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.

Project: Video Production

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  • It looks like I will be able to summarize a chapter in 8 minutes, which is the maximum time recommended for online education videos. A summary video for each chapter on the main topic points and a new translation should help a lot with a reader's book study.
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Project: New Translation

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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How to approach The Philosophy of Freedom?

I've been trying to read the Philosophy of Freedom on and off for a few years, but until now I've never really made what I would say is a serious effort to penetrate the materials. For instance, I don't get too concerned if I've catch myself having zoned out several times during the same passage. Rather, I move on and hope that it will sink in by osmosis ... somehow. 

This approach hasn't been an entire failure because I keep coming back to this text, and every once in awhile I'll read something that makes my heart soar and inspirers me to keep going. This morning, for example, I was listening to one of the last few chapters (thank you, Dale Brunsvold) and the description how the "free spirit" singles out an appropriate action reminded of what Thomas Aquinas said about Angels; namely, that each angel is his own specie. Utterly unique and irreplaceable. And just for a moment, I caught a glimpse of whom we are being asked to become. 

Just for a moment.

On the other hand, the approach I've taken is not working entirely well so I'm soliciting suggestions as to how to proceed differently as part of a serious study. In the extreme, I could spend a year on the first 5 or 6 chapters alone, and still feel that the text is much more profound than I'm realizing.

Perhaps the middle ground is that I plow through, making sure that I don't leave a section until I have at least attempted to penetrate it seriously, but don't allow myself to get stalled indefinitely.

Then there is the question of which other texts and exercises (Jügen Strube's thought exercises as well as making the effort to write our own chapter summaries) to incorporate as we go along.

I realize that everyone has to find the way that works best for him or her, but I would be curious to hear what approaches have worked for others in this group.

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"Love depends on the thoughts we form of the loved one. And the more we idealize the loved one in our thoughts, the more blessed is our love. Thought is the father of feeling." Rudolf Steiner, Philosophy Of Freedom chapter 1

By Stephanie Van Hook
Common Dreams

Dr. Mona El-Farra, recently made headlines on Democracy Now! with her plea to end the military assault on Gaza with one powerful statement: “We are human beings.” She is, of course, absolutely right. Human beings live in Gaza, and it seems like nothing could be more obvious. Of course, what she is really saying is something much deeper. She’s saying, that to the people in Gaza, it seems like we have somehow forgotten that human beings are there.

For insight into these questions, we might first explore the basic dynamic of conflict escalation. Conflict, in itself, is not at issue — it’s the image we have of the human beings with whom we engage in conflict. Michael Nagler, maintains in his book, that conflict escalates increasingly toward violence — according to the degree of dehumanization in the situation. Violence, in other words, doesn’t occur without dehumanization.

Dehumanization is a backdrop making violence possible — both directly, like a bomb, and structurally, like exploitation. By constantly imprinting that negative image of the human being in our minds, even if we don’t perpetuate direct violence, we certainly can’t deny that we live under the institutions that inflict violence on others for us, be it corporations, the military or the police.

The most urgent struggle of today is to reclaim the human image and restore its dignity.

We may need to draw strength from our imaginations as we resist dehumanization, keeping our eyes on the problem without demeaning the person. But what greater purpose can the imagination serve than to help us do that? Carol Flinders affirms that it is one of the most powerful tools of our nature when she writes, “Imagination seems to be a vital component of genuine nonviolent resistance, for it allows us to hold on to a positive view of ourselves no matter what the world tells us we are.”

Mowing The Grass 
Jafar M Ramini Salem-News.com

(LONDON) - Today is Sunday and in the West it is a day of leisure. A popular activity is tending well-manicured gardens, enjoying the peace and quiet and mowing the grass.

Mowing the grass in Israeli military speak has a different connotation altogether. ‘Mowing the grass’ is a recognized Israeli military strategy as defined by Professor Efraim Inbar and Dr Eitan Shamir, both of the Begin-Sadat Center of Strategic Studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

The grass they have in mind, particularly in Gaza, is every living thing and every standing structure.

Professor Inbar and Dr Shamir are not bashful about this strategy. They say: ‘Against an implacable, well-entrenched, non-state enemy like the Hamas, Israel simply needs to “mow the grass” once in a while in order to degrade enemy capabilities.’

Just conjure up the image of a gardening nursery stocked to the brim with many plants, from tiny saplings to mature, not to say elderly, trees. Now change the plants to human beings. Because, horrifying as it may look or sound, this is exactly what has been happening in, around and over Gaza for the last four weeks.

This is not a new policy. It has nothing to do with accusing Hamas of capturing the three Israelis squatters without a shred of evidence. It has nothing to do with ineffective rockets fired from Gaza. It is an unwavering Israeli military policy of land theft and resources and genocide in Palestine.

Abhorrent, I know. But for this madness to stop it is incumbent on the American people to call upon their government to stop supplying Israel with state-of-the-art armory, blanket political and diplomatic cover and huge amounts of money. No matter what.

This video is a speech by an American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Christopher Hedges. He is not muzzled by Zionism, Congress or the corporate media. He calls it as it is. Please listen.

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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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Tom Last commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 2
"I like these Part I chapter titles. They fit together. III and V are used by Rickett. The developme…"
Tom Last commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 2
"Some people claim to see a thought organization structure within The Philosophy Of Freedom. A popul…"
Tom Last commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 2
"Thanks Gerald,
Its little things like this that you discover after you publish a book and then wond…"
Gerald Fluhrer commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 2
"Hello Tom,
    I find this translation very clear...quite well done.  I believe you want to say "am…"
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What is needed is an easier to read Philosophy Of Freedom. A new philosophyoffreedom.com online pro…
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"Another unresolved ambiguity in use of the word perception is if the verb perceiving is used, this…"
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Peter O'Connor commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 1
"Memory picture is a species of a genus. Where is this place where the word appears?"
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Tom Last commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 1
"I know you are a critic, which can be helpful when you find flaws in the new translation, even if y…"
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Tom Last commented on Tom Last's blog post New Translation Draft Chapter 1
"Thanks Peter for bringing this to my attention.So I would change the new translation to this: NEW r…"
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