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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Truth and Science
GA 3

Translator’s Comments concerning Wahrheit und Wissenschaft

Rudolf Steiner was awarded a doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Rostock in 1891. To his doctoral dissertation he added a preface and a final chapter,1Martina Maria Sam, Prädikat nicht beantragt Zur Benotung von Rudolf Steiners Promotion, Das Goetheanum 3–4 · 2023, p12-15. and this was published as Wahrheit und Wissenschaft, now in its 6th edition (GA3). This is a new English translation of this seminal work, in which he first puts forth a world-view that combines perceptions with concepts, as two sides of a whole.

Wahrheit is cognate with the English word awareness and Wissenschaft with the phrase wising-up-ship. Wahrheit is being aware of the truth of what is in the surrounding world, rather than what we want it to be. Wissenschaft is a more mature activity of seeing perceptions and concepts with clarity and logic, in the sense of "I see what you mean". Seeing comes from the Latin verb scire, the noun form of which is sciēns, and so the title becomes Truth and Science. In translating Wissenschaft as science, however, one must remember that the scientific method can be applied to more than just sense impressions and sensory-derived concepts.

Erkentnistheorie and Wissenschaftslehre occur frequently in the text, and unfortunately both have been translated as epistemology, a Latin-derived term introduced into English philosophy in 1854 by James Frederick Ferrier.2Ferrier posited, much like Steiner, that one cannot conceive of a thing-in-itself because the synthesis of subject-with-object is the minimum unit of cognition, of knowing. The term epistemology did not exist when Fichte wrote his Wissenschaftslehre in 1794. Steiner chose indigenous words rather than Latin-derived words whenever possible, and expounded on this in his 1919 lectures on the Genius of Language. I have tried to do the same. The stem word of Erkenntnistheorie is to know (in the Scottish dialect to ken), and the prefix er- makes it an inner knowing of concepts and intuitions. In this sense Erkenntnistheorie becomes the Theory of Knowing. Wissenschaftslehre becomes the “Principles of Science” itself, or one might say, the doctrine of scientific awareness.

Another problem arises in translating das Ich as the “I”, which sounds awkward in English and is how Steiner said people refer to their ego after death. We must remember that the ego is that part of a person out of which he can say “I am”. It is not used in the Freudian sense of the conscious self in relation to the unconscious id and the adopted cultural rules of the superego. We share soul-nature with the animals, and the divisions of psychology traditionally are thinking, feeling, and willing. We do not share ego-nature with the animals, for it involves spirit-activities such as art, music, humor, belief, recognition, scientific thinking, technique, laughter, and weeping.

Translating Geist as spirit was clouded over at the Council of Constantinople of 869, which declared that people had only soul, and not spirit. Whether this was due to evil intent 3R Steiner, Building Stones for an Understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, GA 175, Lecture I, Berlin, March 27th, 1917 or due to limitations of the Latin language 4John Bickford Heard, The Tripartate Nature of Man, Chapter 1, 1868. is unclear, but it resulted in the split of Roman Catholicism (which used Latin) and Eastern Orthodox (which used Greek). For Greek speakers psyche continued to be distinct from pneuma, which persisted in German speakers with the indigenous words Seele and Geist. English speakers still have the indigenous word soul, but must use the word spirit rather than ghost (which has too many psychological associations).

John Riedel MD