Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

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Summary of Chapter 1, Conscious Human Action, of Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom discussing 12 views of freedom.

1.0 The Question Of Freedom
1.1 Freedom of Indifferent Choice
1.2 Freedom Of Choice
1.3 Free Necessity Of One's Own Nature
1.4 Free From External Causes
1.5 Action Resulting From Conscious Motive
1.6 Free When Controlled By Reason
1.7 Free To Do As One Wants
1.8 Unconditioned Will
1.9 Knowledge Of The Reason
1.10 Action Springs From The Heart
1.11 Expression Of Love
1.12 Seeing Good Qualities

Are we free in our thought and action, or inescapably controlled by natural laws?
Moralists label anyone narrow-minded who denies the obvious fact of freedom.
Opposed to them are scientists who consider it naive unscientific thinking to believe that the uniformity of natural law is broken in the field of human action and thought.
Others use endless minute distinctions to explain how freedom can be compatible with determinism in nature.
It must be obvious to all but the most superficial thinkers that this is one of the most important questions for life, religion, conduct and science.

There are many views of what it means to be free.
Let’s examine some of them.
When faced with two different paths, which path do you take?
The Freedom of Indifferent Choice is to choose neutrally one or the other of two possible courses of action.
Our freedom is our indifference.
We remain completely neutral as to which course is chosen.
Scientific research opposes this freedom saying that a very specific reason always exists that will explain why we carry out one particular action from among several possibilities.
We are not free because a reason always exists that determines our action.

The reason for making a choice can be that I prefer this rather than that.
The choice is made according to what-- I desire.
This is the Freedom of Choice.
This freedom is opposed by asking whether we are free to desire or not desire, arbitrarily, as we will.
Introspective observation reveals that freedom is not found in our desires.
We are not free because our action is determined by our desire.

Each of us has our own unique nature.
Our very nature brings a certain necessity to all our actions.
This is the necessity to express those characteristics that make up who we are.
So it is said the meaning of freedom is to allow the free expression of one’s own nature.
This view of freedom is opposed by pointing out that one’s nature is the product of biology and environmental conditioning.
Our very existence is said to be determined by external causes and we act accordingly, in a fixed and exact way.
For example, after an impact a ball continues to move due to the momentum received from an external cause.
Now let’s imagine that the ball, while in motion, thinks and knows for certain that it is striving to the best of its ability to continue in motion.
Because the ball is conscious only of its own striving to continue it will believe it is free.
This is the freedom that everybody claims to possess, which is the result of people only being conscious of their desires, while remaining ignorant of the causes that determine those desires.
If we are conscious of no more than our action, we will regard ourselves as the free originator of that action.
The error in this line of thought is in overlooking that we can be conscious not only of our actions, but also the causes that guide them.
There is certainly a profound difference between knowing and not knowing why I act.
The opponents of freedom never ask themselves whether a motive of action that I recognize and understand compels me in the same sense as, for example, the compulsions of my organic processes.

The will depends on two main factors: motives and character.
A group of people who are all alike will act in the same way, determined by the outside circumstances they encounter.
But people who are different adopt an idea as a motive only if their character is such that the suggested idea arouses a desire in them to act.
They are determined from within and not from outside.
Because we first accept an idea according to our character, we are said to be free of external causes.
This view of freedom is challenged by pointing out that we are actually being determined by the necessity of our already established character, which means we are not free.
Here again, both these positions completely ignore the difference between a motive that I allow to influence me only after I have consciously made it my own, and a motive that I follow without having any clear knowledge of it.

Can the question of freedom be directed in a one-sided way only towards the will?
Another question we can ask is whether we are or are not conscious of the motive?
Action that is The Result Of A Conscious Motive must be judged differently than action that is the result of blind urge.
We can go further and ask: What does it mean then, to have knowledge of the motive?
Too little attention has been given to this question because we are drawn to the knowledge of the knower and the action of the doer.
The one who matters the most has been overlooked: the knowing doer who acts out of knowledge.

It is said that human beings are Free When Controlled By Reason and not by animal passions.
In other words, freedom means being able to determine one’s life and actions according to purposeful aims and deliberate decisions.
Surprisingly, nothing is gained by such rationalist assertions.
For the deeper question is whether reason, purpose and decisions exercise the same kind of control over a person as animal passions.
If, without any effort on my part, a rational decision emerges in me with the same urgent need as hunger and thirst, then I must obey it and my freedom is an illusion.

Another claim is made that freedom does not mean being able to determine what one wants, but being able to do what one wants.
I cannot determine what I want, because my will is determined by motives.
The direction of the will is always determined by the strongest motive.
Is this really freedom?
If a motive affects me and I am compelled to act because it proves to be the ‘strongest’ of its kind, then the idea of freedom ceases to have any meaning.
Do any motives exist other than those that control me with absolute necessity?
The question is not whether I am able to carry out a decision once it is made, but how I come to make the decision.

The behavior of animals, such as a donkey, is usually considered to be a conditioned response to external stimuli.
However, studies suggest that animals are also capable of spontaneous will.
The unconditioned will itself is the cause of a donkey’s spontaneity, it is an absolute beginning.
This view finds freedom in the spontaneity of an Unconditioned Will.
This freedom is opposed by saying that “spontaneous” simply means cause unknown.
We do not perceive the causes that determine our will, so we believe it is not causally determined at all.
But here too this view ignores human actions in which there is consciousness of the reasons.
There are actions -- not including a donkey's instinctive action, to be sure, but human actions -- where a motive that has become conscious lies between us and the action.

It is obvious that an action cannot be free if the doer carries it out without knowing why.
So what about the freedom of an action in which we reflect upon our reasons?
This leads us to the question of the origin of our thoughts and the significance of thinking itself.
Once we know what thinking in general means, it will be easy to see clearly the role that thought plays in human action.
Hegel is right when he says:
”it is thinking that turns the soul, common to us and animals, into spirit.”
It is also thinking that gives human action its characteristic stamp.

This is not to say that all truly human actions will always proceed from calmly reasoned deliberation.
But the moment our conduct aspires to more than the satisfying of purely animal desires, our motives will always be shaped by thoughts.
Love, compassion, and patriotism, for example, are driving forces for action that refuse to dissipate into unemotional conceptual reasoning.
It is said that this is where heart-felt sensibility prevails.
No doubt.
But the heart and its sensibility do not create what it is that moves us to act.
This is established prior to our response.
Pity appears in my heart only after the thought image of a pitiful person appears in my consciousness.
The way to the heart is through the head.
For example, these children will arouse different feelings depending on the viewers own thought image.

GAZA CHILDREN REPORT: The children here rarely smile, they are thin, listless and sick.
Fresh food is expensive here.
GAZA MOTHER: Currently the situation is very difficult for us due to the ongoing Israeli siege.
ISRAEL NEWS: Under the guise and protection of their age and assumed innocence these children are used as spotters in the front line of combat.
They are used to transport explosives and weapons.

If love is not merely the expression of the sexual drive, then love depends on the thoughts we form of the loved one.
The more idealistic these thought images are, the more blissful is our love.
Here too, thought is the father of feeling.
Mother Teresa shares her idealistic thoughts.

Mother Teresa: Every single man, woman, and child is the child of God created in the image of God.
JESUS: “If you receive a child in my name you receive me. If you give a glass of water to someone you give it to me. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do it to me. ”
MOTHER TERESA: Difficult to explain.
For once you realize the presence then you know who you are touching, and you are loving, who you serving,…it is Jesus.

It is said that love makes us blind to the flaws of the loved one.
This could just as well be turned around to say that love opens our eyes to the good qualities of the loved one.
Many pass by without noticing these good qualities.
One person sees them and, just because of this, love awakens.
What has this person done other than make a thought image of something that hundreds of others have failed to see?
Others could not love because they lack this thought image.

From whatever point of view we consider the subject, it becomes ever clearer that an investigation into the origin of thought is required before inquiring into the nature of human action.
So I will turn to this question next.