‘For in thinking we observe something of which we ourselves are the producers. We find ourselves facing something that to begin with is not foreign to us, but our own activity. We know how the thing we are observing comes about. We see through the relationships and the connections. A secure point has been won, from which we can reasonably hope to seek an explanation of the other world phenomena.’
Rudolf Steiner's official website
Rudolf Steiner documentary - Science of Spiritual Realities
Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom (1894)
Rudolf Steiner
In Summary

Reason is not the bane of spirituality but its abiding source and light. Rudolf Steiner invites you to think about thinking so you can intuit the highest truths of all.


The human mind has often been decried as a scalpel dissecting reality. Mystics have sometimes seen thought as the source of false duality, for the sublime unity of things is too great for the mind to grasp all at once, and so we break reality down into digestible and distinct parts. These rational distinctions subsequently create irreconcilable conflicts between subject and object, divinity and humanity or appearance and reality. In contrast to this traditional narrative, Rudolf Steiner believed that thought not only sunders the world but sews it back together again. He argues in Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path that thinking lights a spiritual path leading us out of the mire and into a glimpse of a unified eternity.  

Steiner was an Austrian Renaissance man in a period of increasing professional specialisation, attempting to merge science, religion, politics, history, literature and architecture. Emerging from a theosophical background, he went on to found his own movement, Anthroposophy. He drastically influenced the course of Western esotericism through institutions such as Waldorf Schools and was widely embraced by a broad range of artists and thinkers, including Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow, theologian Albert Schweitzer, environmentalist Rachel Carson, painter Wassily Kandinsky, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and Inklings member Owen Barfield.  


Steiner refers to the raw data we perceive through our sense of sight, sound, taste, touch or smell as percepts. Our senses feed these percepts to our mind, and the mind forms concepts out of them. For example, our sight receives dozens of different percepts of oceans, skies or blueberries and then our mind distils from them the underlying concept of blueness. But this traditional view of reality confines us to a binary interpretation of the world merely in terms of subject and object – separating our minds from what they are thinking about. Only when we turn our perceptions towards the mind itself and start thinking about thinking can we free ourselves from this limitation.  


When thinking about a book, you are thinking about an object outside of and distinct from yourself. But when reflecting upon your thoughts about the book, you become the object of your own thoughts. As such, when we turn inward and think about thought itself, we overcome the duality of subject and object. The subject who thinks becomes the object of thought. When thought perceives itself, concepts become one with percepts.  


From here, Steiner draws several other strong conclusions. For example, when we think about our thoughts, we are not just picturing neurons firing in a material brain. To think about thought is to conceive of an abstraction that is void of physical flesh or objects that could be distinct from the process of thought itself. As such, our deeper identity as thought cannot be limited to the deterministic, physical world of objects but instead reaches a unified realm of spirit.  

Connected to this higher realm, we intuitively grasp the source and logic behind all our choices, taking full responsibility for them as our own, rather than something imposed on us externally. Embracing our own thoughts – instead of being governed by habits, peer pressure, social mores or other outside forces – is what ultimately allows us to know ourselves. In this way, independent thought is the basis of becoming an authentic individual. This is what fundamentally defines Steiner’s ‘philosophy of freedom.’  


In contrast to many contemporary and ancient thinkers, Steiner did not pit thought against spirit. In his view, growing up need not mean abandoning the inherent faith born in our childhood, nor should chasing the hopes and longings of our hearts mean abandoning our minds. Rather than restricting us, thought liberates us.  

Further Reading By This Author

Steiner authored a vast wealth of other texts, including The Way of Initiation and How to Know Higher Worlds. His collected writings include dozens of volumes.  

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