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Paper presentation at the International Steiner Symposium 2021. The Actuality of Rudolf Steiner: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Steiner in the 21st Century.

Ideas of the value and potential of aesthetic judgment form a central thread through the tapestry of social, political and cultural thought of recent centuries. After the systematic founding of aesthetics in the 18th century by Alexander Baumgarten, Friedrich Schiller’s work on “The Aesthetic Education of Man” marks a watershed moment in political and social thinking in the European tradition. Schiller’s work on aesthetic education influenced Hegel, Marx, Marcuse, Gadamer, Benjamin and, more recently, Jacques Ranciere, Doris Sommer and Jane Bennett, among others, and marks a serious engagement with the riddle of the social, political and cultural significance of aesthetic judgment.  

Throughout his life Rudolf Steiner repeatedly paid homage to Schiller in his writings and his many lectures. Resonances between Steiner and Schiller’s work can be surprising and illuminating. While Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom is not focused on aesthetic education, the structure and composition are strikingly reminiscent of Schiller’s treatise on Aesthetic Education. Like Schiller, Steiner advocated for the importance of pictorial orientations when trying to apprehend others, and instinctual pictorial orientations in social life that allow for an apprehension of the other. It is also interesting to note how Steiner diverges from Schiller, how he championed Goethe’s form of natural science, which relies on a particular cultivation of aesthetic judgement to arrive at insight (the “ur-phenomenon”) and how he made pictorial judgement the foundation for associative economics and the collective virtue of fraternity in his later sociological writings.

These two points of divergence, aesthetic judgement as a foundation for natural science and aesthetic judgement as a foundation for fraternity and associative economics, represent innovative and important contributions to the discourse on the significance of aesthetic judgement in the age of the Anthropocene. They point toward the positive potentiality of aesthetic judgment in regards to current ecological and economic challenges. Aesthetic judgement appears as a potential pathway in science to earthly connection, not just manipulation and control, and of an ecologically and socially informed economic life. These two innovations are contributions to central challenges in social philosophy and the present and approaching decades.“

Nathaniel Williams: Free Colombia, USA

Nathaniel Williams is originally from the Southeastern region of the USA. He studied visual arts and anthroposophy at the neueKUNSTschule in Basel Switzerland, where he also worked in marionette theater. He went on to study aesthetics and political theory at the University at Albany in New York. Currently he works as an artist and performer, teaches in the Political Science department at the University at Albany and is the director of the M.C. Richards Program at Free Columbia in upstate New York.