No one is better qualified to inform our final chapter of exploration into Goethe’s way of knowing than Rudolf Steiner. While Goethe entertained only a fleeting interest in Kant, Steiner describes undertaking an intensive study of The Critique of Pure Reason even in his youth, even going to far as to exchange its original book jacket with that of one of his history textbooks in order to supplement his primary school education with critical philosophy without risking the disapproval of his instructors. Furthermore, in 1882 the twenty-one year old Steiner was appointed to the editorship of Goethe’s scientific writings; a task in in which he was directly engaged for fourteen years to follow. In fact, Steiner even recounted that, while working in his capacity as editor for the Goethe archives in Weimar, he held in his hand Goethe’s personal copy of Kant’s Third Critique and noticed that former’s enthusiastic highlights and marginal commentary diminished conspicuously after the first half of the work, leading Steiner to suspect that Goethe never finished the critique. Nevertheless, as we indicated above, Steiner was competent to evaluate the views of both great thinkers, and therefore provides our exploration with an outlook that is informed and comprehensive.
Steiner’s time as the editor of the scientific section of Goethe’s work saw the publication of three separate monographs on Goethe’s approach to science, which evolved into an explication of his own theory of knowledge in Truth and Science in 1892 (Warheit und Wissenschaft)  and culminated in 1894 with The Philosophy of Freedom (Philosophie der Freiheit). These, together with countless lectures in which Steiner addressed this subject, provide ample material for study, despite that Steiner’s work, like those of all great thinkers, “knows for whom it should speak and for whom it should remain silent,” or for whom it should equivocate. For instance, Steiner explicitly advised against the common translation of what he took to be his most important work on the basis of essentially different conceptions that German and English speakers hold of Freiheit and “freedom,” respectively. Steiner’s preferred translation for Freiheit was “spiritual (geistig) activity.” This removes the pebble out of one shoe by putting it in the other, however, because English ultimately has no commensurate term for Geist. The English cognate of this word is “ghost,” but the latter’s intension has obviously drifted away from its fraternal twin. “Spiritual” is a distinctly sub-optimal translation because that word implies an antithesis to scientific rigour for many English speakers and thus precludes an evaluation of any eventual argument on the basis of a foregone association. “Noetic” is likely a preferable translation for just the reason that it is less common and as a result implies fewer distracting connotations. We will presently attempt to reveal what Steiner meant indicate with his advice to translation Freiheit as “spiritual activity” and this task will demand an inquiry into Steiner’s philosophy.
In the last chapter, we hinted that Steiner’s philosophy represents Goetheanism in full-flower, or “Goetheanism come of age.” Let us consider what this may might mean. A leitmotif of this entire exploration has been Goethe’s notion of “the open secret” (das offene Gehiemnis), as encapsulated in what he have termed “the Goethean maxim”:
The highest were to grasp that everything phenomenal is already noumenal. The blue of the heavens proclaim the principle of colour-theory. A man should not seek behind the phenomena, but allow himself to be instructed by them.
Goethe’s way of knowledge is to comprehend the phenomena on their own terms without first translating them into terms that are foreign to them. A quintessential example of this is to translate the qualities of colour into quantitative measurements (e.g. as degree of refrangibility, corpuscle size, or wavelength). “Man in himself,” Goethe writes
insofar as he uses his healthy senses, is the greatest and most accurate physical apparatus that there can be, and that is precisely what is of the greatest harm to modern physics, that one has, as it were, separated experiments from man.
For Goethe, as for Steiner, to study wavelengths was simply to study something other than colour. Specifically, it was to study the phenomenon that the human being experiences as colour insofar as it can be transposed into other media, like quantitative oscillations in a medium of which we know not.
An immediate objection will likely be raised, especially in our day, to the assertion that the human being could be “the greatest and most accurate physical apparatus there can be.” After all, the human senses appear entirely inadequate to the demands of modern science. As Eddington pointed out in 1927, of the “two tables,” only one is perceptible to the human senses, while
My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered in that emptiness are numerous electric charges rushing about with great speed; but their combined bulk amounts to less than a billionth of the bulk of the table itself. 
Eddington goes on to invoke the statistical nature of quantum mechanics to claim that the fact that his hand does not pass straight through the table is because it is extremely unlikely. We have already treated the difficulties inherent in this approach to science, which assumes as a methodological postulate that anatomisation is the path to understanding, in Chapter 3. Suffice it here to note that it is by no means self-evident that the “cords and pulleys” explain “the beautiful show,” especially since the only reason the former were gathered in the first place was for the sake of the latter, and because any conclusive observation will ultimately depend on the same basic faculties of sense and cognition as those which were employed to perceive the drama itself, only now the object of this perception has been shunted further from the natural domain of sensibility. The same difficulty erects a boundary of knowledge at the smallest scale, in which an observation is required in order to collapse the wave-function of a “particle”  from a superposition, which is a statistical distribution of potential measurements, to an eigenvalue, which is an actual measurement of one of these said values. In other words, the final measure of a phenomenon will always be an observation, and when the object of inquiry is pushed to the very limits of phenomenality, this connection is revealed to be ineluctable. Any technological instrument is like a spy which the magistrate enlists to probe the secret places of Nature. It is often ignored that, no matter what the spy’s testimony, the magistrate will still have to judge it. For this reason, all science is subjective in that it depends on the scientist to comprehend it. Goethe laments that modern physics has “separated experiments from man” because it distances Nature from comprehension.
Elsewhere, Goethe compared researchers who insist on placing the ultimate explanation for the phenomena on the yonder side of their appearance, in the manner of the majority of modern thinkers since the Scientific Revolution, including Newton, Helmholtz, and Kant, to “little children who after peeping into a mirror turn it round directly to see what is on the other side.”  Steiner carries forward Goethe’s approach to knowledge by bringing concerted attention to the process of cognition. The latter is, as we indicated above, the process upon which all science depends. It is ironic, for this reason, that a culture as scientifically-oriented as our own has placed such a comparatively small value on it. There is no science of science, in other words. “If I know my relationship to myself and to the outer world, then I call it truth,” Goethe writes.  Goethe’s meaning germinates in the light that a passage from Steiner can shed on it:
The fact that someone with a well-developed inner life gains insight into a thousand different things—which entirely escaped the one who lacks such development—demonstrates, clear as day, that we behold, as outer reality only the mirror-image of our inner understanding, and that the true nature of the outer (i.e. percepts) is an empty shell to be filled with content (i.e.concepts) by our active intellects. Of course, we must posses the quickness of mind to catch our own spiritual activity as it produces our experience lest we passively recognise only the outer products of this spiritual activity—lest we recognise only the reflection of our spirits (Geister) and never cognise the spirit that is being mirrored. Even one who confronts a physical mirror will only recognise her own image provided that she bears a concept of herself to begin with. 
What we can look at is what we can look for, and what we can look for is a function of our “inner understanding,” our “freedom,” our “spiritual activity.” Steiner sets forth a picture of the phenomenal world as a reflection of the noumenal one. In this manner, he carried Goethe’s theory of knowledge itself through an enhancement or Steigerung. Goethe wished to study the phenomena themselves, Steiner to comprehend their essential nature. If the truth of Steiner’s conception can be experienced, then how futile indeed will the researcher appear who attempts to penetrate the reflections in search of their causes because his pursuit is undertaken in exactly the wrong direction. If he appears to succeed, he has only inadvertently changed the subject, as it were. In other words, he has substituted the object of his inquiry for another one, but has nevertheless failed to escape the ultimate contingency of knowledge or science on a knower or scientist, whose capacity to know is vitiated by a dismissal of this connection.
The passage above also explicates the intentional activity that is correlate to every object of perception. In this manner, Steiner prefigured the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. What Steiner calls concept (Begriff) and percept (Wahrnehmung), Husserl calls “noesis” and “noema,” respectively. The former finds its reflection in the latter. “Concept and perception confront each other, to be sure, as kindred yet different sides of the world,” Steiner writes. The reader will likely recognise an immediate likeness to Aristotle’s notions of form and matter, provided that, between the present chapter and the last, she has not inadvertently exchanged the Classical conception of matter with the Modern one. Similarly, the only proper relation of noumenon and phenomenon is along these same lines, since “whatness” of the latter is grasped by means of the former, and the the former is particularised, or granted its “thatness” by means of the latter. Put another way, knowledge is completion, not the creation of an inner facsimile of an outer world. Something of the latter remains only in potency before it is known, at which point it is more fully actual, and more fully itself. The manner in which a scene confronts a person before cognition is less than that in which it stand after. It is first an incomplete expression of what will receive its completion through being known, and this is accomplished by fulfilling the empty percept with its complementary concept.
Does not the fact that perception means the apprehension of a conceptual essence in a sensible manifestation imply that it is subjective? one might wonder. By now in this exploration, such a question is unlikely, however. In the last chapter, for instance, the same concern was treated in respect to the objectivity of Goethe’s Urpflanze, which despite being imperceptible to the senses, is no less objective for it. Indeed, in Chapter 10 we pointed out that the objectivity of a perception is, in fact, conferred by the conceptual and not the sensible element in it, because otherwise the world would dissolve into a disordered flux with nothing that was fluctuating. One might wish to invoke the Heraclitean doctrine of panta rhei (πάντα ρεί, “everything flows”) in counterargument, and yet one would not be doing so in the spirit of the enigmatic Ephesian, for Heraclitus spoke of the “eternally valid Lógos” (Λóγος) according to which “all things come to pass.”  “Although the Logos is common to us all,” Heraclitus writes, “most men live as if they had their own private understanding.”  Goethe expressed the same conviction in the final year of his life when he remarked, “the Idea is eternal and unitary…All that of which we see and of which we can speak are but its manifestations,” he wrote in 1831.  Aristotle, no less than Heraclitus and Goethe, held that the objective essence of things was perceptible to the understanding: “mind (nous) must be related to what is thinkable, as sense is to what is sensible,” he wrote. Steiner echoes his peripatetic forbear when he affirms that:
Thinking is an organ of apprehension. Just as different eyes may see one and the same object, so different minds think one and the same thought-content. Indeed, they think the same thing, but they approach this one thing from different sides. It therefore appears to them under manifold modifications. These apparent differences, however, an not the result in a difference of objects, however, but rather of a difference in angles of apprehension. The differences in people’s views are just as explainable as the differences that a landscape presents to two observers standing in different places.
Steiner continues, with specific reference to Du Bois-Reymond’s doctrine of ignorabimus, and Kant’s doctrine of transcendental philosophy:
One speaks today of limits to knowledge because one does not know where the goal of thinking lies. One has no clear view of what one wants to attain and doubts that one will attain it. If someone came today and pointed out clearly to us the solution to the riddle of the world, we would gain nothing from it, because we would not know what to make of this solution.
Steiner, like Goethe, conceives of “the solution to the riddle of the world” as an open secret; hidden not because it is concealed, but because it is revealed an yet we do not recognise it. The “limits to knowledge” are nowhere in the world, but in the intentionality we assume towards it, Because, the “limits to knowledge” that we suffer are also our doing, we can resolve them. But this is impossible according to intentionality that we ordinarily approach the world withal because it posits this solution outside of where we can apprehend it. Whether the conjectured solution on the yonder side of this limit be “matter,” the “noumenon,” or the super-positional particles of contemporary physics, it remains a conjecture that is established on the basis of what is perceptible and thinkable on the hither side, and the eventual perception of the former is contingent on the recognition of its spiritual reflection in its sensible manifestation. This amounts to an union of the percept with the concept in the bower of consciousness. Every phenomenon is an issue of just such a pairing. The conceptual element is brought to manifestation by the agent intellect in the patient intellect of the subject. In the words of Aquinas, the latter becomes all things (omnia fieri) which the former has done (omnia facere).  Yet because the source from which the agent intellect draws this ideal content is the Idea, or Lógos, which “is common to us all,” there can be no question of solipsism or subjective arbitrariness. Even a case of deliberate fancy or deception in principle affirms the same universality of the thought-world, since one would have first to acknowledge this commonality in order to depart from it. Neither can there be a question of “limits to knowledge,” because, as Kant affirmed in The Critique of Practical Reason, certainly lies only in the will that informs our deeds—it is certain because it is our own doing. Similarly, the idea of the patient intellect was the deed of the active one. And in synthesis, when the idea which was first brought forth through “spiritual activity” also informs one’s will, then one’s motive for acting has become an object of consciousness and of knowledge. This is to experience freedom. Freedom is not to be found in doing what one wills, but in willing according to reasons that have become one’s own. Put another way, deeds are the mirror in which reasons find reflection, and the existence of those reasons as well as the consciousness of them can only be the product of spiritual activity.
We began this exploration of Goethean science with Socrates’ account of the myth of Thoth, who conferred the written word to human beings. The same stood too much in the light of his own invention, however, and failed to perceive its shadow: “since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are.” Writing is the archetypal technology. In fact “technology” literally means “the craft of discourse,” from tekhne, “craft, method, system” + logia, “meaning, discourse.” Socrates’ account is an admonishment against mistaking convenience as an end in itself, and thereby succumbing to the eternal temptation of outsourcing inner capacities of the soul to outer means without simultaneously fortifying oneself against degeneracy. Indeed the history of civilisation, and with exponential advancement in the centuries since the Scientific Revolution, has been largely the tale of such externalisation. We would do well to reflect, while we still can, over what proactive measures we have taken to preserve our inner resources from falling into disuse.
The tradition of Goethean science, of which Aristotle and Aquinas participate a common lineage and which Steiner brings to a fruition, offers a way to counteract this historical tendency, and we are all potential heirs to this tradition. The literacy in the written word together with all of its technological proliferations have increasingly rendered humanity illiterate in the language of being. These eminent thinkers remind us of this ancient speech, a communication that, like perennial Nature, is neither young nor old. “Becoming aware of the idea within reality is the true communion of man,” Steiner writes, because the Lógos which is innermost in Nature is also innermost in each of us. “What have the true philosophers in every age wanted to do?” Steiner asks, “Nothing other than to make known the essential being of things that the things themselves express when the human spirit offers itself to them as their organ of speech.” The true philosophers admonish us to learn the language in which the world speaks, and not insist on translating it into terms that are alien to it.
Thank you to all of the readers who have followed me on this odyssey.
 As we indicated before, Wissenschaft means “knowledge” and “science,” as does scientia, the Latin root of which “science” is the Anglicised expression.
 The Gifford Lectures, published the following year as The Nature of the Physical World.
 As we indicated in the first chapter of this exploration, “particle” is a very deceptive term because it is being used as a metaphor for a quantity of energy but its metaphorical status is often forgotten.
 “One should forebear to seek for anything further behind it: here is the limit. But the sight of an archetypal phenomenon is generally not enough for people; they think they must go still further; and are thus like children who after peeping into a mirror turn it round directly to see what is on the other side.”
 Maxims and Reflections 153.
 An Outline of a Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s Worldview, with Particular Reference to Schiller.
 These words are of course etymological related to noumenon, all pertaining to notice objects.
 DK 22B1.
 DK 22B2.
 Hamburger Ausgabe XII, 366, no. 12.
 Sicut autem intellectus possibilis est quo est omnia fieri, ita intellectus agens est quo est omnia facere. Summa Theologica 3.12.1
Works Cited, thanks to:
Aquinas. De veritate.
Also the Corpus Aristetotelicum in St. Thomas’ translations, an invaluable resource, available at:
And the Corpus Platonicum, another invaluable resource, available at:
Augustine. Miscellanea Agustiniana 1:355-68, ed. G. Moran (Rome, 1930), in Vernon Bourke, trans. The Essential Augustine, Hackett, Indianapolis, 1974, p.123.
Barfield, Owen. “Goethe and the Twentieth Century.” The Golden Blade, 1949, 37-51.
— “Greek Thought in English Words.” In Essays and Studies 1950, collected for the English
Association by G. Rostrevor Hamilton. New series, vol. 3. London: John Murray, 1950. 69-81.
—History in English Words. London: Methuen and Co., Ltd., 1926.
“Matter, Imagination, and Spirit.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 42.4 (Dec. 1974): 621-
— “Philology and the Incarnation.” The Gordon Review 8.4 (Spring 1965): 131-139.
—Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Second edition. London: Faber and Faber, 1952.
—The Rediscovery of Meaning, and Other Essays. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1977.
—Romanticism Comes of Age. London: Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1944.
—Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. London: Faber and Faber, 1957. New York: Harcourt,
Brace and World, 1965.
—Speaker’s Meaning. Middletown, CT. Wesleyan University Press; London: Rudolf Steiner Press,
1967. Reprinted by Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972.
—Worlds Apart (A Dialogue of the 1960’s). London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
Birch, Thomas. The History of the Royal Society, vol. 3, London: 1757.
Bortoft, Henri. Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought, Floris Books, 2012.
—The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way toward a Science of Conscious Participation. Hudson NY: Lindisfarne, 1996.
Du Bois-Reymond, Emil. Goethe und kein Ende,” 1882.
Eckermann, Johann. Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His Life. Trans. by S. M. Fuller. Boston and Cambridge: James Munroe and Company. 1852. Internet Archive.
Eddington, Arthur. The Nature of the Physical World. 1928.
Fichte, J. G. Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge. (Tr. A. E. Kroeger.) 1889.
Friedman, Michael. Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Part of Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Stanford University, California, 2004.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1995). Scientific Studies (vol. 12 of Goethe: The Collected Works), edited
and translated by Douglas Miller. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
—Zur Farbenlehre: Didaktischer Theil” (1810), “Geschichte meines botanischen studium.” Goethes
Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften. Ed. Steiner R. Weimar: Böhlau, 1890, 1949.
—Faust. Stuttgart: Phillip Reklam, 1971.
—Maximen und Reflexionen. Helmut Koopmann. Deutscher TaschenbuchVerlag und
C.H.Beck, München, 2006.
Helmholtz, Hermann von. “Goethe’s Scientific Researches,” 1853.
“The Physiological Causes of Harmony in Music,” 1859.
Jacobi, F., 1787, David Hume on Faith or Idealism and Realism: A Dialogue, in G. di Giovanni (ed.), The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994.
Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. 1783.
Critique of the Power of Judgment. Guyer, P., (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2001.
Critique of Practical Reason. Gregor, Mary J. (ed.) Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Critique of Pure Reason. Guyer, P., and Wood, A., (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1998.
The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, 1786
Lehrs, Ernst. Man or Matter, London 1951; Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1953; 3rd edition 1987.
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 1690. Edited by Peter Nidditch. Oxford University Press, 1975.
Miller, Douglas. Goethe: Scientific Studies, edited and translated by Douglas Miller, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. 39.
Plato. c.399-347 BCE. Phaedrus. Compete Works, edited by J. M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, p. 551.
Sheldrake, Rupert. The New Science of Life. Icon Books, UK, 1981.
Schrödinger, Erwin. “The Mystery of the Sensual Qualities.” What is Life? Cambridge University Press, 1944/2002.
Sepper, D. (2009). Goethe, Newton, and the Imagination of Modern Science. Revue internationale de philosophie, 249(3), 261-277. https://www.cairn.info/revue-internationale-de-philosophie-2009-3-page-261.htm.
Steiner, Rudolf. Nature’s Open Secret: Introduction to Goethe’s Scientific Writings. Translated by John Barnes and Mado Spiegler (Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 2000); German Bibl. Nr. 1.
—Goethe’s World View. Translated by William Lindeman (Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1992); originally published in German in 1897; Bibl. Nr. 6.
—The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View. Translated by William Lindeman (Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1988); originally published in German in 1886; Bibl. Nr. 2.
—The Philosophy of Freedom. Originally published in German in 1894 as Der Philosophie der Freiheit (Bibl. Nr. 4), this book has been translated into English a number of times under different titles:
The Philosophy of Freedom, translated by Michael Wilson (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000).
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, translated by Rita Stebbing (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993).
Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, translated by Michael Lipson (Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 1995).
Talbott, Stephen L. The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst. Sebastopol CA: O’Reilly and Associates 1995. Available at http://netfuture.org/
Weinberg, Steven. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. New York: Perseus Books, 1977, 1988.
Whitehead, A. N. Process and Reality. Free Press 1979.
—Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan Company, 1925.