Chapter 11 Audiobook

The Philosophy of Freedom
Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path, Lipson translation
copyright © Anthroposophic Press, 1995
Audio by Dale Brunsvold
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Chapter 11

World Purpose And Life Purpose
(Human Destiny)

(11:41) Whole chapter audio

Part 1 of 2 audio within text
[1] Among the many currents in humanity’s spiritual life, we may follow up one that may be described as the overcoming of the concept of purpose in areas where it does not belong. Purposefulness represents a particular kind of sequence of phenomena. It is only truly real when, in contrast to the relationship of cause and effect in which an earlier event determines a later one, just the opposite happens and a later event has a determining effect upon an earlier one. This only happens with human actions. Human beings perform actions of which they have previously made mental pictures, and they allow themselves to be determined in their actions by those mental pictures. With the help of a mental picture, what comes later (the action) has an effect upon what came earlier (the actor). Yet the detour through the mental picture is absolutely necessary for a purposeful chain of events.

[2] In processes that break down into causes and effects, we must distinguish percepts from concepts. The percept of the cause precedes the percept of the effect; if we could not connect them through their corresponding concepts, cause and effect would remain simply side by side in our consciousness. The percept of an effect must always follow the percept of a cause. An effect could have a real influence on the cause only through a conceptual factor. For the perceptual factor of an effect simply does not exist before the perceptual factor of the cause. Anyone claiming that a blossom is the purpose of a root—that the former influences the latter—can do so only with regard to the factor in the blossom that can be established by thinking. At the time of the root’s origin, the perceptual factor of the blossom does not exist yet. A purposeful connection, however, requires not merely the conceptual, lawful connection of the later with the earlier, but the concept (the law) of the effect must actually influence the cause by a perceptible process. But we can observe a concept’s perceptible influence on something else only in the case of human actions. Only there, then, is the concept of purpose applicable. As we have repeatedly noted, naive consciousness, which gives validity only to what is perceptible, seeks to transpose the perceptible even to where only the conceptual can be known. It seeks perceptible connections in perceptible events or, if it does not find them, it dreams them up. The concept of purpose appropriate to subjective action is well suited for such dreamed up connections. Naive persons know how they bring about an event, and conclude from this that nature will do the same. They see not only invisible forces but imperceptible, real purposes in the purely conceptual connections of nature. Human beings make their tools for a purpose; naive realists have the creator construct organisms according to the same formula. This false concept of purpose is disappearing from the sciences only very gradually. To this day, it still works quite a bit of mischief in philosophy, where the question is raised as to the extra-worldly purpose of the world, of the extra-human destiny (and consequently also the purpose) of human beings, and so forth.

[3] Monism rejects the concept of purpose in all spheres— with the single exception of human action. It looks for laws of nature, but not purposes of nature. Purposes of nature, like imperceptible forces (pp.114 ff.), are arbitrary assumptions. From the standpoint of monism, purposes of life, if not set by humans for themselves, are likewise unjustified assumptions. Only what a human being has made purposeful is purposeful, for it is only through the realization of an idea that purposefulness arises. But the idea becomes effective in a realistic sense only in human beings. Therefore human life has only the purpose and direction that human beings give it. To the question: What kind of task do human beings have in life? Monism can answer only: the one that they set for themselves. My mission in the world is not predetermined but, at each moment, it is the one I choose for myself. I do not enter my life’s path with fixed marching orders.

[4] Ideas are realized purposefully only through human beings. It is therefore invalid to speak of the embodiment of ideas through history. From a monistic point of view, such phrases as, “History is the evolution of human beings toward freedom,” or “the realization of the moral world order” and so forth, are untenable.

[5] Advocates of the concept of purpose believe that if they relinquish this concept they must also abandon all order and unity in the world. Here is Robert Hamerling:

[6] "As long as there are drives in nature, it is foolish to deny purposes there. Just as the formation of a limb in the human body is not determined and conditioned by an idea of this limb hovering in the air, but by its connection with the greater whole—the body to which the limb belongs—so too the formation of every natural creature, whether plant, animal or human, is not determined and conditioned by an idea of it hovering in the air, but by the formative principle of the greater whole of nature, which lives itself out and organizes itself purposefully."

And again, in the same volume:

"The theory of purpose claims only that, despite the thousand discomforts and distresses of this creaturely life, a high purposefulness and planfulness is unmistakably present in the forms and evolutions of nature—but a planfulness and purposefulness that realizes itself only within natural laws and cannot aim at a sluggard’s world in which life would face no death, and growth no decay, with all of the more or less unpleasant, but finally unavoidable intermediate stages. [7] If opponents of the concept of purpose oppose, to the miraculous world of purposefulness that nature reveals to us in all areas, a laboriously assembled heap of partial or complete, imagined or real un-purposefulnesses, I find this just as silly."

[8] What is meant here by “purposefulness”? The coherence of percepts into a whole. But since laws (ideas) that we find through our thinking lie at the base of all percepts, the planful coherence of the members of a perceptual whole is precisely the conceptual coherence of the members of a conceptual whole contained within this perceptual whole. Saying that animals or human beings are not determined by ideas hovering in the air is a skewed expression, and the view condemned in this way loses its absurd character as soon as we correct the expression. Of course, animals are not determined by ideas hovering in the air, but animals are determined by an inborn idea that makes up their lawful being. Precisely because this idea is not outside the object, but works within it as its essence, there can be no talk of purposefulness. Precisely those who deny that natural creatures are determined from without (whether through an idea hovering in the air or an idea existing outside the creature in the mind of a worldcreator is, in this context, completely irrelevant) must admit that such natural creatures are not determined purposefully and planfully from without, but causally and lawfully from within. I construct a machine purposefully when I bring its parts into a relationship that they do not have by nature. The purposefulness of the arrangement consists in my having set the operation of the machine, as its idea, at its base. In this way, the machine becomes a perceptual object with a corresponding idea. Natural objects are just such entities. Whoever calls a thing purposeful because it is formed according to law might just as well apply the same label to natural objects. But this kind of lawfulness must not be confused with that of subjective human actions. For a purpose, it is absolutely necessary that the effective cause be a concept—in fact, the concept of the effect. But nowhere in nature can we establish that concepts are causes. The concept always proves to be merely the conceptual link between a cause and an effect. In nature, causes exist only in the form of percepts.

[9] Dualism may talk of world purposes and the purposes of nature. Where a lawful linkage of cause and effect communicates itself to our perception, the dualist may assume that we are seeing only a faint copy of a connection in which the absolute world-being has realized its purposes. For monism, any reason to assume the existence of world purposes and purposes of nature falls away, along with the assumption of an absolute world-being that cannot be experienced but only inferred hypothetically.


Addendum to the new edition (1918)
[1] No one who has thought through this discussion in an unprejudiced way can conclude that, in rejecting the concept of purpose for extra-human facts, I have placed myself among the thinkers who, by discarding that concept, enable themselves to interpret everything outside human action—and finally that too—as only a natural process. This should be clear from my portrayal of the process of thinking as purely spiritual. If the concept of purpose is rejected here even in relation to the spiritual world lying outside human action, it is because in that world something is revealed that is higher than the kind of purpose that could be realized in humanity. And if I say that the thought of a purposeful destiny for the human race, conceived on the pattern of human purposefulness, is false, I mean that individual humans set themselves purposes, and the outcome of the total activity of humanity is composed from these. This outcome is then something higher than the purposes of individual humans that are its parts.

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