Introduction to Goethean phenomenology 

Goethean phenomenology (short: phenomenology), or Goethean science, assumes the existence of a physical world and a spiritual world, which influence each other. Spiritual phenomena are not regarded as the products of matter, but as independent phenomena that permeate and guide the physical world. Hence, the spiritual world is one of the factors which determine visible phenomena, and lies hidden behind them. Visible phenomena can be used to explore the spiritual world.

Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) has often contended that it is possible to explore the spiritual world, just as we explore the visible world, and he developed a variety of methods for this purpose. One of these methods is that of phenomenology.

Phenomenology starts by carefully studying objects, situations, events, etc. The phenomenologist then uses the observations as a basis to penetrate into the spiritual world. An important element is that, as an observer, you not only observe an object in a detached manner, but develop an intimate connection with it, penetrate into it and incorporate it in your mental image.

Goethean phenomenology is based on the way in which Goethe (1749 – 1832) studied phenomena in the eighteenth century. Rudolph Steiner developed this method further, after which it was particularly Jochen Bockemühl who elaborated and published on it. Goethean phenomenology must be distinguished from the phenomenology developed by people like Heidegger and Husserl, which is a type of philosophy that uses phenomena as a starting point for philosophical considerations.

The objectives of phenomenology are:

Working and observing

When you're working intensely on something, you will hardly observe anything and will not ask any questions. You want to do your work well and your attention is fixed on that work. You are, as it were, absorbed in it, and you tend to take things for granted. It is only when something unexpected occurs, when something strikes you, something unusual happens or when you switch to some new activity, that you start to observe and ask questions. You concentrate your conscious mind on what you have been doing and look at it in a detached manner. You create a distance between you and the situation with which you were so closely tied a moment ago that you actually were a part of it. Such a distance can be created not only by an unexpected occurrence, but also by reflecting on the activity afterwards.

Normal active situation:

* (I coincide with the situation)

After something unexpected has happened, and you have started to observe and ask questions, you experience the situation like this:

I ------------------------ Situation (the situation and I have become separated)

Since you're now confronting the situation and asking questions (like 'What is happening here?', 'How can this happen?'), you can explore the situation. You will soon notice that the unexpected event happened in a particular environment. This means that the situation you're confronting consists of two entities: the object of your observation (a physical object, a situation or an event) and its environment.


The object and the environment are separated

What coincided while you were engaged in active life, has now separated into three aspects. You have created a distance, you have become an explorer and it's in you that the observations converge. You are what unifies the exploration. You want to go on observing until you have understood 'it', until you have grasped its essence. If the question you're trying to answer has to do with solving a problem, you will try to ensure that your action does justice to the object in its environment. If you manage to achieve these two things, knowing the essence of the object and doing it justice, your action will be moral, that is, in agreement with the essence of the object.

When you're observing an object, you can ask a number of questions.

Your perspective has shifted from the object or situation outside yourself to a mental imagine within you. After that, you need to turn your perspective outward again, to the object's environment.

You can make various observations on the context:

Once you have observed these, you've come to know the object and its environment so intimately that you can begin to act. If all you wanted to do is get to know the object, you can stop as soon as you've arrived at its core, as soon as you can say: 'I now understand how it works'. If your objective is to change something and act, you'll have to go through the entire process, since action requires you to know the object's environment as well.

This can be represented in the following diagram:

The observational attitudes linking the external object with the inner world of the observer are related to the elements, while those linking the observer with the object's environment are related to the ethers. The features of the elements and ethers may help you determine the attitude with which you make your observations.

This yields the following diagram:

This meets the objectives of phenomenology:

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Exercises

(all exercises can be done individually, in pairs or groups of five - ten people; you can help each other by asking questions)

Try to find examples of unexpected events that led you to observe and ask questions. Describe these events, let the others ask you questions to clarify the situation for them: what exactly happened, what questions arose, what observations did you make, did these questions and observations change at a later stage, etc.

Select a situation in which you did something automatically. Suitable examples are actions that are very common and not very important. What were you thinking about? What did you observe? You can do this exercise on your own, but it may be helpful if others ask you questions.

Try to define the environment of a particular object. What is part of that environment and what isn't?

At the end of the lesson, or at the end of a day, try to reflect on something you did. Try to review in your mind what has happened, as accurately as you can. Your attitude should be that of an outsider's view of yourself and what you have done. Pay attention not only to what happened but also to how it happened. What was easy to do, and what problems did you face?

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