Anthroposophical view of the human being

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The anthroposophical view of humans includes:

Threefold and fourfold view[edit]

Rudolf Steiner often described humans as consisting of an eternal spirit, an evolving soul and a temporal body, giving a detailed analysis of each of these three realms.[1][2][3]

Spirit: anthroposophical teachings describe the human spirit as eternal yet becoming progressively more individualized and consciously experienced. Steiner believed that humans pass between stages of existence, incarnating into an earthly body, living a life, leaving the body behind and entering into the spiritual worlds before returning to be born again into a new life on earth. In earthly life, the individuality or ego awakens to self-consciousness through its experience of its reflection in the deeds and suffering of a physical body.

Soul: We also have a framework of consciousness that includes our set feelings, concepts and intentions. As each human soul evolves through its experiences, the earth itself and civilization as a whole also evolve; thus, new types of experience are available at each successive incarnation.

Body: Steiner uses the term body to describe the aspects of human existence that endure for a single lifetime. The physical body is the most obvious of these. Permeating our physical existence are forces of life, growth and metamorphosis that maintain and develop the physical body; as it is an aspect of a lifetime that falls away after death, Steiner called this the life or etheric body. Steiner called that which receives sensory impressions the body of consciousness or sentient body.

A fourfold articulation of the human body often applied to contexts such as medicine and education includes:[1][2][3]

Physical body[edit]

In the physical body, Steiner differentiated three primary functional areas, each supporting a particular psychological activity:[1]

  • the nerve/sense system, primarily centered in the nervous system, supporting thinking and perception
  • the rhythmic system, including the breathing and the circulatory system, supporting feeling
  • the motor-metabolic system, including the organs below the diaphragm and the limbs, supporting willing

In his mature work, Steiner identified twelve senses: balance, or equilibrioception; movement, or proprioception; pain/well-being, or nociception, also called life sense; touch, or tactition; taste, or gustation; smell, or olfaction; warmth, or thermoception; sight, or vision; hearing, or audition; word / speech; thought / concept; ego / self.[4]

Life or etheric body[edit]

All that lives has, in addition to a physical body, a permeating life organization. Steiner cites as proof of this the physical identity of a dead and living organism; what is lacking in the former is the element of life itself. Plant life is the embodiment of this.

Astral or Feeling body[edit]

Animal life adds an element of sentience to the living world of plants. Steiner points to sleep life, when the physical body and life organization are identical with waking life, yet sentience is withdrawn, as proof that sentience is not purely a function of the physical and life bodies. Our instincts (and prejudices), emotions and will impulses reside here; these are relatively fixed, in contrast with our more fluid and active soul life.[1]

Ego or "I"[edit]

Human existence includes an element distinct from animate life, the ego. This awakens to self-awareness through its experience of the physical body; Steiner points to the lack of a true biography, more particularly of autobiography in animal existence as an indication that the ego is particular to humans and each human has its own distinct 'concept'. The capacity for self-direction and full responsibility are connected to the ego, which anthroposophical researchers describe as only becoming independent around twenty-one years after conception.[1][3]

Sevenfold view[edit]

In Steiner's sevenfold and ninefold descriptions, a human is composed of physical-body, life-body, astral-body, ego, spirit-self, life-spirit, and spirit-man.[1]

  • the physical body, material structure
  • the life body, life processes,
  • the astral body, bearer of consciousness,
  • the ego, self-awareness,
  • the spirit-self, intuition and self,
  • the life-spirit, enduring spirit-soul content,
  • the spirit-man, the fully individuated spirit.

The ego experiences itself through all three of the unconscious elements (consciousness, life and physicality) in specific ways: through the astral body, bearer of sentience, in the dreamier experience of the sentient soul; through the life body as rationality in the intellectual soul; through the physical body as fully conscious, autonomous egoity in the consciousness soul. Through differentiating ego consciousness into its experience as mediated through these unconscious organs, this gives a ninefold articulation of a human: physicality, life, consciousness; sentient, intellectual and consciousness soul; spirit self, life spirit, spirit man.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Carlo Willmann, Waldorfpädogogik: Theologische und religionspädagogische Befunde, Böhlau Verlag, 2001. ISBN 3-412-16700-2, pp. 25-8.
  2. ^ a b c Johannes Hemleben, Rudolf Steiner: A documentary biography, Henry Goulden Ltd, ISBN 0-904822-02-8, pp. 87-91. (German edition Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag ISBN 3-499-50079-5)
  3. ^ a b c Lía Tummer, Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy for Beginners, Writers and Readers Publishing, ISBN 0-86316-286-X, pp. 64-69, 91.
  4. ^ Carrie Y. Nordlund, Art Experiences in Waldorf Education, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Missouri–Columbia, 2006: pp. 54f