Rudolf Steiner's idea of freedom

Submitted by Tom Last on Fri, 08/11/2006 - 10:22pm.


Here is the final chapter in Rudolf Steiner's book "Truth and Knowledge". It holds an idea of freedom to be expanded upon in "The Philosophy of Freedom" which was the next book written by Steiner.

Truth and Knowledge
Practical Conclusion

The aim of the preceding discussion has been to throw light on the relationship between our cognizing personality and the objective world. What does the possession of knowledge and science mean for us? This was the question to which we sought the answer.

Our discussion has shown that the innermost core of the world comes to expression in our knowledge. The harmony of laws ruling throughout the universe shines forth in human cognition.

It is part of man's task to bring into the sphere of apparent reality the fundamental laws of the universe which, although they rule all existence, would never come to existence as such. The very nature of knowledge is that the world-foundation, which is not to be found as such in objective reality, is present in it. Our knowledge, pictorially expressed, is a gradual, living penetration into the world's foundation.

A conviction such as this must also necessarily throw light upon our comprehension of practical life.

Our moral ideals determine the whole character of our conduct in life. Our moral ideals are ideas which we have of our task in life, in other words, the ideas we form of what we should bring about through our deeds.

Our action is part of the universal world-process.

It is therefore also subject to the general laws of that world-process.

Whenever something takes place in the universe, two things must be distinguished: the external course the event follows in space and time, and the inner law ruling it.

To recognize this law in the sphere of human conduct is simply a special instance of cognition. This means that the insight we have gained concerning the nature of knowledge must be applicable here also. To know oneself to be at one with one's deeds means to possess, as knowledge, the moral concepts and ideals that correspond to the deeds. If we recognize these laws, then our deeds are also our own creations. In such instances the laws are not something given, that is, they are not outside the object in which the activity appears; they are the content of the object itself, engaged in living activity. The object in this case is our own I. If the I has really penetrated its deed with full insight, in conformity with its nature, then it also feels itself to be master. As long as this is not the case, the laws ruling the deed confront us as something foreign, they rule us; what we do is done under the compulsion they exert over us. If they are transformed from being a foreign entity into a deed completely originating within our own I, then the compulsion ceases. That which compelled us, has become our own being. The laws no longer rule over us; in us they rule over the deed issuing from our I. To carry out a deed under the influence of a law external to the person who brings the deed to realization, is a deed done in unfreedom. To carry out a deed ruled by a law that lies within the one who brings it about, is a deed done in freedom. To recognize the laws of one's deeds, means to become conscious of one's own freedom. Thus the process of knowledge is the process of development toward freedom.

Not all our deeds have this character. Often we do not possess knowledge of the laws governing our deeds. Such deeds form a part of our activity which is unfree. In contrast, there is that other part where we make ourselves completely at one with the laws. This is the free sphere. Only insofar as man is able to live in this sphere, can he be called moral. To transform the first sphere of our activity into one that has the character of the second is the task of every individual's development, as well as the task of mankind as a whole.

The most important problem of all human thinking is: to understand man as a free personality, whose very foundation is himself.

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question of development

This is wonderful passage to read.  I'm wondering if anybody is interested in the following question:When Steiner says, "development towards freedom", what is it that is developing before it reaches freedom, and what aspects of the unfree thing are able to intereact with freedom?  Kerry

Emancipation of act of knowing

Nice to hear from someone. The website conversation has been slow over the Summer. I am adding a new feature called Rudolf Steiner’s Blog to tie POF into today’s news and ideas. All the philosophy ideas are relevant in every day life. Politics is a battle of world-views.

A deeper cognitive ability is developed but this covers a broad area. There are many aspects to cognition which the Philosophy of Freedom examines. By deepening knowledge of ourself we can replace stereotyped thinking and instinctive willing with full knowledge of our motivation to act. After this final chapter of Truth and Knowledge Steiner goes into chapter 1 in POF discussing motives and the need to become conscious of hidden motives and to have knowledge of action:

1-3 There is, after all, a profound difference between knowing why I am acting and not knowing it. At first sight this seems a self-evident truth. And yet the opponents of freedom never ask themselves whether a motive of action which I recognize and see through, is to be regarded as compulsory for me in the same sense as the organic process which causes the child to cry for milk.

When you mention the interaction between the unfree and free parts what comes to my mind from Chapter 9 is an amazing relationship between thinking and the human organization which has not received the attention I think it deserves. It is the power thinking has over habits and compulsions that hold us prisoner. This is the ultimate healing therapy.

9-1 Once we appreciate this, we can no longer fail to notice what a peculiar kind of relationship there is between the human organization and the thinking itself. 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. -Tom

The Power of Thinking

I appreciate the response.  When one is being held prisoner by a compulsion or habit, does thinking immediately dissolve the habit?  If not, if it happens in stages or degrees, is freedom taking place even in the smallest degree of dissolving or is freedom the end result, the moment we are no longer a prisoner?  kerry

Unfolding Freedom

The end result of freedom is knowledge with no limitations expressed in deed. So I would think each step toward broadening and deepening self-knowledge (POF part I) and expressing this in deed (POF part II) would be a free'er state. What compels us becomes subtler and subtler. We have a free sphere and an unfree sphere. In chapter 1 it begins with a person completely compelled by unconscious hidden motives. They are close to completely unfree. But worse, they are under the illusion that they are free. 

Then a person becomes conscious of motives compelling them in the wrong direction so they begin an inner battle. Soon rational thought has power over the animal nature. But then it is realized that the rational thought is being compelled by habitual thinking, etc. etc.

I sectioned off each chapter into an introduction followed by 12 other sections. Each of these describe a step in the unfoldment of freedom. Each presents an observation and an explanation that broadens and deepens self-awareness. Links to these sections are at the study page. One of the POF alternative titles is Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. The book can be studied in this way as very detailed steps toward freedom.

Each chapter is another level for growth. Chapter 1 examines our action, an easy observation. How aware are we of why we are doing whatever we are doing. Chapter 2 looks at one-sided thinking and various approaches we turn to for the explanation of things. Do we always look for a scientific explanation? A spiritual explanation? Or are we Idealists? If a person recognizes they have developed one-sided thinking here they can work on it.

Each section in POF describes a level of cognitive awareness and someones dominant reality. A journey through the book is a journey through possible experienced realities so it leads to broadmindedness and an understanding of why people think and act the way they do.

before knowledge

The first sentence of the above is where I find my question.  In it you say that first is freedom and this leads to a knowledge that is not limited by deed.  Before this type of knowledge happens, what is freedom like?  in other words, before freedom is part of a knowledge experience, how do we know it is happening?  The sectioning you do makes it easier to talk to others about the book. It would be nice if next editions also sectioned each chapter in such a manner.  Kerry

Ability to Act or Not Act

In section 1-1 POF begins with a person completely compelled by hidden motives.

“With the question of the freedom of the human will we are not concerned. The alleged freedom of indifferent choice has been recognized as an empty illusion by every philosophy worthy of the name.”

Being completely compelled by motives determined by nature or perhaps a leader or group leaves the person without freedom. No need to think as others do the thinking. This would be appropriate for an undeveloped child who just acts. The step in freedom here would be to achieve recognition that a reason for action exists. This is an advancement over living the illusion of freedom unaware that motives exist within us that compel action. -Tom

When Does a Freedom Start

Thank you, Tom, for your direction of pointing to the sections. That will be useful as I continue to study this book.  However, my question here is not as much about the sections and style of writing as it is about the content. More specifically, my question is trying to not become an abstraction.  I have tendency to belief that my abstract concepts are reality only because they feel good to think for me. It is why I ask for examples.  Examples provide me with mental pictures and that way I don't fall too deeply in love with an empty concept.  For you my question is related to what you wrote in regards to Freedom leading to a kind of knowledge. If we ignore what comes later (the kind of knowledge that expresses limitless action) but focus on what happens at the very beginning that would be where my question is taking place.  If I believe, for the sake of argument, that Steiner is correct in stating that freedom happens in degrees, I am wanting to know more about the very first steps of freedom in our experience.  When an 10 year old boy who has been conditined to accept that "girls are stupid" begins to feel uncomfortible with simply speaking this because the other boys still do hold such beliefs, can we call this an early manifestation of freedom?Even if this boy is not able to say anything else, even if this boy is not paying attention to his new discomfort, do you think that we could see this as an emerging aspect of his freedom according to "The Philosophy of Freedom" by Steiner?  I wonder if Steiner is teaching us that this sort of discomfort can be directly related to early aspects of freedom coming into being.  Kerry

Ability of Introspection

Hi Kerry,

1. conditioned behavior: "girls are stupid"
2. conditioned behavior makes boy uncomfortable
3. boy not paying attention to discomfort
4. is discomfort an emerging freedom?

I have summarized your example. In a general sense any evidence of child development could be considered emerging freedom. The “I” appears at 2 years of age so any “I” development would be progress toward freedom. Waldorf education has examined that topic thoroughly. Beyond that it depends how you define freedom. Steiner defines it as spiritual activity; thinking, feeling, and willing that arise from the individual spirit.

Was the child able to direct their attention and focus on the “girls are stupid” thought and question it? Was the child’s feeling of discomfort an indication he was questioning and separating from the thought? That would seem to indicate an emerging freedom. But we don’t know why the child was feeling uncomfortable. It could be the result of him feeling discomfort over adult disapproval of the thought “girls are stupid”. 

The Philosophy of Freedom begins with the ability to become conscious of motives that determine our actions. By gaining knowledge of the motive they loose their power over us so we gain freedom from that motive. That involves the development of self-awareness and the development of knowing. This is experienced by asking yourself why you are doing something and really try to understand all you can about it. Track it back through desire, conditioning, character, reasoning, feeling etc. What was the origin of the motive? How does the motive change after this examination? What did you learn about it? Chapter 1 describes many possible motives and the motive-action process.

Freedom is determined through introspection. So there are not concrete markers like a baby taking its first steps or the appearance of permanent teeth. Lacking these concrete markers is why modern science has declared that individual freedom does not exist. They cannot find it. By learning what freedom is and what it is not a person can assess their own progress through introspection. -Tom

Thank you for this

Thank you for this response, Tom.  It makes me question the nature of introspection itself in terms to Rudolf Steiner's book the Philosophy of Freedom.  It seems almost that perhaps the nature of his book changes what we mean  of the word introspection.  I mean by this that before I begin to actually do what this book suggests, I have one experience of inward looking or inward inspection. But after my thinking becomes object of perception, not thought, all of a sudden it is that even outer observation is now somehow of the quality of introspection. I have never really thought about how the activity of staying with thinking is actually changing the familiar meaning of standard words. 

 And then, after much enthusiasm for these "insights, I notice that the question pops up: what does it matter?  What does any insight matter?  This doesn't feel like melancholic or hopeless question. Simply an objective asking of what does any insight matter?  I notice that my response, right now, is that they simply do not matter after they have taken place. The next one might build on the first, but it might destory it as well.  What does insight matter? Perhaps it matters because it is happening and while it is happening, but not after the fact. I notice that I can very easily become compulsive with the insight once it is finished and enter into a dreamfeistival that convices my mind that the finished concept has power.  I am afraid to let go.  Rudolf Steiner it seems did not spend much of his adult life directly working through the concepts as he laid them down in his early philosophy books. Somehow he seems to have let those concepts go in those forms, but I wonder if the IDEA behind the concepts of The Philosophy of Freedom was exactly what the rest of his adult life was about making more and more clear in different parts of life.  My father asked me why Rudolf Steiner did not spend more time with his early epsitemology, because my father feels that it is essential. I wonder if Steiner was making a point by not getting himself addicted to the form, but instead to stay with the source. This book by Steiner, The Philsoophy of Freedom, is fast becoming a very interesting mystery to me that I wish to stay with myself.

 I wonder if Rudolf Steiner's book the philosophy of freedom has anything to say about why insights matter. 


Kerry, I think you are

I think you are touching on the real heart of The Philosophy of Freedom. The book is not about answers but rather a place where answers unfold ever anew.

Comparing that place of “living answer at every moment that one needs one” to the place of fixed one-sided ideas and habitual thinking, is one answer to the question as to why insights are valued. -Tom

 “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

a very nice quote from Steiner's Preface

Tom,Yes, those words of Rudolf Steiner's that he wrote in 1918 are fast becoming- in  strange way- the whole of the entire book for me.  I do not really know how to say it at this point, but when I read the preface I have a feeling that is thick and intelligent even though it has no fixed concepts that fall out of it.  I'm sure a book could be written simply about that kind of feeling. Perhaps it is in The Philosophy of Freedom that I will find concepts for this feeling.  Rudolf Steiner's words about his book The Philosophy of Freedom being a pointer into my own field of inner experience in which I find something alive are too very much with me these days.  In ways I am aware that I could maybe be misreading the book when I fail to take text into a field of my own inner experience. Much of the time, I simply enjoy the way the already self-contained  concepts fit together as finished forms.  This is a nice feeling, but very different from the other type of feeling that I at this time have no words really for it.Kerry

To Kerry

Kerry, I can not stay here, but it is a simple hello I wish to express.  The Philosophy of Freedom is many things and will also have a useful function simply as a set of concepts that people can think about.  There are over 223 useful schematics that are about the Philosophy of Freedom, each brings a chance to learn something nice and helpful.  One can feel the new impulse in your recent postings. The new impulse of The Philosophy of Freedom is beginning to become more and more felt/understood, but it can be very painful to practice this impulse because it means stepping out of our addiction to forms and ideas and "abouts".  But, in my experience, more and more people are taking the path of witnessing the addiction. Not judging the mind's need for ideas and schematics- the forms of the mind help put food on the table and plan wonderful celebrations!  To practice Steiner's philosophy, however, is becoming a new challenge that is being picked up all over, as I see it.  To me it is a shame that the conversation within the Anthropsophical Society seems to always stop when one speaks of the nature of it's impulse in this moment, now.  Kerry, I encourage you to follow the feeling that you speak of and let that feeling become the teacher. Yes, mind, might wish for you to spend the next 10 years in a beautiful conceptual net of satisfying insights.  Yes, that might be exactly what you will beautifully do. I also hope that- no matter what actually happens- you also attend to what is here now as this path that Steiner ocassionally called The Philosophy of Freedom.  Every few years I jump onto the internet to see what I can see there, and then I jump away for two or three years. I just jumped and might keep peeking for more days. If not, let me say it was nice to come across your words.  It might be nice for you to know that there are more and more people asking new types of questions about thinking that are very sensitive to resisting the mysticism that is associated with finished conceptual forms.  Steiner speaks of thinking as a seed. We can eat the seed and study it's nutritional value, or we can let the seed "do it's thing".  All schemas- no matter how helpful and beautiful- are related to eating the seed. Seeds are, yes, very healthy. It is only that we can also remember that their nutritional value for humans (or birds) is not what the seeds are for, is not what the seed is "becoming" towards.  Presence is "letting" it be.  Your words warm the part of me that is inspired by this letting.  Thank you. Shannon

So nice to read words

So nice to read words there. I would like to write more with you before you go and it might be best for private because this topic can change very fast.  It seems that people in my group think that the word "feeling" must only be understood by one definition of it that must be placed in relation to a one-sided definition of "concept".  I laughed because they would only let this word mean how it must by dead form.  It is like they for some reason need to keep words locked and this makes feel like thinking is happening because words have memorized structure. When I pointed to how there is more like a feeling that functions inside and before the thought, they wanted this to be my heart mystisicm but then later I showed them that this feeling is more specific than the concepts that are finished and that this feeling will help the finished concept rearrage later in better pattern.  Is there more from where I can learn this type of work and how Steiner might have said about it?  Please and thank you.  Your reminding me of the analogy of seed helps because this is the idea that Steiner says when he is most speaking to new ways of thinking intellect.

when does freedom start

Hi Kerry and Tom,

This is a question and I am wondering if this idea might apply. On the one hand I see it as a bit abstract but on the other hand where freedom starts is pushing me to here.

I recall Steiner taking us back to that first moment - even if only in thought experiment - in truth and knowledge. He wishes us to consider the world of percepts before anything else intervenes. Again, this would be chaos, aggregated, undifferentiatedness. But then, upon this chaotic horizon something enters in that somehow distinguishes itself. Something appears in this otherwise Given that in distinction one can call the Not-Given. And it appears just so because it becomes recognized as that which we ourselves are producing out of our own being - thinking. It is in this moment that with the appearance of thinking the self - as Steiner says, the very self created by thinking - comes into existence. Could we say that it is here where freedom starts?

This is a question too that

This is a question too that I hold and ponder, dale.  I notice that people sometimes talk about a world of percepts that are out there before concepts as if this percept world were not part of the thinker's imagination.  This is strange for anthroposophists because it is such important that we know when we are talking about a perception and when we are talking about a coneptual structure.  Do you think of there being a chaotic world that is untouched by the concepts?  This is my question. for me, i must say that I can imagine a pure percept world, but, even then, it is my cognition that is placing this idea in front.  Fortunately, or not my guess, Steiner's work on Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth never speak of a moment of pure percepts that float until connected.  Steiner epistemology seems to begin not in a perception of chaos but in his sense of bringing cognition himself to bear on this already cognized world.  To me it is more like freedom starts here now and gets lost and clouded in my attempts to capture it dead instead of let it live consciously.   

with careful looking at

with careful looking at Truth and Knowledge and Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom it appears to me that it is never stated that anything without a concept appears in our observation.  It now I see clear that even what he calls percetps are already and always inside a conceptual structure. This I did not notice at first but it has implications that I see as big in my understanding. I had thought of- in my head- some kind of "realm" of percepts floating alone of anything conceptual.  Even though this can only be a thought, I had thought it could be something else.  Steiner's first step seems to be in how he experiences his individuality working withiin his already and always concepts.

The most popular freedom is illusion

Section 7-4 gives a good description of how the object evokes in us an unconscious response in which we build up the percept of which we then become conscious. As this initial unconscious response is “unconscious” it would be difficult to find freedom here. Of course what is free depends as to how you define freedom.

Just a note about definitions. These are not merely abstract definitions which are right or wrong, but rather descriptions of experience. Which description fits your experience depends on your range of perception and depth of thinking. 

In chapter 1 of POF 12 definitions of freedom are mentioned. I list them in the new Index I am working on. Each of these freedoms has a counter argument that could expose the freedom as an illusion. If we are aware of our action but unaware of the unconscious motive that is compelling us we will experience the illusion that we are free. That is the most difficult thing now in getting interest in The Philosophy of Freedom. Everyone thinks they are free already so there is no need to pursue the question of freedom. An attempt to maintain the illusional feeling of freedom can stunt development. It is like wanting to remain in childhood.

As an example, 1-8 defines freedom as spontaneous unconditioned action that is an absolute beginning. This sounds good. The counter argument is that the spontaneity may be the result of internal invisible motives in which case this would not be freedom. It would take individual introspection to answer the question of freedom.

In the case of spontaneous artistic activity of course you can’t be stuck in your head. But you can be trained in the laws of composition and then fluidly and creatively apply them. You can also acquire knowledge of the experience afterward. This can be very exciting to create art in a flurry of activity and then step back afterward and gain knowledge of what was just created. This quote is from Truth and Knowledge.

In all our activities, two things must be taken into account: the activity itself, and our knowledge of its laws. We may be completely absorbed in the activity without worrying about its laws. The artist is in this position when he does not reflect about the laws according to which he creates, but applies them, using feeling and sensitivity. We may call him “naive.” It is possible, however, to observe oneself, and enquire into the laws inherent in one's own activity, thus abandoning the naive consciousness just described through knowing exactly the scope of and justification for what one does. This I shall call critical.

A creative process is also mentioned in 3-9 in regards to the activity of thinking where we create and then afterwards gain knowledge of it.

I agree with this general

I agree with this general statement of perspectives very much.  The only point I am looking at in this regards is in a contradiction that is almost taboo at times.  Simply this:  if we defiine a percept as something that is conceptless, then it simply is a bit of nonesense to talk about any experiencing of percepts, for if they is being experiences as percepts than they already have a suchness being attributed into them. If I point to something (like red) and say "there is percept" it is simply my not seeing that I have already attached it to suchness by finding it as "that red".  My direct experience is that I can create a highly cognitive imagination in which I imagine everything floating and buzzing, however it would be dishonest for me to forget that I am the creator of it this imagination.  Today I asked the group to describe percepts they are having and we laughed when we directly experienced the addiction to needing them to be free of concepts in order for it them to fit a definition that does state that a percept does not yet have a concept.  It is true about what you say about direct experience. It must not be left for abstraction, but so compulsive is the mind's love affair with notions.When you say that we unconsciously build up the percept, I must assume that this building is an inference not direct experience.  If you did consciously build up the percept then direct experience and description. If anything is called an unconscious process I think to assume they mean it as an inference.  I am wanting to meet somebody who claims conscious experience of building percepts and then I joyously ask her, "describe, describe!!!!"  The path of Steiner's that I choose is not to infer process because inferences change each day or year, but it is observation that we can turn to again and again. It is a spiritual science that will do away with talking about the unperceieved and point attention to what is happening.  It is Steiner's book so helpful even though he does sliip that occasionally.  

beginning of freedom

Hi newwaldorf,in truth and science there is this attempt by steiner to try and find a beginning to the activity of human knowing. As the above quote Tom has posted, when does this part of the cosmic process that is our human domain begin? In surveying a number of epistemologies Steiner tries to show that in each case thinking has already been assumed (as you feel even the idea of a percept world is already a thinking activity). So Steiner wishes to find this starting point (which I am wondering might be the place where freedom could be said to begin) as free from presuppositions as possible. As such he characterizes the given - a percept world - as having no attributes of any kind. So Chaos is as good a word as any to try and point to this starting point. He also calls it THE GIVEN. Perhaps one could imagine this as a pouring in of sense substance (including what is later distinguished as from inside the body and outside the body etc). For the human being concerned, who has not brought thinking to this sense substance there is no order to it because order is what thinking gives to it once engaged. Your question seems to ask, “is it ordered even if the human being does not yet experience it as ordered?” Am I right on this? I wasn’t really addressing this in the idea of freedom beginning. To me it is another question. When the human being experiences something that is other than the GIVEN, what could just as well be considered the NOT-GIVEN, it is in this moment that something distinguishes itself as being produced and not given. If and when that occurs, in that very moment, the creating/producing entity has experienced itself separated from all else. The self has appeared on the stage of creation. I was thinking before that this could be called the beginning of freedom.
Also, I am hoping that this effort at clear, careful thought is philosophical rather than anthroposophical and hope that I am not holding a prejudicial presupposition! If you are noticing one in my reasoning of the text please let me know (I really mean this). As I understand it, it is we in doing our part in bringing the world process to knowledge that are creating a 'world-knowing' of itself that would not otherwise exist. In this there is no claim that the world is otherwise chaos etc. Without our activity none of these questions would anywhere exist.

Forum info

If we are moving into a longer discussion on a particular topic I would like to let you know how the forum works. The forum link is at the top of the web site. Then you have a choice of forums. General anthroposophy, Open POF, or a specific POF chapter. After choosing a forum then at the top is "Post new forum topic". The boxes on the Home page will notify everyone of the forum topic and new posts. 

If you click on rich-text at the bottom of the comment box a text editor will appear giving you more control of your writing. But then you must click on "Input format" below the text box and select "text editor". -Tom