steiner has been somewhat of an enigma to me for years, but it seems my understanding of him is improving.



Marjorek, Marek B. Origins of Consciousness and Conscious (Free) Intention from the Viewpoint of Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Science (Anthroposophy) in Relation to Husserl’s Transcendental Reduction. Analecta Husserliana, Vol. XCIV. Ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. SpringerLink (Online service): 2006. Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.

Steiner, Rudolf. Theosophy:An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos. Trans. by Catherine E. Creeger. AP: Hudson, 1994.

  1. Origins of Consciousness, 266
  2. ibid.
  3. Theosophy, 148

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5 thoughts on “Rudolf Steiner, Spiritual Monist

  1. Actually I first heard it on Bill Maher’s documentary “Religulous”–some fundamentalist in a Christian theme park used it. Even Bill was impressed with his analogy!

  2. I know this sounds blasphemous, but is there a chance that the Trinity symbolism could apply to the full potential of human beings, i.e. fully individuated?

  3. I don’t see why not. According to Church teaching (at least my understanding of it, which could be sorely lacking) God wants us to reach out full potential of how He created us. Of course you’ll always find someone who claims blasphemy in anything he doesn’t believe in…

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