Twofold Human Being

The nature of the human being is twofold. On the one hand man has a physical body with its sense organs which enable him to perceive the physical part of reality. On the other hand man is a supersensible being due to the fact that he forms ideas about things he perceives, that he imbues his perceptions and concepts with feelings of sympathy or antipathy, and that he has impulses of will in relation to the world around him.


"When we encounter a fellow human being today, our conscious impression is really an entirely materialistic one. We tell ourselves – not aloud of course, and perhaps not even as a conscious thought, but on a deeper level of awareness – 'This is a person made of flesh and blood, composed of earthly substances.' And we say the same of animals and plants. But this attitude is justified only insofar as the mineral substances we face in a human being, plant, or animal are concerned.

If we look at human beings purely from the standpoint of their external form, we don't really 'see' the outer form, we don't actually confront it with physical perception, for this outer form consists mostly of fluid – it can be up to ninety percent filled with water. [1] What your physical eyes perceive is the mineral element that fills out the structure. You see whatever the person has absorbed from the external mineral world. You do not see the being who did the absorbing, who united with the mineral element. Hence, when we encounter another human being, we speak correctly only if we say to ourselves: 'What stands before me are material particles that this individual's spirit-form has stored and gathered, thereby making something invisible visible.' Actual human beings are invisible, truly invisible. We see only the mineral element in people; the real individuals are supersensible beings, hence invisible." [2]

In the case of modern scientists, a one-sided approach focusing on material structures and mineral particles is very much prevalent, whilst at the same time they seem incapable of recognising the invisible working behind. "Outer science presents modern consciousness with a picture of the human being based on anatomy and physiology – and on the direct sensory observation – and says that it is the truth about the human nature. But we must become able to look at a human being in such a way that we perceive the concrete-spiritual being, along with bodily aspects, in every fibre. We must be able to see the spiritual element in every single manifestation of the life within us." [3]

Fundamental to a holistic approach is the recognition of the existence of a non-physical part of the human being, usually referred to as 'soul' and 'spirit'. These words have different meanings for various people. In spiritual science they are characterised in no end of ways; they are looked at from as many different standpoints as possible. But we need to start with the following description: The word soul denotes our experiences of sympathy and antipathy, pleasure and displeasure, joy and sorrow in relation to what we perceive through our senses. This is the area of our feelings. The word spirit designates our activity of forming mental concepts and ideas about the things we perceive and how they are related to each other. This is our thinking activity.

Although there is a difference between soul and spiritual activities they have something in common: both are non-physical, supersensible activities of human beings. "Man is a twofold being. On the one side, we have man's physical, bodily organization which is connected to the surrounding environment. What constitutes the outside world and dwells out there in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, also constitutes us human beings in the physical, corporeal sense. In a way we are its concentration, elevated to a higher level, and figuratively one could say that we are the crown of creation. In the physical, bodily sense we are a confluence of the effects of forces and substances occurring outside and appearing before us through our sense perceptions.

On the other side, we have our inner life. We have our will, our feeling, our thinking and our conceptual capability. When we reflect upon ourselves, we can observe our own will, feeling and thinking, and permeate these with what we call our beliefs, moral and other ideals. Here, we arrive at what may be termed the man of soul and spirit. This term may easily lead to misunderstandings, but it must be used. We cannot manage to understand the human being if we do not turn the gaze of our soul on one hand to this soul-spiritual human being, and on the other to the physical, corporeal man." [4]

In spiritual science there exists many diverse approaches to the essential nature of the human being – including threefold and fourfold division of the human being presented on this website – but the recognition of the twofold nature of man is a most important insight if one wants to overcome one-sided materialistic picture of human being. "We understand the human being only if we place him in the world not merely as a being of nature, but as a spiritual being." [5] Without recognition of the polarity between physical man and man of soul and spirit we cannot hope to fully understand our own organism. And without such holistic understanding we cannot solve any of the riddles of human existence, including those related to nutrition.

Thus we need to begin any holistic investigation of the human being with the recognition that his nature is twofold. On the one hand he has a physical body which belongs to the physical world and which can be counted, measured and weighted. On the other hand he is a supersensible being due to his activity of thinking and perceiving and due to the fact that he imbues his perceptions and concepts with feelings of sympathy or antipathy. In addition, the human being has impulses of will which are also of a supersensible nature, although the deeds originating from these impulses influence the perceptible world.

Only by virtue of his supersensible part is human being truly human.


If we want to understand how we create a bridge between our physical body on one side and our soul-spiritual being on the other side, then we need first to understand the essence of the four elements as has been understood in the old times – earth, water, air and fire. "With the word 'earth' the spiritual science of ancient time did not mean what is meant by the word today. Earth denoted a condition of matter, the solid state. No matter whether it was a solid lump of arable soil, a crystal, a piece of lead or gold, or anything of a solid nature, it was termed 'earth'. Everything fluid, not only water as we know it, was referred to as 'watery' or water. If you take iron, for example, and melt it by means of fire so that it becomes fluid, spiritual science would refer to it in that condition as 'water'. All metals in the fluid state were termed 'water'. What we call gaseous was termed air, irrespective of the particular gas to which it applied, whether oxygen, hydrogen or some other gas.

Fire was the fourth element. For spiritual science warmth or fire is something endowed with an even finer substantiality than air. Just as earth, or solidity, can be transformed into the liquid state, so, according to spiritual science, all 'airy' or gaseous forms gradually change into the condition of fire. Fire is so rarefied that it permeates all other elements. It permeates air and thereby warms it; the same applies to water and earth. Whereas the three other elements are separate, the element fire possesses an all-pervading quality.

Now, both ancient and modern spiritual science agree that there is a still more important difference between what we term earth, water, air and what we call fire or warmth. How do we get to know the earth element or solidity? We might try by touching it and experiencing its resistance. The same applies to water though it offers less resistance. Nevertheless we are aware of it as something external to ourselves, as a resistance. The same is true of air. We only get to know it externally in relation to ourselves. But this is not the case with warmth. Here we shall have to emphasize an aspect that is regarded as unimportant by the modern outlook, but we shall have to consider it if we wish to fathom the riddles of existence. We do, in fact, become aware of warmth without touching it externally. That is the important point. We become aware of warmth by touching an object that has been heated, in which case we become aware of it in the same way as we do the other elements, but we also feel the warmth within our own organism. Warmth is the first element that can also be apprehended inwardly. Warmth, or fire, has a twofold nature – an external aspect, which we get to know outwardly, and an inner aspect, which we feel in our own condition of warmth. Actually, we feel our own inner warmth, we are hot or cold, and yet one is little inclined to concern oneself with what is gaseous, watery or solid in one's organ­ism, that is, with what is air, water and earth in ourselves. We only begin to be aware of ourselves in the element of warmth. Ancient and modern spiritual science both proclaim fire or warmth to be the first stage at which matter becomes soul. Hence, we can speak in the full sense of the word of an outer fire, which we perceive as we do other elements, and of an inner soul fire within man.

That is why, in spiritual science, fire always built a bridge between the outer material world, and the inner soul world that can be perceived only inwardly. Fire or warmth is central to all observation of nature; it is the gateway by means of which one penetrates from the outer to the inner. It is truly like a door in front of which one can stand. One can behold it from outside, one can open it, and one can behold it from within. That is the true place of fire"  [6] in the human organism – in the continuous activity of establishing the bridge between the physical and the soul-spiritual member of our being .


  1. The proportion of water varies throughout the life of human beings; there can be considerable variation in body water percentage based on a number of factors like age, health, weight, and sex. It seems also that human bodies are 'drying out' due to modern life style, for Steiner was referring to about 90% water in babies, and about 70% water in adults. Today, about 100 years later, these numbers are lower. For example, according to one American medical textbook, "the body water constitutes as much as 73% of the body weight of a newborn infant, whereas some obese people are as little as 45% water by weight." (Wikipedia/Body water, October 2015)
  2. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 23.11.1919;
  3. As above
  4. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 14.08.1920; Spiritual Science as a Foundation for Social Forms, Anthroposophic Press, 1986
  5. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 13.10.1923;
  6. Rudolf Steiner, Düsseldorf, 12.04.1909;