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Chapter 13 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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rationalist [0] worldview; still, anyone deciding whether or not to carry on with the business of life will first demand to be shown where the calculated surplus of pain is to be found.

[25] Here we touch the point where reason by itself is not in a position to determine the surplus of pleasure or pain, but must rather demonstrate that surplus as a percept in life. For human beings cannot attain reality solely through concepts, but only through the interpenetration, mediated by thinking (cf. pp. 88 ff.), of concepts and percepts (and feelings are percepts). A merchant, likewise, will close his business only if the loss calculated by his accountant is confirmed by the facts. If that does not happen, he will have the accountant calculate again. We conduct the business of life in just the same way. If a philosopher wants to prove that pain is much more common than pleasure, and yet we do not feel this to be so, then we say: you have made a mistake in your brooding; think it through again! But, if, at a given moment, a business really suffers such losses that its credit can no longer satisfy the creditors, then bankruptcy results even if the merchant’s bookkeeping obscures the state of his affairs. In the same way, if, at a certain moment, the quantity of a person’s pain is so great that no hope (credit) of future pleasure can offer solace, then this must lead to bankruptcy in the business of life.

[26] Yet the number of suicides is still relatively small in proportion to the multitude of those who live bravely on. Only very few people give up the business of life because of the presence of pain. What follows from this? Either it is incorrect to say that the quantity of pain is greater than the quantity of pleasure, or else we simply do not make continuation of life dependent on the quantity of pleasure or pain that we feel.

[27] Eduard von Hartmann’s pessimism is unique in explaining life as worthless (because pain predominates), and yet maintaining that we must go through it nonetheless. We must do so because the world purpose mentioned above (p. 197) can be achieved only through ceaseless, devoted human labor. But, as long as human beings still pursue their egotistical desires, they are unsuited to such selfless labor. They can devote themselves to their true task only if they have convinced themselves, through experience and reason, that the pleasures in life striven for by egotism cannot be attained. In this way, the conviction of pessimism is supposed to be a source of selflessness. An education based on pessimism is supposed to eradicate egotism by presenting it with its own hopelessness.

[28] In von Hartmann’s view, the striving for pleasure is originally based in human nature. Only insight into the impossibility of fulfillment makes this striving yield to higher tasks for humanity.

[29] But one cannot say that egotism is truly overcome by an ethical worldview that seeks to achieve devotion to nonegotistical life aims by the acceptance of pessimism. Ethical ideals are said to be strong enough to master the will only if a person has seen that a selfish striving for pleasure cannot bring satisfaction. We human beings, whose selfishness has yearned for the grapes of pleasure, find them sour because we cannot reach them. Therefore, we leave them and devote ourselves to a selfless way of life. In the pessimist’s view, moral ideals are not strong enough to overcome egotism. Instead, pessimists base their dominion on the ground previously cleared for them by the recognition of the hopelessness of self-seeking.

[30] If human beings strove for pleasure by nature and were unable to attain it, then annihilation of existence and salvation through non-existence would be the only rational goal. But if we hold that God is the actual bearer of the world’s suffering, then human beings have to make it their task to bring about God’s salvation. Attainment of that goal is hindered, not furthered, by suicide of the individual. Rationally, God can have created human beings only in order for them to bring about His salvation by their actions. Otherwise, creation would be pointless. And this kind of worldview does think in terms of extra-human goals. Each of us must contribute our specific labor to the universal work of salvation. If we withdraw from this labor through suicide, what we ourselves were meant to do must be undertaken by others who have to bear the torment of existence in our stead. And since God resides in each being as the actual bearer of pain, the suicide does nothing to diminish God’s suffering; rather, it imposes on God the new difficulty of creating a substitute.

[31] All of this presupposes that pleasure is the measure of life’s worth. Life is expressed through a number of drives (needs). If the value of life depended on whether it brought more pleasure or pain, any drive bringing its bearer a surplus of pain would be considered worthless. Let us now look at drives and pleasures to see whether the former can be measured by the latter. To avoid the suspicion that we consider that life begins with “the aristocracy of intellect,” we shall begin with a “purely animal” need: hunger.

[32] Hunger arises when our organs can no longer function properly without a new supply of nourishment. What hungry persons strive for first is to satisfy their hunger. As soon as sufficient nourishment has been supplied and hunger ceases, everything striven for by the drive for food has been attained. In this case, the enjoyment that attaches to satisfaction consists initially in the removal of the pain caused by hunger. But an additional need joins itself to the mere drive to satisfy hunger. The person does not want only to bring the disturbed organic functions back into good order through the intake of nourishment, nor simply to overcome the pain of hunger; the person also wants this to be accompanied by pleasant sensations of taste. When we are hungry and half an hour remains before a tasty meal, we might even keep away from less interesting fare that could satisfy our hunger in order to avoid spoiling our pleasure in what is to come. We need hunger to have the full enjoyment of our meal. In this way, hunger becomes the occasion of pleasure for us. If all the hunger in the world could be quieted, it would result in the full measure of enjoyment attributable to the presence of the need for food. But to this we would still have to add the special enjoyment at which gourmets aim through an extraordinary cultivation of the palate.

[33] This kind of enjoyment would have the greatest imaginable value if the need for it never went unsatisfied, and if, along with the enjoyment, we did not have to accept a certain quantity of pain into the bargain.

[34] Modern science holds that nature produces more life than it can maintain; that is, nature creates more hunger than it is in a position to satisfy. In the struggle for existence, the excess life that is produced must perish painfully. Granted, in each moment, the needs of life are greater than the available means of satisfying them, and therefore the pleasure of life is compromised. Yet this in no way diminishes the pleasure in life that is actually present. Wherever desire finds satisfaction, there is a corresponding quantity of enjoyment—even if there exists, in this creature or others, a huge number of unsatisfied drives. What is diminished is the value of the enjoyment of life. If only a portion of the needs of a living creature find satisfaction, the creature has a corresponding degree of enjoyment. The smaller the enjoyment is in proportion to the total demands of life in the sphere of the desires in question, the less value that enjoyment will have. We can imagine the value represented by a fraction whose numerator is the enjoyment actually present and whose denominator is the total sum of the needs. When the numerator and the denominator are equal, that is, when all needs are satisfied, then the fraction has a value of one. It becomes greater than one when more pleasure is present in a living creature than its desires demand; it is smaller if the quantity of enjoyment lags behind the sum of desires. But as long as the numerator (the enjoyment) has even the slightest value, the fraction can never equal zero. If, before dying, I were to make a final account, and mentally distribute over my whole life both the quantity of enjoyment related to a particular drive (for example, hunger) and the demands of that drive, then the pleasure experienced might have a very slight value, but it can never be quite valueless. Given a constant quantity of enjoyment, a creature’s increased needs diminish the value of the pleasure in life. The same applies to the totality of life in nature. The greater the total number of creatures in relation to the number whose drives are fully satisfied, the lower is the average value of the pleasure in life. Our shares in life’s pleasure in the form of instincts fall in value when we cannot hope to cash them in for the full amount. If I have enough to eat for three days and then must go hungry for the next three, the pleasure of those three days of eating is not diminished. But I must then think of it as distributed over the six days, so that its value in terms of my food drive is reduced to one half. It is the same with the amount of pleasure in relation to the degree of my need. If I have enough hunger for two pieces of buttered bread but I only get one, then the pleasure derived from it has only half of the value that it would have if I had been satisfied by that one piece alone. This is how the value of pleasure in life is determined. It is measured against life’s needs. Our desires are the yardstick; pleasure is what we measure. The enjoyment of being satisfied has value only because of the existence of hunger. It has value of a specific magnitude depending on its relation to the magnitude of the existing hunger.

[35] Unfulfilled demands in life cast a shadow even over desires that are satisfied and thus diminish the value of pleasurable hours. But we can also speak of the present value of a feeling of pleasure. The smaller a pleasure in relation to the duration and the intensity of our desire, the less the present value of a feeling of pleasure will be.

[36] A quantity of pleasure has full value for us when its duration and degree exactly coincide with our desire. When it is smaller than our desire, the value of a given quantity of pleasure is diminished; when the pleasure is greater, we have an undesired surplus, which is felt as pleasure only for as long as we can heighten our desire during the enjoyment itself. If we are in no position to keep the growth of our desire in step with the increase of pleasure, then pleasure turns into displeasure. The object that would otherwise content us assails us without our wanting it, and we suffer from it. This is one proof that pleasure has value for us only as long as we can measure it against our desire. An excess of pleasant feeling changes into pain. We can observe this especially in persons whose desire for any kind of pleasure is very slight. In persons whose drive for food is stunted, eating quickly leads to nausea. Again, we can see from this that desire is the yardstick for the value of pleasure.

[37] Pessimists might say that an unsatisfied drive for food brings into the world not merely displeasure because of lost enjoyment, but also positive pain, suffering, and misery. They can appeal here to the nameless misery of those who are starving, and to the totality of pain arising indirectly, for such people, from lack of food. And, if pessimists want to extend their claim to nonhuman nature as well, they can point to the sufferings of animals who starve at certain times of the year because of lack of nourishment. Pessimists claim that such ills far outweigh the quantity of enjoyment brought into the world by the drive for food.

[38] Doubtless, we can compare pleasure and pain and determine the surplus of one or the other, just as we can with profit and loss. But, if pessimists believe that an excess exists in the column of displeasure, and infer the worthlessness of life from that, then they err in making a calculation that is never made in real life.

[39] In a given instance, our desire is oriented toward a specific object. As we have seen, the greater our pleasure is in relation to our desire, the greater is the value of pleasure in satisfying the desire.

But the quantity of pain that we are willing to accept in order to attain the pleasure also depends on the magnitude of our desire. We compare the magnitude of the pain not with the pleasure, but with the magnitude of our desire. Someone who takes great pleasure in eating will, because of enjoyment in better times, be able to sustain a period of hunger better than someone who lacks this joy in eating. A woman who wants children does not compare the pleasure of having one to the quantity of pain in pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing, and so forth, but to her desire to have a child.

[40] We never strive for an abstract pleasure of a certain magnitude but for concrete satisfaction in a very specific way. If we strive for a pleasure that must be satisfied by a specific object or sensation, then we cannot be satisfied by another object or sensation that would offer a pleasure of the same magnitude. For someone who is striving to satisfy hunger, the pleasure in so doing cannot be replaced with an equally pleasurable walk. Only if our desire were for a specific quantity of pleasure in the abstract would it disappear as soon as the price of achieving it turned out to be a greater quantity of pain. But, since satisfaction is sought in a specific way, the pleasure of fulfillment arises even if a pain that outweighs the pleasure must also be taken with it. Because the instincts of living creatures move in a specific direction, and aim at a concrete goal, it is impossible to reckon as an equivalent factor the quantities of pain that may obstruct the path to this goal. Provided that the desire is strong enough to be present to some degree after overcoming the pain—however great this may be in absolute terms—the pleasure of satisfaction can still be tasted to its full extent. Thus, desire does not compare pain directly with the attained pleasure; it indirectly compares its own (relative) magnitude with that of the pain. It is not a question of whether the pleasure or the pain involved will be greater, but rather whether the desire for the goal or the hindrance of pain will be greater. If the hindrance is greater than the desire, then the latter bows to the inevitable, weakens, and strives no further. Since satisfaction is always demanded in a specific way, the pleasure associated with it acquires such a significance that, after satisfaction has occurred, we must take the unavoidable quantity of pain into account only to the extent that it has diminished the quantity of our desire. If I am a passionate devotee of beautiful views, I never calculate how much pleasure I will get from the view from a mountain peak and compare it with the pain of the laborious ascent and descent. I consider only whether, after overcoming these difficulties, my desire for the view will still be sufficiently lively. Only indirectly, through the intensity of the desire, do pleasure and pain together yield a result. The question is never whether pleasure or pain is present in surplus but whether the will for the pleasure is great enough to overcome the pain.

[41] A proof for the correctness of this assertion is the fact that we put a higher value on pleasure when it must be purchased at the cost of great pain than when it falls into our lap like a gift from heaven. If pain and torment have diminished our desire, and the goal is nevertheless attained, then the pleasure is that much greater in proportion to the remaining quantity of desire. Now, as I have shown (cf. p. 210), it is this proportional relationship that represents the value of the pleasure. Further proof is provided by the fact that living creatures (including human beings) express their drives as long as they are in a position to bear the pains and torments that they encounter. The struggle for existence is but a consequence of this fact. Living creatures strive to fulfill themselves; only those whose desires are smothered by the force of the opposing difficulties give up the struggle. Every living creature seeks nourishment until lack of nourishment destroys its life. Human beings, too, only take their own lives if they believe (rightly or wrongly) that the goals of life worth striving for are unattainable. As long as we believe in the possibility of achieving what seems to us to be worth striving for, we will struggle against all torment and pain. Philosophy would have to convince us that wanting makes sense only if the pleasure is greater than the pain; by nature, we want to achieve the objects of our desire if only we can bear the necessary pain, however great it might be. But such philosophy would be in error, because it makes human will dependent on a circumstance (surplus of pleasure over pain) that is originally foreign to us. The original measure of our will is desire, and desire asserts itself as long as it can.

The calculation of the pleasure and pain of satisfying a desire that is set up by life—not by rational philosophy— can be looked at in the following way. Suppose that, when buying a certain quantity of apples, I am obliged to take twice as many bad apples as good ones, because the seller wants to unload his merchandise. If the value I place on the smaller quantity of good apples is so high that, in addition to the purchase price, I am willing to assume the cost of disposing of the bad apples, then I will not hesitate for a moment to take the bad apples. This example illustrates the relationship between the quantities of pleasure and pain coming from any of our drives. I determine the value of the good apples not by subtracting their number from that of the bad ones, but by seeing whether, despite the presence of the bad ones, the good ones still retain some value.

[42] Just as I disregard the bad apples when I enjoy the good ones, so I give myself up to the satisfaction of a desire after having shaken off the unavoidable suffering.

[43] Even if pessimism were correct in its claim that there is more pain than pleasure in the world, this would have no influence on our willing, for living creatures would still strive after whatever pleasure remains. Empirical proof that pain outweighs joy (if it could be given) would indeed demonstrate the fruitlessness of the philosophical position that sees the value of life in a surplus of pleasure (eudemonism), but it could not demonstrate that our will is itself unreasonable; for our will aims not at a surplus of pleasure, but at the quantity of pleasure that remains after the pain has been endured. This always appears as a goal worth striving for.

[44] Attempts have been made to refute pessimism by asserting that it is impossible to calculate the surplus of pleasure or pain in the world. Calculation is possible only if we can compare the magnitudes of the elements of the calculation. Every pain or pleasure has a specific magnitude (intensity and duration). We can even compare the approximate magnitudes of different kinds of pleasurable sensation. We know whether a good cigar or a good joke gives us more pleasure. There can be no objection to comparing different kinds of pleasure and pain with regard to their magnitudes. Researchers who make it their business to determine the surplus of pleasure or pain in the world proceed from thoroughly justifiable premises. We may assert the incorrectness of pessimistic conclusions, but we may question neither the possibility of a scientific estimation of the quantities of pleasure and pain, nor therefore the determination of the balance of pleasure. Yet it is wrong to claim that the results of such calculation have some bearing on human volition. We really evaluate our actions according to whether pleasure or pain predominates only when we are indifferent to the objects of our activity. If it is a matter merely of deciding between enjoying a game or a light conversation after a day’s work, and I am indifferent as to which of the two I choose, then I shall ask myself which brings me the greater surplus of pleasure. I shall certainly abandon an activity if the scale dips toward the side of pain. When we buy a toy for a child, our choice depends on what we think will give the most pleasure. In all other circumstances, however, we do not base our decisions exclusively on the balance of pleasure.

[45] If pessimistic ethicists believe that, by proving that pain exceeds pleasure, they are paving the way for selfless devotion to the work of culture, they are not taking into account that human will, by its very nature, is not influenced by this knowledge. Human striving is governed by the quantity of possible satisfaction after all difficulties have been overcome. Hope of such satisfaction is the basis of all human activity. The work of each individual and the whole work of culture springs from this hope. Pessimistic ethics believes it must present the human pursuit of happiness as impossible, so that people will devote themselves to the proper ethical tasks. But these ethical tasks are nothing other than our actual natural and spiritual drives, and their satisfaction will be striven for despite the accompanying pain. The pursuit of happiness that pessimism wishes to eliminate is quite nonexistent. We perform the tasks we must because, once we have really recognized their nature, it is in our very nature to want to perform them.

Pessimistic ethics asserts that we can devote ourselves to what we recognize as our life’s task only once we have abandoned the pursuit of happiness. But no ethics can invent any life tasks other than realizing what human desires demand and fulfilling our ethical ideals. No ethics can take away our pleasure in the fulfillment of our desires. If the pessimist says, “Do not strive for pleasure, you can never attain it, but strive for what you recognize to be your task,” the response must be: “But this is how human beings already are.” The claim that humans strive merely for happiness is the invention of a philosophy gone astray. We strive for satisfaction of what our essential nature desires, and we have in view the concrete objects of this striving and not some abstract “happiness.” Fulfillment of such striving is a pleasure. When pessimistic ethics demands that you strive, not for pleasure, but for what you have recognized as your life’s task, it is pointing to what humans by their nature want. Human beings do not need to be turned upside down by philosophy; they do not need to throw away their nature in order to be ethical. Morality lies in striving for a goal recognized as just; and it is human nature to pursue the goal as long as the pain involved does not cripple the desire for it. This is the nature of all real willing. Ethics is not based on the extirpation of all striving for pleasure so that bloodless, abstract ideas can assert their dominance unchallenged by a strong yearning for enjoyment in life. Ethics is based on strong will, borne by conceptual intuitions, that attains its goal even if the path is thorny.

[46] Ethical ideas spring from human moral imagination. Their realization depends upon their being desired strongly enough to overcome pain and suffering. Ethical ideals are human intuitions, the driving forces that our own spirit harnesses. We want them because their realization is our highest pleasure. We do not need ethics to forbid us to strive for pleasure and then tell us what we should strive for. We shall strive for ethical ideals if our moral imagination is active enough to endow us with intuitions that give our willing the strength to make its way against the obstacles—including the unavoidable pain— lying within our organization.

[47] Those who strive toward ideals of sublime greatness do so because such ideals are the content of their being, and to realize them brings an enjoyment compared with which the pleasure that pettiness derives from satisfying everyday drives is trivial. Idealists revel spiritually in the transformation of their ideals into reality.

[48] Whoever would extirpate the pleasure in fulfilling human longing must first make humans into slaves who act not because they want to, but only because they ought to. For the achievement of what we want gives pleasure. What is called “the Good,” is not what we ought to do, but what we want to do when we express our full, true human nature. Those who do not recognize this must first drive out of us what we want and then must impose from without the content we are to give to what we want.

[49] We value the fulfillment of a desire because it springs from our own being. What we have attained has value because it is wanted. If we deny any value to the goal of human willing as such, then we must find valued goals that have value in something that human beings do not want.

[50] The ethics built upon pessimism springs from a neglect of moral imagination. Only those who consider the individual human spirit incapable of providing itself with the content of its striving can see the totality of what we want in the yearning for pleasure. The person without imagination creates no ethical ideas. Such a person must receive these ideas from without. Our physical nature ensures that we strive after satisfaction of our lower desires. But development of the whole human being also includes desire originating in the spirit. Only if we believe that human beings have no such desires can we claim that they must be received from without. We would then be justified in saying that we are duty bound to do something that we do not want. Every ethics that requires us to repress what we want in order to fulfill tasks that we do not want, fails to reckon with the whole human being and reckons instead with a human being devoid of the capacity for spiritual desire. For harmoniously developed human beings, socalled ideas of the Good lie not without but within the circle of their being. Ethical conduct lies not in the elimination of a one-sided self-will but in full development of human nature. Anyone who considers ethical ideals attainable only if we kill off our self-will is unaware that such ideals are wanted by human beings just as we want satisfaction of the so-called animal drives.

[51] There is no denying that the views sketched here may easily be misunderstood. Immature people, with no moral imagination, like to see the instincts of their own half-developed natures as the full content of humanity and dismiss all ethical ideals not of their own making, so that they can “express themselves” undisturbed. It is obvious that what is right for the complete human being does not apply to half-developed human nature. What we would expect of mature human beings cannot also be expected of those who still need to be educated for their ethical nature to pierce the husk of their lower passions. But I have not tried to show here what must be impressed on an unevolved human being, but rather what lies within the nature of a mature human being. The goal was to demonstrate the possibility of freedom, and freedom does not appear in acts based on sensory or psychic constraint, but in acts borne by spiritual intuitions.

[52] Mature human beings assign themselves their own value. They do not strive for pleasure, handed to them as a gift of grace by nature or by the creator; nor do they fulfill an abstract duty that they recognize as such after having renounced the striving for pleasure. They act as they want to—that is, according to the standard of their ethical intuitions— and they feel their true joy in life to be the achievement of what they want. They determine the value of life by comparing what has been achieved with what was attempted. The ethics that replaces want with should—that replaces inclination with duty—logically determines the value of a human being by comparing what duty requires with how he or she fulfilled it. It measures people by a yardstick that lies outside their own being.

The view developed here returns us to ourselves. It recognizes as the true value of life only what we individually regard as such according to the measure of what we want. It knows of no value in life that is not recognized by the individual, just as it knows of no life goal that does not spring from the individual. It sees our own master and our own assessor in the essential individuality of each of us, seen into from all sides.

Addendum to the new edition (1918)
[1] If one clings to the apparent objection that human willing, as such, is irrational and that we must show people this—so that they will see that the goal of ethical striving lies ultimately in liberation from human willing—then what has been presented in this chapter can be misunderstood. Just such an apparent objection was raised to me by a competent critic, who said that it is the business of a philosopher to consider what the thoughtlessness of beasts and most people neglects—namely, to draw up the real balance sheet of life. But whoever raises this objection fails to see the main point. If freedom is to be realized, then the willing within human nature must be sustained by intuitive thinking. At the same time, certainly, willing can be determined by other things than intuitions; yet morality and moral value come about only in the free realization of intuition flowing from the human essence. Ethical indi-vidualism is suited to portray ethics at its full worth, for it does not take the position that there is anything truly ethical in what brings about an outward agreement between our willing and a given norm, but rather in what arises from out of human beings when they develop ethical willing as an element of their full natures. To do something immoral appears to them then as a maiming, a crippling of their essence.


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