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Rudolf Steiner on Empathy, Einfühlung ☼

To be merely listening includes being, and being is found by being the one you are, markedly independent as yourself. On that truly noble basis the world we are living in can be better understood; it is done by queries and being yourself hand in hand.
      It has also to be grasped that in part our world of men is shaped by our attitudes, concepts and much else we harbour, rightly or wrongly - and that understanding is to rise (at times) above mere words into something else. Empathy, Einfühlung, is in part for that.


1. We live and shape speech, and moods of men and nature flash up sometimes

In the thought of John Scotus Erigena, the outer world is not so widely separate from man . . . We can have no clear idea of what this really means unless we consider . . .

It is necessary for us to transform our attitude of soul if we are to penetrate into the nature of things, into the being of man and into the nature of the relation of man to the world in a way fitted to the age in which we are living.

[Once there was a time] when the mind of man was not only capable of grasping the process of [transformation] in the world of the living, but of experiencing the sentient life connected with the animal creation and of beholding in direct vision the world of sentient being.

In an age when we try to probe everything with the conscious mind, we must deliberately adjust ourselves to an entirely new way of viewing the world around us.

Man can have a living experience of the plant-world around . . . He shares in the life of feeling of other beings when he experiences not only the world of the living but the sentient life of other beings and when he is inwardly sensitive not only to speech but to the artistic element at work in the shaping of speech.

Goethe was a man who found it inwardly and spiritually impossible to share in the mental attitude of his contemporaries . . . But he really did not feel at home . . . There was always a kind of inner opposition to what his contemporaries were thinking about the world and about life . . . There is something else in Goethe - a kind of appeal to what lives in Nature . . . Goethe appeals to the revelations of Nature rather than to the revelations of the human mind. And this was the real temper of his soul . . . Think of him as a child . . . how as a boy of seven he built an altar . . . to bring an offering to the great God of Nature.

Then a great longing to go to Italy seizes him . . . bear in mind the overwhelming change that came upon him in Italy. . . . At last Goethe is satisfied with an environment, an artistic environment enfilled with ideas . . . [And] in the course of his Italian journey the idea of metamorphosis arises from this mood . . . the thought of metamorphosis in the whole of Nature flashes up . . .

An inner change of mental outlook is essential if we are to realise what Goethe really had in his mind when . . . [a]fter he had been to Italy, Goethe really hated the first version of Faust which he had written earlier. . . . Goethe did not feel at home . . . with purely intellectualistic thought.

2. To be "merely listening" is done with one's whole being, and from that basis understanding follows.

Today, when it has become thoroughly decadent, oriental civilisation points to former conditions of life in its heyday. . . . this age, too, was preceded by others still more ancient.

[Intellectuality] is an element which imprisons the living in an interior chamber of the soul and in which we cannot share when we are merely listening to a word that is uttered. For when we listen to words, we are hearing merely what the head of another being . . .

As we listen to the words . . . if our ears are sensitive to the sound of his words, to the rhythm of his words, to the moulding of his words, then we are hearing an expression of his whole being. . . . when we rise to a sphere where we understand the process wherein sound itself is moulded and shaped - although it is a process empty alike of concept and of word, unheard and simply experienced inwardly - we experience that from which feeling itself arises.

Realise in order to penetrate into the nature of things. *

The Greeks constructed a world-system from observation . . . from the world of the living . . . because the content of the soul was itself living . . . [Mod]

3. Through the centuries some men and women have penetrated faith or nature and seen better.

Man and the world are more easily understood if we study the changes that have taken place in the mental outlook of man through the centuries.

Only when we picture this process quite clearly shall we be able to realise that in order to penetrate into the nature of things . . .


It is good to shape concepts and words that fit in - to exist, live, continue living too - and learn the methods that could make living easy through developing proficiency.


Rudolf Steiner Education, Waldorf Education, Literature  

Steiner, Rudolf. "Goethe and the Evolution of Consciousness". 1 Lecture given in Dornach, August 19, 1921. GA 206. English translation by H. Collison, 1932. At Rudolf Steiner Archive.

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