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RE: [steiner] Intellect, intellectual

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  • Durward Starman
    ******* I ve pondered this question for a long time and I think I have at least a partial answer. I think you are correct that the solution lies in going
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 6, 2010
      ******* I've pondered this question for a long time and I think I have at least a partial answer.   I think you are correct that the solution lies in going back and checking the German.

          In Dr. Steiner's early works, he emphasizes  how we can know things in spiritual reality through pure thinking.  He still has the same teaching in his early Anthroposophical works.  Then, later, about the time he began teaching threefold Man, he emphasized how the ordinary everyday form of thinking is pictorial in nature, merely pictures of things. 

          In English translation, these seem contradictory. I believe that, if you were to look at the original German, it would not be so. There are two words in German, begriff  and vorstellung,  which apply to two quite different kinds of activity, but both of which can be translated as thinking or cognitional activity.  The difference between these two is emphasized in Steiner's major philosophical work, The Philosophy of Freedom.  There you can read that there is a pure concept, "triangle" for instance, which means any figure of three lines whose inner angles add up to 180°. Apart from this, there can be the mental image you may have of "triangle", such as a particular triangle, Isosceles, equilateral, a yellow or red one you've retained a picture of after seeing it, etc.  

         The former kind of thinking in pure concepts is what is done by mathematicians, while the latter is the so-called "thinking" done by most people in ordinary everyday life today, which is actually better called the "having of mental pictures".  People translating correctly Steiner's lectures would have to be familiar both with this distinction in German and in his philosophy.  Anyone who knows Dr. Steiner's philosophy would never believe he was saying that pure thinking as we can do in mathematics is merely a picture of external reality. He fought against that prejudice all his life.  But the ordinary "having of mental pictures" in everyday life certainly matches his description of the use of the brain-bound intellect.

         I'm not sure which word is being translated as "intellect" in the lectures and books you quoted. This is always a problem with translating German to English, because there is no exact correspondence of many words. Hegel's book "Phenomenologie der Geist" was published in English with the title "The Phenomenology Of Mind",  although the German "Geist"  means far more than the English word mind.  The German language retained many words for levels of inner experience which no longer exist in English, and the German idealist philosophers generally did not write that the mind merely made a picture inside of external reality, which is the prejudice of English philosophy --- which is true for the lower form of ideation Steiner speaks of, but not at all for the higher.

          In fact, using the word "intellect" for the thinking in "vorstellungen" or representations/ mental pictures/images is reversing the old meaning of the word. In the time of Thomas Aquinas, there were two Latin words, "intellectus" and "ratio".  The former meant the direct apprehension of a truth, or what we would approximately say today as intuition, while the latter meant the step by step reasoning towards a conclusion.  The rational mind would proceed from one geometrical truth to another, starting with fundamental axioms; but the axiomatic realities themselves (e.g., "flatness" or "straightness" or space itself) were said to be directly intuited by the intellect. This intellectus was regarded as the mind of the soul,  and it was what we could still think with when out of the body.

          In addition, Steiner describes how sense-free thinking still uses the body, but only as a sort of dark background against which this thinking happens -- -- in other words, it's not thinking with the body, but only by rising above it and contrasting it with the spirit.

         Perhaps some list members in Germany may help.



      To: steiner@yahoogroups.com
      From: peter.lam41@...
      Date: Tue, 5 Jan 2010 02:33:53 +0000
      Subject: [steiner] Intellect, intellectual

      I have some difficulty with the way the words intellect and intellectual are used in anthroposophical literature compared with the dictionary meaning of these words. My concise oxford dictionary defines intellect as: the faculty of knowing and reasoning; understanding; person, persons collectively, of good understanding. And intellectual means: of, appealing to, requiring or given to the exercise of, intellect; also (a person) possessing a good understanding, enlightened (person).

      Now a quote from the second lecture in the series "The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness" (30 Sep 1917, pp 30-31 in my edition):

      "The apparatus or instrument of our human intellect is intimately bound up with the physical body. It has reached a great level of perfection because the physical body has gone through such a comprehensive process of development in the Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth periods. We can see this from the level to which the nerves, the brain and blood have developed. This, then, is the highly developed instrument we use for our intellectual activity."

      From the above quote and many other passages in Steiner's works, thinking seems to be characterised or stated as (merely) using the intellect, or to be (merely) intellectual, or to be abstract, when its instrument is the brain or the body. Whereas thinking can depart or rise above that level to become "living thinking" which no longer uses the brain as its instrument, or is no longer "thinking with the brain" (when, I understand, one has also embarked on higher levels of consciousness termed Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition).

      From the same kind of passages it appears to me that Steiner (and other authors basing their writing on Steiner) are defining intellectual thinking as thinking only about things perceptible to the physical senses - the physical sense organs and the brain being parts of one bodily system, hence also the phrases "thinking with the brain" or "thinking with the body".

      On the other hand, I have had the idea from my earliest anthroposophical reading that all thinking is non-physical, that the brain does not think at all or that all thinking comes from other sources than the material/physical. For example in the first chapter or section of 'The Threshold of the Spiritual World' (1913):

      "...human thought is like an island in the midst of the stream of the soul's life, which flows by in impressions. ..One who develops in himself the feeling here indicated with regard to thought feels that the latter is not merely something he is cultivating in himself as a human force of the soul, but also something which, quite independently of him and his soul, bears within itself some Being of a cosmic nature...".

      Or going back to 'A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception' (1886)we can read:

      "The concept is a single thought grasped by the intellect. If I bring a number of such single thoughts into a living flux so that they pass over into one another, become united, thught structures thus arise which exist for the reason alone, which cannot be attained by the intellect... " (pp 58-59 in my edition).

      This suggests that we are using more than our intellect as soon as we combine concepts - but I had thought this a common activity also carried out by any "thinking" materialist.

      Do we need to allow for some development in the use of words by Steiner between 1886 and 1917 say, or should one go back to check the German?

      No doubt this is all less interesting than subjects normally raised in this discussion group. But perhaps someone else has struggled with the use of the word intellect in the literature - or is it only not obvious to me?

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