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The Philosophy Of Freedom


"The purpose of The Philosophy Of Freedom is to lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life." Rudolf Steiner

Ethical individualism is a humanist world-view that recognizes that the most cherished human dignity is to live according to one's own freely chosen values.


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The Theory of Freedom



New Readable Chapter 5 - Knowledge Of The World



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1995 Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path translated by Michael Lipson
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2016 The Philosophy Of Freedom - New translation (see below)
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What does it mean to have knowledge of the world?

5.0 Critical Thinking
5.1 The Awakened State Of Thinking
5.2 Thought That Applies To The World
5.3 World Connects With Corresponding Concept
5.4 Process Of Development
5.5 Indivisible Existence of Concept With Object
5.6 Isolate And Grasp Single Concepts
5.7 Self Definition Through Thought
5.8 In Thinking We Are The Universal Being
5.9 World Unity Found In Ideal Content
5.10 Corresponding Intuition
5.11 Conceptual Connections Of Percepts
5.12 Conceptual Intuition Corresponds To Objective Percept

5.0 Critical Thinking
[1] Our preceding discussion has shown that it is impossible to prove, by examining the content of our observation, that our percepts are ideas. This proof was supposedly established with the following argument: If the perceptual process takes place according to naive-realistic assumptions about our psychological and physiological constitution, then we are dealing not with things-in-themselves, but only with our inner representations of the things. But we found that when naive realism is consistently thought through it leads to results that directly contradict those assumptions. They must therefore be discarded as an unsuitable basis of a world-view. It is certainly inadmissible to reject the assumptions and yet accept as valid what results from them. The Critical Idealist does this when he uses the line of argument above as the basis for his assertion “The world is my idea”. (Eduard von Hartmann gives a detailed account of this line of argument in The Fundamental Problems of Epistemology.)

[2] The truth of Critical Idealism is one thing, the persuasiveness of its proof is another. How things stand with respect to the correctness or otherwise of Critical Idealism, will become clear in the course of our discussions. But the power of its proof to convince is zero. If one builds a house and the ground floor collapses while the first floor is being built, then the first floor collapses with it. Naive Realism is related to Critical Idealism as ground floor is to first floor.

[3] For one who believes the whole perceived world is only an imagined one, an ideal world called up in the mind by unknown things, the problem of cognition will not be concerned with the ideas that exist only in the psyche. Instead, it will focus on the unknown things that lie beyond the reach of his consciousness and exist independent of him. He asks: How much can we learn about things indirectly, since they are not accessible to our direct observation? From this standpoint he is concerned, not with the connection of his conscious perceptions—since in his view they disappear as soon as he turns his senses away from them—but with their causes, which are no longer accessible to consciousness and exist independently of him.

Looked at from this point of view, our consciousness acts like a mirror whose images of specific things disappear the moment its reflecting surface is not turned towards them. If we do not see the things themselves but only their reflections, then we must learn about them indirectly by drawing conclusions from the behavior of their reflections. This is the standpoint of modern natural science. It uses percepts only as a means to obtain information about the material processes standing behind them. For it, only material processes truly exist. If the philosopher, as Critical Idealist, admits real existence at all, then his sole aim is to gain knowledge of this real existence indirectly by means of his ideas. His interest skips over the subjective world of ideas and instead is focused on what causes him to have these ideas.

[4] The critical idealist can go so far as to say: “I am confined within the world of my own ideas and cannot escape from it. If I conceive a thing beyond my ideas, this concept, once more, is nothing but my idea." An Idealist of this type will either deny the thing-in-itself entirely, or at least say it has no significance for human minds. Since we can know nothing about it, it is as good as non-existent.

[5] To this type of Critical Idealist, the whole world appears as a disordered dream. Any attempt to gain knowledge of it would be simply meaningless. For him there can be only two kinds of people: (1) biased ones who take their own dream fabrications as reality, and (2) wise ones who see through the nothingness of this dream world, and gradually lose all desire to trouble themselves with it.

From this point of view, even one's own personality may become a mere dream phantom. Just as during sleep there appears among my dream-images an image of myself, so in waking consciousness the idea of my own Self is added to the idea of the external world. I then have in mind not my real Self, but only my idea of my Self. Whoever denies the existence of real things, or at least the possibility of knowing anything about them, must also deny the existence, or the knowledge, of his own personality.

This leads the Critical Idealist to the declaration: "All reality is transformed into a wonderful dream, without a life that is dreamed about or a mind that is having the dream—into a dream that is held together within a dream of itself.” (Fichte, The Vocation of Man.)

[6] For the person who believes our immediate experience of life is nothing but a dream, it does not matter whether he assumes nothing exists behind this dream, or whether he relates his ideas to actual things. In either case, life itself must lose all scientific interest for him. Science is meaningless to those who believe that the universe accessible to us is limited to a dream. However, for those who believe themselves able to reason from ideas to things, the task of science will be to inquire into the nature of these “things-in-themselves.”

The first of these theories of the world may be called Absolute Illusionism, the second is called Transcendental Realism* by its most consistent advocate, Eduard von Hartmann.

[7] These two views have this in common with Naive Realism, they all seek to establish a foothold in the world by investigating percepts. But nowhere in this realm can they find a firm base.

* [Note by Rudolf Steiner: In the context of this world-view, knowledge is called “transcendental” because it is believed that nothing can be asserted directly about the things-in-themselves. One must make indirect inferences from the subjective, which is known, to the unknown, which lies beyond the subjective (the transcendent). According to this view, the thing-in-itself exists beyond the realm of what is immediately accessible to our cognition; in other words, it is transcendent. However, our world can be related transcendentally to what is transcendent. Hartmann's theory is called Realism because it proceeds from the subjective, the mental, to the transcendent, the real.]

5.1 The Awakened State Of Thinking
[8] One of the most important questions for the adherent of Transcendental Realism must be: How does the Ego produce the world of ideas out of itself? A world given to us as ideas that will disappear as soon as we close our senses to the external world, can still kindle a serious striving for knowledge by providing the means for investigating indirectly the world of the self-existing Self. If the things of our experience were "ideas," then everyday life would be like a dream, and knowledge of the true situation would be like waking. Our dream-images, too, interest us only as long as we are dreaming, and so do not recognize them as dreams. But the moment we wake up, we no longer ask about the connections between our dream-images. Instead, we ask about the physical, physiological, and psychological processes that caused them.

In the same way, a philosopher who considers the world to be merely a picture in his mind, is not interested in how the details are interconnected. If he admits the existence of a real Ego at all, his question will not be how one of his ideas is related to another. Rather, he will ask what takes place in the psyche—that exists independently of his consciousness—while a certain flow of ideas passes through his consciousness. If I dream that I am drinking wine that causes burning in my throat, and then wake up coughing (see Weygandt, How Dreams Arise, 1893), the moment I wake up the dream sequence ceases to interest me. My attention is now directed only to the physiological and psychological processes through which the sore throat expressed itself symbolically in the dream.

Similarly, once the philosopher is convinced that the world given him consists of nothing but ideas, he will turn his interest from this world to the real psyche that exists behind it. The situation is far worse, to be sure, for the Illusionist who denies the existence of an Ego behind the "ideas," or at least regards this Ego to be unknowable.

We might very easily be led to such a view by observing that, in contrast to the dreaming state, there is the waking state. The waking state enables us to see through the dreams and relate them to real events. But there is no state that stands in a similar relationship to waking consciousness. Those who take this view fail to see that there is, in fact, something that relates to mere perceiving, in the same way our waking experience relates to dreaming. This something is—thinking.

5.2 Thought That Applies To The World
[9] The naive person cannot be accused of failure to see this. He accepts life as it is, and considers things to be real in the form they present themselves to him in experience. However, the first step to go beyond this standpoint can only be to ask: “How does thought relate to perception?” It makes no difference whether or not the percept that is given to me continues to exist in the same form before and after my depiction of it. If I wish to say anything about it, I can do so only with the help of thought. If I say that: “The world is my idea,” I have expressed the result of a thought-process. If my thought does not apply to the world, then my result is false. Thinking steps in between the percept and any kind of statement about it.

5.3 World Connects With Corresponding Concept
The reason why thought is generally overlooked during the contemplation of things has already been given (see Chapter 3). It is because we direct our full attention to the object we are thinking about, and not at the same time to our thinking itself. For this reason the naive mind treats thought as something that has nothing to do with things. Thinking stands completely apart from things and makes its theories about them. The theory that the thinker draws from the phenomena of the world is not considered as something integral to the things, but as something that exists only in the human head. For the naive, the world is complete without this theory. The world with all its substances and forces is supposed to be fixed and finished; and the human being makes himself a picture of this finished world.

Those who think like this should be asked: “By what right do you declare the world to be complete without thought? Does not the world cause thoughts in human minds with the same necessity as it causes blossoms on plants? Plant a seed in the soil. It puts forth root and stem, it unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Place the plant before you. It connects itself, in your mind, with a certain concept. Why does this concept belong any less to the whole plant than leaf and blossom?”

You reply: “The leaves and blossoms are there without a perceiving subject, while the concept only appears if a human being stands before the plant.” Quite true. But blossoms and leaves, too, only appear on the plant if there is soil in which the seed can be planted, and light and air in which leaves and blossoms can unfold. In just the same way the concept of a plant only arises when a thinking being approaches the plant.

5.4 Process Of Development
[11] It is entirely arbitrary to regard the sum of what we experience of a thing through perception alone, as a totality, a complete whole, while regarding what results from thoughtful contemplation as something incidental, that has nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud today, the picture that is there for my perception is finished, complete, but only for the present moment. If I put the bud in water, tomorrow I will get a very different picture of the object. If I watch the rosebud without interruption, I will see today's state gradually change into tomorrow's through countless intermediate stages. The picture presented to me at any one moment is only a chance section taken from an object that is in a continuous process of development. If I do not put the bud in water, a whole series of states lying within it as potential will not develop. Or I may be prevented tomorrow from observing the blossom further, and will then have an incomplete picture of it.

[12] To declare the appearance of a thing revealed at a chance moment: this is the thing, would be a biased judgment that clings to external features.

5.5 Indivisible Existence of Concept With Object
[13] Nor is it justifiable to declare the sum of a thing's perceptual appearances to be its full reality. It is conceivable that a mind could receive the concept at the same time as, and inseparably connected with the percept. It would never occur to such a mind that the concept did not belong to the object. It would attribute to the concept an existence indivisibly bound up with the object.

[14] Let me make myself clearer with an example. If I throw a stone horizontally through the air, I see it at different points, one after the other. I connect these points to form a line. In mathematics I learn to know various kinds of lines, one of them is the parabola. I know the parabola to be a line produced when a point moves according to a certain well-defined law. If I analyze the conditions under which the thrown stone moves, I find that the line of its flight is identical with the line I know as a parabola. The fact that the stone moves in a parabola is a consequence of the conditions given and follows necessarily from them. The form of the parabola belongs to the whole of the phenomenon, just as much as any of its other features.

The hypothetical mind described above, which does not have to take the roundabout route of thinking, would be given more than a sequence of visual impressions at different locations. At the outset it would also be given the parabolic form of the line of flight, inseparably united with the phenomenon. For us, the parabolic trajectory can only be added by thinking about the phenomenon.

[15] It is not due to the objects that they appear to us at first without their corresponding concepts, but to our mental organization. In the comprehension of an object or event, our whole organization functions in such a way that the elements making up the reality of every real thing come to us from two sides: from perception and from thought.

[16] How I am organized to comprehend things has nothing to do with the nature of the things themselves. The divide between perception and thought only exists from the moment I, the observer, confront the objects. Which elements belong to the object, and which do not, cannot depend at all on the way I obtain knowledge of these elements.

5.6 Isolate And Grasp Single Concepts
[17] Man is a limited being. First of all, he is a thing among other things. His existence is in space and time. Because of this, only a limited part of the whole universe can ever be given to him. But this limited part is linked in all directions with other things, both in time and in space. If our existence were so linked with things that every world event was at the same time our event, there would be no distinction between us and the things. Then there would be for us no individual things. Everything that happens would pass continuously one into the other. The cosmos would be a unity, a whole complete in itself. The stream of events would not be interrupted at any point.

Due to our limitations things appear to us as separate objects, when in fact they are not separate at all. For example, the individual quality of red never exists in isolation. It is surrounded on all sides by other qualities to which it belongs, and without which it could not exist. For us, however, it is necessary to isolate certain sections of the world, and to consider them on their own. Our eye can grasp only single colors one by one out of a multicolored whole, our mind can grasp only single concepts out of an interconnected conceptual system. This separating-off is a subjective act, due to the fact that we are not identical with the world-process, but are individual things among other things.

5.7 Self Definition Through Thought
[18] The important question now is to define the relation of ourselves, as things, to all other things. This defining must be distinguished from the mere becoming aware of our self. For self-awareness is based on perception just like our awareness of any other thing. The perception of myself shows me a number of characteristics that I bring together into the whole of my personality. In the same way I bring together the characteristics of yellow, metallic shine, hard, etc. into the unity “gold.” This kind of self-perception does not take me beyond the region of what belongs to my self. So this self-perception must be distinguished from self-definition by means of thought.

Just as, by means of thought, I integrate a single perception of the external world into the context of the world whole, so do I also, by thought, integrate the perceptions I have of my self into the order of the world-process. Self-perception confines me within certain limits, but my thought is not concerned with these limits. In this sense I am a two-sided being. I am enclosed within the sphere that I perceive as my own personality, but I am also the possessor of an activity that defines my finite existence from a higher standpoint.

Thought is not individual like our sensing and feeling. It is universal. Thought receives an individual stamp in each separate person only because it becomes related to his individual feelings and sensations. Due to these particular colorings of the universal thought, people differ from each other. There is only one single concept of "triangle." It does not matter for the content of this concept whether it is grasped in A's consciousness or in B's. But the content of this concept will be taken hold of by each of the two minds in its own individual way.

5.8 In Thinking We Are The Universal Being
[19] This thought is opposed by a common preconceived opinion that is difficult to overcome. This prejudice prevents one from recognizing that the concept of a triangle that my mind grasps is the same as the concept that my neighbor's mind grasps. The naive person believes himself to be the creator of his concepts. He consequently believes that everyone has his own concepts. It is a basic requirement of philosophical thought to overcome this prejudice. The one single concept of "triangle" does not become many concepts of "triangle" because it is thought by many minds. Rather, the thought of many becomes a single whole.

[20] In thought we have the element that integrates our particular individuality into a unity with the whole of the cosmos. In our sensation and feeling (perceiving) we are isolated individuals; in our thinking, we are the Universal Being that pervades everything. This is the deeper meaning of our two-sided nature. We become conscious of a purely absolute principle revealing itself within us, a principle that is universal. However, we experience it, not as it streams from the center of the world, but only at a point on the periphery. Were we to know it at its source, we would understand the whole riddle of the universe the moment we became conscious. But since we stand at a point on the periphery and find our own existence confined within certain limits, we must learn about the region that lies beyond our own being with the help of thought. Thought is the universal cosmic principle manifesting itself in our minds.

[21] Through the fact that the thought, in us, reaches out beyond our separate existence and relates itself to the universal world-order, there arises within us the desire for knowledge. Beings without thought do not strive for knowledge. Whenever they encounter other things, they have no questions. These other things remain external to such beings. In the case of thinking beings, the concept leaps up in response to the external thing. The concept is the part of a thing that we receive, not from outside, but from within ourselves. To match up, to unite the two elements, inner and outer, gives us knowledge.

[22] The percept, then, is not something finished and complete. It is one side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of cognition is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only the percept and concept together make up the whole thing.

5.9 World Unity Found In Ideal Content
[23] The preceding discussion shows conclusively that it is futile to seek for any common element in the separate things of the world, other than the ideal content provided by thinking. All attempts to find world-unity must fail, other than this coherent ideal content which we gain by the conceptual analysis of what we perceive.

Neither a personal God, nor force, nor matter, nor the blind will (Schopenhauer), can be accepted by us as the universal world-unity. All these principles belong only to a limited sphere of our observation. Personality we perceive only in ourselves, force and matter only in external things. As for the will, this can only be seen as the active expression of our own limited personality. Schopenhauer wants to avoid making "abstract" thought the bearer of world-unity, and seeks instead what appears to him as something immediately real. This philosopher believes that we will never really get at the world as long as we regard it as an "external" world.

"In fact, the sought for meaning of the world, which is merely my idea, or the transition from mere idea in the mind of the cognizing subject to whatever else it may be besides this, would never be found if the investigator himself were no more than a purely cognizing subject (an angel’s head with wings but no body). But he is himself rooted in that world. He finds himself in it as an individual. That is to say, his knowledge, which is the necessary supporter of the whole world as idea, is after all given entirely through the medium of a body, whose sensations, as shown, are the starting point for the understanding of the world. For the purely cognizing subject, this body is an idea like every other idea, an object among objects. The movements and actions of his own body are known to him in the same way as the changes of all other perceived objects, and would be just as strange and incomprehensible to him if their meaning were not made clear to him in an entirely different way....

To the cognizing subject, who becomes an individual only through his identity with the body, this body is given in two entirely different ways. It is given as an idea in intelligent perception, as an object among objects and subject to the laws of objects. And it is also given at the same time in a completely different way, as that element known directly by everyone and is described by the term ‘will’. Every true act of will is at once and without exception also a movement of the body. The act of will and the movement of the body are not two objectively known, distinct things linked by the tie of causality. Their relationship is not one of cause and effect. They are one and the same, but are given in two entirely different ways—given once directly and once in perception for the intelligence to understand it.” (The World as Will and Idea)

With this analysis, Schopenhauer considers himself justified in finding the “objectivity” of the will in the human body. He is convinced that in the actions of the body he has a direct experience of reality, the thing-in-itself in the concrete. Against these arguments, we must point out that the actions of our body only come to our awareness through self-observation. The percepts we obtain of ourselves have no advantage over other percepts. If we wish to know their real nature, we can do so only by means of thought, by organizing them into the ideal system of our concepts and ideas.

5.10 Corresponding Intuition
[24] Rooted very deeply in the naive mind is the opinion that thinking is abstract, without any concrete content. At best, we are told, it supplies an "ideal" counterpart of the unity of the world, but never that unity itself. Whoever believes this has never clearly recognized what a percept is without its concept. Let us take a look at this world of perception by itself. It appears as a mere juxtaposition of elements in space and a sequence of changing elements in time, an aggregate of unconnected details. None of these things that come and go on the stage of perception has any connection with any other, that can be perceived. Here, the world is a multiplicity of objects of equal value. None plays a more important part in the machinery of the world than any other.

If we are to recognize that this or that fact is more important than another, we must consult our thought. As long as we do not think, a rudimentary organ of an animal that has no significance for its survival, appears equal in value to the most important part of its body. The meaning of single facts, both in themselves and in their relation to other parts of the world, only becomes apparent when thought weaves its threads from one thing to another. This activity of thinking is filled with content. For it is only through a very specific, concrete content that I can know why a snail is at a lower stage of development than a lion. Sight alone, the perception, provides me with no content that could inform me as to the degree of perfection of the organism.

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