A Progressive Philosophy Of Freedom

FREEDOM  Rudolf Steiner tackles the age-old question of freedom in a new and unique way. He shows that, by considering our own activity of thinking, we can realize the reasons for why we act. And if these reasons are taken from the realm of our ideals, our actions are free, because only we determine them.

ABOUT  Welcome to the new website design. This website, since 2005, examines Rudolf Steiner's early work (pre-1900 before he turned to the language of theosophy to explain things) when he presented a way of life called Ethical Individualism based on a Science Of Freedom. “this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters... What I have said in this book may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my researches into the spiritual realm.” Rudolf Steiner, "The Philosophy of Freedom", 1918 Preface to the Revised Edition 

STUDY COURSE  The study course is self-directed study of a variety of relevant content collected over the years. Begin at any time. See the Study Course sidebar links.


"The ethical laws which the metaphysician regards as issuing from a higher power are human thoughts; the ethical world order is the free creation of human beings.” Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy Of Freedom, Chapter 10

In a 1918 lecture (link) Rudolf Steiner states that the purpose of his Philosophy of Freedom is to lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life.

It establishes a humanist worldview as the basis for a progressive ethical individualism that works toward improving the human condition rather than maintaining things as they are. Being progressive does not refer to any external institution, it is a state of mind. It is an attitude through which a person, aware of himself or herself as one among a valued global community of individuals, comes nearest to living up to the ideal of human worth and dignity.

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Project: New Translation

New Translation Draft Preface

"My Philosophy of Freedom presents the wide range of human view-points in a way that leaves the reader free of attachment to any particular approach and able to let the various concepts speak for themselves, as though each were a photograph of one and the same object taken from many different angles." Rudolf Steiner on his book the Philosophy of Freedom p. 97

Note: The original preface is located at the end of all translations as an appendix, except for the Hoernle where it appears as Chapter 1, The Goal Of Knowledge


0.0 Culture Of Individuality
[1] I BELIEVE I am indicating correctly one of the fundamental characteristics of our age when I say that, at the present day, all human interests tend to center in the culture of human individuality. An energetic effort is being made to shake off every kind of authority. Nothing is accepted as valid, unless it springs from the roots of individuality. Everything which hinders the individual in the full development of his powers is thrust aside. The saying “Each one of us must choose his hero in whose footsteps he toils up to Olympus” no longer holds for us. We allow no ideals to be forced upon us. We are convinced that in each of us, if only we probe deep enough into the very heart of our being, there dwells something noble, something worthy of development. We no longer believe that there is a norm of human life to which we must all strive to conform. We regard the perfection of the whole as depending on the unique perfection of each single individual. We do not want to do what anyone else can do equally well. No, our contribution to the development of the world, however trifling, must be something that, by reason of the uniqueness of our nature, we alone can offer. Never have artists been less concerned about rules and norms in art than today. Each of them asserts their right to express, in the creations of their art, what is unique in them. There are dramatists who write in dialect rather than conform to the standard diction which grammar demands.

[2] No better expression for these phenomena can be found than this, that they result from the individual’s striving towards freedom, developed to its highest pitch. We do not want to be dependent in any respect, and where dependence must be, we tolerate it only on condition that it coincides with a vital interest of our individuality.

0.1 Outer Truth
[3] Truth, too, will be sought in our age only in the depths of human nature. Of Schiller’s two well known paths, the second will be preferred today:

We both seek truth; you in outer life,
I in the heart within. Each of us are sure to find it.
The healthy eye can track the creator through the world;
The healthy heart mirrors the world within.

0.2 Inner Truth Empowers
[4] Truth that comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. Only truth that appears within ourselves will convince us. Only truth can give us confidence in developing our individual powers. Whoever is tormented by doubts finds his powers weakened. If we are baffled by a world full of riddles, we can find no goal for our creative activity.

0.3 Understandable Truth
[5] We no longer want to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths without having the insight to fully understand. But what is not clearly understood goes against what is individual in us, that wants to experience everything in its deepest inner core. The only knowing that satisfies us is the kind that submits to no external standard, but springs from a person's own inner life.

0.4 Advance In Knowledge
[6] Nor do we want the kind of knowledge that has been formulated in rigid academic rules, and stored away as valid for all time. Each of us claims the right to start from the facts we know, from our personal experience, and from there advance to knowledge of the whole universe. We strive for certainty in knowledge, but each in his or her own way.

0.5 Cultivate Desire To Know
[7] Nor should the teachings of science be presented in a form that implies its acceptance is compulsory. None of us would give a scientific work a title like Fichte once did: “A Crystal Clear Report for the General Public on the True Nature of the Latest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Reader to Understand.” Today, no one should be compelled to understand. We demand neither acceptance nor agreement from those who are not moved to a certain view by their own particular, individual needs. We do not want to cram facts of knowledge into even an immature human being, a child. We try rather to develop the child’s capacities in such a way that the child no longer needs to be compelled to understand, but wants to understand.

0.6 Application Of Principles
[8] I am under no illusion concerning the characteristics of the present time. I know how much a stereotypical attitude, lacking all individuality, is prevalent everywhere. But I also know that many of my contemporaries strive to orient their lives in the direction of the principles I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It is not meant to be the "only possible" way to Truth, but is meant to describe the path taken by one for whom truth is central.

0.7 Practice Of Pure Thinking
[9] This book at first leads the reader into more abstract regions, where thought must have sharp outlines if it is to reach clearly defined positions. But the reader is also led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am fully convinced that if existence is to be experienced in all its aspects, one must raise oneself up into the realm of concepts. Whoever appreciates only the pleasures of the senses misses the sweetest enjoyments of life. Oriental sages make their disciples live a life of resignation and asceticism for years before imparting their own wisdom to them. The Western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices as a preparation for science, but it does require a sincere willingness to withdraw oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life and enter the realm of pure thought.

0.8 Wholistic Knowledge
[10] There are many realms of life and for each of them specific sciences develop. But life itself is one, and the more deeply the sciences are immersed in their separate fields, the more they distance themselves from viewing the world as a living whole. There must be a kind of knowing that seeks in the separate sciences the principles that leads to the fullness of life once more. The aim of the scientific specialist is to become aware of the world and gain insight into how it works. The aim of this book is philosophical: science itself is to be instilled with the life of an organic whole. The various branches of science are preparatory stages on the way to this wholistic science. A similar relationship governs the arts. The composer's work is based on the theory of composition. This theory is an accumulation of principles that one has to know in order to compose. In composing, the rules of theory serve life itself, that is, it serves true reality. In exactly the same sense philosophy is an art. All genuine philosophers have been artists in the conceptual realm. Human ideas become their artistic materials and scientific method their artistic technique. Abstract thinking takes on concrete individual life. Ideas turn into life-forces. Then we do not merely have knowledge about things, but have made knowledge into an actual self-governing organism ruled by its own laws. Our consciousness, alive and active, has lifted itself beyond a mere passive reception of truths.

0.9 The Science Of Freedom
[11] The main theme of my book concerns these questions: How philosophy, as an art, is related to freedom; what freedom is; and whether we do, or can, participate in it. All other scientific discussions are included only because they ultimately throw light on this question. In my view, the question of freedom is the most immediate concern of the human being. These pages offer a "Philosophy of Freedom".

0.10 Human Development
[12] All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity, if it did not strive to elevate the value of existence for the human personality. The true value of the sciences is seen only when we have shown the importance of their results for humanity. The ultimate goal of the individuality cannot be the cultivation of any single faculty, but only the development of all capacities dormant within us. Knowledge has value only in so far as it contributes to the all-around development of the whole of human nature.

0.11 Ideas Serve Life Goals
[13] Therefore, this book does not regard the relationship between science and life in such a way that human beings must bow down before ideas and devote their powers to its service. On the contrary, it shows that we should take possession of the world of ideas to use them for our human goals, which go beyond those of mere science.

0.12 Confront Idea
[14] One must be able to confront an idea and experience it; otherwise one will fall into its bondage.


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New Translation Draft Chapter 2

What is needed is an easier to read Philosophy Of Freedom. A new philosophyoffreedom.com online project intends to improve the readability of The Philosophy Of Freedom with a new revised English translation of the 1916 Hoernle edition. Unnecessary stumbling blocks to reading comprehension still remain in the 9 English translations of The Philosophy Of Freedom that range from more literal (hard to read) to more liberal (readable but less accurate). The new translation will fall within the literal/liberal range of the others and exceed all of them in readability. The addition of topic headings that relate to the chapter title and point out often unrecognized shifts in the view-point being presented will help comprehension.

Suggestions?: Regular contributors to improve the translation in accuracy, readability, gender neutrality and grammar will likely get a mention in the book. Post suggestions in the comment box or contact me. As have all previous translations, this new one will be built upon the progress made by past translations. This new translation will be better than all previous ones otherwise there is no point in doing it. The finished book will be available free online and sold at cost in print. Maybe it will be given to any publisher who wants to publish it.

Link: Progress made so far toward a new translation.

Compare this NEW translation of the 1894 original unrevised edition with your copy of The Philosophy Of Freedom!

Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast,
Each wants to separate from the other;
One, in hearty lovelust,
Clings to earth with clutching organs;
The other lifts itself mightily from the dust
To high ancestral regions.
Goethe, Faust I, Scene 2


2.0 The Urge To Know
[1] Goethe describes in these words a characteristic that is deeply rooted in human nature. As human beings, we are not a uniformly organized whole. We always demand more than the world gives us of its own accord. Nature has given us needs; among them are some left to our own activity to satisfy. Abundant are the gifts bestowed upon us, but even more abundant are our desires. We seem born to be dissatisfied. One special case of this dissatisfaction is our desire for knowledge. We look twice at a tree. The first time we see its branches at rest, the second time in motion. We are not satisfied with this observation. Why, we ask, does the tree appear first at rest and then in motion? Every look at the natural world evokes in us a number of questions. Every phenomenon we encounter gives us a new task. Every experience becomes a riddle. We see emerging from the egg a creature that resembles the mother animal; we ask the reason for this similarity. We observe growth and development taking place in a living organism up to a certain degree of perfection, and we seek the underlying conditions for this experience. Nowhere are we satisfied with what Nature shows us in sense experience. Everywhere we seek what we call an explanation of the facts.

[2] This something that we seek in things, over and above what is given to us immediately, splits our whole being into two parts. We become conscious of our opposition to the world. We place ourselves over against the world as an independent being. The universe appears to us in the polarity: I and World.

[3] We erect this wall of separation between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness lights up within us. But we never lose the feeling that we do belong to the world, that a link exists that connects us to it, and that we are beings whose place is within, not outside, the universe.

[4] This feeling makes us strive to bridge the opposition, and ultimately humankind's entire striving of the mind consists in the bridging of this opposition. The history of the intellectual life is a continuous quest for the unity between ourselves and the world. Religion, Art, and Science all pursue this goal. The religious believer seeks within the revelation granted by God the solution to the world-riddle, which his ‘I’ confronts him with in its dissatisfaction with the world as it appears. The artist seeks to incorporate the ideas of his 'I' into the material world in order to reconcile what lives in him with the outer world. He too feels dissatisfied with the world of appearance and seeks to mold into it that extra content that the ‘I’, transcending the outer world, contains. The thinker seeks the laws at work in the world of phenomena. He strives to penetrate with thinking what he experiences by observing. Only when we have made the world-content into our thought-content do we rediscover the connection from which we have detached ourselves. We will see later that this goal can only be reached when the task of the research scientist is understood much more deeply than is usually the case. The whole of what I have described here is found historically in the contrast between the one-world view, or Monism, and the two-world theory, or Dualism. Dualism only pays attention to the separation between 'I' and World brought about by human consciousness. All its efforts consist in a futile struggle to reconcile these opposites, which it calls Mind and Matter, Subject and Object, or Thought and Appearance. The Dualist feels that there must be a bridge between the two worlds, but is not able to find it. Monism pays attention only to the unity and tries either to deny or gloss over the existing differences. Neither of these viewpoints can satisfy us, as both fail to do justice to the facts. The Dualist sees Mind ('I') and Matter (World) as two fundamentally different realities, and therefore cannot understand how the two can interact with each other. How can Mind know what is going on in the material world if Matter's essential nature is entirely foreign to it? Or, given these conditions, how can Mind affect Matter in order to translate its intentions into deeds? Things are hardly better with the Monists. Up to now they have tried three different solutions. Either they deny Mind and become Materialists; or they deny Matter in order to seek their salvation as Spiritualists; or else they claim that Mind and Matter are inseparably united even in the world’s simplest entities, so it is not surprising to find these two kinds of existence present in the human being, since after all, they are never found apart.

2.1 Materialism
[5] Materialism can never provide a satisfactory explanation of the world, since any attempt at an explanation has to start by forming thoughts about the phenomena of the world. Materialism therefore begins with thoughts about Matter and material processes. In doing so, it has two different sets of facts before it: the material world and the thoughts about it. The Materialist tries to understand thoughts by regarding them as purely material processes. He believes that thinking takes place in the brain in much the same way that digestion takes place in the animal organs. Just as he attributes mechanical, chemical, and organic processes to Nature, so he credits it in certain circumstances with the ability to think. He fails to see that he has merely shifted the problem to another place. The Materialist ascribes the ability to think to matter, instead of to himself. This brings him back to his starting point. How does Matter come to think about its own nature? Why is Matter not simply content to be the way it is, satisfied merely to exist? The Materialist has turned his attention away from the definite subject, his own 'I', and arrives at a vague, indefinite configuration. And here the same problem comes up again. The materialistic viewpoint cannot solve the problem, it can only shift it to another place.

2.2 Spiritualism
[6] What of the Spiritualistic view? The Spiritualist denies Matter (the World) all independent existence and regards it merely as a product of Mind/Spirit (the 'I'). He considers the whole phenomenal word to be only a fabric woven by Mind out of itself. This conception of the world finds itself in difficulties as soon as it tries to deduce from Mind any single concrete phenomenon. It cannot do this either in knowledge or in action.

2.3 Realism
If one would really know the external world, one must turn one's eye outwards and draw on the fund of experience. Without experience Mind can have no content. Similarly, when it comes to action, we have to translate our purposes into reality with the help of material things and forces. This refers us back to the outer world.

2.4 Idealism
The most extreme Spiritualist or, if you prefer it, Idealist, is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He attempts to derive the entire world structure from the 'I'. What he succeeded in creating was a magnificent thought-picture of the world, but one without any content of actual experience. The Idealist view can no more banish the external material world than the Materialist view can banish the Mind.

2.5 Materialistic Idealism
[7] A curious variant of Idealism is the view of F. A. Lange put forward in his widely read ‘History of Materialism’. Lang accepts that the Materialists are right in declaring all phenomena in the world, including our thinking, to be the product of purely material processes, but, conversely, Matter and its processes are for him the product of our thought.

"The senses give us only the effects of things, not true copies, and certainly not the things themselves. But among these mere effects we must include the senses themselves together with the brain and the molecular movements within it.”

This would mean that our thinking is produced by material processes, and these are produced by the thinking of the 'I'. Lange’s philosophy is thus nothing but the conceptual version of the story of the bold Baron Münchhausen, who holds himself up in the air by his own pigtail.

2.6 Indivisible Unity
[8] The third form of Monism is the one that sees the two entities, Matter and Mind, already united at the simplest level of the atom. But nothing is gained by this either, for here again the question, which actually originates in our consciousness, is shifted to another place. How does the simple entity come to manifests itself in two different ways if it is an indivisible unity?

2.7 Opposition To World Originates In 'I'
[9] Over against these points of view it must be made clear that it is in our own consciousness that we first encounter the original and fundamental opposition. It is we who separate ourselves from the maternal ground of Nature and place ourselves as 'I' in opposition to the 'World.' This is expressed in classical form by Goethe in his essay ‘Nature’, “Living in the midst of her (Nature) yet are we strangers to her. She speaks unceasingly to us, and yet does not betray her secrets.” But Goethe also knows the other side: “Human beings are all within her, and she in all of them.”

2.8 Feeling Nature Within
[10] It is true that we have estranged ourselves from Nature, but it is just as true that we feel: we exist within her and belong to her. It can only be Nature's own working that also presses up in us.

2.9 Knowing Nature Within
[11] We must find the way back to her. A simple reflection will show us the way. While it is true we have torn ourselves away from Nature, we must still have carried away something of Nature in our own selves. We must seek within ourselves for this essence of nature, and then we will find the connection once again. Dualism fails to do this. The Dualist regards the human mind to be a spiritual being entirely foreign to Nature and then tries to hitch this being on to Nature. No wonder it cannot find the connecting link. We can find Nature outside us only if we first know her within us. What corresponds to Nature within us will be our guide. The path ahead is now clear. We do not wish to engage in any speculation about how Nature and Mind interact. Instead, we will probe into the depths of our own being in order to find there the elements that we saved in our flight from Nature.

2.10 Something More Than 'I'
[12] Research into our own being must give us the solution to the riddle. We must reach a point where we can say: Here I am no longer just 'I'; here I encounter something that is more than 'I'.

2.11 Description Of Consciousness
[13] I am aware that some who have read this far will not find my discussion “on the level of contemporary science”. I can only reply that so far I have not been concerned with the results of scientific research of any kind, but simply to describe what everyone experiences in his/her own consciousness. The inclusion of a few statements about attempts to reconcile consciousness with the world have been used only for the purpose of clarifying the actual facts. For this reason, I have not found it necessary to use single expressions such as 'I', 'Mind', 'World', 'Nature' etc. in the precise way that is usual in Psychology and Philosophy.

2.12 Facts Without Interpretation
Ordinary consciousness does not know the sharp distinctions made in science, and up to this point my purpose has been solely to record the facts of how we experience everyday life. To object that the above discussions have been unscientific would be like quarreling with the reciter of a poem for failing to accompany every line at once with aesthetic criticism. I am not concerned with the way science has so far interpreted consciousness, but with how it is experienced from moment to moment.

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  • In section 2-12 there appears a line that was omitted in the 1918 revisions: To object that the above discussions have been unscientific would be like quarreling with the reciter of a poem for failing to accompany every line at once with aesthetic criticism.

  • The gender neutral writing has become very difficult if not impossible. The translator Lipson puts everything in the plural for this. How do you put a book on individuality in the collective plural phrasing?

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  • I'm still trying to find a style for educational videos. This time I am doing brief comments from the study group panel to explain their view. See video production in progress on this page.

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