Goethe’s Science of Living Form

The Artistic Stages
by Nigel Hoffmann
Adonis Press, 2011          Now available!
ISBN 978-0-932776-35-8
7 x 10 inches
173 pages; paperback; $25.00

A New Methodology for the Life Sciences

Goethean phenomenological science, as extended by Rudolf Steiner, is a cognitive path that leads methodically from sensory experience to the apprehension of the spiritual essence that manifests within it. This path encompasses four different forms of cognition that Steiner characterizes as Physical Thinking, Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. These distinctive modes of cognition correspond with the four elements of ancient Greek philosophy and, in terms of modern physical science, with the four states of matter:

  1. Earth; solid
  2. Water; liquid
  3. Air; gaseous
  4. Fire; currently conceptualized as plasma

Nigel Hoffmann begins by characterizing and distinguishing these different modes of cognition: In a nutshell, modern scientific thinking, or Physical Thinking, can be characterized as mechanical. Here, a whole is broken down into its parts. The attempt is then made, through experimentation, to understand the whole in terms of the mechanical interaction of its parts. Imagination, by contrast, can be characterized as sculptural. Here, thinking becomes active participation in the development and metamorphosis of a living whole. Underlying gestures are revealed through Inspiration. Whereas Imagination involves active formative movement, Inspiration can be characterized as the receptive experience of an inwardness that sounds through the phenomena, as akin to musical listening. Intuition can be characterized as active communing with the creative spiritual essence that informs the experience of the other modes of cognition in the same way that fire permeates and impulsates the other elements. In this sense, Intuition can be characterized as poetical.

Hoffmann concludes his book by applying this fourfold methodology to a Goethean study of a distinctive landscape in his native Australia. Throughout the book he enlivens his subject by weaving together the philosophical connotations of the four modes of cognition with concrete phenomenological observations of nature and the dynamic qualities of the arts.

First published in 2007, and reprinted several times since then, Goethe’s Science of Living Formwill remain the most accessible and comprehensive introduction to Goethean science for a long time to come.

I put my hopes for the future in such practice because it plants seeds of a life-attuned thinking into the world that can help us to act in more life-engendering ways.”     

                                                                                            — Craig Holdrege in his foreword



Art and the Emergence of an Authentic Organic Science
Goethe and the Phenomenological Method
Toward an Authentic Method in the Life Sciences
A Goethean Methodology through the Elemental Modes

Earth Cognition—Physical Thinking—the Mechanical
Water Cognition — Imagination — the Sculptural
Air Cognition — Inspiration — the Musical
Fire Cognition — Intuition — the Poetical

Evolution as Creative Process
The Landscape and its Organs
The Human Being and the Evolution of Landscape
The Yabby Ponds: A Goethean Study of Place