We are well supplied with interesting writers, but Owen Barfield is not content to be merely interesting. His ambition is to set us free. Free from what? From the prison we have made for ourselves by our ways of knowing, our limited and false habits of thought, our ‘common sense’.
— Saul Bellow, Nobel Laureate
(History, Guilt and Habit: Editorial review)
Owen Barfield is the father of modern consciousness studies.

Barfield discovered that the history of words correlates with the evolution of human consciousness. All words have a deeper meaning that fades over time, so we no longer perceive things as they truly are. Eventually we find ourselves as ‘subjects’ cut off from an ‘objective’ world around us.

Yet, contrariwise the language we use inescapably envisages the ‘objective’ outer world as imbued with ‘subjective’ meaning. So to see phenomena as they truly are requires not a reductive methodology, but the imagination.

This revolutionary way of seeing phenomena has done for our perceptions what quantum physics has done for matter. In the same way quantum physics released matter from the constraints of Newtonian physics, so, too, does Barfield release our perceptions from the constraints of Cartesian dualism.

Here is a radical change to the way we experience the world.

— Courtesy of Michael Di Fuccia, PhD

Owen Barfield (1898–1997) was one of the twentieth century’s most insightful writers and philosophers. His ideas informed the thinking and writing of influential authors such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien who were fellow members of the Inklings, an Oxford group of scholars.

As a leading anthroposophist in the English-speaking world, Barfield was especially interested in the evolution of human consciousness, exploring its development through the history of language.

Thinkers and writers central to Barfield’s work include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Rudolf Steiner. Although best known for his non-fiction, such as Poetic Diction and Saving the Appearances, Barfield also wrote poetry, fiction, and plays.

T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Howard Nemerov, and Saul Bellow are among those who have praised Barfield’s writing, and Barfield is often described as having a prophetic, powerful mind.

— Courtesy of Tiffany Brooke Martin, PhD
A Very Brief Overview of Barfieldian Philosophy

  1. Human consciousness and language evolve simultaneously
  2. The Enlightenment and its corollary (scientific thinking) marked one of the major changes in the evolution of human consciousness and, consequently, in the way humans think and perceive the world around them
  3. In order to think scientifically, previous ways of thinking had to be effectively eliminated – and they were
  4. Due to scientific thinking, Western societies have entered into an unprecedented era of material wealth. This same thinking, however, has led to a correspondingly unprecedented number of mental health, environmental, social, and individual problems
  5. To address the problems facing our world, a new way of thinking is indeed emerging
  6. To open our perception to this new way of thinking, we must understand the physical and mental processes involved in thinking
  7. The power of our imagination will allow us to evolve to this new way of thinking and will open a means for us to develop an expanded science.

* * * * * * *

Spirit: what is not matter, but what is required for matter to form.

Imagination: the bridge between matter and spirit
reconnecting to spirit, the living unity
accessing core morality.

Primary tools of the Imagination:

— Courtesy of Albert Linderman
Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.