THE True, the Beautiful, the Good — through all the ages of man's
conscious evolution these words have expressed three great ideals:
ideals which have instinctively been recognized as representing the
sublime nature and lofty goal of all human endeavour. In epochs
earlier than our own there was a deeper knowledge of man's being and
his connection with the universe, when Truth, Beauty and Goodness had
more concrete reality than they have in our age of abstraction.
Anthroposophy, or Spiritual Science, is able once again to indicate
the concrete reality of such ideals, although in so doing it does not
always meet with the approval of the times. For in our age men love to
be vague and nebulous whenever it is a question of getting beyond the
facts of everyday life.
Let us try to understand how Truth, Beauty and Goodness are related,
as concrete realities, to the being of man.
As the human being stands before us we see, in the first place, his
physical body — nowadays the object of purely external observation.
How the single organs, the form and functions of the body have been
built up in pre-earthly existence — of this people are wholly unaware.
In his pre-earthly existence man lives in a world of pure Spirit,
where, in communion with higher Beings, he is engaged in building up
the spiritual prototype, the spirit-form of his physical body. The
physical body here on earth is but an after-copy of the spirit-germ
that is elaborated, in a certain sense, by man himself in pre-earthly
In earthly life the human being is conscious of his physical body, but
does not know what this implies. We speak of Truth, little realizing
that a feeling for truth is connected with our consciousness of the
physical body. When man is confronted by a simple fact, he may either
form an idea that harmonizes strictly with it and thus is true, or,
from inaccuracy, laziness or positive aversion to truth, he may evolve
an idea that does not coincide with the fact. When he thinks the
truth, he is in harmony with the feeling he has of his physical body,
nay also with his sense of the connection between this physical body
and pre-earthly existence. If out of laziness or untruthfulness he
forms an idea that is not in accordance with the fact, it is as if he
cut the thread that binds him to pre-earthly existence. Untruth severs
this thread. In pre-earthly existence a delicate spiritual woof is
spun, and this is concentrated into an after-copy — the physical
body. Many threads connect this physical body with pre-earthly
existence, and they are severed by untruthfulness. The purely
intellectual consciousness that is a characteristic quality in the
early stages of the epoch of the Spiritual Soul
(see Note 1) does not realize that
such a severance takes place. And that is why man is subject to so
many illusions as to his connection with cosmic existence.
For the most part to-day, man regards his bodily health from a purely
physical point of view. But when, through untruthfulness, he severs
the threads that bind him with pre-earthly existence, this works right
down into his physical body, and especially into the constitution of
the nervous system. The feeling he has of his physical body gives him
his “spiritual sense of being” in the universe. And this spiritual
sense of being depends upon maintenance of the threads proceeding from
the physical body to pre-earthly existence. If they break, man must
create a substitute for his healthy sense of being — and he does so,
unconsciously. He is then led, unconsciously, to ascribe to himself a
sense of being “out of the common.” But even here he has fallen into
an inner uncertainty that makes itself felt even in the physical body.
For this purely spiritual sense of being that we find existing with
greater and greater intensity the farther we go back in history — is
it strongly present in man to-day?
How often it is the case that a man would like to be a person of note
not by virtue of his own spiritual life, but by virtue of some
profession or title. He likes to have some such title as “Secretary”
or “Notary,” and then imagines he is of importance when convention
thus describes him. The essential thing, however, is that he shall be
able to realize his existence inwardly, apart from all externalities.
What is it that can strengthen man in this sense of being? In earthly
existence we live in a world that is but a copy of true reality.
Indeed, we only understand this physical world aright when we realize
it to be this copy of reality. It behooves us, however, to feel the
true reality within us; we must be aware of our connection with the
spiritual world. And this is only possible if the bond that links us
with pre-earthly existence remains intact.
This bond is strengthened by a love of truth and Integrity. Nothing
establishes man's true and original sense of existence so firmly as a
feeling for truth and truthfulness. To feel himself in duty bound
first to “prove all things” he utters, to set due restraint on all
his words — this helps to consolidate the sense of existence that is
worthy of his being. To be aware of the spirit within the physical
body — with this, indeed, the sense of being is connected. There is,
in effect, an intimate kinship between the physical body and this
ideal of Truth.
We acquire the etheric body (or body of “formative forces”) only a
short time before the descent from pre-earthly to earthly existence.
We draw the forces of the etheric world together, as it were, to build
up our own etheric body. Now in earlier epochs of evolution man had a
better understanding of the etheric body than he has to-day. Indeed,
instead of feeling the reality of the etheric body, he is nowadays apt
to scoff at the very idea.
The sense of the reality of the etheric body is strengthened by the
experience of Beauty. When truth and truthfulness enter the realm of
real experience, we are, in a sense, living rightly in the physical
body. A highly developed sense of beauty gives us a right relation to
the etheric body of formative forces. Whereas Truth is connected with
the physical body, Beauty is connected with the etheric body.
This will become clear if we think of the significance of beauty as
manifested in art. If we have before us a human being of flesh and
blood, we know that he is one among many. Yet the one has no meaning
without the many who live around him. Slender indeed are the roots
that bind man to physical existence, without the others around him.
If we try either through sculpture, painting, or drama — indeed,
through any art — to portray a human being, we endeavour to create a
figure that is sufficient and complete in itself — one that contains
a whole world, just as man contains the whole universe within himself
in his etheric body. For he draws together the etheric forces from the
whole universe to mould his etheric body within earthly existence.
An intense feeling for beauty — as it was then conceived — existed
in earlier ages. Nothing of the same kind is present in modern
civilization, Man cannot be truly man if he has no sense of beauty. It
is so, indeed; for to possess a sense of beauty is to acknowledge the
reality of the etheric body. To have no sense of beauty is to
disregard, to disown, the etheric body.
Of this modern man is all unconscious. When the Greek approached his
temple, or beheld within the temple the statue of the god, he was
conscious of an inner, glowing warmth, of a kind of inner sunlight. It
was as though forces streamed into his being and into his different
organs. Gazing at the statue of the god, his whole heart cried out:
“Never do I feel the peripheral structure of my hands and fingers so
vividly as when this statue stands there before me! Never have I such
an inner sense of the arch of my brow as in the temple!” Inwardly
warmed and irradiated — god-inspired — thus did the Greek feel in
the presence of beauty. And this was nothing else but an experience in
the etheric body.
In the presence of ugliness the Greek's feeling was quite different
from that of modern man. The latter at most expresses his very
abstract feelings in regard to ugliness by his features-he makes a
grimace! Ugliness cast a chill through the whole body of the Greek,
affecting even the very pores of his skin. In ancient times men were
vividly aware of the reality of the etheric body, and in the course of
evolution a part of human nature has, indeed, been lost. All these
things of which I have been speaking — and which were actual
experiences in earlier times — remain unconscious in man to-day, for
with his rationalistic intellect and love of abstraction he tends to
view everything from the head — the organ belonging to these
Enthusiasm for truth and truthfulness can kindle in man — in the
unconscious depths of his soul at any rate — a feeling for
pre-earthly existence. An epoch of civilization in which this feeling
is absent can possess no real sense of truth and truthfulness. But
when this sense is highly developed, it binds man strongly to the
pre-earthly past, and his more immediate experience of the earthly
present must needs cause a certain sadness to arise within him. It is
a sadness that can only find consolation if the sense of beauty is
awakened in the soul. Beauty gives us joy once more, even in the
presence of a sadness that must always accompany great enthusiasm for
truth. In a delicate, subtle way this enthusiasm tells us: Truth,
alas, is only really present in pre-earthly existence. Here in this
earthly world we have but her echo. Having left the pre-earthly life,
we no longer stand within the essential substance of truth. Only
enthusiasm for truth can help us to maintain intact our relationship
with pre-earthly existence.
A genuine feeling for beauty forges a link that binds us here, in
earthly life itself, once again with pre-earthly existence. We ought
never to undervalue the significance of beauty in education and in
outer culture. A civilization that is filled with ugly machines, with
chimneys and smoke, and dispenses with beauty, is a world that makes
no efforts to forge a link between man and pre-earthly existence;
indeed, it tears him asunder. Not by way of analogy, but in very truth
we may say: A purely industrial city is a fitting abode for the
demonic beings who would like to make man forget his pre-earthly
existence in the realm of spirit.
Yet delight in beauty must be paid for at the cost of realizing that
the beautiful, in its essence, is not rooted in earthly reality. The
more perfectly we represent the human form, say, in sculpture or
painting, the more must we admit that this does not correspond to an
outer reality in earthly existence. It is but a consolation afforded
by beautiful semblance, and hence lasts only until the moment we pass
through the gate of death.
The world of spirit in which we live during our pre-earthly existence
is always present. We have but to stretch out our arms, as it were, to
this pre-earthly world of spirit. Although it is always there, a link
can only be forged in the depths of unconscious life when man glows
with enthusiasm for truth and truthfulness. And when his heart thrills
with love for the beautiful, this too forms a bond with pre-earthly
If man is to be true in a higher, this means spiritual, sense, he must
not forget that he has lived in the spirit in pre-earthly existence.
To glow in response to beauty means that in his soul man must create
in a picture, at least, a new link with pre-earthly spirituality.
How can man develop an actual power that will lead him directly into
the world he left because he has descended to the earth from
pre-earthly existence? The answer is, when he is filled with Goodness
— the goodness that flows to other men and is not confined to
self-interest, conscious only of what is living within his own being.
Such goodness can lead the soul into the qualities, nature and
experiences of others. It embraces innumerable forces of soul; and
these forces are of such a nature that they actually instill into the
human being elements with which he was wholly permeated only in
pre-earthly existence. Through his sense of Beauty he links himself,
by means of a picture, to the spirit he has left because of his
descent to earthly existence. If he is truly good, he links this
earthly life itself to pre-earthly existence. A good man is one who
can bear his own soul over into the soul of another. Upon this all
true morality depends, and without morality no true social order among
earthly humanity can be maintained.
When this true morality develops into momentous impulses of will which
then pass to reality in moral acts, it begins to be a quickening,
all-pervading impulse in the soul, inasmuch as a man can then be moved
to real sympathy at the sight of care on the face of another — his
own astral body feels pain at the sight of suffering in others. For
just as the sense of Truth manifests in man's right relation to the
physical body; just as a warm enthusiasm for Beauty expresses itself
in the etheric body — so does Goodness live in the astral body. And
the astral body cannot be healthy, or maintain its true position in
the world, if man is not able to pour through it the forces
proceeding from Goodness.
Truth, then, is related to the physical body, Beauty to the etheric
body, Goodness to the astral body. Here we have the concrete reality
of the three abstractions of Truth, Beauty, Goodness. In short, we can
relate to the actual being of man all that is expressed instinctively
in these three ideals.
These ideals show us how far man is able to fulfill his whole human
nature, when, to begin with, as he lives in his physical body, he is
filled with a real sense of truth instead of conventional opinions.
Again, full “humanity” is only afforded a worthy existence when
a man can quicken his etheric body into life through his feeling for beauty.
Indeed, he who is incapable of being moved at the sight of beauty to
somewhat the same degree as the Greek, does not possess a true sense
of beauty. One can merely gaze at beauty or one can experience it.
To-day it is the case that most people only gaze, and this does not
necessarily energize anything in the etheric body. To gaze at beauty
is not to experience it. The moment we experience beauty, however, the
etheric body is quickened.
A man may do good because of some convention, or because punishment is
in store for serious wrong-doing — or, again, because other people
will respect him less if he does wrong. He can, however, also do good
from sheer love of goodness. I spoke of this years ago in my book, The
Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Such an experience of goodness will
always lead to a recognition of the reality of the astral body.
Indeed, only this recognition will teach man anything about the
essence of goodness. There can only be abstract knowledge of and
inconsequent chatter about goodness, if loving enthusiasm for goodness
in its essence does not lead to actual experience of the astral body.
Now to realize the good is not, as in the experience of beauty, merely
to create a link with pre-earthly existence that ceases when man
passes through the gate of death. To experience goodness is, indeed,
to unite oneself with the world of which I said, it is ever present.
We have but to stretch out towards it. Yet man is separated from this
world in material existence. Experience of goodness is a link, leading
directly to the world he enters after death.
Forces that endure beyond the gate of death are present in men's
actions here on earth, if he lives a life of goodness. The sense of
truth is a heritage from pre-earthly existence. The sense of beauty
will create an image, at least, of pre-earthly connection with spirit.
And the impulse exists within us not to cut ourselves off from spirit,
but rather to maintain the bond intact by the goodness we develop as
To be true is to be rightly united with our spiritual past. To sense
beauty means that in the physical world we do not disown our
connection with spirit. To be good is to build a living seed for a
spiritual world in the future.
Past, present, future — these three concepts, as they play their part
in human life, assume far-reaching significance when we understand the
concrete reality of the other three concepts — Truth, Beauty,
The man who is untruthful denies his spiritual past; the liar severs
the threads between himself and his spiritual past. He who disregards
beauty is building himself an abode on earth where the sun of spirit
never shines, where he wanders in spiritless shadow. The man who
belies the good renounces his spiritual future; and yet he would like
this future to be bestowed on him, may be by means of some outer
It was, indeed, out of a profound instinct that Truth, Beauty and
Goodness were held to be the greatest ideals of human striving. Yet
they have faded away into shadowy words, and it is only our present
age that can bestow concrete reality upon them.
- Note 1:
- Note by Editor. — Dr. Steiner divides history into epochs and
calls our present epoch, that of the Spiritual Soul. An explanation
of the term Spiritual Soul is found in other of his works.
Last Modified: 17-Jul-2009
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