Thinking, Freedom, And The Human Predicament

The Philosophy of Freedom Study
Thinking, Freedom, And The Human Predicament

Recent news headlines:
  • Harsh Iraq Report Offers No Solution
  • Palestinian-Israeli conflict: The one thing everyone agrees on is that there is no solution
  • Global Warming Policy is No Solution
  • AIDS in Africa—What’s the Solution?
  • Darfur Continues to Defy a Solution
Freedom From Compulsive and One-sided Thinking
Recent headlines depict the failure of world leaders to resolve the difficult global issues we face today. The inability to negotiate solutions or change behavior is not surprising considering the entrenched positions held. People cling to views that are
one-sided or have become obsolete, irrational, or simply stupid and no longer sustainable. Thoughts expressed are often not thought at all but only the continuing pursuit of traditional opinions and habits.

We have a natural adaptive ability to acquire the habitual patterns of thinking and conduct of our social circle according to ethnicity, gender, family, nation, politics, religion, etc. These social communities are held together by common instinctive behavior or a communally fixed moral order. Is freedom and social harmony possible if everyone is merely a programmed advocate of the particular group they happened to be born into or aspire to?

Ethical Individualism

Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom is a clarion call for the exact opposite of the group thinking and conformity of today. It is a call to an ethical individualism. Among all of the physical urges, social customs, political platforms, legal codes, and religious commandments, what actions can we call our own? But from within all of this compulsion arise individuals who obey only themselves. This is made possible through the power of intuition. By reaching up with our feelings into the universal nature of thinking, the region of the ideal, individual ethical aims are grasped intuitively. The activity of pure conceptual thinking suspends the compulsive urges and conditioned thoughts providing a place for the intuition to appear. Then our action is not stereotyped or the result of an external authority. It is determined purely by its own ideal content.

What is individual in us is our intuitions. We are free in so far as our action springs from the ideal part of our individual being. To express these intuitions in deed is the highest standard by which we can live and is our highest pleasure. We are empowered by our love for the deed.

But how can we have community if each one is only striving to assert their own individuality? We are united through a common world of ideals that we receive our intuitions from. We are different in that we receive different intuitions from which we base our action on. But if we follow our highest ideals rather than lower instincts or group conformity to fixed principles we will be united in common intention through the unity of pure ideals. Rather than separating us, our particular group characteristics become a medium in which to express our own individual being.

“A moral misunderstanding, a clash, is impossible between people who are morally free. Only the morally unfree who follow their natural instincts or the accepted commands of duty come into conflict with their neighbors if these do not obey the same instincts and the same commands as themselves.”
-R. Steiner, Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 9.

Freedom Requires The Capacity For Intuition and Self-Awareness

An action is free if the reasons for it are from the ideal part of our individual being. It feels free because it springs from our own intuition. This requires the capacity for intuition. The Philosophy of Freedom is a step by step account of how a person may come to experience living, intuitive thinking. It is a comprehensive examination of freedom without being a doctrine to be memorized and followed. Instead, it is a recording of the inner experiences of Rudolf Steiner on his path of freedom. By recognizing within ourself the introspective descriptions given in the book we acquire greater self-awareness of our own cognitive activity. If we do not know why we act we obviously are not free. When we gain knowledge of the reasons for why we act we will know if these reasons are taken from the realm of our ideals. If they are the action is free, because only we determine it.

There are many obstacles to freedom. In order to gain freedom from all of the inner and outer influences that may force our activity it is important to know what freedom is, and just as important-- what it is not. Many mistakenly believe they are already free without having undergone any training. Being fooled in this way is the result of lacking
knowledge and self-awareness of what freedom is. Why strive for freedom if one believes they are already free?

Reading The Book Is A Thought Training
Freedom is not a natural occurrence. Things of nature are compelled by the laws of nature. Often a persons view-point is the product of feelings expressing a persons natural disposition and mental habits. We all know how difficult it is to convince another person of anything with logical reasoning. The wish is often the father of thought. It takes a love of factuality and objectivity for logical thinking to be important to us. Being reality based with knowledge of the laws working in life’s events requires objectivity without being swayed by our wish for a particular outcome. Just as one is trained in logical thinking through the study of mathematics and the reading of philosophy, intuitive thinking can be developed by the proper reading of The Philosophy of Freedom. This is more than just the development of rational thinking. Intuitive thinking is not a chilly abstract thinking but a warm luminous thinking based in reality.

“The primary purpose of my book is to serve as thought training, training in the sense that the special way of both thinking and entertaining these thoughts is such as to bring the soul life of the reader into motion in somewhat the way that gymnastics exercise their limbs.”
–Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy Of Freedom, by Otto Palmer, P. 82

This is not a book for the passive collection of information but instead encourages questioning, contemplation, and a heightened thinking activity in the reader. The thoughts are arranged in a special evolving sequence which move through a wide spectrum of view-points each presenting a different perspective of the whole. The various view-points presented each speak for themselves in a way that leaves the reader free from being directed to any particular approach. The intuition of the reader is called upon to complete the reading experience. If enough effort is put into working through the sequence of thoughts a new way of thinking and feeling is acquired. If this does not happen it means the reader “has not read it correctly or worked hard and thoroughly enough.”

“That is the reason why it is not exactly popular with people who read a book for information only. It was intended to involve the reader, page by page, in the actual activity of thinking, to serve merely as a score read with inner thought activity as the reader advances on his own from thought to thought.”
–Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy Of Freedom, By Otto Palmer, P. 90

A “New Thinking” Is Needed
Advertisers and politicians have developed a “science of manipulation” that can control a conditioned reactive mind by triggering emotional responses to sell products or short sighted government policies. This has threatened our very existence with unhealthy consumption, ecological disaster, war, and human rights abuse. A free independent thinker cannot be manipulated.

It will require a “new thinking” if we are to find a solution to the major ecological, social, political, and philosophical issues of our time. Intuitive thinking is the basis for free individuality, social cooperation, and a clear vision of reality. Rudolf Steiner laid out a path in the study and practice of his Philosophy of Freedom that leads from ordinary thinking to the level of pure intuitive thinking through self-awareness and thought training.

This book is not for the traditional conformist who takes pride in upholding the standards of the norm or dutifully obeying the orders of others but rather for those individualists who no longer want merely to believe and follow but have a need to know and act, each in their own way. The author dedicated the book to those who strive to order their life in this way.

The fundamental maxim of a free spirit is:

“To live in love towards our actions, and to let live in the understanding of the other person's will.”
-R. Steiner, Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 9.

HOME 100 INDEX The Philosophy of Freedom Study
Book Reviews

  • 4 Special Search Features
  • Audio Recording of POF
  • 5 English translations online
  • German and Spanish editions
  • 12 Purchase sites world wide (Wilson translation)
Note: Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom can also be found under the title The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path.

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A. Warning: Thinking Required
By Tom Last

The extent of your knowledge or intelligence is not relevant here, as the issue is whether we use what we do have. While reading The Philosophy of Freedom you can decide to read attentively and struggle to understand, judge, and apply the material or you can let your attention wander. You may half get some points, awaken again with effort, then lapse into partial focus. At each moment you are deciding whether to think or not.
-Tom Last

The quote below is from the Preface to the revised edition of 1918. Of interest also is the Preface to the first edition, 1894 and the
Introduction from translator Michael Wilson.

"An attempt is made to prove that there is a view of the nature of man's being which can support the rest of knowledge; and further, that this view completely justifies the idea of free will, provided only that we have first discovered that region of the soul in which free will can unfold itself.

The view to which we here refer is one which, once gained, is capable of becoming part and parcel of the very life of the soul itself. The answer given to the two problems will not be of the purely theoretical sort which, once mastered, may be carried about as a conviction preserved by memory. Such an answer would, for the whole manner of thinking on which this book is based, be no real answer at all.

The book will not give a ready-made self-contained answer of this sort, but will point to a field of experience in which man's inner soul activity supplies a living answer to these questions at every moment that he needs one."
-Rudolf Steiner
, POF, Preface to the revised edition of 1918

B1. Philosophy Of Freedom Book Review
By Steiner Books
Michael Wilson translation

Are we free, whether we know it or not?
Is any sense of individual freedom merely an illusion?

Rudolf Steiner tackles these age-old questions in a new and unique way. He shows that, by considering our own activity of thinking, we can realize the reasons for everything we do. And if these reasons are taken from the realm of our ideals, our actions are free, because only we determine them.

The question of freedom cannot be settled by philosophical argument. Nor is it simply granted to us. If we want to be free, we must work through our own inner activity to overcome unconscious urges and habitual thinking. To accomplish this, we must reach a point of view that recognizes no limits to knowledge, sees through all illusions, and opens the door to an experience of the reality of the spiritual world. Then we can achieve the highest level of evolution—we will recognize ourselves as free spirits.

Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was born in Kraljevic, Austria, where he grew up the son of a railroad station chief. As a young man, he lived in Weimar and Berlin, where he became a respected and well-published scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar, known especially for his work on Goethe's scientific writings. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he began to develop his earlier philosophical principles into an approach to methodical research of psychological and spiritual phenomena.

Steiner’s multifaceted genius has led to innovative and holistic approaches in medicine, philosophy, religion, education (Waldorf schools), special education (the Camphill movement), economics, agriculture (biodynamics), science, architecture, and the arts (drama, speech and eurythmy).

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B2. Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path Book Review
By Steiner Books
(originally, The Philosophy of Freedom)

Michael Lipson translation
Introduced By Gertrude Reif Hughes

Of all of his works, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path is the one that Steiner himself believed would have the longest life and the greatest spiritual and cultural consequences. It was written as a phenomenological account of the “results of observing the human soul according to the methods of natural science.

This seminal work asserts that free spiritual activity - understood as the human ability to think and act independently of physical nature - is the suitable path for human beings today to gain true knowledge of themselves and of the universe. This is not merely a philosophical volume, but rather a warm, heart-oriented guide to the practice and experience of living thinking.

Readers will not find abstract philosophy here, but a step-by-step account of how a person may come to experience living, intuitive thinking - “the conscious experience of a purely spiritual content.”

During the past hundred years since it was written, many have tried to discover this “new thinking” that could help us understand the various spiritual, ecological, social, political, and philosophical issues facing us. But only Rudolf Steiner laid out a path that leads from ordinary thinking to the level of pure spiritual activity - intuitive thinking - in which we become co-creators and co-redeemers of the world.

“When, with the help of Steiner’s book, we recognize that thinking is an essentially spiritual activity, we discover that it can school us. In that sense - Steiner’s sense - thinking is a spiritual path”.

Steiner designed all his books to discourage passive collecting of information and to encourage instead conscious pondering and questioning, particularly of hitherto unexamined notions. Like Steiner’s other writings, Intuitive Thinking As a Spiritual Path offers a mode of inquiry rather than a set of creeds, pieties, or doctrines.

His style makes us practice a more active thinking so that we can become aware of its power, vitality, and essentially spiritual nature. His work stimulates our soul’s own activity, stirring our latent powers and strengthening them so that we may eventually become able to think his insights ourselves. -
Gertrude Reif Hughes

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B3. Philosophy of Freedom Book Review
By Skylark Books
Michael Lipson translation

The Philosophy of Freedom
, written by Rudolf Steiner in 1894, is offered as a catalyst to the development of human thought and self-awareness. The reading of it and the effort dedicated to the comprehension of its precepts acts as an alchemical process which takes place by virtue of the soul's own heightened spiritual activity. Through negotiating the concepts, the soul becomes aware of it's own spiritual activity independent of bodily mediation or environmental influence.

The concepts involved are not derived from anything personal to Steiner or anything outside the soul's own immediate purview, if it is willing to make the effort - which it must do in order to adequately heighten its conceptual activity. Ultimately, said Steiner in a lecture many years later, the material in the book should be able to be written independently by any soul who has developed the strength and focus to do so.

What is little understood about this book is that it represents a particular stage in human consciousness - it is the unfolding in full consciousness, the ego's own activity in thought, i.e. the full flowering of the Consciousness Soul. Earlier stages of consciousness development (Sentient Soul Age and Intellectual Soul Age) did not have this unique feature. In this respect it is also the phase where, if the human being is willing to develop these forces, thought itself becomes transformed into the first shades of true spiritual perception (in the modern sense).

Steiner states in Lecture 5 of the lecture series: The Human Soul in Relation to World Evolution that what is described in this book is "the very first degree of the new clairvoyance. This is not recognized because people still think that clairvoyance means plunging into something obscure and unfamiliar. Here it is just the familiar that is sought; here one goes out with a thinking that has become independent of matter. It is a thinking that sustains itself, so that, through this self-sustaining thinking, the world is grasped for the first time purely spiritually. Indeed, the world is grasped through the very purest spirituality."

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B4. Philosophy of Freedom Introduction
Introduction By Michael Wilson

Today we hear about the "free world" and the "value of the individual", and yet the current scientific view of man seems to lend little support to these concepts, but seems rather to lead to a kind of morality in which every type of behavior is excused on the plea that "I cannot help being what I am!"

If we would really value the individual, and support our feeling of freedom with knowledge, we must find a point of view which will lead the ego to help itself become what it wants to be -- a free being. This cannot mean that we must abandon the scientific path; only that the scope of science must be widened to take into account the ego that experiences itself as spirit, which it does in the act of thinking. Thus the Philosophy of Freedom takes its start by examining the process of thinking, and shows that there need be no fear of unknown causes in unknown worlds forever beyond the reach of our knowledge, since limits to knowledge exist only in so far as we fail to awaken our thinking to the point where it becomes an organ of direct perception.

Having established the possibility of knowing, the book goes on to show that we can also know the causes of our actions, and if our motive for acting comes from pure intuition, from thinking alone, without any promptings from the appearances and illusions of the sense-world, then we can indeed act in freedom, out of pure love for the deed.

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B5. Intuitive Thinking As a Spiritual Path Book Review
(originally, The Philosophy of Freedom)

Book Review By Bobby Matherne

In this small volume Rudolf Steiner lays the epistemological basis for Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on Self-Reliance that had been written some forty years earlier. This book, rightly known, provides a sound philosophical basis for the writings of Ayn Rand on capitalism and the teachings of Dr. Andrew Joseph Galambos on volitional science, and many other writings and teachings of our time

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C. Rudolf Steiner Quotes
Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy Of Freedom
By Otto Palmer

P14 Basic principles of Anthroposophy
"Anyone interested in looking for them will find the basic principles of Anthroposophy already enunciated in this book."

P43 Special way to read POF
“Now what kind of reader approach did The Philosophy of Freedom

P90 Inner activity
“That is the reason why it is not exactly popular with people who read a book for information only. It was intended to involve the reader, page by page, in the actual activity of thinking, to serve merely as a score read with inner thought activity as the reader advances on his own from thought to thought.”

P47 Inner conviction
“Those who read The Philosophy of Freedom as it should be read speak with inner conviction and assurance about the findings of researchers who have gone beyond the stage one has oneself reached as a beginner.”

P84 Hard work
“The book is a living organism, and to work one’s way through the thoughts it contains is to undergo an inner training. A person to who this has not happened as a result of study need not conclude what I am saying is incorrect, but rather he has not read it correctly or worked hard and thoroughly enough.”

1)P5 Soul observation
“I was not setting forth a doctrine, but simply recording inner experiences through which I had actually passed. And I reported them just as I experienced them.”

2)P23 Cosmic mysteries
“Within this book thinking is experienced in a way that makes it impossible for a person involved in it to have any other impression, when he is living in thought, he is living in the cosmos. This relatedness to cosmic mysteries is the red thread running through the book.”

3)P82 Thought training
“The primary purpose of my book is to serve as thought training, training in the sense that the special way of both thinking and entertaining these thoughts is such as to bring the soul life of the reader into motion in somewhat the way that gymnastics exercise their limbs.”

4)P87 Evolution of thought
“A person desirous of entering the higher worlds must accustom himself to the kind of thinking in which each next thought grows out of the preceding one. This is the thinking in my Philosophy of Freedom and Truth and Science. These books are not written in a way that allows arbitrary placement of thought. They developed as an organism grows, one thought evolving from another.”

5)P83 Thought organization
“For in the case of a book like this, the important thing is so to organize the thoughts it contains that they take effect. With many other books it doesn’t make a great deal of difference if one shifts the sequence, putting this thing first and that later. But in the case of The Philosophy of Freedom that is impossible. It would be just as unthinkable to put page 150 fifty pages earlier as it would be to put a dog’s hind legs where the front ones belong.”

6)P87 Guided by thought
“The thoughts were not influenced by the author’s personality. He let himself be guided by what the thoughts they contained produced as the fruit of their own activity and were structured accordingly.”

7)P78 Independent thinking
“The most important thing about this book is the fact that in its pages completely independent thinking appears for the first time. A person incapable of thinking freely cannot understand it. He must accustom himself to call upon his etheric body if he is to entertain such thoughts.”

8)P104 Resurrection of thought
“This book is a picturing of morality intended to serve as a manual for enlivening dead thoughts by making them moral impulses, for resurrecting them from the dead. In this sense there is an inner content of Christianity.”

9)P12 Philosophy as an art
“Music theory is a body of knowledge that one must have acquired before starting to compose, and in composing, the laws of composition are made to serve life, to create something absolutely real. Philosophy is an art in exactly the same sense. Real philosophers have always been conceptual artists. The ideas of humankind were the artistic medium in which they worked….How philosophy as an art is related to human freedom, what freedom is, and whether we do, or can, participate in it—this is the main theme of my book.”

10)P59 Love of ideals
“Ideals that are the result of practicing a spiritual scientific thinking method become something more than abstractions, they are loved, loved with all the strength of ones humanness.”

11)P83 Catharsis
“Catharsis is an ancient term for the purification of the astral body by means of meditation and concentration exercises. If a reader takes this book as it was meant and relates to it in the way a virtuoso playing a composition on the piano relates to its composer, reproducing the whole piece out of himself, the books organically evolved thought sequence will bring about a high degree of catharsis.”

12)P60 Clarion call to free thinking and social trust
“So I can say at the time –the beginning of the nineties—I very much wanted my Philosophy of Freedom to sound a clarion call for the exact opposite of what we see happening today…… Development of recent times brought about social conditions in which perverse human instinct pursued a direction completely counter to what a grasp of present-day humanity’s true and deeper goal required our taking. That is the terrible tragedy of modern times.

It makes it absolutely necessary, in our future efforts, to recognize that the social order must be built in a way that is made possible only by free thinking, by trust, by what Goethe had in mind when he was looking for a definition of duty and said, “Duty is loving what one orders oneself to undertake…..” count on? It had to assume a special way of reading. It expected the reader, as they read, to undergo the sort of inner experience that, in an external sense, is really like waking up out of sleep in the morning.

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F. Links: Philosophy Of Freedom On The Web

1. Links to 4 Special Search Features

2. Link to mp3 audio recording
3. Links to 5 Online English Translations
Note: Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom can also be found under the title The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path.

I like to refer to all the translations side by side when having difficulty with a passage, including the William Lindeman version which is not online. If I were limited to two it would be the Wilson for the best combination of accuracy and ease of reading while referring to the Poppelbaum when concerned about accuracy.
  • Michael Wilson (The Philosophy of Freedom)
    Most popular classic English translation of original German.
    Best combination of accuracy and ease of reading.
  • Hermann Poppelbaum (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity)
    Awkward reading at times but captures more of the subtle world-view shifts with careful word selection. Only available online.
  • Michael Lipson (PDF) (Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path)
    Widely distributed contemporary sounding translation though least accurate. Suitable for a beginner.
  • Rita Stebbing (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity)
  • G Metaxa (The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity)
4. Links to 2 Online Non-English Versions
5. Online Purchase of Wilson English Translation
6. International (Wilson POF purchase)

Thinking, Freedom, And The Human Condition.pdf55.4 KB
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