Moral Intuition, Moral Imagination, Moral Technique

Submitted by Tom Last on Sat, 06/21/2008 - 4:50pm.

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The Philosophy Of Freedom by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Chapter 12 Moral Imagination Video 1 of 2

What is a Moral Idea?

Moral Intuition: the capacity to experience for yourself the particular moral principle for each single situation.

Moral Imagination: the ability of imagination to translate a general moral principle into a concrete mental picture of the action to be carried out.

Moral Technique: the ability to transform the world according to moral imaginations without violating the natural laws by which these are connected.

Free And Unfree Impulse To Action

[1] A free spirit acts according to his impulses, that is, according to intuitions selected from the totality of his world of ideas by thinking. For an unfree spirit, the reason why he singles out a particular intuition from his world of ideas in order to make it the basis of an action, lies in the world of percepts given to him, that is, in his past experiences. He recalls, before coming to a decision, what someone else has done or recommended as suitable in a comparable case, or what God has commanded to be done in such a case, and so on, and he acts accordingly. For a free spirit, these prior conditions are not the only impulses to action. He makes a completely first-hand decision. What others have done in such a case worries him as little as what they have decreed. He has purely ideal reasons which lead him to select from the sum of his concepts just one in particular, and then to translate it into action. But his action will belong to perceptible reality. What he achieves will thus be identical with a quite definite content of perception. The concept will have to realize itself in a single concrete occurrence. As a concept it will not be able to contain this particular event. It will refer to the event only in the same way as a concept is in general related to a percept, for example, the concept of the lion to a particular lion. The link between concept and percept is the mental picture. For the unfree spirit, this link is given from the outset. Motives are present in his consciousness from the outset in the form of mental pictures. Whenever there is something he wants to carry out, he does it as he has seen it done, or as he has been told to do it in the particular case. Hence authority works best through examples, that is, through providing quite definite particular actions for the consciousness of the unfree spirit. A Christian acts not so much according to the teaching as according to the example of the Savior. Rules have less value for acting positively than for refraining from certain actions. Laws take on the form of general concepts only when they forbid actions, but not when they prescribe them. Laws concerning what he ought to do must be given to the unfree spirit in quite concrete form: Clean the street in front of your door! Pay your taxes, amounting to the sum here given, to the Tax Office at X! and so on. Conceptual form belongs to laws for inhibiting actions: Thou shalt not steal! Thou shalt not commit adultery! These laws, too, influence the unfree spirit only by means of a concrete mental picture, for example, that of the appropriate secular punishment, or the pangs of conscience, or eternal damnation, and so on.

Concrete Mental Picture
[2] Whenever the impulse for an action is present in a general conceptual form (for example, Thou shalt do good to thy fellow men! Thou shalt live so that thou best promotest thy welfare!) then for each particular case the concrete mental picture of the action (the relation of the concept to a content of perception) must first be found. For the free spirit who is impelled by no example, nor fear of punishment or the like, this translation of the concept into a mental picture is always necessary.

Moral Imagination
[3] Man produces concrete mental pictures from the sum of his ideas chiefly by means of the imagination. Therefore what the free spirit needs in order to realize his ideas, in order to be effective, is moral imagination. This is the source of the free spirit's action. Therefore it is only men with moral imagination who are, strictly speaking, morally productive. Those who merely preach morality, that is, people who merely spin out moral rules without being able to condense them into concrete mental pictures, are morally unproductive. They are like those critics who can explain very intelligibly what a work of art ought to be like, but who are themselves incapable of even the slightest productive effort.

Moral Technique
[4] Moral imagination, in order to realize its mental picture, must set to work in a definite sphere of percepts. Human action does not create percepts, but transforms already existing percepts and gives them a new form. In order to be able to transform a definite object of perception, or a sum of such objects, in accordance with a moral mental picture, one must have grasped the principle at work within the percept picture, that is, the way it has hitherto worked, to which one wants to give a new form or a new direction. Further, it is necessary to discover the procedure by which it is possible to change the given principle into a new one. This part of effective moral activity depends on knowledge of the particular world of phenomena with which one is concerned. We shall, therefore, look for it in some branch of learning in general. Moral action, then, presupposes, in addition to the faculty of having moral ideas (moral intuition) and moral imagination, the ability to transform the world of percepts without violating the natural laws by which these are connected. This ability is moral technique. It can be learnt in the same sense in which any kind of knowledge can be learnt. Generally speaking, men are better able to find concepts for the existing world than to evolve productively, out of their imagination, the not-yet-existing actions of the future. Hence it is perfectly possible for men without moral imagination to receive such mental pictures from others, and to embody them skillfully into the actual world. Conversely, it may happen that men with moral imagination lack technical skill, and must make use of other men for the realization of their mental pictures.

[5] In so far as knowledge of the objects within our sphere of action is necessary for acting morally, our action depends upon such knowledge. What we are concerned with here are laws of nature. We are dealing with natural science, not ethics.

History Of Moral Ideas
[6] Moral imagination and the faculty of having moral ideas can become objects of knowledge only after they have been produced by the individual. By then, however, they no longer regulate life, for they have already regulated it. They must now be regarded as effective causes, like all others (they are purposes only for the subject). We therefore deal with them as with a natural history of moral ideas.

[7] Ethics as a science that sets standards, in addition to this, cannot exist.