Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Renewal of Education
GA 301

X. Synthesis and Analysis in Human Nature and Education

5 May 1920, Basel

You have seen how spiritual science works toward using educational material as a means for raising children. The scientific forms of the instructional material are presented to the child in such a way that those forces within the child that prepare him or her for development are drawn out. If we are to work fruitfully with the instructional material we have, we need to pay attention to the course of activity of the child’s soul.

If we look at the activity of a human soul, we see two things. The first is a tendency toward analysis and the second is a tendency toward synthesis. Everyone knows from logic or psychology what the essential nature of analysis and synthesis is. But it is important to comprehend these things not simply in their abstract form, as they are normally understood, but in a living way.

We can recall what analysis is if we say to ourselves the following: if we have ten numbers or ten things, then we can imagine these ten things by imagining three, five, and two, and adding to it the idea that ten can be divided, or analyzed as three, five, and two.

When working with synthesis, our concern is just the opposite: we simply add three, five, and two. As I said, in an objective, abstract, and isolated sense, everyone knows what analysis and synthesis are. But when we want to comprehend the life of the human soul, we find that the soul is continuously impelled to form syntheses. For example, we look at an individual animal out of a group of animals and we form a general concept, that of the species. In that case, we summarize, that is, we synthesize. Analysis is something that lies much deeper, almost in the unconscious. This is a desire to make multiplicity out of unity. Since this has been little taken into account, people have understood little of what human freedom represents in the soul. If the activity of the human soul were solely synthetic—that is, if human beings were connected with the external world in such a way that they could onlysynthesize, they could only form concepts of species and so forth—we could hardly speak of human freedom. Everything would be determined by external nature.

In contrast, the soul aspect of all of our deeds is based upon analysis, which enables us to develop freedom in the life of pure thinking. If I am to find the sum of two and five and three, I have no freedom. There is a rule that dictates how much two and five and three are. On the other hand, if I have ten, then I can represent this number ten as nine plus one, or five plus five or three plus five plus two, and so forth. When analyzing, I carry out a completely free inner activity. When synthesizing, I am required by the external world to unfold the life in my soul in a particular way.

In practical life, we analyze when, for example, we take a particular position and say we want to consider one thing or another from this perspective. In this case, we dissect everything we know about the thing into two parts. We analyze and separate everything and then put ourselves in a certain position. For instance, I could consider getting up early purely from the standpoint of, say, a greater inclination to do my work in the early morning. I could also consider getting up early from other perspectives. I might even go so far in my analysis that I have two or three perspectives. In this analytical activity in my soul, I am in a certain way free. Since we develop this analytical soul activity continuously and more or less unconsciously, we are free human beings. No one can overcome the difficulties in the question of human freedom who does not understand this analytical tendency in human beings.

And yet it is just this analytical activity that is normally taken too little into account in teaching and education. We are more likely to take the view that the external world demands synthesis. Consequently synthesizing is what is primarily taken into account rather than analyzing. This is very significant. If, for example, you want to pursue the idea of beginning with dialect when teaching language, it is clear how necessary it is to analyze. The child already has a dialect language. When we have the child speak some sentences, we then need to analyze what already exists in those sentences in order to derive the rules of speech formation from them. We can also develop the analytical activity in instruction much further.

I would like to draw your attention to something that you have probably already encountered in one form or another. What I am referring to is how, for example, when explaining letters we are not primarily involved in a synthetic but rather in an analytic activity. If I have a child say the word fish and then simply write the word on the blackboard, I attempt to teach the child the word without dividing it into separate letters. I might even attempt to have the child copy the word, assuming he or she has been drawing in the way I discussed previously. Of course the child has at this time no idea that there is an f-i-s-h within it. The child should simply imitate what I put on the board. Before I go on to the letters, I would often try to have the child copy complete words.

Now I go on to the analysis. I would try to draw the child’s attention to how the word begins with f. Thus, I analyze the f in the context of the word. I then do the same with the i and so forth. Thus we work with human nature as it is when, instead of beginning with letters and synthesizing them into words, we begin with whole words and analyze them into letters.

This is something we also need to take into account, particularly from the perspective of the development of the human soul in preparation for later life. As you all know, we suffer today under the materialistic view of the world. This perspective demands not only that we only accept material things as being valid. It also insists that we trace everything in the world back to the activities of atoms. It is unimportant whether we think of those atoms in the way people thought of them in the 1880s, that is, as small elastic particles made up of some unknown material, or whether we think of them as people do today—as electrical forces or electrical centers of force. What is important in materialism is material itself, and when the tools of materialism are transferred to our view of the spirit and soul, we think of them as being composed of tiny particles and depending upon the activities of those particles. Today we have come so far that we are no longer aware that we are working with hypotheses. Most people believe it is a proven scientific fact that atoms form the basis of phenomena in the external world.

Why have people in our age developed such an inclination for atomism? Because they have developed insufficient analytical activities in children. If we were to develop in children those analytical activities that begin with unified word pictures and then analyze them into letters, the child would be able to activate its capacity to analyze at the age when it first wants to do so; it would not have to do so later by inventing atomic structures and so forth. Materialism is encouraged by a failure to satisfy our desire for analysis. If we satisfied the impulse to analyze in the way that I have described here, we would certainly keep people from sympathizing with the materialistic worldview.

For this reason in the Waldorf School we always teach beginning not with letters, but with complete sentences. We analyze the sentence into words and the words into letters and then the letters into vowels. In this way we come to a proper inner understanding as the child grasps the meaning of what a sentence or word is. We awaken the child’s consciousness by analyzing sentences and words.

When you accept a child as he is and see how he speaks a dialect, then it is not at all necessary to begin with the opposite method. Children understand the unity of sentences much more than we think. Children whose tendency to analyze is accepted develop a greater awareness than is generally the case in today’s population. We have sinned a great deal in education in regard to the awareness in people’s souls. We could actually say that we sleep not only in the time between falling asleep and awakening, nor are we simply awake during the period from awakening until falling asleep. To some extent during daily life we alternate continually between being awake and being asleep. The activity of inhaling and exhaling is at the same time an illumination and a darkening, though we may not notice it. We do not notice it because it occurs quite quickly and because the darkening and illumination are very weak. The rapidity of the process and the subtlety of the changes make this imperceptible. Nevertheless it is true that with every inhalation we go to sleep in a certain sense, and when we exhale, in a certain sense we awaken. In this sense wakefulness and sleeping continually alternate within us.

This is also true of the mind. As a rule, with every analytical activity we awaken, and with every synthesizing activity we fall asleep. Of course this does not mean the ordinary states we are in during the night or day. Even so there is a relationship between analyzing and awakening and synthesizing and falling asleep. We therefore develop a tendency in the child to confront the world with a wakeful soul when we use the child’s desire to analyze, when we develop the individual details from unified things.

This is something we must particularly take into account in teaching arithmetic. We often do not sufficiently consider the relationship of arithmetic to the child’s soul life. First of all we must differentiate between arithmetic and simple counting. Many people think counting represents a kind of addition, but that is not so. Counting is simply naming differing quantities. Of course, counting needs to precede arithmetic, at least counting up to a certain number. We certainly need to teach children how to count. But we must also use arithmetic to properly value those analytical forces that want to be developed in the child’s soul. In the beginning, we need to attempt, for instance, to begin with the number ten and then divide it in various ways. We need to show the children how ten can be separated into five and five, or into three and three and three and one. We can achieve an enormous amount in supporting what human nature actually strives for out of its inner forces when we do not teach addition by saying that the addends are on the left and the sum is on the right, but by saying that we have the sum on the left and the addends on the right. We should begin with analyzing the sum and then work backwards toward addition.

If you wish, you can take this presentation as a daring statement. Nevertheless those who have achieved an unprejudiced view of the forces within human nature will recognize that when we place the sum on the left and the addends on the right, and then teach the child how to separate the sum in any number of ways, we support the child’s desire to analyze. Only afterward do we work with those desires that actually do not play a role within the soul, but instead are important with interactions of people within the external world. What a child analyzes out of a unity exists essentially only for herself. What is synthesized exists always for external human nature.

Now you might say that what I had said previously regarding the concept of species, for example, is the result ofsyntheses. And that is true. However, we cannot understand the process of synthesizing as simply the creation of abstract concepts. Certainly people believe that when we form general concepts such as wolfor lamb, these are general concepts that develop only in our reasoning.This, however, is not the case. The things that exist outside of all substance, and which we comprehend in the idea of a wolf or lamb, are also real. If they were not real, if only material substance were real, then if we were to cage a wolf and feed it only lamb, after a period of time it would have to become like a lamb. Clearly this is something that will not happen because a wolf is something more than simply the matter out of which it is made. The additional aspect of which a wolf consists becomes clear to us through the concept that we form through synthesis. It is certainly also something that corresponds to an external reality. On the other hand, what we in the end separate out of something into various parts corresponds to something subjective in many cases, but particularly in those cases where our concern is to find a point of view. It is certainly a subjective activity when I separate the sum on the left into the addends so that I have the addends on the right. In that case, I have what needs to be on the right. If I have the sum on the left and then separate it into parts, then I can do the separation from various points of view and thus the addends can take on numerous forms. It is very important to develop this freedom of will in children.

Similarly, in multiplication we should not attempt to begin with the factors and proceed to the product. Instead we should begin with the product and form the factors in many various ways. Only afterwards should we turn to the synthesizing activity. This way through arithmetic people may be able to develop the rhythmic activity within the life of the soul that consists of analyzing and synthesizing. In the way we teach arithmetic today, we often emphasize one side too strongly. For the soul, such overemphasis has the same effect as if we wereto heap breath upon breath upon the body and not allow it to exhale in the proper way. It is important to take the individuality of the human being into account in the proper way. This is what I mean when I speak of the fructification that education can experience through spiritual science.


e need to become aware of what actually wants to develop out of the child’s individuality. First we need to know what can be drawn out of the child. At the outset children have a desire to be satisfied analytically; then they want to bring that analysis together through synthesis. We must take these things into account by looking at human nature. Otherwise even the best pedagogical principles—although they may be satisfying to use and we believe they are fulfilling all that is required—will never be genuinely useful because we do not actually try to look at the results of education in life.

People are curiously short-sighted in their judgment. If you had lived during the 1870s, as I did, you would have heard in Prussia (and also from some people in Austria) that Prussia won the war with Austria in 1866 because the Austrian schools at an earlier time were worse than those in Prussia. It was actually the Prussian teachers who won. Since October 1918 I have not heard similar talk in Germany, although there would perhaps be reason to speak that way. But of course the talk in Germany would have to be the other way around.

We can learn from such things. They show how people have too strong a tendency to form judgments not according to the facts, but according to their sympathies and antipathies, according to what they feel. This is because there are many things in human nature that are not developed, but actually demand to be developed as human forces. We will, however, always find our way if we take the rhythmic needs within the whole human being into account. We do that when we do not simply teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. When teaching addition, we should not simply expect answers to the question of what is the sum of so and so much. Instead we should expect answers to the question of how a sum can be separated in various ways. In contrast, the question with regard to subtraction is, from what number do we need to remove five in order to have the result be eight? In general, we need to pose all these kinds of questions in the opposite way to which they are posed in synthetic thinking when interacting with external world.

Here we can place the teaching of arithmetic in parallel with teaching language, where we begin with the whole and then go on to the individual letters. In our Waldorf School it is very pleasing to see the efforts the children make when they take a complete word and try to find out how it sounds, how we pronounce it, what is in the middle, and so forth, and in that way go on to the individual letters. When we atomize or analyze in this way, children will certainly not have any inclination toward materialism or atomism such as everyone does today, because modern people have been taught only synthetic thinking in school and thus their need to be analytical, their need to separate, can only develop in their worldviews.

We must, however, take something else into account. Human nature, as I mentioned yesterday, basically begins with activity and only then goes on to rest. Just as a baby begins by kicking and waving its arms and then becomes quiet, the entirety of human nature begins with activity and must learn how to come to rest. This process actually needs to be developed quite systematically. Thus what is important is that we, in a sense, educate people based upon their own movement.

It is very easy to make an error in that regard today. I have already tried to show how important it is at the beginning of elementary school to work with the musical and singing elements. We need to work with the child’s musical needs as much as possible. Today, however, it would be very easy for an erroneous prejudice against these ideasto arise. If we look at the modern world—and most of you will have already noticed this—there are nearly as many methods of teaching singing as there are singing teachers. Of course each one always believes his or her own method is the best. If we simply apply these methods of teaching singing and music to adults, who are already beyond the age of development, we can allow them to pick and choose the method they want. Essentially all such methods begin with an erroneous position. They assume that we need to quiet the human organs in order to develop the activity that is desired. Thus, in a sense, the activity of the lungs, for example, must be quieted in order to develop that activity in the lungs which in this case, in singing, should predominate. However, just the opposite occurs within human nature. Nearly all methods of teaching singing that I have every seen actually begin with our modern materialism. They begin with the assumption that the human being is somehow mechanical and needs to be quieted in order to be able to develop the necessary activity. This assumption is something that can never be important when we genuinely see the nature of the human being.

The proper method of teaching singing or developing a musical ear assumes that children normally hear properly,and then a desire develops within the child to imitate so that the imitation adjusts to that hearing. Thus the best method is for the teacher to sing to the children with a certain kind of love and to adjust to what is missing in them musically. In that way, the natural need of the students to imitate and have their mistakes corrected is awakened though what they hear from the teacher. However, in singing, children need to learn what instinctively results from quieting the organs. In the same way, speaking serves to regulate the human breathing rhythm. In school we need to work so that the children learn how to bring their speech into a peaceful regularity. We need to require that the children speak syllable for syllable, that they speak slowly and that they properly form the syllables so that nothing of the word is left out. The children need to grow accustomed to proper speech and verse, to well-formed speech, and develop a feeling rather than a conscious understanding of the rise and fall of the tones in verses. We need to speak to the children in the proper way so that they learn to hear.

During childhood the larynx and neighboring organs adjust to the hearing. As I said, the methods common today may be appropriate for adults, as what results from those methods will be included or not included in one way or another by life itself. In school, however, we need to eliminate all such artificial methods. Here what is most needed is the natural relationship of the teacher to the student. The loving devotion of the child to the teacher should replace artificial methods. I would, in fact, say that intangible effects should be the basis of our work. Nothing would be more detrimental than if all the old aunts and uncles with their teaparty ideas of music and methods were to find their way into school. In school what should prevail is the spirit of the subject. But that can only occur when you, the teacher, are enveloped by the subject, not when you want to teach the subject to the children through external methods.

If in the school education becomes more of an art such as we have been discussing, then I believe people will be less inclined to learn things according to some specific method than they are today. If children at the age of six or seven are taught music and singing in a natural way, later on they will hardly take any interest in the outrageous methods that play such a large role in modern society.

In my opinion, modern education should also require the teacher to look objectively at everything in the artificiality of our age, and eliminate it through instruction during elementary school. There are many things—such as the methods I just mentioned—that are very difficult to overcome. The people who use such methods are fanatical and can see only how their methods may reform the world. In general, it is useless to try to discuss such things reasonably and objectively with these people. Such things can only be brought into their proper context by the next generation. Here is where we can make an impact. In regard to society it is always the next generation that accomplishes a great deal. The art of teaching and education consists not only of the methods used, but also of the perspective that results from the teacher’s interest in the general development of humanity. Teachers need to have a comprehensive interest in the development of humanity, and they need to have an interest in everything that occurs during the present time. The last thing a teacher should do is to limit his or her interests. The interests we develop for the cultural impulses of our age have an enlivening effect upon our entire attitude and bearing as teachers. You will excuse me when I say that much of what is properly felt to be pedantic in schools would certainly go away if the faculty were interested in the major events of life and if they would participate in public activities. Of course, people don’t like to see this, particularly in reactionary areas, but it is important for education not to simply have a superficial interest.

A question was asked of me today that is connected with what I have just said. I was asked what the direction of language is, what we should do so that all of the words that have lost their meaning no longer form a hindrance to the development of thinking, so that a new spiritual life can arise. An English mathematician who attempted to form a mathematical description of all the ways of thinking recently said, in a lecture he gave on education, that style is the intellectual ethical aspect. I think this could be a genuine literary ideal. In order to speak or write ethically each person would need a particular vocabulary for himself, just as each people does now. In language as it is now, the art of drama only develops the words, but seldom develops general human concepts. How can we transform language so that in the future the individual thought or feeling, as well as the generality of the individual concept, becomes audible or visible? Or should language simply disappear and be replaced by something else in the future?

Now that is certainly quite a collection of questions! Nevertheless I want to go into them a little today; tomorrow and the next day I will speak about them in more detail. It is necessary to look into how more external relationships to language exist in our civilized languages, since they are in a certain way more advanced than external relationships that exist in other languages. There is, for example, something very external in translation by taking some text in one language and looking up the words in a dictionary. When working this way you will in general not achieve what exists in the language beyond anything purely external. Language is not simply permeated by reason; it is directly experienced, directly felt. For that reason, people would become terribly externalized if everyone were to speak some general language like Esperanto. I am not prejudiced; I have heard wonderful-sounding poems in Esperanto. But much of what lives in a language in regard to the feelings, the life of the language, would be lost through such a universal language. This is also something that is always lost when we simply translate one language word for word into another using a dictionary. We therefore need to say that in one sense the man who spoke about that here was quite correct, although it is not good to make such things into formulas. It is not good to try to formulate thoughts mathematically or to do other things that are only of interest in the moment. What we can say, though, is that it is important for us to try to imbue our language with spirit. Our language, like all civilized languages, has moved strongly into clichés. For that reason, it is particularly good to work with dialect.

Dialects, where they are spoken, are more alive than so-called standard language. A dialect contains much more personal qualities: it contains secret, intimate qualities. People who speak in dialect speak more accurately than those who speak standard language. In dialect, it is more difficult to lie than it is in standard language. That assertion may appear paradoxical to you, but it is nevertheless true in a certain sense. Of course I am not saying there are no bald-faced liars who speak dialect. But it is true that such people must be much worse than they would need to be if they were to lie only in educated, standard language. There you do not need to be as bad in order to lie, because the language itself enables lying more than when you speak in dialect. You need to be a really bad person if you are to lie in dialect because people love the words in dialect more than they do those of standard language. People are ashamed to use words in dialect as clichés, whereas the words in standard language can easily be used as clichés. This is something that we need to teach people in general—that there are genuine experiences in the words. Then we need to bring life into the language as well.

Today hardly anyone is interested in trying to bring life into language. I have tried to do that in my books in homeopathic doses. In order to make certain things understandable, I have used in my books a concept that has the same relationship to force as water flowing in a stream does to the ice on top of the stream. I used the word kraften (to work actively, forcefully). Usually we only have the word Kraft, meaning “power” or “force.” We do not speak of kraften. We can also use similar words. If we are to bring life into language, then we also need a syntax that is alive, not dead. Today people correct you immediately if you put the subject somewhere in the sentence other than where people are accustomed to having it. Such things are still just possible in German, and you still have a certain amount of freedom. In the Western European languages—well, that is just terrible, everything is wrong there. You hear all the time that you can’t say that, that is not English, or that is not French. But, to say “that is not German” is not possible. In German you can put the subject anywhere in the sentence. You can also give an inner life to the sentence in some way. I do not want to speak in popular terms, but I do want to emphasize the process of dying in the language. A language begins to die when you are always hearing that you cannot say something in one way or another, that you are speaking incorrectly. It may not seem as strange but it is just the same as if a hundred people were to go to a door and I were to look at them and decide purely according to my own views who was a good person and who was a bad person. Life does not allow us to stereotype things. When we do that, it appears grotesque. Life requires that everything remain in movement. For that reason, syntax and grammar must arise out of the life of feeling, not out of dead reasoning. That perspective will enable us to continue with a living development of language.

Goethe introduced much dialect into language. It is always good to enliven written language with dialect because it enables words to be felt in a warmer, more lively way. We should also consider that a kind of ethical life is brought into language. (This, of course, does not mean that we should be humorless in our speech. Friedrich Theodore Vischer2 wrote a wonderful book about the difference between frivolity and cynicism. It also contains a number of remarks about language usage and about how to live into language.) When teaching language, we have a certain responsibility to use it also as a training for ethics in life. Nevertheless there needs to be some feeling; it should not be done simply according to convention. We move further and further away from what is alive in language if we say, as is done in the Western European languages, that one or another turn of phrase is incorrect and that only one particular way of saying things is allowed.