Talk:Rudolf Steiner/Philosophical debate

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Philosophical debate

(Note: this section was originally part of the article on Rudolf Steiner. It has been moved here as it is of peripheral interest to a general biography, but may be of value for a possible, future, more specialized article)

Steiner's claim to have disproved transcendental idealism, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant—he had read the whole of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason by the age of 14—has been rejected by some philosophers, accepted by others, and remains to many an unknown.

Richard Tarnas, in his book The Passion of the Western Mind, includes Steiner as one significant figure within the whole history of thought. Tarnas wrote,

...at almost precisely the same time that the Enlightenment reached its philosophical climax in Kant, a radically different epistemological perspective began to emerge—first visible in Goethe...developed in new directions by Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Coleridge, and Emerson, and articulated within the past century by Rudolf Steiner. Each of these thinkers gave his own distinct emphasis to the developing perspective, but common to all was a fundamental conviction that the relation of the human mind to the world was ultimately not dualistic but participatory...In essence this alternative conception did not oppose the Kantian epistemology but rather went beyond it, subsuming it in a larger and subtler understanding of human knowledge. The new conception fully acknowledged the validity of Kant's critical insight, that all human knowledge of the world is in some sense determined by subjective principles; but instead of considering these principles as belonging ultimately to the separate human subject, and therefore not grounded in the world independent of human cognition, this participatory conception held that these subjective principles are in fact an expression of the world's own being, and that the human mind is ultimately the organ of the world's own process of self-revelation. In this view, the essential reality of nature is not separate, self-contained, and complete in itself, so that the human mind can examine it 'objectively' and register it from without. Rather, nature's unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind. Nature's reality is not merely phenomenal, nor is it independent and objective; rather, it is something that comes into being through the very act of human cognition. Nature becomes intelligible to itself through the human mind. - Richard Tarnas, p.433-434, 1991.

On the basis of this epistemology, Steiner attempted to develop a qualitative science to complement the quantitative science of Newton, Galileo and Einstein. Steiner claimed that if one practiced various systematic forms of inner discipline, it would be possible to create an increasingly objective, testable knowledge of a noumenal or spiritual world. While small groups of scientists find brilliant originality in Steiner's scientific work and seek to carry it forward (see, for example, The Wholeness of Nature by physicist Henri Bortoft), the majority of scientists have never heard of Steiner, and of the minority who have, most probably take his work to be unscientific. Scientists developing Steiner's work argue that it sometimes doesn't receive a fair hearing because of prejudice against even the possibility of a qualitative science of non-physical worlds.