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Social science

“Now let us look at what for the general social situation arises from the perverted nature of our higher education. Yesterday in a public lecture I had to draw attention to how, strictly speaking, neither in the national economy of the bourgeoisie nor in that of the proletariat have we any reflection of the real social conditions, because we simply have not had the ability to arrive at a true social science. What then has arisen under the bourgeoisie in place of social science? Something of which people are very proud and never tired of praising, namely, modem sociology.

Now this modern sociology is the most nonsensical product of culture that could possibly have arisen; for it sins against all the most elementary requirement for a social science. This sociology seeks to be great by taking no account of anything that could lead to social will, social impulse, merely noting historically and statistically the so-called sociological facts, to prove, or so it appears, that the human being is a kind of social animal living within a community. It has furnished strong evidence of this, unconsciously it is true, furnished it by not advancing anything but the most insipid sociological views which are the common property of everyone — mere trivialities. Nowhere is there the will to discover social laws and how they must effect the social will of man.

Hence in this sphere the force of all life of spirit is crippled. We must calmly admit that all levels of society today that are not proletarian lack anything in the way of social will. Social will is non-existent just because, where it is meant to be cultivated, namely in centres for higher education, sociology has replaced social science — an ineffective sociology in place of a social science which pulsates in the will and stimulates the human being. These matters have their roots deep in the cultural life; it is there that they have to be sought if they are ever to be found.

Let us reflect how different our situation would be in life if what we have previously discussed here were to be carried out. Instead of our gaze being turned back to the most ancient epochs of culture, which took their shape from quite different communal conditions, from the age of fourteen or fifteen upwards, when the sentient soul with its delicate vibrations is coming to life, the human being must be led directly to all that touches us most vitally in the life of the time. He should have to learn what has to do with agriculture, what goes on in trade, and he should learn about the various business connections. All this ought to be absorbed by a human being. Imagine how differently he would then face life, what an independent being he would be, how he would refuse to have forced upon him what today is prized as the highest cultural achievement, but which is nothing but the most depressing phenomenon of decadence”.

Rudolf Steiner, Social Basis For Primary and Secondary Education, Lecture III. Lectures in Stuttgart, 1919, GA192.



Rudolf Steiner is pointing the way to his adumbration of the idea of the threefold social order when he speaks of a true social science, as opposed to sociology. But even if the threefold social order is not taught as such at a university, there can be a method of teaching which guides students towards a true social scientific thinking, a cognitive imagination. Sociology is an offshoot of positivist science, seeking total objectivity – and ends up just being a survey. By contrast, students can be asked about their experience, imagining what it would be like to be in a specific social phenomenon. Then they can begin to understand what the human impacts of this phenomenon are, and even its spiritual import. Broader and deeper perspectives are introduced. Their research can be shaped initially, at least, as a “story”, spoken in language which is both rational and from the heart – like for example, the Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017) and the poet Judith Wright’s contributions toward aboriginal and white reconciliation. Imaginative, human-centred thinking prepares a way for students themselves to approach anthroposophical understanding, as in the quotation above under Student Culture and Experience: “The study of academic subjects could and should provide the starting point from which young people can arrive at their own intuitive perception of the spiritual legacy of anthroposophy. Let me emphasise that I refer specifically to the human being’s self-generated perception.”



Steiner Education Centenary Revival

A booklet of specially selected excerpts from Rudolf Steiner's thoughts on education and the threefold social order. All proceeds are donations to the Education for Social Renewal Foundation. Click here to make an order. 

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