The Secret of the Human Temperaments
Berlin, 4th March, 1909
I have often emphasised that the human being himself is the biggest riddle to the human being. Any deeper physical research tries to arrive at its last aim while it combines all physical processes to understand the external lawfulness, and any spiritual science visits the sources of existence in order to understand the nature and destination of the human being. If this is right without question that generally the human being is the biggest riddle to the human being, one has to emphasise, on the other side, that any human being is a riddle to the other human beings and to himself. We all feel that at any meeting with a human being in most cases. We are not dealing with the general riddles of existence today, but with the riddle, which is not less significant for life, which any human being poses us at any meeting. For the human beings are indefinitely different in their individual, deepest inside. One needs only to pronounce the word temperament, which should form the basis of our talk today, to see that there are as many riddles as human beings. Within the basic types, we have such a variety and difference among the human beings that one can probably say that within the peculiar basic mood of the human being, which one calls temperament, the peculiar riddle of existence expresses itself.
Where the riddles intervene in the immediate life praxis, the prevailing mood of the human being, the temperament, plays a role. If the human being faces us, we feel something of this prevailing mood facing us. Therefore, one may only hope that spiritual science has to say the necessary also about the nature of temperaments. We feel the temperaments of the human being belonging to the appearance, because they express themselves in everything that faces us outside, even if we have to admit that the temperaments originate from inside. However, one cannot solve the riddle of the human being by an external physical consideration. We can only approach the peculiar basic mood of the human being if we get to know what spiritual science has to say about the human being. We learn at first why the human being is put in a line of inheritance. He shows the qualities which he has inherited from father, mother, grandparents and so on. He hands down these features to his descendants. Because he is in a line of generations, because he has ancestors, he has certain qualities. However, what he inherits from his ancestors gives us only one side of the human being. With that combines what the human being brings along from the spiritual world, what he adds to that which father and mother, the ancestors can give him. With that which flows down in the current of generations combines something else that goes from life to life, from existence to existence. On one side, we say, the human being has this or that from his ancestors. However, we realise if we see a human being developing from childhood that he develops from the core of his nature what is the fruit of preceding lives, what he could never have inherited from his ancestors. We know the principle of reincarnation, the result of the curricula vitae. This is nothing else than the special case of a general world principle.
It does not appear so paradoxical to us if we consider the following: look at a lifeless mineral, a rock crystal. It has a regular shape. If it perishes, it leaves nothing of its shape that continues that could go over to other rock crystals. The new crystal gets nothing of its shape. If we rise up from the world of minerals to the world of plants, we realise that from the same principle, like with the rock crystal, a plant cannot originate. A plant can be there only if it is derived from the preceded plant. Here the shape is preserved and transferred to the other being. If we go up to the animal world, we realise that a development of the species takes place. We realise that just the nineteenth century saw its biggest results, discovering this development of the species. We realise that not only from a shape another shape arises, but that any young animal experiences the former shapes, the lower phases of development, in the body of the mother once again which its ancestors had.
With the animals, we have an increase of the species. With the human being, we have not only an increase of the species, but also a development of the individuality. What the human being acquires in the course of his life by education, by experience gets lost just as little as the line of ancestors of the animals. A time will come when one leads back the essence of the human being to a previous existence. One will recognise that the human being is a fruit of a former existence. The opposition against which this teaching must settle down will be overcome; even as the opinion of the scholars of former centuries was overcome, that life could originate from inanimate, for example, from river mud. Still 300 years ago, physical research believed that animals develop from river mud, so from something inanimate. It was an Italian naturalist, Francesco Redi (1626–1697, Experiments on the Generation of Insects, 1668) who asserted first that life can originate only from life. He was attacked because of this teaching; he almost experienced the fate of Giordano Bruno (1544–1600). Burning someone at the stake is no longer in fashion today. Someone who comes out with a new truth today, who wants to lead back, for example, something mental-spiritual to something mental-spiritual is not burnt at the stake today, but one considers him as a fool. A time will come when one regards as nonsense to think that the human being lives only once, that nothing remains there that combines with the inherited features.
Now there the big question emerges: how is that able, which comes from quite different worlds, which has to look for father and mother, to combine with the bodily-physical, how can it dress with the physical features, by which the human being is put in the line of inheritance? How does the union of both currents take place, the spiritual-mental current, in which the human being is put by reincarnation, and the bodily current of the line of inheritance? A balance must be created. While both currents unite, one current colours the other. They colour each other. As well as the blue colour and the yellow colour unite in green, both currents unite in the human being to that which one calls his temperament. Here the mental of the human being and the natural inherited features ray out. The temperament stands in the middle between that by which the human being joins the line of his ancestors and that which he brings along from his former embodiment. The temperament compensates the everlasting with the transient. This balance happens because the members of the human nature enter into a particular mutual relationship.
We know this human being as he faces us in life as the coalescence of both currents, we know him as a four-membered being. First, one has to consider the physical body, which the human being has in common with the mineral world. He receives the etheric or life body as the first supersensible member, which remains united with the physical body during the whole life; only at death, a separation of both occurs. The astral body follows as the third member, the carrier of instincts, impulses, passions, desires and of all that surges up and down as sensations. The highest human member, by which he towers above all beings, is the bearer of the ego that gives him the strength of self-consciousness in such mysterious way but also in such obvious way. We have met these four members in the human being.
Because these two currents flow together in the human being when he enters the physical world, a different mixture of four human members originates, and one controls the others, so to speak, and imprints the mood into them. If the ego-bearer controls the other members, the choleric temperament prevails. If the astral body rules over the other members, we attribute a sanguine temperament to the human being. If the etheric body or life body prevails, we speak about the phlegmatic temperament. If the physical body prevails, it concerns a melancholy temperament. Just like everlasting and transient mix with each other, the relationship of the members occurs. I have already often said how the four members express themselves externally in the physical body. The ego expresses itself in the blood circulation. Therefore, the blood system prevails in the choleric person. The astral body finds its physical expression in the nervous system; therefore, the nervous system of the physical body is predominant in the sanguine person. The etheric body expresses itself physically in the glandular system; therefore, the glandular system is predominant with the phlegmatic. The physical body as such is expressed only in the physical body; therefore, the physical body is externally predominant with the melancholic. We can recognise this in all phenomena that face us in the single temperaments.
With the choleric person, the ego and the blood system are predominant. Therefore, he appears as that person who wants to assert his ego at any price. From the circulation of the blood all aggressive of the choleric person originates, everything that is connected with the strong will nature of the choleric person. The sensations and emotions surging up and down are in the nervous system and the astral body. Only because the ego restrains these, harmony and order come into being. If he did not restrain them with his ego, they would surge up and down. One would not notice that the human being controls them anyhow. He would be given away to incessantly changing sensations, images, and mental pictures and so on, because the astral body and the nervous system prevail in him.
Something happens if the astral body prevails, so with the sanguine person who is given away in a certain way to the pictures, sensations and images surging up and down, because with him the astral body and the nervous system prevail. The blood circulation is the tamer of the nervous life. What occurs if a person is anaemic, if the tamer is not there? Then the pictures, illusions, hallucinations appear unrestrained. We have a small touch of it with the sanguine person. The sanguine person cannot stay at an impression, he cannot adhere to a picture, and he does not stick to an impression with interest. He hurries from life impression to life impression, from perception to perception. One can observe this, especially with the sanguine child; it can cause problems. Interest is quickly there, a picture has an effect quickly, makes an impression quickly, but the impression has disappeared again quickly.
Let us change over to the phlegmatic temperament! We recognised that the phlegmatic temperament originates if the etheric body or life body prevails, which regulates growth and life processes of the human being. It expresses itself as inner comfort. The more the person lives in his etheric body, the more he is occupied in himself and lets the external things slide. He is occupied in his inside.
With the melancholic, we have seen that the physical body, the densest member of the human being, controls the others. If the densest part prevails, the person always feels in such a way that he does not control it, cannot use it. For the physical body is the instrument which he should control by his higher members everywhere; however, this physical body controls now, opposes to the other members. The human being feels this as pain, listlessness, as the misty mood of the melancholic. Always pains emerge. This mood is because the physical body reacts against the internal comfort of the etheric body, the mobility of the astral body and the purposefulness of the ego.
What we see there as the mixture of four human members, faces us in the external picture in no uncertain manner. If the ego is predominant, the person wants to assert himself against any external opposition. Then it really restrains the growth of the other members, the astral body and the etheric body, does not let them come to their own. You can notice that already externally.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, for example, the German choleric person, is recognizable quite externally as such. His growth disclosed quite externally that the other members were restrained. Or a classical example of a choleric person is Napoleon who remained so small because his ego restrained the other members. Of course, it does not concern that one states that the choleric person is small and the sanguine person is tall. We are only allowed to compare the figure of the human being to his own growth. It matters in which proportion growth is to the whole figure.
With the sanguine person the nervous system, the astral body prevails. It is flexible in itself and works on the members; it also makes the outer likeness of the human being as flexible as possible. If we have clear-cut features with the choleric person, the sanguine person has movable, expressive, changing features. Even in the slim figure, in the skeleton, we see the internal mobility of the astral body with the whole human being. In the slim muscles, for example, it is expressed. One can see this also in that which the human being externally lives out. Going behind a person, someone can also recognise who is not clairvoyant whether he is a sanguine type or choleric person. One does not need to be a clairvoyant. If one sees a choleric person going, one can observe how he places any foot in such a way, as if he wants to touch not only the ground with every step, but as if the foot should go into the ground a bit. However, with the sanguine person we have a hopping, jumping gait. In addition, one can find finer characteristics in the external figure. The inwardness of the ego-nature, the closed inwardness of the choleric person faces us in the black eye of the choleric person. Have a look at the sanguine person with whom the ego-nature is not rooted so deeply with whom the astral body pours out its whole mobility, the blue eye is prevailing there. Thus, many signs could be stated which show the temperament in the outer appearance.
The phlegmatic temperament faces us in the immobile, impassive physiognomy, in the corpulence, especially concerning the body fat; since the etheric body works out this in particular. In all that, the inner comfort of the phlegmatic faces us. He has a slouching gait. He does not tread orderly, so to speak, he does not relate himself to the things.
Have a look at the melancholic with his head hanging down; he does not have the strength to stiff his nape. The eye is dull; there is not the shine of the black eye of the choleric person. Indeed, the gait is steady, but it is not the gait of the choleric person, it is somewhat dragging.
Thus, you recognise how significantly spiritual science can contribute to the solution of this riddle. Only if one aims at the whole reality to which also the spiritual belongs, if one does not stay in the sensuous reality only, life praxis can result from knowledge. Therefore, this knowledge can flow only from spiritual science, so that it is for the benefit of the whole humanity and the single human being. With education, one has to pay attention to the kind of temperament, because it is especially important to direct the developing temperaments of the children. Also later with the self-education, it is still important for the human being. With someone who wants to educate himself it is favourable to pay attention to his temperament.
I have stated the basic types to you. Of course, so pure they do not appear in life. Any human being has only the tonic of a temperament; besides, he has something of the others. Napoleon had, for example, a lot of phlegm, although he was a choleric person. If we control life practically, it matters that we can open ourselves to that which expresses itself typically. How important it is, you see this very best if you take into consideration that the temperaments can get out of control, that that which can face us in one-sidedness can also get out of control. What would the world be without temperaments if the human beings had one temperament only! The most boring what you could imagine! The world without temperaments, not only in the moral, but also in the higher sense would be boring. All variety, beauty, and wealth of life are only possible by the temperaments. With education, it does not concern of balancing out the temperaments, but the point is that they are brought on the right lines.
However, any temperament contains a little danger and a big danger of degeneracy. With the choleric person, the danger exists in his youth that he gets his ego imprinted wrathfully without being able to control himself. This is the little danger. The big danger is the folly that wants to pursue any goal out of the ego. With the sanguine temperament, the little danger is that the human being becomes addicted to volatility. The big danger is that the sensations surging up and down discharge into madness. The little danger of the phlegmatic is the indifference towards the outer world; the big danger is idiocy, stupor. The little danger of the melancholy temperament is the gloom, the possibility that the human being does not come out of that which arises in his inside. The big danger is insanity.
If we consider all that, we realise that it is a significant task of life praxis to direct the temperaments. However, to direct the temperaments, one has to take the principle into consideration that one must always be envisaged with that which is there, not with that which is not there. If a child has a sanguine temperament, we cannot help it along in its development that we want to knock interest into it; one cannot drill something else into it than what is just its sanguine temperament. We should not ask, what does the child lack, what have we to drill into it? — However, we should ask, what does a sanguine child have normally?
We must count on it. As a rule, we find that interest can always be excited; the interest in any personality can always be excited no matter how flighty the child is. If we only are the right person, or if we are able to associate the right person to it, an interest already appears. Only on the detour of the love for a person, an interest can appear with the sanguine child. More than any other temperament the sanguine child needs love for a personality. One has to do that love awakes with such a child. Love is the magic word. We must see what is there. We have to bring all kinds of things in the surroundings of the child from which one has noticed; nevertheless, that it has a deeper interest in them. One must let these things speak to the sanguine child, let work on it, and then one has to take away the things from it again, so that the child desires them again, and one has to give them again. One has to bring them into effect in such a way as the objects of the usual world work on the sanguine temperament.
With the choleric child, there is also a detour by which the development is always to be directed. Respect and appreciation of an authority is that which directs education. Here it does not concern ingratiating by personal qualities, like with the sanguine child, but it matters that the choleric child always has the confidence that the educator understands the matter. One must show that one is in the know of the matters which take action around the child. One must not show any weakness. The child has to receive the confidence always that the educator is able to do the matter, otherwise, he has lost immediately. If love for personality is the charm for the sanguine child, respect and appreciation is that for the choleric child. One has to put obstructions in its way particularly. One must try to make life not so easy for it.
The melancholy child is not easy to be led. Here, however, is a charm again. As with the sanguine child love for a personality, with the choleric respect and appreciation of the educator are the magic words, with the melancholy child that matters that the educators are personalities who are proved in life in a certain way who act and speak out of life experience. The child must feel that the educator has gone through real pains. Allow the child to notice your own destiny in all the hundreds of different matters of life. Empathy with the destiny of that who is around one works educating here. In addition, here with the melancholy child one has to count on that which it has. It has ability of pain, of listlessness in itself; they are in its inside, we cannot beat them out of it. However, we can deflect them. We let it experience justified pain, justified grief in the outside life, so that it gets to know that there are matters in which it can experience pain. That is the point. One is not allowed to dispel it: thereby you harden its gloom, its pain inside. It should see that there are things in life in which one can experience pain.
Even if one is not allowed to carry it too far, nevertheless, it matters that pain is excited in the external things that deflects it. The phlegmatic should not grow up lonely. It is good that the others have playmates; the phlegmatic child should have them at any rate. It must have playmates with the manifold interests. One can educate it by the empathy of the interests of others as much as possible. If it behaves indifferently towards the surroundings, its interest can be aroused by the fact that the interests of the playmates work on it. If it depends on the empathy with the destiny of another person with the melancholy child, it depends on the empathy with the interests of its playmates with the phlegmatic child. Not things as those work on the phlegmatic; but if the things are reflected in other human beings, these interests are reflected in the soul of the phlegmatic child. Then we should take into consideration in particular that we bring objects in its surroundings, let events take place in its nearness where phlegm is appropriate. One must direct phlegm to the right objects where one is allowed to be phlegmatic.
Thus, we see spiritual science intervening in the practical questions of life with these principles of education. The human being can also take charge of his self-education. For example, the sanguine person does not achieve a goal saying to himself, you have a sanguine temperament, and you must give it up. — The intellect, directly applied, is often an obstacle in this field. However, it is capable of many things indirectly. The intellect is the weakest soul force here. With stronger soul forces, as the temperaments, the intellect is very little capable directly, can work only indirectly. The human being must envisage his sanguine temperament; self-admonitions are of no avail. It depends on showing the sanguine temperament at the right place. We can get experiences by the intellect for which the short interest of the sanguine person is entitled. If we cause such conditions in microcosm where the short interest is justified, it has already caused what is necessary. With the choleric temperament, there it is good to choose such objects where it is senseless to rage, where we reduce ourselves to absurdity.
The melancholy temperament should not disregard pains and sufferings of life, but it should just visit them, should suffer vicariously, so that his pain is deflected to the right objects and events. If we are phlegmatic persons who have no interests, it is good that we deal much with dull objects, surround us with quite a lot of sources of boredom so that we are bored thoroughly. Then we cure ourselves thoroughly of our phlegm, we break ourselves of it thoroughly. Thus, one counts on that which is there, and not on that which is not there.
If we fulfil ourselves with life wisdom, we become able to solve the basic riddle of life, which the single human being presents us. We cannot solve it positioning abstract images and concepts here and there. One can solve the general human riddle in pictures. This single riddle is to be solved not by positioning abstract images and concepts here and there, but we have to meet any single human being in such a way that we show him immediate understanding. However, we are only able to do this if we know what is at the bottom of the soul. Spiritual science is something that flows slowly and gradually in our whole soul, so that it makes the soul not only receptive to the big connections, but also to the fine details. With spiritual science it is in such a way that if a soul faces the other and this demands love, it is met with love. If it demands anything else, it gives it. Thus, we create social bases by such true wisdom. That means solving a riddle at any moment. Anthroposophy does not work by preaching, admonishing, moralising, but creating a social basis in which the human being can recognise the human being. Spiritual science is the basis of life, and love is the blossom and the fruit of such a life animated by spiritual science. Hence, spiritual science is allowed to say that it founds something that proves to be a basis of that which is the greatest goal of human destiny: real, true human kindness.