The Philosophy of Freedom Study
Most of us accept that we live within an orderly lawful universe. Science seeks to discover the harmony of these laws that rule throughout existence. The human being is a part of nature and is also subject to these laws as discovered by physical and social scientists. There is mounting scientific evidence that the thinking and willing of the human being is determined with an unyielding necessity by these laws making any belief in human freedom merely a naïve delusion. Is freedom possible in a lawful universe? How can we be free if our beliefs, desires, and character is determined by genetic inheritance, upbringing, group conformity, subsequent experience, and soon? Wouldn't freedom have to be a supernatural ability or even magic if this were the case? No wholly random, spontaneous, mysterious, or miraculous events occur according to today's scientific view. If an ability exists to suspend these laws in order for a human being to originate a willful cause it would mark a revolution in scientific knowledge.
The Power Within Thinking
The opening of Chapter One in Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom raises the question of whether it is possible for human freedom to be compatible with natural laws.
1-0 "Infinite subtlety has been employed to explain how human freedom can be consistent with the laws working in nature, of which man, after all, is a part. No less is the trouble to which others have gone to explain how such a delusion as this could have arisen."
Freedom From Constraints To Do What We Want
One view where freedom is compatible with natural laws is to accept ourselves as who we are. Our character, personality, preferences, and general motivation for life may be entirely determined by events for which we are in no way responsible, but we do not have to be in control of any of these things in order to be free, according to this view. If our actions are not determined by our beliefs, desires, and character, then it seems that they aren't our real actions. Freedom is just a matter of being able to choose and act in the way one prefers 'given how one is'. This acceptance of our lawful make up is compatible with scientific research. Freedom is simply to be free from constraints that would prevent us from doing what we already want to do. If I feel like going to church, vacationing in Cancun, or eating steak then I am free so long as I am able to do these things. Anyone who is not in chains is free in this sense.
If the life of a human being is one of conditioned responses then the proper way to modify behavior would be reward and punishment. But it can be argued that even animals possess freedom under this definition.
A Drunk Man's Words Are A Sober Man's Thoughts
An example of a public discussion over this issue is the recent arrest of Mel Gibson for suspicion of drunken driving. After being stopped for speeding, the Oscar-winning 'Braveheart' star and director failed both alcohol breath and field sobriety tests. He resisted arrest, launched into several vulgar tirades against the police, made sexually abusive remarks to a female officer, and spewed out belligerent racial epithets.
When news spread of his arrest and prejudicial ranting, an activist from the offended group said, "It appears that the combination of liquor and arrest has revealed his true character." It was argued that Mel's drunken rants have provided the public a direct pipeline into the workings of his mind. The activist seemed to believe the old proverb that 'a drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts'. It was implied that this drunken incident "proves" that Mel Gibson is a bigot.
The accusations about his character refer to his upbringing. His household was dominated by a father whose writings are criticized as expressing anger and bigotry. The accusers expect that the father's anger and beliefs formed Mel's character. With his inhibitions freed by the alcohol he expressed his true self. After the incident, the sober Gibson issued a statement apologizing for his behavior and for having "said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."
Which is the true character of Mel Gibson? Is he a programmed sexist and bigot or one who is opposed to such prejudiced views? Drunks do and say things they would never say or do when they are sober. They sincerely regret those words and behaviors afterwards. Was his apology a return to the public mask that hides his true self or an expression of his present character as a devout practicing Catholic?
Our upbringing stays with us for the rest of our lives. When we are weakened through alcohol, drugs, rage, stress or impatience these traumas of our past find ways to express themselves against our own current values. Moral character can be trained into a person through a proper upbringing, social pressure, or by adopting religious principles. These become higher laws within us to help us advance beyond our animal cravings. The outside moral laws implanted through socialization can lead us to freedom but not grant it. To be free we need to find the power within ourselves that can hold it's ground against the onslaught of all outside influences.
The Power Within Thinking
We live in a scientific age that is the product of a new capacity of thinking, an ability to grasp the laws of nature leading to great advances in technology. But the thinking itself has become cold, lifeless, and abstract. This emptiness has left many pursuing a mysticism of feeling found in New Age spirituality, or rejecting rational thought for the blind faith of religious fundamentalism, or settling for traditional religions even though they may be unfulfilling. One path, brought by Rudolf Steiner and described in his Philosophy of Freedom, is particularly suited to our scientific age and it's "chilly" picture of the world. That path moves scientific thinking forward with a resurrection of thinking to it's real nature; warm, luminous, and able to penetrate deeply into the reality of the world beyond the limitations imposed by material science. There is a power that flows through the activity of thinking itself if we are ready to experience it 'intuitively'. It is the power of love that brings about a deepening of knowledge. This thinking is full of life, containing an experience of feeling and willing to the depth of their reality.
Normal everyday thinking makes its appearance through our psyche-physical organization lacking the life found in intuitive thinking. This organization is the driving force of instinctive and conditioned reactive thinking and behavior. It rules over us according to natural laws. Many spiritual techniques and therapies have been directed toward it. An often unnoticed paragraph within The Philosophy of Freedom explains the relationship between the intuitive essence of thinking and this organization. It reveals the law of thinking that makes freedom possible and gives us the power to overcome all the stereotyped thinking and instinctive willing that has brought us this far, but now must be overcome if we are to find free expression through that deeper being that dwells within us. This is not a supernatural power operating outside the laws of the universe but is part of a higher lawful order and experience that can be verified by others.
In the presence of the intuitive essence active within thinking, the psyche-physical organization suspends it's activity, as if in an act of reverence, allowing the intuition to take it's place.
9-1 "For this organization contributes nothing to the essential nature of thinking, but recedes whenever the activity of thinking makes its appearance; it suspends its own activity, it yields ground; and on the ground thus left empty, the thinking appears. The essence which is active in thinking has a twofold function: first, it represses the activity of the human organization; secondly, it steps into its place." Rudolf Steiner, Chapter 9, The Philosophy of Freedom
This power within the activity of thinking suspends our natural and social instincts and replaces them with a new impulse from within ourselves. We have originated a new moral idea, an intention that will rule our deed. The laws no longer rule over us, instead they rule over our deed. Our action is free.
"Without any kind of compulsion entering in, free human beings act in accordance with their insight, in accordance with commandments that they give themselves." Rudolf Steiner, The Science of Knowing, p112.