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Thoughts on the translation of “Geisteswissenschaft”

The German word “Geisteswissenschaft” (created by compounding the word “Geist” – meaning “spirit” – with “Wissenschaft” meaning “science/research/scholarship”) is not one that Steiner made up. It is in general use in German, but primarily in one specific phrase: “in der Geisteswissenschaft t├Ątig sein” where it means, “to work in research”. “Wissenschaft” is built off the German verb “wissen” to know. The word “Wissenschaft” is actually also an obscure English word, borrowed from the German, and in English means “the systematic pursuit of knowledge, learning, and scholarship (especially as contrasted with its application)” according to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, 2002 edition. This really gets at the nuances of the word in German, even if every German-English dictionary lists the first meaning as “science”. My Langescheit’s German-English dictionary also lists “research” as a secondary meaning, along with “scholarship” and “academia”. So “Wissenschaft”, the first part of the compound, indicates the attempt to systematize knowledge. This is modified by appending “Geistes” (translated “spirit”) to make “systematized knowledge of or research into the spirit”. “Wissenschaft” can also be modified by other nouns, such as “Natur” (nature) where it means “natural science” or “systematized knowledge of or research into the natural world”. In many cases where the translation “spiritual science” is used, I tend to think “systematic knowledge of the spirit” would be better.

One Response to “Thoughts on the translation of “Geisteswissenschaft””

  1. Mark says:

    Brother to Jim, nicht wahr?

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