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The Philosophy of Freedom

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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The Philosophy of Freedom

On-line since: 22nd November,1996

The Reality of Freedom


The Factors of Life

LET us recapitulate what we have achieved in the previous chapters. The world faces man as a multiplicity, as a mass of separate details. One of these separate things, one entity among others, is man himself. This aspect of the world we simply call the given, and inasmuch as we do not evolve it by conscious activity, but just find it, we call it percept. Within this world of percepts we perceive ourselves. This percept of self would remain merely one among many other percepts, if something did not arise from the midst of this percept of self which proves capable of connecting all percepts with one another and, therefore, the sum of all other percepts with the percept of our own self. This something which emerges is no longer merely percept; neither is it, like percepts, simply given. It is produced by our activity. To begin with, it appears to be bound up with what we perceive as our own self. In its inner significance, however, it transcends the self. To the separate percepts it adds ideally determined elements, which, however, are related to one another, and are rooted in a totality. What is obtained by perception of self is ideally determined by this something in the same way as are all other percepts, and is placed as subject, or “I”, over against the objects. This something is thinking, and the ideally determined elements are the concepts and ideas. Thinking, therefore, first reveals itself in the percept of the self. But it is not merely subjective, for the self characterizes itself as subject only with the help of thinking. This relationship in thought of the self to itself is what, in life, determines our personality. Through it we lead a purely ideal existence. Through it we feel ourselves to be thinking beings. This determination of our life would remain a purely conceptual (logical) one, if no other determinations of our self were added to it. We should then be creatures whose life was expended in establishing purely ideal relationships between percepts among themselves and between them and ourselves. If we call the establishment of such a thought connection an “act of cognition”, and the resulting condition of ourself “knowledge”, then, assuming the above supposition to be true, we should have to consider ourselves as beings who merely cognize or know.

The supposition, however, does not meet the case. We relate percepts to ourselves not merely ideally, through concepts, but also, as we have already seen, through feeling. Therefore we are not beings with a merely conceptual content to our life. In fact the naïve realist holds that the personality lives more genuinely in the life of feeling than in the purely ideal element of knowledge. From his point of view he is quite right when he describes the matter in this way. To begin with, feeling is exactly the same, on the subjective side, as the percept is on the objective side. From the basic principle of naïve realism — that everything that can be perceived is real — it follows that feeling must be the guarantee of the reality of one's own personality. Monism, however, as here understood, must grant the same addition to feeling that it considers necessary for percepts, if these are to stand before us as full reality. Thus, for monism, feeling is an incomplete reality, which, in the form in which it first appears to us, does not yet contain its second factor, the concept or idea. This is why, in actual life, feelings, like percepts, appear prior to knowledge. At first, we have merely a feeling of existence; and it is only in the course of our gradual development that we attain to the point at which the concept of self emerges from within the dim feeling of our own existence. However, what for us appears only later, is from the first indissolubly bound up with our feeling. This is why the naïve man comes to believe that in feeling he is presented with existence directly, in knowledge only indirectly. The cultivation of the life of feeling, therefore, appears to him more important than anything else. He will only believe that he has grasped the pattern of the universe when he has received it into his feeling. He attempts to make feeling, rather than knowing, the instrument of knowledge. Since a feeling is something entirely individual, something equivalent to a percept, the philosopher of feeling is making a universal principle out of something that has significance only within his own personality. He attempts to permeate the whole world with his own self. What the monist, in the sense we have described, strives to grasp through concepts, the philosopher of feeling tries to attain through feelings, and he regards this kind of connection with the objects as the more direct.

The tendency just described, the philosophy of feeling, is often called mysticism. The error in a mystical outlook based upon mere feeling is that it wants to experience directly what it ought to gain through knowledge; that it wants to raise feeling, which is individual, into a universal principle.

Feeling is a purely individual affair; it is the relation of the external world to ourself as subject, in so far as this relation finds expression in a merely subjective experience.

There is yet another expression of human personality. The I, through its thinking, shares the life of the world in general. In this manner, in a purely ideal way (that is, conceptually), it relates the percepts to itself, and itself to the percepts. In feeling, it has direct experience of a relation of the objects to itself as subject. In the will, the case is reversed. In willing, we are concerned once more with a percept, namely, that of the individual relation of our self to what is objective. Whatever there is in willing that is not a purely ideal factor, is just as much mere object of perception as is any object in the external world.

Nevertheless, the naïve realist believes here again that he has before him something far more real than can be attained by thinking. He sees in the will an element in which he is directly aware of an occurrence, a causation, in contrast with thinking which only grasps the event afterwards in conceptual form. According to such a view, what the I achieves through its will is a process which is experienced directly. The adherent of this philosophy believes that in the will he has really got hold of the machinery of the world by one corner. Whereas he can follow other occurrences only from the outside by means of perception, he is confident that in his will he experiences a real process quite directly. The mode of existence in which the will appears within the self becomes for him a concrete principle of reality. His own will appears to him as a special case of the general world process; hence the latter appears as universal will. The will becomes the principle of the universe just as, in mysticism, feeling becomes the principle of knowledge. This kind of theory is called the philosophy of will (thelism). It makes something that can be experienced only individually into a constituent factor of the world.

The philosophy of will can as little be called scientific as can the mysticism based on feeling. For both assert that the conceptual understanding of the world is inadequate. Both demand a principle of existence which is real, in addition to a principle which is ideal. To a certain extent this is justified. But since perceiving is our only means of apprehending these so-called real principles, the assertion of both the mysticism of feeling and the philosophy of will comes to the same thing as saying that we have two sources of knowledge, thinking and perceiving, the latter presenting itself as an individual experience in feeling and will. Since the results that flow from the one source, the experiences, cannot on this view be taken up directly into those that flow from the other source, thinking, the two modes of knowledge, perceiving and thinking, remain side by side without any higher form of mediation between them. Besides the ideal principle which is accessible to knowledge, there is said to be a real principle which cannot be apprehended by thinking but can yet be experienced. In other words, the mysticism of feeling and the philosophy of will are both forms of naïve realism, because they subscribe to the doctrine that what is directly perceived is real. Compared with naïve realism in its primitive form, they are guilty of the yet further inconsistency of accepting one particular form of perceiving (feeling or will, respectively) as the one and only means of knowing reality, whereas they can only do this at all if they hold in general to the fundamental principle that what is perceived is real. But in that case they ought to attach equal value, for the purposes of knowledge, also to external perception.

The philosophy of will turns into metaphysical realism when it places the element of will even into those spheres of existence where it cannot be experienced directly, as it can in the individual subject. It assumes, outside the subject, a hypothetical principle for whose real existence the sole criterion is subjective experience. As a form of metaphysical realism, the philosophy of will is subject to the criticism made in the preceding chapter, in that it has to get over the contradictory stage inherent in every form of metaphysical realism, and must acknowledge that the will is a universal world process only in so far as it is ideally related to the rest of the world.

Author's addition, 1918

The difficulty of grasping the essential nature of thinking by observation lies in this, that it has all too easily eluded the introspecting soul by the time the soul tries to bring it into the focus of attention. Nothing then remains to be inspected but the lifeless abstraction, the corpse of the living thinking. If we look only at this abstraction, we may easily find ourselves compelled to enter into the mysticism of feeling or perhaps the metaphysics of will, which by contrast appear so “full of life”. We should then find it strange that anyone should expect to grasp the essence of reality in “mere thoughts”. But if we once succeed in really finding life in thinking, we shall know that swimming in mere feelings, or being intuitively aware of the will element, cannot even be compared with the inner wealth and the self-sustaining yet ever moving experience of this life of thinking, let alone be ranked above it. It is owing precisely to this wealth, to this inward abundance of experience, that the counter-image of thinking which presents itself to our ordinary attitude of soul should appear lifeless and abstract. No other activity of the human soul is so easily misunderstood as thinking. Will and feeling still fill the soul with warmth even when we live through the original event again in retrospect. Thinking all too readily leaves us cold in recollection; it is as if the life of the soul had dried out. Yet this is really nothing but the strongly marked shadow of its real nature — warm, luminous, and penetrating deeply into the phenomena of the world. This penetration is brought about by a power flowing through the activity of thinking itself — the power of love in its spiritual form. There are no grounds here for the objection that to discern love in the activity of thinking is to project into thinking a feeling, namely, love. For in truth this objection is but a confirmation of what we have been saying. If we turn towards thinking in its essence, we find in it 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. If we are ready to experience thinking intuitively, we can also do justice to the experience of feeling and of will; but the mysticism of feeling and the metaphysics of will are not able to do justice to the penetration of reality by intuitive thinking — they conclude all too readily that they themselves are rooted in reality, but that the intuitive thinker, devoid of feeling and a stranger to reality, forms out of “abstract thoughts” a shadowy, chilly picture of the world.

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