by Sven Ove Hansson, Uppsala

[Conceptus XXV (1991), No. 64, pp. 37-49.]

by Sune Nordwall, Stockholm

The below, by the undersigned (Nordwall) commented article by Hansson can be found at a number of sites at internet, in Swedish, English and German. It is written by one of the main founders in 1982 of the Swedish section of CSICOP, who also has written several works on what he considers to be pseudoscience.
The text parts that belong to the original article are depicted in black. In addition, I have marked the original text parts of Hansson's article with an added 'HANSSON:'. The text parts that cannot be found in the original article and constitute comments by the undersigned have been marked with red.



Anthroposophy is one of the most successful occult movements in Europe. In this paper, its claim to be a science is examined. Two criteria are used that have both been accepted by the founder of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner: (1) intersubjectivity, and (2) confirmation by empirical science. Neither of these criteria is satisfied. The claims that anthroposophy is a science are not justified.

Summary of comment

The paper "Is Anthroposophy Science" by a Sven-Ove Hansson, published in 1991, is analysed.
The analysis shows that Hansson's way of using quotes from different works by Rudolf Steiner seriously misrepresent anthroposophy as developed separate from theosophy, and distorts the argumentation in the context from which quotes from works by Steiner are taken.
It also shows that the discussion of the three examples used by Hansson to argue against the reliability of alleged predictions by Steiner partly is based on careless mistranslation, non-consideration of the social, conceptual and historical context from which the examples are taken and superficial to the extent of bordering on pure rhetoric.
Both factors deprive the discussion in a large part of the article by Hansson of its possible scientific value regarding the subject it purports to be a discussion of.

Anthroposophy, originally an outgrowth of theosophy, is one of the most successful occult movements in Northern and Central Europe. New adherents are attracted by its Waldorf schools, its herb medicines and its pesticide-free agriculture. However, anthroposophy is more than a collection of social movements. Its adherents claim that it is a science. The strength and influence of the anthroposophical movement is reason enough to examine the claim that anthroposophy is a science. Another reason is that precise and authoritative statements of its epistemology are available, so that anthroposophy is more accessible to philosophical analysis than are most other movements with related aims and methods.

1. The anthroposophical road to knowledge

Anthroposophy is a doctrine about hidden, spiritual realities. It is almost entirely based on the teachings of its founder, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Steiner's pronouncements are in practice never questioned in the anthroposophical movement, and very little of substance has been added to the doctrine after his death. It is in his writings that the (esoteric) epistemology of anthroposophy can be found. [1]

Steiner emphasized that he was doing "science" [Wissenschaft]. He interchangeably called his undertaking "occult science" [Geheimwissenschaft], "Divine Science" [göttliche Wissenschaft] and - most commonly - "spiritual science" [Geisteswissenschaft]. [2] Spiritual science "would speak of the non-sensible in the same spirit in which Natural Science speaks of the sensible". [3] It works by developing in the individual an ability to see directly into spiritual reality ("clairvoyance" [Hellsehen]). The process of acquiring this ability is called "initiation" [Einweihung]. [4] Steiner has provided fairly detailed guidelines for the first stages of the initiation process. Some individuals have, according to Steiner, a personality that facilitates the development of clairvoyance.

"There are children who look up with reverent awe [heilige Scheu] to certain venerated persons. Their reverence for these people forbids them, even in the deepest depths of their hearts, to admit any thought of criticism or opposition ... Many occult pupils [Geheimschüler] come from the ranks of such children." [5]
The quote [5] makes it stand out as if Steiner thought it was important for students of spiritual science to be reverent to persons; implicitly himself in the case of anthroposophy, which is one of the main arguments of the article. That is not correct. What Steiner points to in the context quoted is something quite else, that Hansson leaves out.

The context, from which Hansson takes his 'quote', is the first chapter of Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. The chapter discusses the 'Conditions' for starting to understand more deeper layers of reality. The full textual context, out of which the quote is peeled out is:

Steiner (not quoted by Hansson):
"Only within his own soul can a man find the means to unseal the lips of an initiate. He must develop within himself certain faculties to a definite degree, and then the highest treasures of the spirit can become his own.

He must begin with a certain fundamental attitude of soul. In spiritual science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration, of devotion to truth and knowledge. Without this attitude no one can become a student. The disposition shown in their childhood by subsequent students of higher knowledge is well known to the experienced in these matters."

(Hanssons's quote starting:)
"There are children who look up with religious awe to those whom they venerate. For such people they have a respect which forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbor any thought of criticism or opposition. (Left out by Hansson: Such children grow up into young men and women who feel happy when they are able to look up to anything that fills them with veneration.) From the ranks of such children are recruited many students of higher knowledge. (End Hansson's quote)

Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated person, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed on the handle to enter the room which for you is a holy place? If so, a feeling has been manifested within you which may be the germ of your future adherence to the path of knowledge. It is a blessing for every human being in process of development to have such feelings upon which to build.

Only it must not be thought that this disposition leads to submissiveness and slavery. What was once a childlike veneration for persons becomes, later, a veneration for truth and knowledge. Experience teaches that they can best hold their heads erect who have learnt to venerate where veneration is due; and veneration is always fitting when it flows from the depths of the heart." (End of quote of Steiner. Bold by this commentator S.N.)

As can be seen from the context, what Steiner describes is how a sense of veneration in childhood, which in childhood naturally is directed at concrete people, but also may be nature, later, in adult life is the best basis for in adult years developing the veneration for truth and knowledge that is one of the basic conditions for investigating and exploring reality in a deeper sense.

If a disciple has not been born with this attitude, it is necessary that he "undertakes by rigorous self-education to engender within himself this attitude of devotion". The reason for this is that "every criticism, every adverse judgement passed, dispels the powers of the soul for the attainment of higher knowledge, just as reverent veneration develops these powers". [6]

As can be seen from the context described above, the reverence necessary for a deepened and developed understanding of reality concerns reality in general and especially truth and knowledge, not single persons.

It is based on the simple experience, that nature, as little as people, not reveals its deeper secrets and nature to you in more than an external way, if you immediately start by intellectually analysing, criticizing and speculating about the way it appears to you.

What comes to expression in Steiner's argumentation is the view that only through a balanced and many-sided relation to nature and reality in a broad sense, just as with people, will it reveal its deeper nature to you.

Anthroposophy argues that this, beyond an external observing, thinking, analytical and experimental relation to it, also necessitates that you develop a sensitive artistic and practical relation to it, including deepening this relation through a conscious disciplining of your relation to your experiences through an inner meditative digestion of them, and based on and developing a devotion to life and a love for nature and other people.

Against this strife, Hansson argues rhetorically because such a path of knowledge pointed to by anthroposophy to develop a balanced human relation to and understanding of reality in a deeper sense is not primarily, only in a secondary sense experimental and intellectually analytical.

When the disciple has got rid of his critical attitudes, the next step is to perform daily meditations. One of the meditations described by Steiner is to look at a seed and try to see, with an inner eye, how it grows into a plant. Gradually, this will lead to an ability to see the potential plant within the seed. [7]

That is not a correct description of the way anthroposophy outlines the way to proceed from the cultivation of specific soul attitudes and qualities, like veneration towards reality in general, and especially towards truth and knowledge, to developing an actual 'inner' capacity of observing what is experienced as a spiritual world, neither as a whole, nor as it described in the book quoted.

What Steiner describes already in the first chapter of Knowledge of Higher Worlds is shown in its essence by another quote from it:

"... Whoever, therefore, wishes to become a student of higher knowledge must assiduously cultivate this inner life of devotion. Everywhere in his environment and his experiences he must seek motives of admiration and homage. If I meet a man and blame him for his shortcomings, I rob myself of power to attain higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I gather such power."
What is necessary to understand the world and man in a deeper sense is to develop a humility, veneration and love for the world we live in. What the chapter describes in a sensitive way is this necessity as the basic precondition for developing a "higher [deeper] knowledge" of it.
"If we do not develop within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve to something higher. The initiate has only acquired the strength to lift his head to the heights of knowledge by guiding his heart to the depths of veneration and devotion. The heights of the spirit can only be climbed by passing through the portals of humility ...

"Our civilization tends more toward critical judgement and condemnation than toward devotion and selfless veneration. Our children already criticize far more than they worship. But every criticism, every adverse judgement passed, disperses the powers of the soul for the attainment of higher knowledge in the same measure that all veneration and reverence develops them. In this we do not wish to say anything against our civilization. There is no question here of leveling criticism against it. To this critical faculty, this self-conscious human judgement, this “test all things and hold fast what is best,” we owe the greatness of our civilization.

"Man could never have attained to the science, the industry, the commerce, the right relationships of our time, had he not applied to all things the standard of his critical judgement. But what we have thereby gained in external culture we have had to pay for with a corresponding loss of higher knowledge of spiritual life. It must be emphasized that higher knowledge is not concerned with the veneration of persons but the veneration of truth and knowledge."

Also, while quote [6] is taken from the beginning of the book [p. 24, see notes below], the directly following statement quoted by Hansson [7] refers to a much later part of the book [p. 63 ff, see notes below], with Hansson skipping the description of the very long way between the first cultivation of some basic soul qualities through a number of stages, over developing inner calm and cultivating attention in a number of directions, only then doing more specific observational exercises, related to the mineral world, the plant world, the world of animals and the world of man.

Anthroposophy describes how it first is necessary to systematically develop a mastery of one's own thinking, will and feelings, and how to equally repeatedly and systematically develop an openness and positivity to the world.

Only then is it possible to conduct systematic exercises leading also in time to clairvoyance in a first step as a transformation of thinking, spiritual "hearing" in a second step, and spiritual "tasting" in a third step.

A closer look at the basic steps in the anthroposophical road to knowledge as depicted in "Knowledge of Higher Worlds" shows that Hansson's description of it seriously misrepresents and distorts it, depriving his description of its value in any more than a superficial rhetorical sense.

For the clairvoyant ability to develop, the disciple must continuously restrain any inner tendency to analyse or criticize. "By such intellectualising [Verstandesarbeit] he merely diverts himself from the right path. He should look out on the world with fresh, healthy senses and a keen power of observation, and give himself up to his feelings." [8]

This is distorted way of representing the description found in the chapter in question. What is described is (Knowledge of Higher Worlds; second chapter: The Stages of Initiation, Part: Preparation):

"First look at the things as keenly and as intently as you possibly can; then only let the feeling which expands to life, and the thought which arises in the soul, take possession of you." (Italic and bold by this commentator. S.N.)
It shows that what the original argues against is too much and early intellectualizing speculation about the experience, not thinking about it as such:
"It should be emphasized that the student must never lose himself in speculations on the meaning of one thing or another. Such intellectualizing will only draw him away from the right road. He should look out on the world with keen, healthy senses and quickened power of observation, and then give himself up to the feeling that arises within him. He should not try to make out, through intellectual speculation, the meaning of things, but rather allow the things to disclose themselves.

"It should be remarked that artistic feeling, when coupled with a quiet introspective nature, forms the best preliminary condition for the development of spiritual faculties. This feeling pierces through the superficial aspect of things, and in so doing touches their secrets."

Or, in other words:

"We must say to ourselves: our thinking ceases, and our head becomes the scene of the influence [Wirken] of the higher hierarchies." [9]
When he has acquired knowledge in this way, the clairvoyant "will in doing so have experienced the proof, and nothing more can be achieved by any added proof from outside". [10]

As already pointed out above, this is an extremely shortcut and distorted description of what developing spiritual investigation of reality is about, also as it is described by Steiner. The full text ot the main work discussed by Hansson; "Knowledge of Higher Worlds And its Attainment" can be found here on the net.

[9] is taken from another context, not found online in English on the internet while [10] is taken from yet another [third] context, found online.

What [9] is an expression of, is the view of the philosophical tradition of objective idealism and conceptual realism (more), that thoughts basically are objective realities (Platonic perspective, Aristotelean perspective) and that is is possible to develop such a relation to the objective world of thoughts that they think themselves objectively in us. The view of Steiner was that these objective world thoughts were an expression of the activities of high 'spiritual beings', by some described as a hierarchy of beings and by the philosopher Hegel called "The world spirit".

That 'world thoughts' 'think themselves' in man is something that also takes place, not only in philosophical reasoning, but also in pure mathematics. It is not a description of something that primarily is or has the character of 'religious revelation', but of a thinking that has been developed to achieving such a degree of objectivity in relation to the world, that what comes to expression as the world we experience as an external world outside ourselves also can 'think itself' as 'world thoughts' in our own thinking.

[10] is taken from the first chapter of 'Occult Science - an outline' describing "The character of the science of the occult" (with the word 'occult' not being in principle 'hidden', but in the sense of 'not immediately obvious').

Someone following only the extremely short and distorted way described by Hansson, if trying to develop thinking in such a way that it becomes objective in the deeper sense of being in accordance with the world that we experience, would probably not develop an objective understanding of reality in the way Steiner refers to as a proof in itself of being objective.

The successful clairvoyant will experience dramatic mental changes. Previously, his consciousness was "continually interrupted by the periods of sleep". [11] Not so any longer. "His dreams, hitherto confused and haphazard, now begin to assume a more regular character. Their pictures begin to arrange themselves in an orderly way, like the thoughts and ideas of daily life." [12]

The clairvoyant will gain access to knowledge that is unavailable to the uninitiated. As one example, he will transcend the limits of historical science, and sense "past events in their eternal character". [13] In particular, he will be able to read the so-called Akasha chronicle. This is not a chronicle in the ordinary sense of a historical text. Instead, it consists in the supersensual traces of past events.

"Those who are initiated into the reading of such a living script, will be able to look back into a much more distant past than what is related by external history [åussere Geschichte]; and they are also able - through immediate spiritual perception [unmittelbare geistige Wahrnehmung] - to give a much more reliable account of the subject-matter of this history than what it is itself capable of." [14]
Steiner was a frequent reader of the Akasha chronicle. Significant portions of his voluminous writings consist of exhaustive accounts of historical events. He provided details about Atlantis and other lost civilizations. He corrected the Gospels, revealed the secrets of ancient Egyptian priests, etc. All this he had learnt from the Akasha chronicle.

Steiner also taught many other branches of knowledge, such as agriculture, medicine and education. His source of knowledge was always the same: His own clairvoyant visions. (bold/italic by this commentator)

What Hansson writes is quite untrue as stated. What Steiner described and developed as anthroposophy, and as comments and suggestions in different fields, like agriculture, medicine and education, in addition to his own observations and experiences, was also based on extensive reading on the different subjects to such a degree, that some even dispute that he ever expressed something on spiritual issues that not can be found in writing somewhere. There exists (or at least has existed) one site in German on the internet trying to argue for this view, completely opposite to the view of Hansson.

Among the more obvious criticisms that can be made against Steiner's road to knowledge are (1) that it does not satisfy intersubjectivity, and (2) that its results contradict conventional science. Steiner was well aware of these arguments. Indeed, he emphatically claimed that his method satisfies intersubjectivity and that its results will be confirmed by conventional science. This makes it possible to evaluate his road to knowledge by two criteria accepted both by himself and by practitioners of conventional science. Let us first turn to intersubjectivity.

2. Intersubjectivity

According to Steiner, true clairvoyants are sure to reach the same result. "Just as a round table will be seen as round by two persons with normal sight and not as round by one and square by another, so at the sight of the blossom, the same spiritual figure will present itself to two souls." [15] Indeed, this intersubjectivity was greater than that of empirical science:
"And what different initiates can report on history and prehistory will be essentially in agreement [im wesentlichen in Übereinstimmung]. Indeed all occult schools have such a history and prehistory. And we have here, since thousands of years, such complete agreement [volle Übereinstimmung] that the agreement to be found between the external historians of a single century cannot be compared to it. In all times and all places the initiates relate essentially the same." [16]
This standpoint may be somewhat surprising, considering the wide variety of occult teachings that are competing for our souls. And of course, Steiner could not deny that contradictory doctrines are being promoted as true, occult knowledge. But this was only because some practitioners of clairvoyance made mistakes. True occult knowledge was the same for everyone that was able to attain it. "Divergencies exist only so long as men try to approach the highest truths by arbitrary ways, instead of by a pathway that is scientifically sure." [17]

In order to establish that anthroposophical knowledge is intersubjective it is not sufficient merely to declare that some visions are true and some are mistaken. In addition, a method is required for deciding whether a particular vision is true or not. If such a method can be specified, and if it yields the same result for everyone who uses it, then intersubjectivity has been secured.

Steiner did in fact provide such a method. To avoid making mistakes, and to ensure that his visions were true, the prospective clairvoyant should take advice from a teacher. "You let a teacher transmit to you what has been achieved for humanity by inspired forerunners [inspirierte Vorgänger]". [18] In a very clarifying passage he said:

"One who, without first turning his attention to some of the essential facts of the supersensible world, merely does 'exercises' with the idea of gaining entrance there, will find in it a vague and confusing chaos. Man finds his way into that world - to begin with, as it were, naively - by learning to understand its essential features. Then he can gain a clear idea of how - leaving his 'naive' stage behind him - he will himself attain, in full consciousness, to the experiences which have been related to him." [19]
1. This argument does not distinguish between observations of the spiritual phenomena and observations of natural phenomena formerly completely unknown to the observer, using the normal sense organs of the human being. In both cases the experience will stand out as chaotic and in need of guidance by those having done similar observations before for you to understand it.

In relation to the natural world that we are born into, the basic guidance takes place during childhood, later followed by elementary school, high school, college and university. Without this guidance, especially during the first time of childhood, man would be more or less handicapped in life. In relation to the phenomena of the soul and the more purely spiritual world, man, without a similar guidance, would be similarly handicapped.

First learning from others to understand the reality we are born into and experience as children is the deeper basis and context for everything that we later in life naively think of and call "intersubjectivity". That Hansson does not seem to realize this when arguing about intersubjectivity may stand out as surprising. It also stands out as surprising that the editor or editors of of the allegedly philosophical journal in which the article was published in 1991 accepted this type of argumentation.

In a later edited publication of the article (2003), Hansson however seems to have realized the superficiality of his argumentation on this points, and comments on it by adding a comment similar to that of this commentator.

2. It was also Steiner's expressed view that it would be completely possible for people to develop what he summarized as 'anthroposophy', completely independently of having been aware of 'anthroposophy' as developed by Steiner before. He only thought that would take longer time, having to do it without guidance.

3. In the article on science at I have tried to map out some of the basic roots of anthroposophy in the philosophical tradition in relation to basic ontology, showing how the four/five basic ontological traditions ('atoms', 'elements', 'numbers' and 'concepts' as the ultimate reality) relate to the sense organism of man. The article is an academic study, done for Prof Håkan Thörnebom at the Institution for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Gothenburg in 1980.)

The article shows that anthroposophy is rooted in the idealistic tradition in philosophy, with Plato and Aristotle as two of its most outstanding representatives, in a similar way that what today is called natural science is rooted in a materialistic tradition in philosophy, leading back through history to among other Democritus and Pythagoras in antiquity, as two central representatives of its basic pillars; that of a physicalistic world view and mathematics as the central method of describing it.

As for a number of the phenomena that Steiner summarized the experience of, by using concepts like 'ether body', astral body' and ego-organization', the concepts in question are possible to understand in relation to the Aristotelean(-Platonic) tradition, out of which the idealistic tradition in philosophy, and anthroposophy, have developed.

In the Aristotelean tradition, the concepts 'vegetative soul', 'animal soul', and 'rational soul' are used to describe the basic nature of life processes, soul processes and rational thinking in man.

In anthroposophy, these concepts are developed further, described with terms connecting to the historical context during the end of the 19th century, and based not only on thinking about, but spiritually observing the deeper nature of that, for which Aristotle 2.100 years earlier had used the concepts 'vegetative soul', 'animal soul' and 'rational soul'.

This effort to connect to the historical context and spiritual tradition during the end of the 19th century made anthroposophy use the partly more developed concept of 'etheric body' for what Aristotle had called 'vegetative soul', and 'astral body' ('body of star forces') for what Aristotle had called 'animal soul'.

The concept 'ego-organization' much constitutes a developed description of that for which Aristotle used the concept 'rational soul'.

That it is necessary to go all the way back to the birth of Western civilization in Greek antiquity to understand in some depth the origin and nature of anthroposophy in relation to what today is called natural science, points to one of the reasons for the difficulty to understand it out of present day 20th and 21st century cultural context, dominated by a natural scientific tradition of the last centuries as the mirror to the idealistic tradition, represented by anthroposophy.

It also makes the problem and cultural conflict understandable, that develops and faces you, when trying to understand anthroposophy out of a 20th or 21th century perspective, without understanding the deeper historical and broader philosophical origin of the problem and conflict.

In other words, the practitioner of anthroposophical science must compare his visions to those reported by his teacher and by other "inspired forerunners". His own visions are true only if they tally with these precedents. Such comparisons are, indeed, a necessary part of the anthroposophical road to knowledge. Steiner said that "the safe guidance by the experienced occult teacher [Geheimlehrer] cannot be completely replaced". [20]

Quote 20 by Hansson is taken from one of 4 articles written in 1905 as a sequel to the articles from 1904, later put together as "Knowledge of higher Worlds, how is it attained?". It was a time when Steiner for a period was working within the theosophical tradition, that was strongly connected with the oriental tradition, that puts great stress on the personal relation to a spiritual teacher  when developing meditation.

In ever more developing anthroposophy separate from the theosophical tradition from 1909-10, he in the foreword to a later (5th-7th) edition of "Knowledge of Higher Worlds ..." in 1914, some 10 years after the first edition writes, updating the foreword to the work, writes, contradicting Hansson's description, based on the 1918 edition of the work:

"In connection with a great deal not described in this book I had to explain at that time [1904, this commentator] that it could be learned by oral communication. Much of what this referred to has since been published. But these allusions perhaps did not wholly exclude the possibility of erroneous ideas in the reader's mind. It might be possible, for instance, to imagine that something much more vital in the personal relations between the seeker for spiritual schooling and this or that teacher than is intended.

I trust I have here succeeded, by presenting details in a certain way, in emphasizing more strongly that for one seeking spiritual schooling in accord with present spiritual conditions an absolutely direct relation to the objective spiritual world is of far greater importance than a relation to the personality of a teacher. The latter will gradually become merely the helper; he will assume the same position in spiritual schooling as a teacher occupies, in conformity with modern views, in any other field of knowledge.

I believe I have sufficiently stressed the fact that the teacher's authority and the pupil's faith in him should play no greater part in spiritual schooling than in and other branch of knowledge or life. A great deal depends, its seems to me, upon an increasingly true estimate of this relation between the one who carries on spiritual research and those who develop an interest in the results of his research."

In 1991 in a seemingly philosophical journal publishing a broad rhetorical criticism of "The anthroposophical road to knowledge" and anthroposophy as developed by Steiner, one might have expected Hansson, when discussing and arguing about such a central problem as intersubjectivity in research, to have done some more thorough investigation of Steiner's view of it, and noted his own erroneous description of Steiner's view on the relation between student and teacher in spiritual research, when developing anthroposophy separate from theosophy.

It points to a degree of superficiality in the literature research, upon which Hansson bases his article, not normally expected from allegedly scientific papers in philosophical journals.

In an important sense, this criterion establishes intersubjectivity. Let us suppose that every disciple of the anthroposophical road to knowledge judges the authenticity of his visions according to how they conform with those of a forerunner. Let us furthermore suppose that they all use the same forerunner. Then their method is undeniably intersubjective.

However, this particular form of intersubjectivity gives rise to at least two further epistemological problems:

(1) Since there are different occult forerunners with different teachings, how do we (intersubjectively) find out which are the genuine ones?

(2) If the guidance of a teacher is necessary, where did the first occult teacher get his knowledge from?

Steiner does not seem to have tried to solve any of these two problems. In the absence of satisfactory solutions, Steiner's intersubjectivity consists in the subjection to an authority whose superior access to knowledge is merely stipulated. This is intersubjectivity, but an authoritarian form of intersubjectivity.

Again, one may be surprised at the rhetoric superficiality of Hansson's argumentation regarding intersubjectivity in the paper, even probably with his support republished in an allegedly scientific anthology in 2003, after Hansson has become Professor at the Philosophy Unit of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.

It is not true that 'Steiner's intersubjectivity consists in the subjection to an authority whose superior access to knowledge is merely 'stipulated'. That noone after Steiner has ever demonstrably reached the heights of Rudolf Steiner since his death does not make his writings and lectures into an infallible doctrine. (There also exist different later representatives of anthroposophy, who have developed some of the abilities, developed and used by Steiner. They however seldom publish their experiences, as Steiner did.)

Instead it was Steiner's own expressed understanding and view, repeatedly pointing it out in lectures he held, that his observations and descriptions of the spiritual world not in his view were infallible and expressing his wish for people to think for themselves and correct him if they could point to well founded reasons for doing it.

That for example took place in relation to his discussion of coloured shadows during his 'First Science Course' to teachers at the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart around 1920, where a following discussion and demonstration showed that Steiner was incorrect in his in one of the lectures expressed view that coloured shadows had an objective reality in a way, that not was demonstrable on the basis of normal visual observation.

That coloured shadows were objective in the sense described by Steiner in the lecture was however also the view of one of the great physicist of the 19th century, who discussed the phenomenon, and may be one of the sources of Steiner's view on the issue.

As to point 1, the problem of coming to judgements about the reliability and validity of what different people state regarding spiritual contexts is far more complex than indicated by the formulation by Hansson. 

It is correct that Steiner not explicitly and in detail described specific, generally applicable criteria for determining which statements as such about spiritual contexts are reliable and valid and which are not, equally developed as the ones developed to judge the reliability and validity of research results acquired through external experimentation to investigate properties of matter, space and time.

As with statements in natural science, there however are a number of factors supporting the forming of a judgement of the reliability of statements regarding spiritual issues.

Some are "internal", others are "external". To the internal ones belong  internal consistency, and intersubjectivity in the same sense as in natural science.

To the external ones, applicable when the spiritual scientific statements concern properties of matter, time and space, belong experimental tests and considerations.

At this author discusses the epistemological and ontological roots of "spiritual science" in relation to "natural science", pointing to their complementary character, necessitating partly different criteria for judging the reliability and validity of statements in "natural science" and "spiritual science".

Point 2, formulated by Hansson, has the same character as the question of who came first, the egg or the hen. As such, it stands out as surprising to find in an article purporting to be a serious philosophical article discussing the nature of anthroposophy as spiritual science.

In anthroposophical practice, a further problem has ensued: Since Steiner's death in 1925, no one else has reached anywhere near his clairvoyant ability. As one example, in spite of dedicated efforts by thousands of anthroposophists, no one after Steiner seems to have been able to read the Akasha chronicle.

One might have expected anthroposophy, as practised today, to be based mainly on clairvoyant visions by its contemporary practitioners (i.e., visions certified by their agreement with the teachings of Steiner). In practice, however, only a very small part of what anthroposophists believe in has this basis. Instead, Steiner's books and (stenographically recorded) lectures are the dominating source of anthroposophical doctrine.

It would be wrong, however, to denounce this practice as contrary to Steiner's methodology. If one accepts one's own visions only when they are in accord with the teachings of a "forerunner", then nothing could be more natural than accepting these teachings even when one has not had any corresponding visions. Indeed, this is exactly what Steiner adviced those of us to do, "who cannot or do not desire to tread the path into the supersensible world". [21]

There is an obvious parallel between this short cut to anthroposophical knowledge and the normal way of learning science at schools and universities. We do not learn mechanics by meticulously repeating the experiments of Galilei or the observations of Tycho Brahe. We learn ancient Egyptian history without trying to decipher hieroglyphs, etc. Instead, we learn from "forerunners", whose results are summarized in textbooks.

But in spite of the similarity there are at least two important differences. One of them concerns the attitude to critical thinking. In the teaching of ordinary science, the official ideal is to inspire the student to think critically. In anthroposophy, the ideal is to help him suppress critical thinking. This applies not only to the practice of clairvoyance, but also to the secondary acquisition of occult knowledge:

"If such truths are communicated to you, then they will by their own force arouse inspiration in the soul. However, if you want to partake in such inspiration, you must try not to receive these insights [Ertkenntnisse] in a sober-minded and intellectual way [nüchtern und verstandesmässig], but to let the exaltation of the ideas bring you to all emotional experiences that are at all possible." [22]

Hansson's description seriously misrepresents Steiner's view. What Steiner argues for is that to come to an experience of subtle soul- and spiritual phenomena related to nature, other people, or the spiritual world as such, immediately critically analysing them when they start to appear, would kill them off.

Developing observational capacities before intellectually analysing the experiences in relation to the soul- and spiritual world does not mean that intellectual analysis has no place in anthroposophical research, only that it is necessary to postpone it somewhat in relation to developing observational capacities, to give the observations the possibility to mature and stabilize somewhat before analysing them.

For one example of many possible examples of an analysis of anthroposophy, an analysis of it from an epistemological and ontological perspective in relation to a general concept of science, and the way it has developed as natural science during especially the last centuries, see the earlier mentioned paper "What is Science?".

For an example of how an analysis of the understanding of the (double) nature of time, implicit in anthroposophy, as also in Aristotle's analysis of the nature of causality, that casts a possible light on such contemporary issues as the nature and development of the European Union, 70 years after the death of Steiner, see here.

For an analysis of the nature of the cell cycle of eucharyote cells (the subject of one of the Nobel prizes in 2001), and one aspect of the meaning of one of many - at first sight surprising - suggestions by Steiner; that cell biology in Waldorf schools be taught from a "cosmological" perspective, see here.

That such types of analysis not is extensively common in anthroposophical contexts points to one degree of reality basis for Hansson's criticism of anthroposophy, as it has developed during the now almost 80 years after the death of Steiner.

It is however not supported by Hansson's distorted, superficial and mainly rhetorical description of the way Steiner describes the preconditions for and nature of spiritual research, but has, in the view of this author, much more complex causes.

The other major difference concerns access to knowledge. In conventional science, teachers are supposed to encourage beginning students to learn as much as they can, even about the most advanced parts of science. It is not considered "dangerous" for the beginning physicist to try to understand quantum chromodynamics or for the beginning linguist to study some half-deciphered ancient pictographs.

In anthroposophy, however, there are strict limits to what information should be accessible to non-initiates. The disciple's physical senses hide from him "things which, if he were unprepared, would throw him into utter disarray; the sight of them would be more than he could endure. The pupil [Geheimschüler] must be able to endure this sight." [23] It is "a natural law among all Initiates" not to reveal any information to those of us who are not prepared for it. [24]

"You my flatter him, you may torment him: nothing can induce him to divulge anything which he knows should not be divulged to you because at your present stage of development you do not understand how to prepare in your soul a worthy reception for this mystery [Geheimnis]." [25]
The whole of anthroposophy with and after 1904 (the time from which quote 24 and 25 are taken) up to Steiner's death in 1925 and afterwards up to the present contradicts this thesis of Hansson (see foreword to the 5th edition of "Knowledge of Higher Worlds, How is it attained?", published 10 years after the first edition, quoted above). The quote, used by Hansson, is taken from a time when Steiner still was mainly working within the theosophical tradition during his first years as a public spiritual scientist.

Developing anthroposophy out of and separate from theosophical context, he in a lecture 1916 specifically expressed the view, contradicting Hansson's thesis, that it was necessary to make public what formerly had been withheld to a greater public. That has also taken place in anthroposophy, with next to nothing except the personal phone bills of Steiner today having been published of his work and as descriptions of his doings in all sorts of contexts.

'For Steiner's overall view and long term strife, see

Steiner (published essay in 1916):
Its Secrecy in the Past and Publication in our Time
(summarizing at end:)

"We are living in an age when supersensible knowledge can no longer remain the secret possession of a few. No, it must become the common property of all, in whom the meaning of life within this age is stirring as a very condition of their soul's existence. In the unconscious depths of the souls of men this need is already working, far more widespread than many people dream. And it will grow, more and more insistently, to the demand that the science of the Supersensible shall be treated on a like footing with the science of Nature."
In harmony with the basic strife of anthroposophy, to in full make it accessible to anyone interested in it, except for publishing basically all not only written works, but also the transcripts of basically all lectures (public as well as originally not public membership lectures, except mainly duplications of lectures), a large and increasing number of them are also available online on the internet, at

It indicates that what Hansson writes mainly is pure rhetoric, coming from confusing anthroposophy with theosophy at the beginning of the 20th century and incomplete study of the issues he argues about.


3. Testable predictions

According to Steiner, there is no contradiction between anthroposophy and conventional science.
"The results of spiritual science do not in any instance contradict the factual research of natural science. In all cases, when you look impartially at the relation between the two, something quite different will appear for our epoch. It turns out that this factual research steers for the goal of being brought, in not too distant time, into full harmony with what spiritual science must, from its supersensible sources, establish for certain areas". [26]
In other words, conventional science is bound to gradually rediscover the truths already discovered by spiritual science.

Steiner did not accept empirical science as a judge of anthroposophy.

This is an oversimplified statement and in that sense untrue. To the extent that anthroposophy predicts empirically testable events, patterns of events or phenomena that are observable empirically, they of course can be tested empirically.

Much of anthroposophy however concerns soul- and spiritual phenomena, that cannot be tested empirically in any other full sense than to develop the observational capacities necessary to directly observe the phenomena described by Steiner. In this sense, the same holds for anthroposophy as for other psychological or epistemological disciplines. The phenomena concerned are not primarily of an external spatial-temporal nature.

Hansson then discusses three cases that he considers to be proofs that Steiner was wrong in a number of his basic predictions on the future development of natural science.

The examples described by Hansson concern 
1. the nature of atoms
2. the nature of special relativity, and
3. the use of Mercury in the treatment of syphilis.

For comments on the three examples argued about by Hansson, come back to this page in some time for an updated version of it, including the comments.


[1] In what follows, Steiner will be quoted in English translation. Translations published by the anthroposophical movement will be used when available. The German original of some key words will be given in square brackets.

The following abbreviations will be used for the most frequently quoted writings by Steiner:

    Akasha: Rudolf Steiner, Aus der Akasha-Chronik, Dornach, n.d. (For the English translation: Cosmic Memory, Prehistory of Earth and Man, see here, this commentator)
  • Geheimw: Rudolf Steiner, Die Geheimwissenschaft im Umriss, Leipzig 1920.
  • Knowledge: Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. How it is achieved, London 1969. (Translation of Wie Erlangt.)
  • Occult: Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science. An Outline, London 1979. (Translation of Gehiemw.) (For the 1972 edition, see here, this commentator)
  • Stufen: Rudolf Steiner, Die Stufen der hoheren Erkenninis, Dornach 1931.
  • Wie erlangt: Rudolf Steiner, Wie erlangt man Erkenninisse der hoheren Welten?, Berlin 1918.
[2] for "gottliche Wissenshaft", see Wie erlangt, p. 25. (Knowledge p. 41.)

[3] Geheimw, p. 4. (Occult p. 27)

[4] Wie erlangt, p. 61. (Knowledge p. 77)

[5] Wie erlangt, pp. 4-5. (Knowledge pp. 22-23.)

[6] Wie erlangt, p. 6. (Knowledge p. 24)

[7] Wie erlangt, pp. 47 ff. (Knowledge pp. 63 ff.)

[ 8] Wie erlangt, pp. 32-33. (Knowledge p. 49)

[9] Rudolf Steiner, Meditation und Konzentration. Die drei Arten des Hellsehens, Dornach 1935, p. 33.

[10] Geheimw, p. 10. (Occult p. 31)

[11] Wie erlangt, p. 159. (Knowledge p. 170)

[12] Wie erlangt, p. 148. (Knowledge p. 160)

[13] Akasha, p. 2-3.

[14] Akasha, p. 3.

[15] Wie erlangt, p. 32. (Knowledge p. 49)

[16] Akasha, p. 3.

[17] Geheimw, pp. 14-15. (Occult p. 33)

[18] Stufen, p. 65.

[19] Geheimw, p. 21. (Occult p. 37)

[20] Stufen, p. 69.

[21] Wie erlangt, p. X. (Knowledge pp. 15-16.)

[22] Stufen, p. 66.

[23] Wie erlangt, p. 58. (Knowledge p. 74)

[24] Wie erlangt, p. 3. (Knowledge, p. 21)

[25] Wie erlangt, pp. 3-4. (Knowledge, pp. 21-22)

[26] Akasha, p. 227.

[27] Rudolf Steiner, Das Karma des Materialismus, Berliner Vortrage, gehalten im August und September 1917, Berlin 1922, pp. 2:14-15.

[28] Ibid., p. 2:16.

[29] Rudolf Steiner, "Uber Gesundheit und Krankheit", lectures held in 1922 and 1923, quoted from franz Stratmann, Zum Einfluss der Anthroposophie in der Medzin, München 1988, p. 39.

Appendix: [omitted] texts of quotations in original German

Comments by Sune Nordwall, Stockholm, Sweden.

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