This was my final dissertation for the Western Esotericism post-graduate degree at the University of Exeter in 2010. While it is perhaps not the most exemplary piece of scholarship, I believe there are some interesting conclusions drawn and key aspects of Steiner's fascinating Philosophy of Freedom covered. I hope to re-address it and fine tune it at some point in the near future, and will certainly share the results on here. -- Chris Fort
How Esoteric is Rudolf Steiner’s Concept of Freedom?
With Special Reference to
The Philosophy of Freedom
The nature of human freedom and individuality has been a question long pursued in philosophy. Since the early Greek philosophers, many have tried to understand to what degree man has a free will, whether he acts according to his own dictates or is subject to those of higher authorities. For Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), a full comprehension of freedom and its correct application in life lay at the heart of human morality and development, and as a solution to the most pertinent problems afflicting mankind. He did not mean the freedom to follow one’s animal drives and passions, but rather freeing the human being from such tyrannies, of allowing the self to rise to greater heights of perception and insight into supersensible realms, and the leading of moral life. Upon the possibility of liberating the individual’s consciousness from material to spiritual reality through self perception, Steiner founded the principles of Anthroposophy in : the spiritual science of the human soul.
The journey undertaken by Steiner to create such a profound system of research into the innermost depths of the man and Universe was not done in a ‘blue haze of mysticism’1, but was the fruit of intensive philosophical investigations and analysis into the nature of human knowledge, tempered by a strong personal conviction in the reality of the spiritual realm. Beginning with his doctoral thesis on Kantian epistemology in Truth & Science: Prelude to a “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” (1892), and his enquiries into Goethe’s Theory of Knowledge – An Outline of the Epistemology of his Worldview (1886), his research into the connection between man’s inner world and the external world of sense perception reached its apogee in the formulation of his Philosophy of Freedom: The Basis for a Modern World Conception (1894), also entitled Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Activity. This work in particular became the seed for his later spiritual investigations and the entire Anthroposophical movement that followed in its wake.
What is truly outstanding about this seminal work is that, perhaps for the first time, a writer had attempted to bridge the gap between a world of cold, hard, empirical conceptions on man and his physiological and cognitive faculties, and a warm, rich, living world of his inner spiritual existence. It is a rigorous philosophical examination of the esoteric aspects of human conscious processes and being, centred on the fundamental importance of comprehending freedom as both a key to knowledge and truth, and as a key to moral action.
The unity between contemporary epistemological theory and supersensible insight as presented in The Philosophy of Freedom is almost certainly responsible for the book being the foundation stone for the volumes of Steiner’s Anthroposophical works which followed, since it gives his esoteric research firm, fertile philosophical grounds on which grow. Yet it is unclear whether The Philosophy of Freedom was written primarily as a work of rational philosophy or of esoteric investigation. In the light of his image as a seer and clairvoyant, can it be considered ‘esoteric’, and if so to what degree? Was it written for the benefit of those with interests in occult matters, or for a larger, ‘mainstream’ audience?
To answer such a question, it will be necessary to delve into the philosophical foundations on which Steiner based his vision of freedom, and the concepts which helped shape his ideas. It is the writer’s intention to show that his notions of human freedom and its deeper connotations grew from his early sentiments towards the existence of a supersensible, spiritual world, but was focussed by the myriad influences throughout his life, especially his later education and immersion in the philosophical atmosphere in which The Philosophy of Freedom was born. It will be hoped that in presenting his conception of freedom, its connection with certain esoteric philosophies and concepts, and its relationship to his later Anthroposophical thoughts, the esoteric elements associated with The Philosophy of Freedom will be made evident.
The Development of Steiner’s Concept of Freedom
Steiner’s Early Influences
Rudolf Steiner’s life prior to the publication of The Philosophy of Freedom in 1894 contained many points of significance with regards to the formulation of his views. As some of the key events happened long before he embarked upon his path as a writer and philosopher, it is important to note that The Philosophy of Freedom not only contains an exposition of his philosophical research, but also an expression of his most personal inclinations and feelings with regards to the spiritual world. These inner sentiments were the result of his intimations of supersensible elements beyond the limits of the physical world.
As a youth, Steiner claimed to have perceived the spiritual world as an immediate reality, the certainty of which was as valid as that of the physical. Just as one is able to perceive the physical world by means of the senses, it was his belief that the spiritual world can be perceived by means of one’s inner being or soul. Yet as such a means of perception remains a purely internal process, he saw that it must be through thinking that the true nature of things is grasped.2
The claim that the supersensible is perceived by conscious activity is significant in that, for Steiner, thoughts may be seen as revelations of higher levels of reality. It is only by way of our inner being that we can perceive beyond the physical, since the senses that operate in this realm cannot extend above it. They are confined to the limits set by their natural configuration: a human eye does not have the capacity to reach higher into the electromagnetic spectrum than what it is configured for, for example. Steiner realised this at an early age, and so while not neglecting the physical world, became fully aware of the importance of cultivating his faculties of perceiving the spiritual world with his consciousness alone. This realisation would have great significance in the development of the underlying principles in The Philosophy of Freedom.
We can find further evidence of his awareness of the difference between outer, visible realities and inner invisible realities, in his early study and love of geometry, beginning during his education at the Oberrealschule in Wiener-Neustadt (1872-1879). Through geometrical forms, Steiner found a perfect representation of the interconnection between man and higher realms. While the forms themselves are the production of human activity, their significance transcends the physical realm in which they are conveyed. They embody a “soul-space” wherein and through which spiritual phenomena reside and operate but are themselves occupants of the physical world, just as man has the capacity to access spiritual realities through his cognitive processes, which also have their ground in the physical. As “objects" transcending the physical world, geometric forms may be considered analogous to Platonic Ideas or Forms: ‘ideals or patterns, which have a real existence independent of our minds and of which the many individuals things called by their names in the world of appearances are like image or reflections.’3 It is not necessarily the specific identity of each Idea, geometric or otherwise, that is important with regard to Steiner, but rather the concept of there being a true, spiritual realty that supersedes the “illusion” of physical existence. It is a reality that can only be perceived by man’s higher sensory faculties, namely through thinking.
The presence of any relation between the notion of Platonic Ideas and Steiner’s own thoughts may be suggested through his acquaintance with Professor Heinrich von Steiner (1833-1896), an avid follower of and writer on Plato, to whom he submitted his doctoral thesis at the University of Rostock in 1891. One finds parallels between Plato and Steiner in his theories on supersensible perception in The Philosophy of Freedom. He placed great significance on the existence of a spiritual world which cannot be perceived by normal physical senses, and which informs physical nature with its vital essence and meaning. As with Plato’s allegory of the cave, the shadowy illusions of what we perceive in the physical world are informed by the true Forms which project into it from a higher, supersensible reality. Only through freeing oneself from the shackles of material, sense-based perception can we hope to find the true reality behind it. As will be shown, this principle runs deep through the fabric of Steiner’s concept of freedom, although it was certainly not in keeping with the philosophical culture of his contemporaries in the late nineteenth century.
Philosophical Influences and Context
The philosophical milieu against which Rudolf Steiner wrote his Philosophy of Freedom was characterised by a rich multitude of doctrines, theories, movements and ideals, all in various stages of emergence, evolution, competition and disintegration. Following their celebration in the first third of the nineteenth century, the popularity of German Idealism and Romanticism had begun to decline, and its themes of a “spiritualised”, unified Universe slowly dissolved under the intense scrutiny of a rapidly expanding, matter-orientated science.
While this new paradigm had begun to yield important discoveries and inventions within the physical world, a firm conception of the spiritual world was becoming unravelled and its meaning discarded. The philosophical theses championed by Goethe (1749-1832), Schiller (1759-1805) and Schelling (1775-1854) under the guise of Absolute Idealism4 could no longer be seen as having much significance in an age of increasing scepticism towards such things. The consolidation of nature and spirit through “Naturphilosophie” seemed dated in the face of an empirically centred, atomistic interpretation of natural processes. Furthermore, the Idealist view of Naturphilosophie as a knowledge of nature based principally on thought alone rather than experiential evidence posed a serious limitation as to its validity as a system of scientific investigation.
For Steiner however, Goethe was one of his most significant of influences. Having been introduced to Goethe’s works, along with those of Schiller, while attending the Technische Hochschule in Vienna in 1879 by his professor Karl Julius Schröer (1825-1900), Steiner soon realised the close affiliation between their views on life and the world.
It seemed to me that something fully and purely human held sway in everything that Goethe gave the world [...] It seemed to me that nowhere in recent times were inner certainty, harmonious completeness, and a sense of reality with respect to the world as fully represented in Goethe. From this thought arose the recognition that the way Goethe conducted himself in the activity of knowing is also the one that emerges from the essential being of man and of the world.5
What caught Steiner’s attention was Goethe’s theory of knowledge. For him, a particular view or conception about an object is not gained through forcing one’s thoughts upon it, but instead is determined by the object itself and received by the perceiving person. Knowledge comes not from the being of the beholder, but from the nature of what is being beheld.6 This holds particularly important connotations for science. Although he thought purely empirical science as limited and concerned with ‘simply photographing this existence complete in itself ’7, Steiner also saw its worth in being a system of knowledge centred on experience rather than abstract thought or presupposition. Through time spent editing Goethe’s scientific writings from (1883-1890), Steiner became aware of how the secrets of nature could be revealed through interacting and cognitively participating with its ‘dynamic thought structure’.8 Man is brought into a direct relationship with the natural objects of perception when their essence enters his field of consciousness, allowing him to experience directly through conscious activity the creative spirit from whence they spring. In this Goethean sense, science becomes a system for attaining a truer conception of reality through a strict, empirically-centred methodology coupled with the actual cognitive engagement with the results of that investigation. Goethe’s worldview thus signals an emphasis on the active role of the essential being of the sense-perceptible world in determining man’s own epistemological conception, rather than remaining passive and inert in the process. However, this does not mean that man remains passive either. Indeed, truth for Goethe, as the aim of all knowledge, is a revelation emerging at the point where the inner world of man encounters the radiating spiritual essence of external reality: ‘It is a synthesis of world and mind, yielding the happiest assurance of the eternal harmony of existence.’9
Goethe held the conviction that the mind of man is parallel to and inseparable from the natural world itself. This was a view which Steiner unwaveringly shared, although whether he came to this conclusion despite of Goethe is uncertain. What can be said though is that both had high regard for the Platonic conceptions of a transcendent Idea hidden behind the veil of physical matter. In Goethe’s work, this view found expression in “das reine Phänomen” or “Urphänomen”: a ‘pure’ phenomenon or idea discovered through the harmonisation of one’s rational faculties with the results of sensory experience.10 While the natural essence of an object is revealed to man through sense perception, it is only when he draws it into the deepest part of his conscious being and processes it, thus unifying with it, that knowledge and truth is imparted to him. Man must therefore become one with the world in order to know it. The attainment of knowledge is no longer something based on purely empirical observation, but an act of direct participation with the world.
Steiner realised that in order to enter into a relationship of cognitive participation with the world, man must adjust his state of consciousness towards a more productive one in terms of creative ability; that is, only ‘when [man] produces something out of itself that adds to its initial images of reality’11 does a truer conception of reality arise. After the act of perception, the lower stages of human knowing (what Goethe labels as “utilitarian” and “knower”) which are concerned with the acquisition of scientific, practical information are built upon and enriched through the higher, creative elements of the soul (“perceptive” and “comprehensive”).12 The depth of man’s comprehension of the world is thus seen as a measure of his ability to unite his inner being with the objects of his perception, and draw from this spiritual concord the true essence of those objects. Such a conception would have appealed greatly to Steiner, as it is possible to see the familiarity with his own views of the world contained within it. For both, the true meaning of a thing, its Ideal spiritual essence, is contained within the spiritual world and informing its material form. In order for the spiritual essence to become known, man must engage with it and assimilate that essence pouring out from it.
Similar connections between ‘normal’ conscious awareness and the soul’s activity were also found in Schiller, something that certainly influenced Steiner’s work. In Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (1794), Steiner admired the proposition that a certain condition of consciousness must be attained before man can find cognitive harmony with the world. According to Schiller, man perceives, thinks and acts in proportion to the presence of either the ‘sense-drive’, ‘material-drive’, or ‘form-drive’: the first two functioning on natural dispositions, the last on reason. The soul, when centred on pure reason or thinking, doesn’t depend on sense or physical perception, but is restricted within the bounds of its own sphere of operation, which Steiner identifies as the spirit.13 Yet likewise, when the soul is centred on sensory perception and instinct, it is restricted within the bounds of its environment, and doesn’t constitute its true being. What Schiller advances therefore, is the ‘Aesthetic Disposition’: a state attained through the amalgamation of the dual components of our natural, instinctual state of sense-drives, and our higher, spiritual state of conscious reasoning. In this condition, our reasoning becomes endowed with the vigour of natural feeling, while our instincts become enriched with the logic of reason. Steiner agreed with the idea that it ‘allows the soul to live through the senses but brings something spiritual to physical perception and to our actions stimulated by the sensory world. We then perceive with our senses as though they were permeated with spirit.’14
While allowing for a more balanced and complete conception of human action, the aesthetic disposition carries a far more significant implication with regard to man’s existence as a free being. It embodies the very essence of and forms the foundation for Steiner’s conception of human freedom. When in a state of aesthetic harmony, man is no longer a slave to his lower, physical and sense-based instincts and drives, since they are now elevated and controlled by higher energies descending from his spiritual core. They have been transmuted into functions of his will.15 Equally, his rational faculties are liberated from the restrictions imposed on them by the bounds of self-contained abstract thought, are made more instinctual, and are directly integrated with the phenomena of the world. The freedom of one aspect of man’s being compliments the freedom of the other, and allows for what Schiller claimed to be the ultimate expression of morality. He saw a distinction between freedom of action springing from a person’s will and the immediate determination of the will by reason as the distinguishing mark of morality in action originating from an individual. One who acts through moral duty as an instinct informed by the enlightened emanations from the higher regions of his reasoning, soul and spirit, rather than being compelled to do so through moral law or external authority, is truly acting in freedom.16
For Steiner, Schiller’s vision of freedom as a basis for moral action offered further grounds for him to acknowledge the direct affiliation and permeation of the spiritual life of nature with our own through thought alone. What he gained through Schiller was the realisation that by fully understanding the processes of thought and its interaction with the external world, he would be able to conceive of a proper doctrine of spiritual activity, something which would reveal the reality of our ability to perceive and live in the spiritual world, yet hold its own weight in the contemporary philosophical arena by providing a solid basis for an enlightened system of morality.
As a contemporary of Goethe, Schelling was another Idealist philosopher who had an important role in the development of Steiner’s ideas. For Schelling, the task of philosophy was to begin with the Absolute as the ground for the investigation of the relation between man, nature, and spirit.17 He was also sceptical of the reduction of life to purely mechanistic principles, seeing that it did not support the notion of human freedom, although conversely, he also saw science as capable of finding within the nature world18, the essence of its hidden spiritual structure, its Ideal content.19 His work on founding the idea of Naturphilosophie was born from these principles. In it, he saw the potential to address the issue of man’s freedom within the natural world through the belief that both are informed by the presence of a spirit that permeates all instances of reality. In living in accord with that spirit, man lives in accord with nature, and is unified as part of a greater whole. From just this simple overview, it is easy to see how Steiner would have been attracted to Schelling’s ideas. Both recognised the presence of a spiritual reality underlying the fabric of the physical world and unifying all aspects of it. They also had a strong interest in man realising his freedom within that world. The relationship between Steiner and Schelling with regard to Naturphilosophie will be covered in detail in the second chapter.
During the later nineteenth century, few thinkers were endorsing such Idealistic principles. Indeed, it may even be said that the rise of materialism, realism and general industrialisation throughout the 1800s closely coincided with the collapse of Idealism, but also a movement away from philosophy as a whole towards science.20 Under such pressure, philosophy had to redefine its areas of jurisdiction and investigation. Epistemology developed in response and was looked at as a means of rehabilitating philosophy. Considered in itself, knowledge could be treated as an object of analysis cleanly abstracted from physical reality, thus remaining independent of science, but also a means of defending natural enquiry.21
As the popularity of Idealism waned and philosophy itself came under attack from an empowered scientific establishment, a return to Kantian ideals (neo-Kantianism) attracted many of the elite thinkers in Germany and formed a sound foundation for a philosophical system to fill the void left by the perceived errors of Absolute Idealism and its general absence in the intellectual domain. Its critical method of interpretation felt more in tune with the realist principles of the time and allowed for a union of epistemology with concepts of perception based on recent physiological discoveries. Yet, it also allowed for philosophy to retain its own ground through the affirmation of the existence of beliefs existing beyond the sphere of empiricism.
Despite the power struggle between philosophy and science for epistemological precedence, the overall consequence of the philosophical developments throughout the nineteenth century may ultimately be seen as a divorcing of man from the Idealist conception of a Universe unified in an Absolute Spirit, and, perhaps through this, a loss of his sense of identity. No longer could man find meaning for his existence in terms of spiritual principles, the reduction of life to matter having alienated him from his former sanctuary of religious faith. In response, and beyond the abstractions of epistemology, a new found belief that the essential processes of reality were to be found solely in terms of physical activity and welfare gave rise to the ‘life-philosophies’ of thinkers such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Max Stirner (1806-1956).22 The necessities of life and survival took precedent over the role of the spirit in deciding man’s being. While Schopenhauer took a pessimistic view of human will, Nietzsche affirmed its importance in determining the future of man and his dominance over the spirit. The notion of a ‘Will-to-Power’ suggested a fundamental striving to exist, to be an individual, to be subordinate to no force other than one’s inner determination. It is a glorification of life, strength, of man himself.
Nietzsche represented a critical influence upon Steiner in his early philosophical career. Although he felt privileged to have met the invalid philosopher in person in 1894, Nietzsche’s catatonic psychosis prevented any communication. Steiner greatly respected Nietzsche’s triumph over major disabilities and obstacles in life while yet expounding his vision of human prosperity, and considered him as a key inspiration in his own life. It is significant that Steiner states Nietzsche’s philosophical views did not guide the development of his own ideas found in The Philosophy of Freedom, although his personal character did.23 Perplexingly, despite the above claim, Steiner also announced that his book was a continuation of Nietzsche’s line of thinking, though he does clarify this by stating the similarities between their respective struggles to express their ideas of freedom.24
Nonetheless, it is evident that the two philosopher’s views of the world contrasted sharply in some respects, particularly concerning spiritual matters. As mentioned, Nietzsche’s concerns were firmly in the world of the ‘real’ and man’s struggle to thrive and express his individual force. In this attitude, however, Steiner saw a deeper, indeed spiritual activity at work, even if Nietzsche himself wasn’t aware of it:
It was natural for Nietzsche to bring all that he thought and felt out of the depth of his soul in a purely spiritual way. It was his nature to create a universal image based on spiritual processes experienced in his soul [...] he was able to create only from his own soul. In other words, he created in the only meaningful way – from ideas that reflect the spiritual element.25
In Steiner’s view, Nietzsche embodied the ideal state which his concept of freedom envisaged. His thoughts expressed aspects that were fundamental to his being, not purely abstract philosophical subjects far removed from him. Furthermore, Steiner saw Nietzsche as a thinker who sought out the highest aspects and expressions of human life, especially those instincts that endow man with the impetus to strive for truth. Both men regarded these instincts as exemplifying something far higher than truth itself: they are the source of, and lead to a manifestation of, the individual’s self-determination through freedom.26 However, Nietzsche did not ascribe to the view that man’s ultimate expression of liberty is found through the freedom of his will, believing it to be subordinate to his self-overcoming.27
Further evidence of Nietzsche’s effect on Steiner may be witnessed in the former’s view that to subjugate one’s will, intellect or moral standing to an external authority is a mark of weakness. Drawing from Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Steiner believed that the strong, truly free human will not subject himself to a will other than its own; it will not receive truth but create it out of its own being as the utmost assertion of its will-to-power.28 Although Nietzsche does not convey his ideas with reference to anything spiritual, it is possible to see that Steiner would have expressed the view that man must create his truth out of his own self as the activity of a truly free individual: one who has drawn the meaning for his action out of the union between his rational self, aided by the perception of the quintessential forces emanating from the spiritual world behind the physical, and his willing, instinctual self which is stimulated by and operating on those spiritual perceptions.
Although not as influential as Nietzsche, the radical individualism championed by Stirner did not go unnoticed during Steiner’s development on his concept of freedom. Stirner’s principal work, The Ego and His Own (1845), has been labelled an extremist document due to its emphasis on the absolute, inalienable authority of the individual over his own affairs.29 It suggests the complete disassociation of the self away from all aspects of external edifices and authorities such as religion, politics, morality, philosophical concepts and social movements which might be able to influence not just one’s actions but also their inner content.30 Yet despite such severe views, the suggestion of the importance of man’s freedom over external constraints was what drew Steiner to his work. Steiner ascribed to the Stirner’s notion that a free human being determines his own purposes and direction through the force of his inner content, and the belief that mankind can only guarantee its future through the development of their individual spirits. Steiner recognised however, that he could still reconcile Stirner’s absolute individualism with his own beliefs in a spiritual reality by stating that one can use the presence of a higher reality not as a omnipotent force that must be obey, but a source of inspiration that can be used for self-cultivation.31
From what has been presented above, it can be seen that Steiner’s main philosophical influences – Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, Nietzsche and Stirner – played a fundamental role in the formation of his ideas contained in The Philosophy of Freedom. Their works provided rich material for Steiner to structure his thoughts on human knowledge, action, freedom and the spiritual world. However, it can be claimed that he was not merely following their intellectual and ideological footsteps or continuing on the philosophical paths they had begun, but had extracted the concepts their work yielded and assimilated them into his own particular vision of man and the world. This is very much in keeping with Steiner’s personal character as someone who felt distanced from the perceived normality of physical world while finding solace in the spiritual, and also with the principles of individual autonomy in thought and action which he promotes in his early work.
Steiner’s Philosophical Views and Developments Toward a
Philosophy of Freedom
While an in-depth analysis of the philosophical currents of the nineteenth century is beyond the scope of this work, the brief description above was provided in order to show some of the themes that would have certainly caught Rudolf Steiner’s attention during his time as a student in Vienna during the 1880s. With regards to The Philosophy of Freedom, the dominance of (neo)Kantian philosophy in the field of epistemology during the late nineteenth century played a key role in determining the aims and foundations for the book’s construction, though it must be stated that Steiner’s intentions were certainly not in support of it. Indeed, even in the preface to Steiner’s first published work, Truth and Science, his opposition to Kantianism is clearly defined: ‘Present-day philosophy suffers from an unhealthy belief in Kant [...] we must finally recognise that we can lay the foundation for a truly satisfying view of the world and of life only if we place ourselves in decisive opposition to this thinker.’32 In order to understand the reasons for his dislike of the godfather of German critical philosophy, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), it will first be necessary to look into a few of the key elements of Kant’s thinking as presented by Steiner.
The overwhelming majority of Kant’s philosophical output was derived from the results gained in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), which was an attempt to locate the fundamental principles on which man’s cognitive capacities are based. The key argument rests on the unbridgeable distinction between the subjective “phenomena” in the realm of man’s cognitive faculties, and the “noumena” of the external world. Kant maintained that the primal ground, the very truth and meaning of all things is located only in the noumenal world which is beyond the reach of man’s senses and also his reasoning. Therefore, we are capable of knowing only our subjective experience, our “mental pictures”, with any certainty.33 These mental pictures somehow mirror the external noumena. The means by which they do so occurs through the “faculties” of the mind (reasoning, judgement, sensibility, understanding, imagination etc.). It is within these regions of consciousness where knowledge and truth are acquired prior to and independently of direct experience. Since the phenomenal world transcends the bounds of our sensory capabilities, we can only come to knowledge of things through our own cognitive processes. However, we are compelled to posit the existence of noumenal objects, since to dismiss them as non-existent because they cannot be experienced is to affirm the presence of phenomena without there being a “real” object to base it on, and therefore all internal experience is rendered illusory.34
This was a view adapted by Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906) with whom Steiner had an extensive correspondence from his time at the Technische Hochschule onwards, as well as a personal meeting in 1889, and should be considered another key influence despite some of his works ‘continually stirring [Steiner] to opposition.’35 While von Hartmann endorsed the Kantian position that we cannot know the true being of noumena external to our conscious experience, he claimed that this was due to the Universe being permeated by an “absolute unconscious spirit”:
This “universal spirit” is both will and idea, but is impersonal, before creation and without consciousness as well. It has existed from all eternity and has brought everything into existence. As it had no object over against itself it could have no consciousness.36
As the sensory world is the product of an unconscious reality, any mental images created through a perceptive experience of it are merely treated as immaterial counterparts of the phenomena. They do not carry the same validity or certainty as in Kant’s epistemology. Through von Hartmann’s consideration of an unapproachable essential reality, man’s ability to know is reduced to mere speculation on the results of sense perceptions, but remains devoid of any genuine experience of the world itself.
In response to von Hartmann’s pessimistic philosophical views and criticisms of The Philosophy of Freedom, and most likely drawing on his reading of Goethe’s world conception, Steiner believed that rather than remaining mere simulacra and containing no reality, our mental pictures are in fact a direct connection within our soul of the objects of perception. They are the revelation of the inner spiritual content of what is present before us in the external world, but rather than remaining mere representations, we become united with them through bringing them into the sphere of our own conscious being:
The true reality of the sensory realm remains hidden from human consciousness only to the extent that the soul’s perception is limited to the senses. When the experience of ideas is added to sensory perception, consciousness experiences the sensory world as objective reality […] The sensory world is in fact the spiritual world, and the human soul lives within that known spiritual world by broadening its consciousness to embrace it. The goal of cognition, or knowing, is to consciously experience the spiritual realm in the visible presence of which everything ultimately dissolves into spirit.37
When the products of sense perception are drawn into the realm of man’s conscious being and action, the domain of his individual spirit, he is able to experience the spiritual world in the most intimate way. He is liberated from the presupposed conditions on which these conscious actions were thought to have operated on, as claimed by Kantianism. What Steiner was therefore attempting to do with his idea of freedom was challenge the contemporary conviction that any suggestion of something objectively “spiritual” was merely a conceptual notion dreamt up and experienced solely within human mental representations.38 This view, thoroughly advocated by von Hartmann, underlines a radical, irreconcilable division between the outer and inner world. Kantian “Transcendental Idealism” claims that we are restricted to the perceived reality of the images we create for ourselves as the content of our consciousness. 39Man is forever trapped within the confines of his conscious self and condemned to living off an illusory copy of the true reality of the world. In opposition to this entirely subjective position is “Naive Realism”, which posits the notion that the content of our perceived experience, our “world picture", does have an objective reality which is unquestionable and self-evident. What becomes clear from these views on the ways in which man comes to arrive at a true conception of the world is that there is an existential separation between man and his environment. This dualism creates the perception of two fundamentally distinct entities – man and Universe – through which ‘We become conscious of our antithesis to the world.’40
In terms of epistemology, dualism shows, as stated above, that man’s faculties of knowing cannot penetrate through the barrier of his conscious mind and directly assimilate the true essence of the world. Concerning man’s personality and spiritual makeup however, the ramifications could be more serious, especially with regards to a world conception such as Rudolf Steiner’s. For him, man is the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, the latter giving the former its form and meaning. If, through a dualistic perspective which cannot reconcile spirit and matter, man is isolated from the surrounding physical world and unable to span the gap between it and the spiritual world, then he can no longer perceive the spiritual nature of the physical. Only the awareness of any spiritual intimations within himself is possible. The consequences of such a position would relegate any notion of an “objective" spiritual essence, one that could be directly perceived in the external world, to complete fantasy. It is clear to see why such a view would appeal to those who sought a more realist, empirical comprehension of the world, since any suggestion of a spiritual reality could be quickly dismissed as unverifiable solipsism. For someone such as Steiner, who perceived spiritual things with absolute certainty, dualism was untenable.
In opposition, it may be stated that what dualism does not take into account is the fairly self-evident fact that man is just as much a part of the external world as the objects he perceives around him. Through interacting with the world one is able to ascertain with a high degree of assurance that we are part of the Universe and not separate from it.41 What one perceives as a specific object really is that object and not just a mental image of it, as Kantian “phenomenalism” suggests. What we experience as the reality truly is reality itself. Thus for Steiner, ‘This feeling makes us strive to bridge over this antithesis, and in this bridging lies ultimately the whole spiritual striving of mankind. The history of our spiritual life is a continuing search for the unity between ourselves and the world.’42 Man is unified with the Universe in his entirety through his experience of it; there can be no absolute division. The key to this monism (as opposed to dualism) is in understanding the central role of conscious activity in distinguishing the interconnection between ‘I’ and world. While we can accept the objects of our sensory perceptions as ‘given’, in that they are presented to our being without having been tainted with any conceptual content, there is still an underlying uncertainty as to the validity of any objective reality in them. We cannot be confident that, on face value, our sense data are merely reflections of our phenomenal experiences of things, or true connections between us and the noumenal things themselves.
However, through direct thinking about the content of our sense perceptions, we are able to locate our intimate, unbroken relationship with the object of those perceptions in the field in which they occur, rather than distancing ourselves from them through naive assumptions based solely on our inner experience. From this standpoint, we are able to develop ideal connections, actual laws and causes, based on the “real”, imperceptible effects we perceive, and say with assurance that the primal being of the phenomenal world can now be known. We are united with it and can, through consciously processing the content of our perceptual experiences, come to a genuine world conception. We are thus only limited by our ability to think:
The follower of a monistic world conception knows that everything he needs for the explanation of any given phenomenon in the world must lie within this world itself. What prevents him from reaching it can be only accidental limitations in space and time, or defects of his organisation, that is, not of human organisation in general, but only by his own particular one.43
The spiritual import of this concept in the context of The Philosophy of Freedom will be mentioned in the next chapter, but it is necessary to conclude with a brief look at why Steiner took it upon himself to address the dominance of Kantianism in his book. He saw Kantian epistemology as grasping only half of what actually constitutes the world. In relying on the external world to contain the true essence of reality, the role of the individual in perceiving and thinking, in unifying the external spiritual world with that within, is overlooked. For Steiner, Kantianism doesn’t show that half of reality is to be found in what is carried within us as an inner content.44 Indeed, he states that the true being of the world cannot approach us in any other way than through direct experience, namely as inner content. Furthermore, although Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason identifies the faculties of the mind through which we come to have knowledge of things prior to experience, the certainty and truth of that knowledge is presupposed on the unconditional validity of those faculties. No truth is determined through this view.45 Thus Steiner saw the Kantian conception of knowledge as far from providing a true understanding of reality.
Due to his belief in the interconnection between man and the spiritual world, Steiner felt it was important to maintain that connection in a time of increasing dependence on purely material things. He claimed early on that rather than relying on revelation and religious dogma, or on the blind acceptance of the reality of our inner phenomena, thinking was the better course of action towards a monistic position as it allowed man to initiate a connection with the spiritual world through his own, individual means, and so remain free of external authority. However, philosophy as it stood at the time was the preserve of an intellectual elite and did not satisfy the spiritual needs of non-philosophers and of the world at large.46 He therefore sought to develop a system that wouldn’t rely on previous experience of complex philosophical theories and currents, although remain lucid and refined enough to be treated seriously, while leading people towards a vision of, and most importantly, a process to attain spiritual unity.
Rudolf Steiner’s Vision of Freedom
In an age of established scepticism regarding the presence of a spiritual reality brought about by the prevalence of a materially centred world conception, Rudolf Steiner wrote his Philosophy of Freedom with the aim of addressing what he saw as some the most fundamental issues regarding man’s knowledge of the world and his ability to act freely within it. With a view to presenting his book as a counter to contemporary epistemological theories, Steiner shows his intent in the preface to engage with the dominant Kantian position of viewing the faculties of knowing as reliant upon the presupposed existence of self-supporting foundations, which are prone to doubt and uncertainty. He wished to show that through the act of thinking we may move beyond simply forming mental images about things, but actually experience them in the same manner as one experiences external objects through sense perception. Only on arriving at an understanding of man that provides a firm, unquestionable grounding to this processes of perception and cognition does it become possible to begin looking at the question of the reality of his freedom: whether it is real or ‘a mere illusion begotten of his inability to recognise the threads of necessity on which his will, like any natural event, depends.’47 The structure and direction of The Philosophy of Freedom is therefore twofold: firstly, to investigate the essential makeup of man’s inner, spiritual being, and secondly, to arrive at a vision whereby man may realise the liberation of his spirit. Upon these foundations, Steiner could begin investigating the moral connotations for an individual acting in freedom, illustrating his belief that the moral realm can only be approached ‘through an entirely individual and conscious union with the ethical impulses of the spiritual world.’48 Upon these themes, Steiner looked to address and reconcile the rift that had been driven between man and the world through the rise of dualism during the nineteenth century. A monistic outlook is shown to be the idealistic framework on which his concept of freedom can be established, since it confirms the presence of a unified world of object and Idea, of matter and spirit, in which man may find his natural place and from it draw a true understanding of reality. From this position, it allows for the creation of a valid moral and ethical structure that has real value and meaning in life, since it has arisen from the world itself and not just the isolated thoughts of philosophical abstraction.
Freedom and Knowledge
As has been shown, the extent to which we can come to a thorough understanding of the world is dependent on our ability to think. We differentiate between awareness of sense-perceptible reality and thinking through ascertaining that the form of the world content as ‘given’ to sense perception manifests as a sum of separate elements without us having determined it. Thinking, on the other hand, involves establishing the sum of interconnected elements ourselves, such as adding causes to effects. Since what lies beyond our being exists outside our cognitive jurisdiction, any certainty as to the truth within it remains ambiguous, and so we can only believe what appears within our inner domain. In order to fully comprehend nature as a spiritual reality therefore, we must consciously grasp it from within ourselves, since it is the goal of thinking to ‘bring about the opportunity by which the parts of the world picture are brought into such relations that their inner lawfulness becomes visible.’49 The true life of the external world is revealed to us when what is “given” on the ‘horizon of experience’50, which constitutes only half of reality, impresses itself upon what Steiner sees as the spiritual nature of our inner content, namely our thoughts. For it is only when the spiritual element within nature is brought into the sphere of man’s soul as sense perception, and then taken up into conscious activity does it manifest in its true form as a self-contained unity.51
The act of thinking is considered by Steiner to be the means through which the natural world expresses its true nature, as ‘the essential being of a thing comes to light only when the thing is brought into relationship with the human being. For only within the human being does there manifest for each thing its essential being.’52 The spiritual essence of an object of sense perception is drawn out from the physical form in which it is trapped when apprehended by conscious activity. That essence, despite belonging to the external object, is now united with one’s inner spiritual content through contemplation, but only in this way is it made manifest. The essential being of the world in fact arises out of oneself, rather than from the object.53 Thus Steiner’s epistemological conception places thinking at the heart of not just man’s conception of the Universe and his place within it, but of the existence of the Universe as a whole: ‘As human beings, we are not the beings who create the essence of knowledge for ourselves; rather, our soul provides the stage on which the world itself begins in part to experience its own becoming and existence. Without knowledge the world would remain incomplete.’54
Indeed, it can be claimed that Steiner’s epistemological vision goes beyond a mere theory of knowledge and conceives of an anthropocentric cosmology, ontology and teleology. As individuals who think, we unite with the cosmos itself through becoming ‘the all-one being that pervades everything’55, since the spiritual content of the Universe is brought into harmony with our own and allows for higher, supersensible degrees of knowledge to be perceived. Furthermore, the ability to perceive the spiritual essence and lawfulness which underpins the cosmos through thinking creates important moral and ethical consequences for man, for in becoming intrinsically connected with its inner workings we rise above the sphere of natural science in to that of the Humanities: what Steiner calls the “Spiritual Sciences” (Geisteswissenschaften). Thus through thinking, man is endowed with the task to ‘call into manifest existence the innermost mainsprings of reality […] It is nature’s coming to terms with itself that plays itself out in man’s consciousness.’56 The moral significance of this will be addressed later.
Man’s ability to think also forms the core of his capacity for freedom, and hence the lifeblood which courses through the veins of The Philosophy of Freedom. As thinking individuals we transcend the limits of mere sense perception and so, claims Steiner, leave the domain of our own ego through the conscious union with the greater whole of the Universe. Rather than living for our own ends, we live through the cosmos itself. Our thoughts literally allow us to break through the boundary of our body and the physical world:
If one exerts oneself to achieve the experience of thinking, one is no longer in the world one inhabited before; one is in the etheric world. One is in a world upon which one knows that the Earth’s physical spatial being has no influence – a world ruled instead by the whole Universe. One is in the cosmic realm of the etheric.57
The degree to which we can think – not just casual thoughts about the world but in a pure sense, namely one detached from sense perceptions – is the measure upon which our scope for freedom depends. Steiner does not see the matter of human freedom depending solely on the will, as suggested by philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, but on the level of sense-free thinking. One can only claim freedom of the will when it is informed by pure thought, and it is only when operating in this state that one is able to grasp the true essence and meaning of the world, and so address a genuine understanding of morality. In fact, according to Steiner, the general process of attaining knowledge itself through the union of “given” sense data and thought-forms belonging to it, can only occur through an act of freedom; through the internal activity of the spirit.58 In order to understand what is meant by this principle, it is necessary to look at what is entailed in the actual act of knowing, and how and why it is connected to Steiner’s concept of freedom.
As mentioned, man finds his place at the centre of the Universe’s striving to become aware of itself when he engages in thinking; likewise, his own awareness of himself occurs in thinking, but specifically through knowing. True knowing depends on finding that region within man where his thinking faculties are able to penetrate and reside within the midst of his raw sense perceptions, thus assimilating and infusing them with the stamp of his spirit. It is an act of ordering the diffuse elements contained in our immediate experience of reality, our world picture, into a whole through their synthesis with the products brought forth by thinking activity – our concepts and ideas – which allow for the conceptualisation of that content; something Steiner terms “Intellectual Beholding” (intellektuelle Anschauung).59 The task of thinking is consequently seen at the extraction of knowledge and meaning from the objects of reality through their conscious apprehension by way of the use of “concepts”, which themselves arise through the activity of pure thinking.
From the suggestion that man’s ability to know is dependent on his ability to think, it follows that the scope and extent of his knowledge of the world is only limited by the scope and extent of his capacity to think. Steiner sees no limits to knowledge, as the conditions necessary for an act of knowing exist and take place solely through oneself; we are only held back by our own development as perceiving and thinking beings, and more importantly by our capacity to realise our own freedom through thinking.60 Just as in pure thinking mentioned above, our desire for knowledge, as an act of thinking, can be seen as the expression of our desire for freedom, since it requires the extension and liberation of thought beyond the bounds of our own being and existence, our “I”, and its eventual conjunction with the Universe:
Since we stand at a point in the periphery [of the whole riddle of the universe], and find that our own existence is bounded by definite limits, we must explore the region which lies outside our own being with the help of thinking which projects into us from the universal world existence.61
It is interesting to note here that Steiner sees thinking not necessarily as the preserve of human activity, but as something which originates from the world itself. It is the essential being of the world, its spiritual essence, but finds its individual expression when manifested through the conscious activity of an individual human being.62 The means by which the individual thinking distinguishes itself from the essential being of the Universe is through the role of “concepts” and “percepts”. Both principles underlie the cognitive processes that occur in attaining knowledge about the world, and so play an equal role in becoming consciously aware of oneself as an individual “I” distinct from the universal world existence. Both are unique to the individual.
With regard to attaining knowledge, the conceptual form is the first relation into which the elements of raw sense perception are placed through our thinking and knowing activity. They are the Ideal counterparts given to the objects of perception but do not arise from them; rather, they arise from within our own being. The concept may therefore be seen as the mark of our inner, spiritual content ensuing from our confrontation with external things, though a concept on its own cannot yield knowledge; it is an empty vessel. Indeed, it may even be considered as analogous to one of Kant’s faculties, as both represent pre-existing conditions upon which knowledge can be gained. However, in contrast to Kant, Steiner holds the view that it is only when the concept is unified with the content of the external world via a percept that a full picture of the world emerges. A percept therefore is an object of perception devoid of any taint of consciousness, but which carries the raw sense data upon which our conception of the world is formed.63 Furthermore, the percept itself contains no reality but a disconnected semblance, yet when united with the forming principle granted by conceptualisation, brought to bear on the chaos of the percept through thinking, true knowledge of reality is gained. In this sense, Steiner suggests that ideas, as more refined, comprehensive concepts, are objects that exist beyond the physical world. Thought alone is capable of shattering the illusion of sense perception and breaking into and perceiving the true nature behind it, thus endowing our percepts with reality through the forming principles of concepts and ideas. It is another expression of man’s union with the ‘primordial foundation of existence’ through cognitive action.64 The notion that ideas represent the spiritual form of the physical Universe is deeply Platonic in character.
While a percept received in the fold of thinking through observation finds its ground in reality via the concept, being derived from an object external to the individual, the percept itself can only last as long as it is within the field of perception. Nonetheless, a residual, conceptual counterpart of the percept can be retained in consciousness as a “mental picture”, and it is in this fashion that we keep from perceiving the world anew each time a percept leaves us. Perhaps more importantly, it represents the means by which we come to know ourselves and retain a concept of our own individual being. Just as man can perceive external objects, he can also perceive his “I”, his fundamental being. In doing so he creates a conception of himself which remains distinguished from the external world due to its conscious retention as a mental image. However, while the percept of his “I” doesn’t convey any knowledge or reality regarding his being, man cannot come to know himself through the conjunction of his own percept and concept in an objective sense either, as when forming knowledge of the external world. Rather, man can only know himself through his own conscious efforts to unite the percept of his being with the concept of himself as an individual, free spirit, and bring it to the surface of his own existence; to express himself through freedom. What Steiner conveys here is the consummation of man as both an intellectual being capable of uniting the duality of perceiving and thinking, of outer and inner worlds, through knowledge, and as a moral being capable of the same end but through ‘the actual realisation of the free spirit.’65
To come to a true knowledge of oneself does therefore not require the simple unification of the percept “I” with the concept “I”, but the actual manifestation of one’s inner, spiritual nature and acting as a free being upon it. It emerges from the direct feeling of our own existence brought about through being actively conscious of oneself as that individual who is conscious.66 Despite providing the means by which we find our place in the external world, it can be said that thinking shows only conceptual connections but nothing deeper. In order to achieve a more intimate relationship with things, both ourselves and the world, Steiner identifies feeling as the key element:
Thinking is the element through which we take part in the universal cosmic process; feeling is that through which we can withdraw ourselves into the narrow confines of our own being. Our thinking links us to the world; our feeling leads us back into ourselves and thus makes us individuals.67
Thus through thought and feeling we come to a more complete and unique standpoint from which to view the world and our differentiation from it, although it is not to say that we form a part of it. With regard to man’s place in the Universe as the point through which it realises itself, it may be said that he comes to a better recognition of his role through the thoughtful sentiment of such a task. In man’s thinking, the spiritual element within nature is brought into a self-contained unity with the objects of sense perception; further self-perception shows that all that is contained within him also belongs to that unity. In feeling, man realises his intimate connection with that unity through self-perception but retains his state as a free individual. Man’s ego, his “I”, informed by the essential being of the world, is now capable of becoming activated through inner freedom and realising its own knowing activity as a free spirit. In feeling himself as an individual, man is therefore able to look within himself in order to know the true meaning of the world, knowledge granted to him by his thinking activity, and liberate his spirit from the dictates of foreign moral codes and live in harmony with the cosmos.
Freedom, Will and Motive
The notion that man finds himself at the centre of the universal cosmic process and is endowed with the task of bringing its “innermost mainsprings” into reality sits uncomfortably with the realisation of his own freedom. Is it possible to claim individuality and freedom and yet derive one’s moral code from the spiritual essence of the world rather than oneself? Although Steiner allots man a critical role in the teleology of the cosmos, he also emphasises the primacy of man in setting himself the purpose of his own existence. Drawing from Nietzsche’s and Stirner’s ideas on individuality and autonomy, Steiner believes that, in a free man, there is no motivating factor to action other than his own insight into himself and the world, and the commandments he gives himself derived from that insight through thinking. Indeed, unless a purpose is assigned to something which has arisen through ideas created by man alone, there can be no question of the existence of an aim. However, man cannot draw the impetus for his actions solely from himself, as his inner content constitutes only one half of reality. He must therefore base his actions on knowledge drawn from the unification of percept and concept. As his inner content – his ideas – reflect the Ideal, spiritual content of the external world and also form the ground from which his action, as a free spirit, must spring, it therefore follows that in acting in freedom, man cannot help but derive impetus from the external, spiritual world; although he must know it intimately in order to determine his part in it as a free individual.68
In living according to his own moral commandments drawn from an insight into the essential being of things, man lives in accordance with the guiding force of the world. However, as mentioned, the Universe finds its ultimate expression through man’s consciousness, and so its guiding force cannot be assumed as something external to him for then he would not be acting in freedom but from something alien to him. Rather, through man’s perceiving, thinking and feeling, the universal guiding force issuing forth from its spiritual ground is subsumed under the guiding force of his own spirit, and forms the impulse to and means by which he is capable of acting freely yet synchronously with a universally valid moral code. In true spiritual activity, man carries out ethical actions under the direct impulse of an individual idea. That idea is derived from the Ideal nature of the world. According to this view, Steiner is able to champion the primacy of man’s individuality over external authority while avoiding some of the pitfalls that afflicted his predecessors, such as accusations of immorality, nihilism and anarchism through keeping his vision of man’s freedom grounded in a system of morality which itself is derived from the essential nature of the Universe.
Nonetheless, it is still not clear how knowledge derived from the Ideal nature of the world can become an impulse to action for a free individual, since it exists merely as an idea. There is a disparity between its presence as a concept in consciousness and as an energising force. Steiner bridges this gap by claiming that consciousness achieves motion through willing.69 Through willing, man achieves a relationship of intention between what is truly within his own self and the objective world outside him; a relationship wherein he is able to manifest his inner content into intent in action. However, this is not say that the will is the principle by which freedom is realised and so to be considered the aim of existential philosophy. Steiner sees the search for man’s freedom through the will as erroneous, and that philosophers should concern themselves with investigating freedom through thinking instead, for
If we turn towards thinking in its essence, we find it in both feeling and will, and these in the depths of their reality; if we turn away from thinking towards ‘mere’ feeling and will, we lose from these their true reality.70
The will itself is not free, but receives its own motivating force to express man’s spirit from thinking, since it is through pure, sense-free thinking that the seed of man’s capacity to become free grows. What occurs is “thinking-in-will”, although it remains insufficient as a principle on which to base the free determination of man’s action. What is required is a motivating force acting on thinking itself, something to drive it towards the conscious realisation of one’s freedom. This occurs through “will-in-thinking”, whereby man’s thinking, spiritual essence becomes informed by his ego’s striving towards individuality and freedom. The realisation of freedom through the mobilisation of thinking by the will, and the injection of spiritual reality into the will by thinking, thus becomes a self-perpetuating process in which man is unified through the experiencing of his will. It represents the ‘spiritualization of the body by the will, the projecting of the will into every aspect of sense activity and bodily functioning, and into everything of a social nature.’71 The Ideals extracted from the spiritual world through perception and brought to the surface of consciousness through thinking thus become the impulses to action through willing, but not just as mere axioms on which to work. They transcend the position of abstract principles in consciousness and are transformed into an essential part of our being, something with which we have an immediate affiliation with on the most personal level. Our ability to be free individuals is now seen as the realisation of spiritually-infused thinking through willing; a willing which provides our consciousness and body with the impetus to enact what the essential being of the world has nourished us with.
The union between an idea or concept drawn from perceptions of the spiritual world, and the will, expressed through the presence of thinking-in-will and will-in-thinking, is what Steiner refers to as the “motive” for an action. Whereas the will represents the functional force of consciousness, motive is the state in which idea and will are united, but takes the form of a concept or mental picture. It arises at the point of arrival of the Ideal content of the world in the ego, in the deepest recesses of one’s personality. There, in the “I”, the idea is assimilated into the fold of one’s being and transmuted into a motive. It is the synthesis of the essential being of the world with the spiritual essence of oneself; yet unlike the will, which is the means by which an idea becomes manifest in action, the motive has its origin only within the ego.72 It is the sole creation of the individual, and therefore impresses the stamp of his unique being upon the Ideal content from which it is formed.
The raising of concepts and mental images to the level of a motive for the will, which carries the particular ethical mark of an individual, occurs through what Steiner terms as one’s “Characterological Disposition”. Influenced by Eduard von Hartmann’s thoughts on humanity’s moral development73, it is a reflection of one’s feeling and attitude toward those elements which form the motive for action, such as its purpose. However, it does not represent the purpose itself, which is derived from the concept or mental pictures, and which in turn determines the aim of the will. The characterological disposition, as a reflection of one’s personal sentiments, is rather the final impetus to act on the presence of the motive, occurring through the Ideal content of the world informing the will.
One’s moral life, the aim and conduct of his morally centred thinking, may be seen as the conversion of certain mental pictures and concepts into the motives for action, according to our subjective, emotional reaction to them. But on this basis, it can be claimed that one is no longer acting in a truly free manner but according to his personal inclinations toward something. However, Steiner counters this allegation by showing that the content of conceptual thinking, from whence the spiritual essence which informs our will and motive arises, is apprehended intuitively from out of the Ideal sphere itself, and does not arrive as a percept. This Ideal content, immaculately conceived, thus forms the conceptual essence from which the characterological disposition draws its sentiments, and so becomes a pure impulse for the motive of the will.
An act of will influenced by pure intuition, which is our conscious experience of purely spiritual content, may therefore be seen as driven by pure thinking alone.74 It is an action born from the most Ideal source, and so rests in harmony with the universal cosmic process. The development of one’s ability to grasp the essential being of the world through thinking signals his advance as a morally productive being, one capable of acting in freedom according to his intuitions derived from the spiritual world.
Freedom and Morality
In writing The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner sought answers to the question of human individuation and freedom and how they may be realised in life. In his earlier work, he had already posited the view that one’s character is determined by moral ideas and concepts. For him, self knowledge comes from knowing the laws upon which our actions, derived from those ideas and concepts, are based; that through knowledge of them, we may truly claim our actions as our own and so live in genuine freedom.75 On this basis, those unable to form their own moral ideas must accept them from others. Consequently, one who acts due to physical or moral compulsion cannot be seen as a truly moral being, for a life can be called moral only if it belongs in the free realm.76 What Steiner envisages therefore is a monistic conception of morality and freedom: through thinking, man raises his consciousness to the world of ideas existing beyond his body; he then bridges the dual aspects of being and world through his intuitions, drawing its spiritual essence into himself, experiencing it as a living spiritual reality and transforming it into the moral impulses for his will. Monism is not an absolute moral system, as that would entail compulsion, but rather reveals to man his ability to come to the realisation of his freedom through work on himself (a key theme in Steiner’s Anthroposophical works):
Each one of us has it in him to be a free spirit, just as every rose bud has in it a rose. Monism, then, in the sphere of true moral action, is a freedom philosophy […] It sees in man a developing being, and asks whether, in the course of this development, the stage of the free spirit can be reached.77
Man’s moral intuitions allow him the opportunity to access the highest moral Ideas which underpin the Universe and incorporate them into the very fabric of his being. This ‘moral world order’ is a manifestation of the essence and activity of the highest, spiritual regions of reality.78 As mentioned, intuition is the means by which one comes to cognitively take hold of the Ideal content of the spiritual world, which takes form as a concept. As a concept, this intuitive moral content becomes the basis from which one’s moral conduct is obtained, and is embodied within the individual as the highest aspect of his motive to action; a purely Ideal force which drives him towards a moral life. Only acts of will which have their conceptual source taken from intuition can be seen as belong to the individual alone and so be considered free. It is the moral expression of a monistic view of man and the world, since the free spirit is he who acts on those impulses which have been enriched with the essence of the world of ideas, gained intuitively through the union of individual being with universal being and brought into experience via thinking.79
Intuition may been seen as a form of supersensible perception, transcending the bounds of conceptual thinking which is concerned with the connection of sense perceptions with pre-existing Ideal content. Intuition is that function of one’s being which grasps the Ideal content from its very source, yet due to the nature of that content, intuition bypasses any act of knowing, namely the unification of percept and concept, and arrives in the individual as an internal experience of spiritual activity. In this respect, it is both an active process within the spirit and a spiritual percept grasped through consciousness, since it is through this channel that it becomes a motive for the will. Through intuitive thinking, one is able to perceive the spiritual world as a direct experience rather than as an external percept, and thus unite himself with its content at the most intimate level: ‘Once experienced, the world of spiritual perception cannot appear to man as something foreign to him, because in his intuitive thinking he already has an experience which is purely spiritual in character.’80 Through intuitive thinking, the spiritual essence of the world is allowed to take residence within man and so become the moral standard which rouses his characterological disposition and will to action.
The presence of intuitions provides man with the essential materials – the Ideal content of the world – from which he may form his own particular mental pictures of a moral life, and consequently the motivational forces for his will. This mental content is produced from what Steiner calls one’s “moral imagination”: it is the subjective means by which the moral ideas that inform our will to action are determined as mental pictures, and so represents another aspect of our cognitive processes. He sees it as the principal stage in the realisation of one’s moral ideas as motives for action, and thus a fundamental requirement for the freeing of one’s spirit; indeed, ‘it is only men with moral imagination who are, strictly speaking, morally productive.’81 The role given to moral imagination in the formation of moral ideas reveals that one’s moral life can only be based on an intuitive experience of morality, rather than simply drawing it from sense-based, conceptual principles such as cravings, desires, or external authorities. Moral conduct, in Steiner’s sense of the word, must emerge through purely Ideal content that arises from within the individual, from the actions of his free spirit. The development of one’s moral imagination is therefore the development of one’s freedom, since it is the means to form principles for moral action from what is truly unique to one’s being:
Steiner’s journey from an investigation into the philosophical foundations of man’s epistemological processes to a monistic conception of man as a free individual may be perceived as an exercise in the revelation of man’s innate ability to transcend the bounds of his old self and unite with the essential being of the cosmos. This he achieves through entrusting man with the capacity to become the gate through which the Ideal content of the Universe manifests in reality, to find expression in his thought and moral life. Steiner’s vision of man’s discovery of his freedom as a morally orientated individual shows that the moral impulses we must use as a guide to our conduct cannot be drawn from the physical world, but from the supersensible world of spirit which enlightens the physical with its true form. The Philosophy of Freedom is a call for a new system of morality emerging on the back of man’s emancipation from ‘the generic characteristics of animal life and from domination by the decrees of human authorities.’82 It is a view that is clearly Nietzschean in tone and intent: ‘We must free ourselves from morality to be able to live morally. My free will, – my self-created ideal wants this and that virtue from me, that is, to perish in pursuit of virtue.’83 Both claim human freedom as dependent on the creation and adherence to one’s own ethical code; to follow any external maxim is moral slavery.
Other distinct parallels between Nietzsche and Steiner may also be found in the latter’s assertion that only actions which have their source in the individual alone may be considered as free and moral, and so have any virtue in life. Similarly, Nietzsche’s individualism was a recognition of the primacy of the inner determination of the individual as the only measure of moral worth: ‘The worth of an action depends upon who does it and whether it originates from one’s depths or one’s surface: this is, how deeply it is individual.’84 Furthermore, Nietzsche drew the source of individual morality from a being’s striving to exert its determination for life: its will-to-power. This motive finds its fundamental source in what he expressed as ‘the world described and defined according to its “intelligible character”’85 The Ideal content of the essential being of the world according to Nietzsche is nothing but its will-to-power. Transposed on to the framework of Steiner’s conception of morality, it may be seen that what is grasped through the intuitive experience of a spiritual world is nothing more than its will to exert itself in reality. All motives to action are reduced to the desire to express one’s will-to-power. Even if one adopts the notion that, according to Steiner, the manifestation of the spiritual essence of the world as ideas present in man’s consciousness represents its desire to be known, and so may be seen as an expression of truth on man’s behalf, it may still be subordinated to the assertion of its will-to-power.86
If the height of human freedom and morality is nothing more than the affirmation of man’s will-to-power, to exercise its determination to live, can Steiner’s conception of freedom and morality therefore be seen as anything more significant? Can it raise man’s being up from a level of functional existence to a realm of spiritual being? It is apparent Steiner distances his view of man’s moral life from the reductionist position that Nietzsche championed, through the assertion that his vision of freedom posits thinking as the distinctive mark between the two philosophical standpoints. As shown, freedom for Steiner entails the manifestation of moral actions nourished by the Ideal content of the world through spiritual intuitions. Thinking based on these spiritual intuitions thus becomes the force and motive by which the will in human nature is driven, regardless of whether the “message” conveyed in them is simply an expression of a will-to-power or perhaps, for a higher purpose. Thinking as a cause to action was, for Nietzsche, the complete antithesis of morality;87 only actions born from the instincts, from one’s innate disposition, may be considered moral.
Here again, however, we find another conceptual affinity between the two thinkers, since Steiner believes that moral conduct is determined by one’s characterological disposition, which may be viewed as analogous to one’s instinctual sentiments towards something. The personal feelings which feed our will to action arise outside of any cognitive action, as they may be considered as naturally spontaneous reactions to the internal presence and experience of the spiritual world. Indeed, Steiner states that ‘Man is free to the extent that he is able to realize in his acts of will the same mood of soul that lives in him when he becomes aware of the forming of purely ideal (spiritual) content. [emphasis mine]’88 A will driven by one’s emotional attachment to the object of one’s actions may therefore be counted as a will driven by instinct, as one does not consciously decide how they feel towards something. In this respect, both Nietzsche and Steiner are ostensibly in agreement, despite the latter’s denial of any influence from the former in the development of The Philosophy of Freedom. In support of Steiner though, it may be stated that, instead of any fundamental conceptual differences between the two philosophers, the most significant point of departure is most likely to be found in his interpretation of Nietzsche’s ideas, especially with regard to the will-to-power. Rather than consigning himself to a view that man becomes free through the expressive power of his will to exert his own existence – an essentially selfish instinct – Steiner interprets this drive as ‘the power of love inherent in us as individuals’89; an unconditional love for the purpose of our deeds but also for the deed itself. It thus becomes the “mood of soul”, the essence of our characterological disposition and the nature of our will, which is transmitted into our thinking activity and so informs our will of its course to action and freedom.
Our will to love-in-thinking and conscious intent to love-in-willing thus becomes a means to transmute our basic individual desire to be free through our will-to-power, into desire to be free through our love of moral action, the ideas of which have arisen through intuitive spiritual thinking. Consequently, once we have attained freedom through our impulse to love, our thinking, liberated from the constraints of externally-dependent sense perception, is able to recognise our obligation and responsibility towards the world.90 Man thereby discovers his duty to become the creative hand through which the Ideal content of the Universe finds its way into reality, but that is not to say he is compelled by that duty. Through an inherent disposition of love, he is instilled with a compassionate will towards both the goal of his duty and also the act of attaining it. He has love for his ability to achieve ‘a mystical symbiosis with ultimacy’91 in his capacity to be a free individual who, through his love, enacts the will of the essential being of the world which, through his intuitive spiritual thinking, belongs just as much to him as it does for the entire cosmos.
It may be claimed that through the translation of will-to-power into a “will-to-love”, Steiner is able to continue Nietzsche’s thinking on human individuality, freedom and morality, as stated in the first chapter, while retaining his strong sentiments towards the existence of a spiritual reality. In positing the existence of a supersensible world and man’s awareness of it through intuition, he lifts his thoughts in The Philosophy of Freedom above the purely existential contentions associated with life philosophy, and finds a foothold in an intellectual sphere that may be considered esoteric in nature. Yet, in veiling his vision of human freedom and spirituality in such precise epistemological terminology and argument, he also stays grounded in contemporary, orthodox thinking.
Esotericism and The Philosophy of Freedom
The importance of The Philosophy of Freedom in the historical perspective of the nineteenth and twentieth century western esoteric tradition can be witnessed in its role in the growth and success of the Anthroposophical movement which followed in its wake. It formed the conceptual seed from which Anthroposophy blossomed. Yet, despite the book being the foundation to Rudolf Steiner’s vision of a spiritual science, it may be suggested that its significance is derived only from what came after its publication. If, for example, Steiner never brought the Anthroposophical society into existence, would there be any doubt as to its position and relevance in the context of western esotericism? Does it have any relation to the esoteric and occult themes present in the late nineteenth century? Was the work originally ever intended to be a piece of esoteric literature? In order to come to an understanding of The Philosophy of Freedom in the light of such questions, it is necessary to look at the nature of the ideas and concepts found within it and see whether they contain strains of esoteric or occult thought that existed prior its creation. On the evidence of the above overview of Steiner’s influences and exposition of his ideas, it is possible to identify four themes which may be considered of an esoteric nature connected in his concept of freedom: Naturphilosophie, the significance of the spiritual world, Hermeticism, and Theosophical and Anthroposophical connotations.
Naturphilosophie and The Philosophy of Freedom
Rudolf Steiner’s intent in writing The Philosophy of Freedom was to address the spiritual needs of mankind at a time when the commanding presence of empirical science and a sceptical, existentially focussed philosophy no longer catered for the questions posed by man’s deepest sentiments. He believed that ‘The task of science is not to pose questions but rather to consider questions carefully when they are raised by human nature and by the particular level of culture, and then to answer them.’92 What he saw as the most pressing questions raised by human nature revolved around man becoming aware of and realising his potential as a free spirit through intuitive thinking based on supersensible knowledge. Already, the notion of deriving knowledge from something beyond the bounds of empirical investigation set Steiner apart from the scientific mentality of this age. Despite discoveries in human physiology, his views on knowledge and freedom found little compatibility with materialism. He believed that man could only achieve freedom through discovering the ideas and forms contained in the spiritual world hidden behind the veil of material existence. Thus in this respect ‘it was the destiny of The Philosophy of Freedom to become the reply to the question about the possibility of finding an occult knowledge in circumstances where the scientific view of nature reigned supreme.’93 However, this is not to say that Steiner discredited science outright, since, drawing on Goethe’s scientific thinking, he recognised the necessity in building upon observations of the physical world in order to arrive at knowledge of higher realities. Indeed, he saw mathematical and scientific thinking as comparable to spiritual insight and activity.94 As shown, Steiner based his thoughts on a monistic world view that looked to bridge any disparity between man and the natural and spiritual worlds, and it is from this perspective that the association between his concept of freedom and Naturphilosophie may be addressed.
While the method of eighteenth century empirical science centred on the experiential induction of principles from experimental investigations into the physical machinery of the natural world, Naturphilosophie began with the deduction of concepts from the contemplation of nature and overlaid them on to observable phenomena in order to come to an understanding of the concealed forces which drive that machinery. Basing its study of nature on a priori principles, it sought to discover the Ideal content which informs all life but stopped short of applying abstract principles to science.95 It finds sympathy in Steiner’s epistemology and his approach to understanding man’s ability to know. In thoughtfully meditating on the raw foundations on which man’s cognitive activity are based, Steiner was able to work upwards from the most elementary thoughts and observations to a world conception that encompassed man’s freedom in the context of intuition of a spiritual reality. However, a slight point of contention may be raised here, as it is possible the deductive methodology found in Naturphilosophie, specifically the issue of starting from a priori principles, may not comply with Steiner’s views on the matter. Having stated early in his career his disapproval of working from the imposition of unfounded, a priori pre-suppositions, which he saw as the error of Kant’s methodology96, it is probable that he would not have ascribed to this element of Naturphilosophie. Yet that is not to say he didn’t adapt such a subjective approach into his philosophical method; his deduction of epistemological principles from basic thoughts and examples throughout the course of The Philosophy of Freedom (especially the first half) illustrate his agreement with the procedures of Naturphilosophie. Indeed, further evidence of his intent to work from purely subjective foundations are revealed not in his lack of concern in the deduction of scientific knowledge, but rather his wish to give a ‘simple description of what everyone of us experiences in his own consciousness.’97
For Steiner, it was of the utmost necessity for man to engage with the world through his thinking activity – a principle he adhered to from the start. For the Naturphilosophen, bringing one’s contemplative faculties to bear on the observable world was the means by which both himself as subject and nature as object could be comprised as opposing but essential elements in the formation of a holistic world view.98According to Schelling, the possibility of gaining knowledge of reality is conditioned by coming to an understanding of the intrinsic connection between man and the world.99 Man must recognise that he is part of nature in order to grasp its true essence from within himself. This sentiment is echoed in Steiner’s belief that ‘we can find Nature outside us only if we have first learned to know her within us.’100 What monism provides towards forming a solid conception of the world is the view that it can only operate on the basis of the unity of percept and concept, of man’s inner content with sense data from the external world. There is no exclusive reliance on purely objective, empirical observations, nor on subjective philosophical abstraction; both are equal parts in the determination of the whole. Furthermore, Steiner saw it as a remedy to the one-sided perspectives of nature derived from naïve and metaphysical realism: the former reducing all life to purely material connections, the latter conceiving of a duality whereby the activity of the external world is expressed in terms of purely subjective notions of imperceptible forces. Neither system can arrive at a full picture of reality when taken by itself. Monism addresses both perspectives by replacing the purely solipsistic associations allocated to objects of perception with actual Ideal connections; these are expressed as concepts placed upon them through thinking.101 It exemplifies the Idealistic principles inherent in Naturphilosophie’s insistence in the unity of man and the world, subjective and objective, as the pre-requisite to knowledge of the Ideal essence of nature.
The importance that Steiner allocates to man’s ability to perceive the Ideal content of the world through thinking allows for the positing of further parallels between his vision of epistemology and human freedom, and Naturphilosophie. Both conceive the Ideal essence of reality to be spiritual in nature and inseparable from its physical counterpart, and therefore just as real as the natural world which it informs, leading to the maxim: what is real is ideal, and what is ideal is real.102 They are all embodiments of the same force permeating all reality. As the ground of the Ideal content of the world lies beyond the reach of the physical senses, Naturphilosophie appeals to internal modes of perception such as intimation, feeling, inspiration and intuition, and their organisation into reason through thinking, as the means to attain complete knowledge of it.103
For Schelling, science can only begin on the basis of intimations into the essence of the natural world, and reaches its highest aspect through imagination and thinking.104 Furthermore, he maintained the forces present in the act of imagining – introspection and extrospection – find equal representation in the forces of the natural world – attraction and repulsion.105 Such a view gave credence to the belief that man and the world, spirit and matter, are one and the same essence but exist in different forms. For Steiner, intuition is an organ for spiritually perceiving the Ideal content of the world which is experienced through the unification of percept and concept by thinking. It can also be claimed that those aspects of the internal processes present in the grasping of spiritual content – conceptual thinking, intuition and moral imagination – correspond with the modes of perception asserted in Naturphilosophie. As with Schelling, Steiner brings thinking man into a spiritual union with the motion of the cosmos, since through it he is able to transcend the sphere of his physical existence and draw knowledge from the very Ideal essence of the world.
As already shown, man’s perception of the Ideal content of the spiritual realm through spiritually intuitive thinking allows for him to experience that content as a reality at the most intimate level of his being. The content finds expression as moral ideas which inform his will and characterological disposition, and so become the motives for his action as a free being. It is an internalisation of that spiritual essence of the Universe. In Naturphilosophie, such a principle is derived from the harmonious association ascribed to matter and spirit, or in this case, man and spirit. The living force which permeates both spheres of life finds equal representation in both states, but due to their respective natures – one real, the other ideal – it finds expression in opposite ways. Thus what was seen by Steiner as the manifestation of the world’s spiritual essence in moral ideas, is analogous to the internalisation of the living force of reality in the subjective and ideal content of one’s mind. Likewise, the externalisation of the living force occurs through what is objective and real.106 It is possible to understand this externalising aspect as the resultant effect of the presence of the moral idea, the Ideal content of the living force, expressed through the form of one’s moral actions. This essentially Hermetic notion of a force acting equally “above”, in the spiritual world of Ideas, and “below”, in the embodiment of the Ideal in nature, is emphasised by Steiner with regard to man’s own existence: ‘if I, within my spirit, cause ideas to arise in which laws of nature are expressed, the two statements, ‘I produce nature,’ and ‘nature produces itself within me,’ are equally true.’107
The interdependence of the internal and external manifestations of the Ideal, living force of the Universe carries further significance for the notion of human freedom. Due to the notion held by empirical science that the Universe is a purely mechanistic construction wherein all action is necessitated by cause and effect relations, any suggestion of genuinely free action in Steiner’s sense of the phrase is untenable. From the perspective of Naturphilosophie, wherein the natural world is seen an organic, living unity, the task of philosophy becomes the formulation of ‘an account of nature that is continuous with our freedom; it must “re-enchant” nature so that we once more have a place in it.’108 In asserting the existence of an Ideal content informing the whole of nature, which establishes a continuity of living forces at both the objective and subjective levels, it is able to reconcile the principle of man’s ability to act freely according to his thoughts and intuitions of that Ideal content, with his existence in a physical world. Steiner interprets this idea in similar fashion. For him, the freedom of human action rests on its impulses arising from the ideal part of an individual, which in turn is derived from his faculties of spiritual intuition grasping them from the highest aspects of existence, namely the spiritual world. Only in uniting himself with that existence through his thinking activity is he able to access it; but such an endeavor is dependent on the pre-existent conjunction of the real and Ideal worlds. Without such a proposition, as suggested in Naturphilosophie, there would be no possibility of freedom, as all action could only arise through causative relations. Thus for Steiner and his concept of freedom, the organic unity of the material and Ideal spheres of existence is indispensable.
The last significant relation between Steiner’s thoughts and those of Naturphilosophie arises in his conception of man’s responsibility to become the gate through which the Ideal content of the essential being of the world pours out in order to find reality in his thought and moral life. The manifestation of spirit through its unity with man is seen as the ultimate expression of the will of the Universe; the physical revelation of its purpose. Again, this is a principle inherent in Naturphilosophie, for it sees the spirit of nature as capable of realizing its purpose in physical reality through the intellect of a thinking being alone; one that can perceive that Ideal spirit of nature and bring it into the folds of its own being and to life through cognitive activity.109 Thus nature attains its end through the organic world, but specifically man who, as the principal thinking being in the organic world, is most able to bring its spiritual Ideals to reality (of course, in Naturphilosophie, the roles of other organic beings in the unfolding of nature’s spirit are not discounted). Such a proposition is made equally clear in Steiner’s epistemology: ‘thinking is the essential being of the world and that individual human thinking is the individual form of manifestation of this essential being.’110 The final conclusion both lines of thought lead to is that through man, nature reaches its apogee in reality. As man is as much a part of nature as nature is a part of him, it follows that their destinies are intertwined; each shares the common goal of the realization of their spirit, their inner forces and determination, their will-to-power, or rather their will-to-love:
Through the history of [Naturphilosophie] human beings increasingly understand their original bond with nature and now themselves begin to be concerned about their formation […] this process can be called a naturalizing of human beings and a humanizing or idealization of nature […] Human beings have to take special responsibility for nature, but at the same time this serves to advance their realization of themselves. 111
Man’s freedom as a moral individual may therefore be acknowledged as a will to love all nature; indeed, his freedom can only arise through his love of nature, since to be free is to act morally, and in this case, to act in harmony with the natural world. Whether Steiner intended for his ideas contained in The Philosophy of Freedom to be seen as a resurrection of principles inherent to Naturphilosophie is uncertain. It is likely that, through his respect for the likes of Goethe and Schelling, he was aware of Naturphilosophie and held its tenets in high regard. However, due to his skepticism of purely Idealistic methods of deduction, he would not have wished to have his work tarred with the same brush, and so may have sought to distance himself from any association with it, at least while trying to establish himself as a serious thinker. Nonetheless, even though Steiner does not explicitly acknowledge any connections between his concept of freedom and Naturphilosophie, there are strong grounds to assert that his thinking does contain traces of its principles.
The Spiritual World and The Philosophy of Freedom
The existence of the spiritual world is given an integral role in the development of The Philosophy of Freedom and also throughout the course of Steiner’s Anthroposophical works that followed, and so deserves investigating as a possible element of esotericism present in his concept of freedom. He had a specific visualization of it which he felt could be explained in terms that would be understandable by scientific, philosophical and even non-specialized minds. During the late nineteenth century, belief in the spiritual world was generally the preserve of occult groups, mediums, spiritualists, and mystics. Although he shared common ground with these elements, it is certain that Steiner saw his work as something far more significant. Although did not disregard it entirely, he described mysticism, of a life lived purely through the spirit and detached from the physical world as having
no real spirituality in a desire for inner fulfilment that plunges the life of ideas into a soul life that is void of ideas. In such a path I could not see a pathway to light but only to spiritual darkness112
Nonetheless, it is worth briefly touching upon a few characteristics of spiritualism113 which bear close resemblance to certain concepts contained in The Philosophy of Freedom. For example, gaining a certainty about the existence of spiritual realities through inner experience is identical to having intuitive experience of the spiritual world; the interconnection between self-knowledge and “God-knowledge” finds its correlate in Steiner’s account of one’s “I” or ego as identical with the essential being of the world, and the point through which manifests; and both schools of thought share a compatibility with rational thinking. Just as spiritualism was seen as a means of providing experiential “evidence” and rational explanations about the existence of a supersensible world without recourse to external authority114, Steiner’s concept of freedom was posited as a methodical, scientific investigation into man’s ability to experience the spiritual world through his thinking faculties. What differentiates Steiner from these perhaps more questionable methods however, was his insistence on the perception of the spiritual world being possible only through purely subjective means, whereas occult systems sought spiritual knowledge principally through material processes and experimentation.
While Steiner did not look to all aspects of spiritualism or mysticism as worthy inspirations for the development of his ideas, they all held the spiritual world as the object of their inquiries. Rather than conceiving all matter to be the product of the spiritual world115, Steiner saw it as the source from where all morals that inform the natural world arise. He refrains, at least in The Philosophy of Freedom, from positing the existence of spiritual entities or detailing it as a realm of the deceased, but believed early on in his life that what one’s soul experiences in the spiritual world is pure thought alone.116 As shown, it is the Ideal essence of reality. Conversely, one gains access to and knowledge of the spiritual realm through the application of moral philosophy in life: in acting morally, one is acting on Ideal impulses residing within him which have been intuited directly from the spiritual world. Intuition raises man up to perceive this world: ‘Once experienced, the world of spiritual perception cannot appear to man as something foreign to him, because in his intuitive thinking he already has an experience which is purely spiritual in character.’117 In this respect, man attains a direct relationship with it at his most intimate level, in his ego centre, and thus able to find his part in the world through a personal experience of it. The teleological connotations of this principle have been outlined above.
What Steiner is suggesting with his view that man must perceive and absorb the Ideal essence of the spiritual world in order to act morally and be free, is that he is capable of uniting, through thinking and willing, with ‘the utmost primordial being of the world’118, although he does not specify exactly what he meant by this phrase – whether he is referring to an actual deity or perhaps something more “pantheistic”. However, he does state at the end of The Philosophy of Freedom, that this conception is based on a monist rather than dualist outlook:
Dualism defines the divine primordial Being as that which pervades and lives in all men. Monism finds this divine life, common to all, in reality itself […] Hence every man, in his thinking, lays hold of the universal primordial Being which pervades all men. To live in reality, filled with the content of thought, is at the same time to live in God.119
Such a claim can evoke an almost pantheistic world conception, perhaps drawn from his conceptual relation to Naturphilosophie, although it is evident Steiner tempers this by positing a purely Ideal essence permeating all reality rather than an omnipresent divine substance or being. Nonetheless, he does allow for a “divine” presence in man’s intuitive experience of the world, since the world contains within it spiritual qualities emanating from the spiritual world itself. This reflection of ‘activity in the higher, spiritual regions’ manifests in nature as the “moral world order”; man’s soul and thinking faculties are the means through which these Ideal emanations are made into living spiritual realities in the form of concepts, and so represent the “divine” moral order on the earthly plane.120
On the basis of Steiner’s conception of the interconnection between the “divine”, spiritual world and the natural, physical world through the intuition of Ideal forces, it is possible to put forward the notion that his thought contains traces of what may be seen as essentially Hermetic principles. Whether this was intentional or not is difficult to judge. However, his claim that man is the intermediary between the higher and lower realms, between spirit and matter, may be seen as part of a reinterpretation of certain tenets of Hermeticism. In the Corpus Hermeticum (c. third century CE), God is portrayed as the divine intellect and the fundamental essence of the Universe, the signature of whom may be found in all facets of life – from the cosmos to man – and is both visible and invisible. Due to this integral affinity, man, who separated from the divine by falling in love with physical nature and has since been entombed in it, may come to know God by bringing his mind (Nous) to bear on the divine essence in the world around him, thus raising his mind away from its corporeal shell to a life in purely spiritual existence and leading his soul to salvation.121 Hermeticism teaches that man can only become united with God through an act of gnosis, of experiential revelation through mental awareness and will, which is granted on him by divine illumination.122 He is initiated into a spiritual existence through gaining true knowledge of the divine, the world, and most importantly himself, and the final redemption of the material world to its “pre-Fall” state.
From this brief overview of the themes of Hermetic philosophy, several parallels may be drawn with Steiner’s concept of freedom. It has already been shown that, for Steiner, the Universe is permeated with an Ideal essence descending from the spiritual world that can only be perceived through spiritually intuitive thinking. Such a principle may be equated with the divine Nous of Hermeticism: ‘…you may think of god in this way, as having everything – the cosmos, himself, <the> universe – like thoughts within himself. Thus unless you make yourself equal to god, you cannot understand god; like is understood by like.’123 The God of the hermeticists is therefore the Ideal content of the spiritual world and the spiritual world itself, the former being the “thoughts” contained within the latter. In the context of the Hermetic teachings, the path of thinking shown in The Philosophy of Freedom leads one towards a knowledge of the divine, and so constitutes an act of gnosis. Thinking, according to Steiner, is itself a revelatory act, and, as present throughout the physical and spiritual worlds, leads man back to a direct affinity with the divine essence.
That intuitive thinking allows man to experience the Ideal content of the spiritual world as a reality, thus instilling his will with the “divine” impulses for moral action and the Ideal forms for his rise to freedom, it may be said that through thinking he achieves his salvation. As previously mentioned, it is in thinking and leading a moral life that man attains his freedom from the constraints of influences outside of his own will. He is able to lift himself out of a material based existence to one lived through the divine spirit, thus restoring himself to his pre-Fall state. (Steiner’s may have seen the idea of the “Fall” as a sundering of the divine world into the dualistic state of man and nature, of thought and perception, thus turning what was previously experienced as a reality into an illusion. In this context, the path of The Philosophy of Freedom is regarded as the unification of inner and outer worlds into a whole again124). In receiving the moral impulses and inspirations to act through his intuitive unity with the spiritual world, man becomes the focal point for the divine forces to operate throughout nature. His status as a thinking, morally intuitive individual who lives as a free, “divinised” being, allows man to become the ground and source from which the Hermetic notion of the redemption and regeneration of the material world, through its infusion with the divine spirit, may begin. The goal of The Philosophy of Freedom thus becomes, in a Hermetic sense, the respiritualization of the Universe.125
While any further association between Steiner writings, spiritualism and Hermeticism may be easily discovered through investigating his later Anthroposophical works, the connections between these esoteric philosophies and The Philosophy of Freedom are not so conspicuous. Yet, from what has been presented above, there are sufficient grounds to suggest that there are elements of these philosophies present in his concept of freedom. It is certain he was aware of such principles before 1894126, but he gives no mention of them having influenced his ideas in the development of his early works. Nonetheless, it may be claimed that due to the notoriety and profundity of Hermetic ideas in particular, Steiner may inadvertently have been affected, and, perhaps unconsciously, allowed them to penetrate his thinking and philosophy. Their presence in The Philosophy of Freedom, whether intentional or not, may be asserted with some confidence, and so gives further support to the notion that this work does indeed reflect esoteric principles.
The Philosophy of Freedom as a Model for Anthroposophy
The foundations for Rudolf Steiner’s conception of a philosophical and scientific system for the understanding and investigation for the spirit and soul were laid down in the composition of The Philosophy of Freedom. The entire Anthroposophical corpus is, from what Steiner has said, to have followed from the guidelines presented in this work.127 Yet, while the nature of Steiner’s Anthroposophical writings cover such diverse matters as cosmology, religion, architecture, agriculture, and dance, these themes are far from present in any form in The Philosophy of Freedom. Most may be considered esoteric subjects in their own right and bear no conceptual relation to the philosophical thoughts Steiner advanced in his earlier work, but from what has been presented, there is certainly a healthy element of esoteric thinking coursing throughout this book. The aim here is to highlight the presence of his concepts of intuitive thinking and human freedom in only a few of themes associated with Anthroposophy, as to delve any further into the vast tracts of Steiner’s more esoteric work for traces of The Philosophy of Freedom would be too great an undertaking for this paper.128
Anthroposophy suggests, almost by definition, that its concerns centre on the development of a body of knowledge and wisdom regarding man. Hence it may be asserted that it grew in response to the “de-humanizing” effect of an overwhelming emphasis of material existence, and so attempted to create an ‘increased awareness (in the Protestant West) of people as separate individuals […] The contemporary individualism, with its materialist connotations, tended to be replaced by an ascending esoteric individuality.’129 In this respect, it is evident that The Philosophy of Freedom would have been seen by Steiner as the initial impulse towards the foundation of a science dedicated to man’s freedom as an individual, spiritual being. His early exposure to the Theosophical works of H. P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) around 1888 would have also provided him with access to esoteric materials which suited his particular belief in a spiritual reality, as well as acted as a balance to his more orthodox philosophical views on human freedom. However, Blavatsky’s Theosophical teachings did not truly manifest in Steiner’s work until the publication of Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man (1904), but within this book, we may find examples of the development of his concept of freedom in the context of a transfiguration of the sevenfold constitution of man.
In Theosophy, the Theosophical notion of seven ascending states or levels of being which comprise the whole human corpus was transfigured by Steiner to reflect the principles he developed in The Philosophy of Freedom. They would have appeared to him as a figurative representation of a method of raising one’s consciousness from base, physical levels to a full awareness of and participation in a spiritual reality. He explains the sevenfold composition thusly:
For the seer the corporeal man counts as only part of the whole man. The physical body, as the coarsest structure, lies within others, which mutually penetrate it and each other. The ether-body fills the physical body as a life-form; extending beyond this on all sides is to be perceived the soul-body (astral form). And beyond this, again, extends the sentient soul, then the intellectual soul which grows the larger the more it receives into itself of the true and the good.130
The physical body reflects the simple sense perceptions of material reality, while the ether- or life-body and astral-body are the next two steps of the septenary, and, in their Theosophical context, are the forms which infuse the body with energy, vitality and form. With regard to Steiner’s concept of freedom, they represent the location in the spiritual makeup of man of both mental pictures and conceptual thinking respectively. As man’s conscious “centre” rises up past the initial three states which represent the lower aspects of his being, he reaches the midway point between spiritual perception and material sensations. At this stage, the lower, sentient-soul becomes the stage through which sense impressions and thinking are combined and filtered into the higher, intellectual-soul wherein intimations of a spiritual reality, the “true and the good”, are received from above and merged with thought content from below.131 The intellectual-soul has been defined as the “exceptional state”: the product of cognitive activity directed on cognition itself through which the “I” is determined as a separate entity and liberated from the physical body, thus becoming free to experience the spiritual world itself.132 Beyond this state lie the highest aspects of man’s spiritual cognition, beginning with the “conscious-soul” or “spirit-self”: the location of human consciousness and the organs of intuition, through which the spirit world is revealed, and also the centre of man’s moral imagination; the “life-spirit”, which is the seat of moral intuition and inspiration, and so represents the spiritualization of aspects of man’s “I” and lower self; and finally the “spirit-man”, which is the seat of man’s moral technique and incarnation of his “I” in a world of spiritual perception. 133
With regard to the formulation of man’s moral life as shown in The Philosophy of Freedom, the intellectual-soul is the critical junction between his concepts and actions being grounded in a restrictive, physical existence, and the liberation of his being through the intuitive experience of a spiritual reality. It represents the impulse for the leap from man’s lower ternary, his “soul-being”, to his “spirit-being” through which he can begin to experience the moral ideas residing in the spiritual world by his imagination, inspiration and intuition.134 Through an understanding of the sevenfold constitution, man ascends through the spheres of his being and develops his higher aspects, becoming increasing able to grasp the Ideal essence of the spiritual world through his spirit- and life-selves, and eventually reaching the spiritual realm in the form of his spirit-man, who (figuratively) descends back to draw his physical correlate into moral action, informing it with moral technique and thus bring himself to freedom.
In Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment (1904), Steiner continues some of the themes presented in Theosophy, but places greater emphasis on the notions of self-development and initiation into the spirit realm. It illustrates the means by which one may realise Steiner’s vision of spiritual intuition and eventual existence as a morally free individual, although is far more esoteric in character than The Philosophy of Freedom. The principle aim is on meditative practice whereby one achieves a stillness of their inner being, a silencing of the constant noise of their unsolicited thoughts as well as sense perceptions of the outside world, so that their thinking may be allowed to become “pure” enough to receive the Ideal intimations of the spiritual world.135 Steiner saw it as necessary for the initiate into spiritual science to have a completely unreserved and unprejudiced surrender to the experience of the reality of his thoughts about the spiritual world, since ‘unfounded disbelief is indeed injurious. It works in the recipient as a repelling force. It hinders him from taking in the fruitful thoughts’.136 Upon this grounding in a world of pure, undisturbed thinking, one may begin the work to achieve supersensible perception and higher knowledge.
The path of initiation is described in detail by Steiner and may be considered a more detailed progression on the principles of conscious development and spiritual ascension highlighted in Theososophy. The exercises and techniques he describes are intended to achieve the control and discipline of man’s thoughts, feelings and will so that they may become free of the constraints which prevent him from realising his own freedom. For example, the initiate must begin with “Probation”, where the emphasis lies on the ‘cultivation of the life of thought and feeling, through which, the psychic-spiritual “body” becomes equipped with organs of sense activity’.137 It is possible that Steiner saw the stage of Probation as an exercise for the creation and advancement of one’s moral imagination, since the latter represents an internal state of perceiving moral ideas as mental pictures, formed through the union of intuitive thinking with one’s sentiments, namely one’s characterological disposition. This leads on to one’s “Orientation” in the reality of the spiritual nature of their inner content, their thoughts and feelings: a crucial step in the realisation that one may live as a free being through the world of their thinking.
Through continued practice, the initiate attains what Steiner terms “Enlightenment”, which is seen as the further development of his thoughts and feelings, and hints at the presence of elements of Goethe’s natural science. At this stage of initiation, great emphasis is placed on the contemplative observation of nature so that certain feelings are allowed into one’s inner being, allowing for a “clairvoyant” experience at a more intimate level than is gain in empirical sense perceptions. Again, it reflects Steiner’s epistemological thoughts on allowing the spiritual essence of the objects of observation to enter the sphere of one’s thinking activity, so that the true nature of them may be experienced. Beyond Enlightenment lies the final stage of “Initiation” into the realities of the spiritual world, and more disciplines to draw man further into a life lived through his spirit, and the full realisation of his freedom.
The effect of following the principles and paths of Steiner’s spiritual development as presented in Theosophy and Knowledge of Higher Worlds, and first outlined in The Philosophy of Freedom, results in the awakening of those dormant forces in man through which he may come to realise his complete spiritual freedom through the self-mastery of his lower impulses. In this respect, the contents of Theosophy and Knowledge of Higher Worlds can perhaps be seen as the first systematization of Steiner’s ideas and its flourishing as a practical science of the soul. Also, the presence of his particular concept of freedom throughout these books would certainly have been seen by Steiner as a necessary means of clearly distinguishing his work from the ideas of Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, which feature heavily in Theosophy. Nonetheless, the system presented in these books may be considered a specifically technical refinement and explanation of the efforts man must take towards the development of free and moral action, an element that was perhaps lacking in Steiner’s original compositions. Despite his intent to make The Philosophy of Freedom into a manual of self-liberation, it is possible he felt that it was too philosophical and lacked any practical directions on achieving its aim. Theosophy and Knowledge of Higher Worlds may hence be seen as an attempt to address this issue. However, as previously noted, Steiner saw The Philosophy of Freedom as the theoretical foundation for all his spiritual science that followed, and so any technical explanations within it were not necessary.
It may therefore be claimed that without the exposition of his original vision of man’s freedom through spiritual intuition and moral activity, the whole edifice of Anthroposophy would perhaps have never succeeded.
Conclusion: How Esoteric is Rudolf Steiner’s Concept of Freedom?
Rudolf Steiner’s established position in the history of the western esoteric tradition is the result of his prolific career as a writer on spiritual science and his founding of the Anthroposophical movement. Yet while it is perhaps only in a retrospective view of western esotericism that his work is classified as such, does this view extend as far back as his earliest writings, which were written ostensibly as philosophical treatises? More specifically, is The Philosophy of Freedom a reduction (or indeed perhaps an expansion) of prevailing philosophical notions on epistemology and existentialism into spiritual thought and terminology? Or does the opposite view apply? From what has been provided above, it is certain Steiner began his literary career in an atmosphere of philosophical orthodoxy and scepticism regarding esoteric matters, and so had to tailor his work to fit in with the contemporary style and not alienate himself before he had become established as a serious writer. This prevented him from expressing his most personal beliefs about the spiritual world until later on in life, and so goes some way in explaining the lack of specific esoteric material in his early works. He also felt an inherent desire to challenge some of the prevalent philosophical notions of the time such as Kantianism and the overbearing presence of scientific materialism and their affects on man’s inner being, as well as their general denial of spiritual realities, and therefore had to address these issues on their own terms in order to be heard. In order to have his views acknowledged by the intellectual cognoscenti of the age, it was necessary for Steiner to construct his book in a manner that conformed to the orthodox dictates of contemporary epistemology.138 However, this did not prevent him, in publishing his work, from ‘presenting [his] inner experience fully awake [...] This gives thoughts the mystical nature of inner sight, but it also makes such sight resemble physical sight.’139 In this respect, it is significant that, in the configuration of ideas and aims in throughout The Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner presents his insight into the spiritual world while maintaining a high degree of scientific methodology. It is highly likely his inspiration for such an approach came from his study of Goethe’s investigation of the spiritual aspects of nature in terms of empirical technique and reasoning, such as simplicity and clarity in observation.140
In grounding his arguments and concepts of freedom in a rigorous critique of current epistemological and philosophical concerns, Steiner thought he would be able to convince his fellow thinkers of the truth of the spiritual world and the possibilities it provides for man to realise his liberation from the material existence he was slowly entombing himself in. Yet, it was also his intention to extend the reach of this work beyond the preserve of the philosophical elite and bring the general public into the fold of his thoughts. For he wished to show to everyone that they have the capacity within themselves to awaken the slumbering, living forces of their thinking, and so begin their slow ascent to a truly moral life and freedom.141 In this respect, his view that man’s power to transform and perfect himself through his inner thought life is what differentiates The Philosophy of Freedom from the general consensus of philosophical thought in the late nineteenth century. It appealed to every man by focusing on issues that affected the very fabric of their lives, rather than simply providing another set of abstract concepts that would bear no relation to them.
With regard to the subject matter of The Philosophy of Freedom itself, Steiner provides an exposition of what can be claimed as esoteric principles, such as a belief in and perception of a supersensible world, couched in a fabric of a definite, critical philosophy. In doing so, he raises philosophy into higher realms of thought. Epistemological notions and theories are brought under the gaze of Steiner’s spiritual sight, allowing for a deeper understanding of them, with regard to their relation to man’s essential being, to be made. Likewise, he brings the world of spiritual intuition to the level of philosophical reasoning, so it may be experienced by the less esoterically inclined minds in terms they would be comfortable with. In this sense, it may be argued that Steiner transcends the traditional limits of philosophy and science by unifying them and the roles they play in human life within the context of an interdependent, spiritually-informed Universe, rather than conceiving of them as separate entities detached from the vital essence of the world.
What Rudolf Steiner achieves with in the union of philosophy, science and spirituality is the concretization of a spiritually-minded science in a framework of rational research and understanding. From this standpoint, we can see in what context and to what degree The Philosophy of Freedom may be considered esoteric. In drawing on a wealth of significant esoteric influences with the aim of describing how one may attain knowledge of the spiritual world, it may be said that Steiner manifested that spiritual world into reality itself, since he could only understand and recall the procedure through having experienced it himself. In doing so, he laid the foundation stone for the subsequent evolution of Anthroposophy, and established the theoretical groundwork for investigation in esoteric matters. Through the actual experience of what he set out explain, Steiner succeed in embodying the very principles of his esoteric research in The Philosophy of Freedom. In this respect, it may be seen as the realisation and concentration of esoteric science itself in its most pure form, and a representation of the kernel and Idea of esotericism in the physical world.
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1 Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy's Contribution to the Most Urgent Needs of Our Time (Stuttgart, September 5th, 1921), from Anthroposophical Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1, (London: Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1977), p. 14
2 R. Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907 (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1999), p. 32
3 F. M. Cornford, The Republic of Plato, cf. Plato, The Republic, trans. H. D. P. Lee (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964), p. 235
4Herbert Schnädelbach, Philosophy in Germany: 1831 – 1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 6 defines the characteristic theses of Absolute Idealism as: (1) the unity of being and thought in the Absolute; (2) the unity of the true, the good and the beautiful in the Absolute; (3) the science of the Absolute as the philosophical system.
5 R. Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View (Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1996), p. 1
6 Ibid, pp.14-15
7 Ibid, p. 53
8 R. Steiner, Nature’s Open Secret: Introductions to Goethe’s Scientific Writings (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 3
9 E. Heller, Goethe and the Idea of Scientific Truth (Swansea: University of Swansea, 1949), p. 33
10 H. B. Nisbet, Goethe and the Scientific Tradition (London: Institute of Germanic Studies, 1972), p. 42
11 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 104
12 Ibid, pp. 103-104
13 Ibid, p. 122
14 Ibid, p. 53
15 S. S. Kerry, Schiller’s Writings on Aesthetics (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1961), p. 163
16 S. Roehr, Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller, from Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press ), p. 127
17 Günter Zöller, German Realism: the Self-limitation of Idealist Thinking in Fichte, Schelling, and Schopenhauer in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, ed. by Karl Ameriks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 207
18 Terry Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 179
19 Walter D. Wetzels, Aspects of Natural Science in German Romanticism in Studies in Romanticism,
Vol. 10, No. 1 (Boston, MA: Boston University Press, 1971), p. 46
20 Schnädelbach, Philosophy in Germany: 1831 – 1933, p. 19
21 Ibid, pp.103-104
22 While it may be stated that these philosophies were realists in that they dealt with specifically human concerns rather than purely abstract ones, it is not true that life-philosophers has abandoned all traces of spiritual ideas. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833 – 1911) for instance, claimed that the deepest aspects of life may be located in the conscious experience of it, and allow for one to raise that consciousness to higher degrees of understanding, even into super-sensible realms. Whether Steiner was aware of Dilthey is unknown; W. Tudor-Jones, Contemporary Thought of Germany, 2 Vols. (London: Williams & Norgate Ltd., 1930), I, p. 230
23 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 166
24 From a letter to Rosa Mayreder (1894), cf. Otto Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1979), p. 5
25 Ibid, p. 170
26 R. Steiner, Friedrich Nietzsche: Fighter for Freedom (Blauvelt, NY: Spiritual Science Library, 1985),
27 Bernd Magnus and Kathleen M. Higgins, Nietzsche’s Works and their Themes in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, ed. by B. Magnus & K. M. Higgins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 47
28 The specific passage Steiner references to illustrate this point in Friedrich Nietzsche: Fighter for Freedom, p. 74, is worth stating to capture the feeling Nietzsche intended to convey: ‘Actual philosophers, however, are commanders and law-givers: they say ‘thus it shall be!’, it is they who determine the Wherefore and Wither of mankind […] Their ‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is a law giving, their will to truth is – will to power.’ (Beyond Good and Evil, §211)
29 John Carroll, introduction in Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, ed. John Carroll (London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1971), p. 11
30 Donald A. Nielsen, Horrible Workers: Max Stirner, Arthur Rimbaud, Robert Johnson and the Charles Manson Circle – Studies in Moral Experience and Culture Expression (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005), p. 16
31 Steiner, Friedrich Nietzsche: Fighter for Freedom, p. 123
32 R. Steiner, Truth and Science: Prelude to a ‘Philosophy of Spiritual Activity’ (Spring Valley, New York: Mercury Press, 1993), p. i
33 Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism, pp. 40-41
34 Lauchlan Chipman, Things-in-Themselves in Immanuel Kant: Critical Assessments, ed. by Ruth F. Chadwick & Clive Cazeaux (London: Routledge, 1992), p.
35 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 75
36 Tudor-Jones, Contemporary Thought of Germany, I, p. 199
37 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 163
39 Frederick Beiser, The Enlightenment and Idealism in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, pp. 24-25
40 R. Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979), p. 14
41 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 82
43 Ibid, p. 91
44 R. Steiner, The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, cf. Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 26
46 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View, p. 10
47 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. xxiii
48 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 165
49 Steiner, Truth and Science: Prelude to a ‘Philosophy of Spiritual Activity’, p. 37
50 Ibid, p. 34
51 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 212
52 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View, p. 73
53 R. Steiner, Individualism in Philosophy, cf. Karen Swassjan, The Ultimate Communion of Mankind: A Celebration of Rudolf Steiner’s Book The Philosophy of Freedom (London: Temple Lodge, 1996),
54 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 210; see also Truth and Science: Prelude to a ‘Philosophy of Spiritual Activity’, p. 59
55 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 70
56 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View,
57 R. Steiner, Mystery Knowledge & Mystery Centres, cf. Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 24
58 Steiner, Truth and Science: Prelude to a ‘Philosophy of Spiritual Activity’, p. 53
59 Ibid, p. 32
60 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, pp. 92-93
61 Ibid, p. 70
62 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View, p. 69
63 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 44. Percept, as presented in The Philosophy of Freedom, may simply be considered a revised expression of the “given”, as presented in Truth and Science. Yet, beyond a change in name, the principle behind the notion does not change, indicating a firm line of continuity in Steiner’s epistemological thought, although his argument is refined and expanded to encompass his vision of human freedom and the spiritual world.
64 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 113
65 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 141
66 Ibid, p. 37
67 Ibid, p. 86
68 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View,
69 R. Steiner, New Thinking, New Willing: The Three Phases of Anthroposophic Work, cf. Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 45
70 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 120
71 R. Steiner, Fragen der Seele und Fragen des Lebens, cf. Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 59
72 H. Heitler, Natural Science and Human Freedom, from The Faithful Thinker: Centenary Essays on the Work and Thought of Rudolf Steiner (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1961), p. 110
73 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 125; see also Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 76
74 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 128
75 Steiner, Truth and Science: Prelude to a ‘Philosophy of Spiritual Activity’, p. 59
76 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 151
78 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 218
79 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 162
80 Ibid, p. 221
81 Ibid, pp. 163-164
82 Ibid, p. 207
83 Friedrich Nietzsche, Gesammelte Werke (1858-1868), cf. Leslie Paul Thiele, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 45-46
84 Ibid, p. 39
85 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. by R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1990), §36,
86 R. J. Hollingdale, Nietzsche (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), p90
87 Thiele, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism, p. 68
88 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 174
89 R. Steiner, Anthroposophie, ihre Erkenntniswurzeln und Lebensfrüchte (GA78) cf. Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 64
90 Swassjan, The Ultimate Communion of Mankind: A Celebration of Rudolf Steiner’s Book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 75
91 Geoffrey Ahern, Sun at Midnight: The Rudolf Steiner Movement and the Western Esoteric Tradition (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: 1984), p204
92 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View,
93 Swassjan, The Ultimate Communion of Mankind: A Celebration of Rudolf Steiner’s Book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 75
94 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 54
95 Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism, p. 178
97 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 20
99 Joseph L. Esposito, Schelling’s Idealism and Philosophy of Nature, (London: Associated University Press, 1977), 9. 128
100 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 174
101 Ibid. p. 100
102 Esposito, Schelling’s Idealism and Philosophy of Nature, p. 81
103 Dietrich von Engelhardt, Natural Science in the Age of Romanticism in Modern Esoteric Spirituality, ed. by Antoine Faivre & Jacob Needleman (New York: SCM Press Ltd, 1992), p. 107
104 See Esposito, Schelling’s Idealism and Philosophy of Nature, p. 129 and R. Steiner, The Riddles of Philosophy (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1973), p. 190
105 Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 485
106 Beiser, The Enlightenment and Idealism in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, p. 33
107 Steiner, The Riddles of Philosophy, p. 190.
108 Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism, p. 181
110 Steiner, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View,
111 von Engelhardt, Natural Science in the Age of Romanticism, p. 117
112 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 116
113 Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (New York: SUNY Press, 1998), pp.404-405,
114 Ibid, p. 439
115 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 17
116 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 48
117 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 221
118 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 97
119 Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom: A Basis for a Modern World Conception, p. 215
120 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 218
121 Roelof van den Broek, Gnosticism and Hermetism in Antiquity: Two Roads to Salvation in Gnosis and Hermeticism From Antiquity to Modern Times, ed. by Roelof van den Broek and Wouter J. Hanegraaff (New York: SUNY, 1998), p. 6
123 Corpus Hermeticum XI: 20, cf. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, p. 391
124 Sergei O. Prokofieff, Anthroposophy and The Philosophy of Freedom: Anthroposophy and Its Methods of Cognition – The Christological and Cosmic-Human Dimension of The Philosophy of Freedom (Forest Row: Temple Lodge, 2009), p. 14
125 Ahern, Sun at Midnight: The Rudolf Steiner Movement and the Western Esoteric Tradition, p. 107
126 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 116
127 See Steiner, The Unveiling of Spiritual Truths in Anthroposophic Movement, (Dornach, 11 June 1923), Lecture 2 (Bristol: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 31
128 Anthroposophy and The Philosophy of Freedom: Anthroposophy and Its Methods of Cognition – The Christological and Cosmic-Human Dimension of The Philosophy of Freedom by Sergei O. Prokofieff is highly recommended for further research in this field. However, as the title suggests, the emphasis is on Steiner’s Christological teachings in relation to The Philosophy of Freedom, rather than on the whole range of his Anthroposophical work.
129 Ahern, Sun at Midnight: The Rudolf Steiner Movement and the Western Esoteric Tradition, p. 202
130 Steiner, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man (Forest Row: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 35
131 Ibid, p. 42
133 Ibid, pp. 48-52
134 Steiner, Geschichtliche Notwendigkeit und Freiheit (GA179), Lecture 5, cf. Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 30
135 Steiner, Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment (London: Rudolf Steiner Publishing, 1937), pp. 34-35
136 Steiner, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man, p. 133
137 Steiner, Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, p. 41
138 Palmer, Rudolf Steiner on his book The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 17
139 Steiner, Autobiography: Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, p. 121
140 Charles Sherrington, Goethe on Nature and on Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949), p. 15
141 Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man, p. 130