A Progressive Philosophy Of Freedom

ABOUT  Welcome to the new website design. This website, since 2005, examines Rudolf Steiner's early work (pre 1900 before he turned to theosophy) 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. If you would like to be notified when a newly produced Philosophy Of Freedom video is posted register to this website.

CONTACT  For the most part the Philosophy Of Freedom has been hidden from the world, for it challenges every authority other than your self. You can help introduce it to the world by getting involved with a comment or blog post. Or email me your ideas or role you would like to play; featured writer, art, research, news, content suggestions, etc. -Tom

The Philosophy Of Freedom lays the foundation for a progressive social and political life.

A progressive stands for progress that improves the human condition rather than maintaining things as they are. Being a 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.

Essential to human dignity is freedom; freedom of thought, morality and action. The ethical individualist is a self-determining free individuality who acts out of knowledge.

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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The Philosophy Of Freedom book text.

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  • In chapter One I am trying to bring out three things.
    1. Each of the 12 views are attracted to one kind of freedom. Discuss each freedom.
    2. Point out how that freedom may be an illusion.
    3. Then add more to the text by describing how each of the freedoms mentioned is an aspect of the single freedom described in The Philosophy Of Freedom.

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New Video Index

The Philosophy Of Freedom book text.


Part 1

Part 2



(universally valid cognitive ideas of science)


(individually valid ethical ideas of action)

Ethical Individualism Anchored In A Science Of Freedom (3 videos)
Difference Between Part 1 and Part 2 (1 video)
Meet The Study Group Panel (1 video)

0. Preface
1. Conscious Human Action
    STRIVING FOR FREEDOM (3 videos, more to come...)
14. Individuality And Genus
2. The Desire For Knowledge
13. The Value Of Life
3. Thinking As The Instrument Of Knowledge
12. Moral Imagination
4. The World As Perception
11. World Purpose And Life Purpose
5. Knowing The World
10. Freedom Philosophy And Monism 
6. Human Individuality
 9. The Idea Of Freedom
7. Are There Limits To Knowing?
 8. The Factors Of Life

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Chapter One Conscious Human Action


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“And one may well feel that if the soul has not at some time found itself faced in utmost seriousness by the problem of free will or necessity it will not have reached its full stature.”
-Rudolf Steiner, in the Preface to The Philosophy of Freedom

Welcome to the study group.
I will start with a brief introduction to Chapter One, Conscious Human Action.
The Philosophy Of Freedom begins with the question, Are we free in our thought and action, or inescapably controlled by necessity?

The common belief is that we are free, at least some of the time.
Freedom is implied in many of the things we say, and many of the attitudes we take.
Suppose tomorrow is a holiday.
You are considering what to do.
You can climb a mountain or read a book.
You can fix your bicycle or go to the zoo.
At this moment you are watching this video.
You are free to stop now or continue to watch, right?

Many scientists consider free will to be an illusion.
Science sees no reason why the uniformity of natural law would be broken in the field of human action and thought.
The fact that we are physical creatures in a physical world subjects us to well established natural laws, including cause and effect.
Free will is an illusion that results from not being aware of the hidden causes that determine our action.
Laws of behavior are established by natural factors such as genes, brain chemistry, and hormones.
Behavior is also conditioned by social factors such as upbringing and cultural experience.
According to science, the causes that determine human behavior are far too complex to ever understand.
Between us and our action is natural law.

But if we are automatons, we would simply do whatever we were pre-programmed to do.
Without free will we cannot hold people morally accountable for their actions.
How can we judge others if they are not responsible for their actions?

Moralists believe we must have free will in order to do righteous acts.
The divine creator gave us free will. Its as simple as that!
The downside of such a resolution is that it is not based upon knowledge. It is faith.
Free will is to be used to choose between good and evil.

According to moralists, the real choice we have is to obey divine laws or not obey them.
If we are unsure of what to do, we have spiritual leaders who will tell us what pleases or displeases the god who rules the world.
Between us and our action is divine law.

Others use endless distinctions to explain how human freedom can be compatible with natural or divine determinism.
The only thing that could actually support the strong free will that is commonly believed in is self-origination.
The reasons (laws) for why we act do not originate in nature or god, they originate in our self.
Between us and our action is a law that we originate.

The Philosophy Of Freedom tackles the age-old question of freedom in a new and unique way.
As the title of Chapter One states, we are interested in "conscious" human activity.
By retrospectively examining our thoughts related to the deed, we can find the ideas that guide our action.
And if these ideas originate from the world of our ideals, where only we can determine them, then our actions are free.
We originate an ideal principle from the world of our ideals and creatively translate it into a clear picture of what we want to bring about.
What we have envisioned determines our action.
This is important for without self-determination there can be no individual growth or personal responsibility.

The history of the discussion of free will is rich and remarkable.
Hundreds of explanations of what it means to be 'free' have been distinguished.
Lets start by asking each of our panel members; What kind of freedom do you value the most?
What is the freedom that you are striving for?

1.0 The Question Of Freedom
[1] IS man free in action and thought, or is he bound by an iron necessity? There are few questions on which so much ingenuity has been expended. The idea of freedom has found enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in plenty. There are those who, in their moral fervour, label anyone a man of limited intelligence who can deny so patent a fact as freedom. Opposed to them are others who regard it as the acme of unscientific thinking for anyone to believe that the uniformity of natural law is broken in the sphere of human action and thought. One and the same thing is thus proclaimed, now as the most precious possession of humanity, now as its most fatal illusion. Infinite subtlety has been employed to explain how human freedom can be consistent with determinism in nature of which man, after all, is a part. Others have been at no less pains to explain how such a delusion as this could have arisen. That we are dealing here with one of the most important questions for life, religion, conduct, science, must be clear to every one whose most prominent trait of character is not the reverse of thoroughness.

Moderator: The Philosophy Of Freedom begins with the question, Are we free in our thought and action, or inescapably controlled by necessity?
I do not believe we can settle the question of freedom by philosophical argument, so please include your experience in our discussion.
I will start by asking each of you; What kind of freedom do you believe is worth striving for?

Materialist: If it made any sense, the freedom I would value is the "Freedom Of Indifferent Choice".
When you are given a choice between carrying out action A or action B, there will always be a reason (cause) that determines the action (effect).
In my lab we are doing market research trying to identify the true cause of human action so we can predict behavior.
We ask people to report the reasons for their actions.
What we find is that the subjects answer to why they act is seldom correct, so we begin by disregarding most of this data.
Further research has verified determinism, there is always a reason that determines the subject's action.
With one exception.
And this is why the alternative to causal determinism, the “Freedom Of Indifferent Choice”, is worse.
If things are not caused, they are un-caused and random.
To escape from determinism, a free man would have to be un-caused and act without a cause or reason.
The free man would be threat to society, an erratic and jerking phantom who acts without any rhyme or reason at all.

Moderator: Yes, we agree a reason always exists for human action. This is obvious.
But what is the reason?
Let's examine the various reasons for why we act.
And of course a Zombie's erratic random behavior is not free will.
Do you have anything else, Mr. Science?

Materialist: Another less extreme example of the Freedom Of Indifferent Choice that we have found is apathy.
Some prefer to let others make decisions for them and always ask themselves what someone else would do.
They typically cruise along, unconcerned, taking on the characteristics of the leader.
These are the people we can easily manipulate with marketing techniques.

Spiritist: Yes, you can manipulate people for profit.
But without a will of their own, the follower lacks any morality and character that can be considered their own.
The social consequences are severe when passivity, submissiveness, and even numbness lead to a lack of social responsibility in economic, environmental, and political issues.

In its proper place though, indifference will support freedom.
There is also an indifference that leaves the will free from all prior consideration or inclination.
In this case, The Freedom Of Indifference consists in freedom from everything, the will remains un-caused.
For the moment, the power of the self suspends the act of will from all determinants.
The mind is kept in a state of indifference, until there has been opportunity for proper deliberation.

Serving as an unbiased juror, I must be indifferent to the outcome of the case.
I withhold my decision remaining neutral and impartial until the final jury deliberations.
By being conscious, and not acting on every impulse, there is room for the self to make a free choice.

Spiritist: I will continue on with the freedom I think is most important, the "Freedom Of Choice".
Those who wish to control us always attack free choice in many ways such as suppressing the vote.
When I make a free choice, I am the cause.
What is the reason for why I act?
I am the reason.
I am the one who chooses according to my own preferences and desires.

Moderator: But who are you? Are you your wants and desires?
Observe your desires and see if you are free to desire or not desire as you please.

Realist: I know you love chocolate. Are you free to not desire chocolate?

Materialist: Marketing science can create desires in people which then control their choices.

1.1 Freedom Of Indifferent Choice
It is one of the sad signs of the superficiality of present-day thought, that a book which attempts to develop a new faith out of the results of recent scientific research (David Friedrich Strauss: Der alte und neue Glaube), has nothing more to say on this question than these words:

"With the question of the freedom of the human will we are not concerned. The alleged freedom of indifferent choice has been recognized as an empty illusion by every philosophy worthy of the name. The determination of the moral value of human conduct and character remains untouched by this problem."

It is not because I consider that the book in which it occurs has any special importance that I quote this passage, but because it seems to me to express the only view to which the thought of the majority of our contemporaries is able to rise in this matter. Every one who has gown beyond the kindergarten-stage of science appears to know nowadays that freedom cannot consist in choosing, at one's pleasure, one or other of two possible courses of action. There is always, so we are told, a perfectly definite reason why, out of several possible actions, we carry out just one and no other.

1.2 Freedom Of Choice
[2] This seems quite obvious. Nevertheless, down to the present days the main attacks of the opponents of freedom are directed only against freedom of choice. Even Herbert Spencer, in fact, whose doctrines are gaining ground daily, says

"That every one is at liberty to desire or not to desire, which is the real proposition involved in the dogma of free will, is negatived as much by the analysis of consciousness, as by the contents of the preceding chapters" (The Principles of Psychology, Part IV, chap. ix, par. 2I9).



Moderator: Our previous discussion was about free choice.
It was said that our choices are determined by our desires.
But we discovered that we are not free to desire or not desire, as we please.
If our desire is not free then our choice and action would not be free.
Though we may still consider ourselves free because there are some desires that we can easily inhibit.

Realist: But there is a desire that is not easy to understand or inhibit.
This is an inner “necessity” given to us to think and act in a certain way.
This necessity is determined by our nature which has been built up by a complexity of natural and social causes.
We are not free if we are controlled by an inner necessity to obey the natural urges and social conditioning that is a part of our nature.
There is a “natural” necessity given to us by nature. We were born with natural desires to survive by meeting our basic needs.
There is a “social” necessity given to us by culture. This is a social desire to conform to the rules of our society.
There is also a “moral” necessity given to us by religion. This is a moral desire to be good. That is, good behavior according to what our religious group considers to be right.
We are determined by external causes of nature and culture to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner.
A necessity to obey natures urges and social rules is built into our nature.
The necessity originates in the external world and determines our decision making of what we should do.
This is not a “free” necessity because our nature has been created by the external world.

Moderator: For freedom to be possible there would have to be a “free” necessity.

Realist: Yes, but that's not possible.
It is easy to see how a person's life is determined by their outer circumstances, in other words, their class or social status.
Social class does not have to be a disadvantage, it can be an advantage.
I have invited a successful investor and business entrepreneur who is living the American dream to explain to us the keys to success.

Mitt: The first step to success is to become white. Whiteness provides you with social validation, confidence, opportunity and people won't fear you.
The next step is to be born in America. Its tough to be successful if you live in Gaza and your neighborhood has been destroyed by bombs or Mullahs control your economy.
Its important to have a wealthy family. Among the many advantages this will mean a top education and living in a gated community that will insulate you from the bad influences of the lower class.
Your family will need to have powerful connections. Your family connections will ensure plenty of investors and partners for your business ventures.
What's really great is that people will actually believe that your great career and financial success is due to your hard work. LOL
And finally, don't pay attention to people you don't need. The more rich and powerful you become the less empathy you will have for the hardships of lower class people. It is easy to not have empathy for the lower class because you have not experienced any real hardship yourself. Besides, empathy leads to higher taxes.

Moderator: Lets get back to our discussion. So, for freedom to be possible there would have to exist a “free” necessity.

Spiritist: A free necessity is the desire to express our individual nature. It is a free necessity because it originates within our self.
The free individual exists and acts from the pure necessity of its nature alone.
This is the freedom to express the necessity of your own nature.
Within each of us there is a deeper place from which free individuals express their true nature.
The part of our nature that has been created by the world cannot enter this place.
In this pure place you create your own existence and find your own answers to the questions of life.
Out of the core of your being arises the powerful necessity to do what you consider to be right.
To do otherwise is to become someone else and express other than your true nature.
This is a free necessity, because it originates in you.

Moderator: Are you referring to withdrawing from the outside world to enter the realm of pure thought?

Realist: Now lets get real and look at our everyday experience.
If we are honest with ourselves we will confess that our opinions, habits and behavior originate outside our selves.
We merely repeat what has been implanted in us by others.

Moderator: There is an obvious error in your view.
You are saying that outside causes that often reach us by devious, underground and untraceable routes are the causes of what we do.
How can you lump together all human behavior in this way?
What we are asking is whether a motive of action that we are conscious of, that we recognize and understand, compels us in the same way as the unconscious influences of our nature.
There are motives that we are aware of and completely understand. They are different.
An example of being conscious of and understanding your motivation is the action of a protestor in front of a financial institution, or a scientific researcher in her laboratory, or the statesman in the most complicated diplomatic negotiations.
There is a profound difference between knowing the motive of your action and not knowing it.

1.3 Free Necessity Of One's Nature

Others, too, start from the same point of view in combating the concept of free will. The germs of all the relevant arguments are to be found as early as Spinoza. All that he brought forward in clear and simple language against the idea of freedom has since been repeated times without number, but as a rule enveloped in the most sophisticated arguments, so that it is difficult to recognize the straightforward train of thought which is alone in question. Spinoza writes in a letter of October or November I674,

"I call a thing free which exists and acts from the pure necessity of its nature, and I call that unfree, of which the being and action are precisely and fixedly determined by something else. Thus, e.g., God, though necessary, is free because he exists only through the necessity of his own nature. Similarly, God knows himself and all else as free, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature that he knows all. You see, therefore, that for me freedom consists not in free decision, but in free necessity.

[3] But let us come down to created things which are all determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner. To perceive this more clearly, let us imagine a perfectly simple case. A stone, for example, receives from an external cause acting upon it a certain quantity of motion, by reason of which it necessarily continues to move, after the impact of the external cause has ceased. The continued motion of the stone is due to compulsion, not to the necessity of its own nature, because it requires to be defined by the impact of an external cause. What is true here for the stone is true also for every other particular thing, however complicated and many-sided it may be, namely, that everything is necessarily determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner.

[4] Now, pray, assume that this stone during its motion thinks and knows that it is striving to the best of its power to continue in motion. This stone which is conscious only of its striving and is by no means indifferent, will believe that it is absolutely free, and that it continues in motion for no other reason than its own will to continue. Now this is that human freedom which everybody claims to possess and which consists in nothing but this, that men are conscious of their desires, but ignorant of the causes by which they are determined. Thus the child believes that he desires milk of his own free will, the angry boy regards his desire for vengeance as free, and the coward his desire for flight. Again, the drunken man believes that he says of his own free will what, sober again, he would fain have left unsaid, and as this prejudice is innate all men, it is difficult to free oneself from it. For, although experience teaches us often enough that man least of all can temper his desires, and that, moved by conflicting passions, he perceives the better and pursues the worse, yet he considers himself free because there are some things which he desires less strongly, and some desires which he can easily inhibit through the recollection of something else which it is often possible to recall."

[5] It is easy to detect the fundamental error of this view, because it is so clearly and definitely expressed. The same necessity by which a stone makes a definite movement as the result of an impact, is said to compel a man to carry out an action when impelled thereto by any cause. It is only because man is conscious of his action, that he thinks himself to be its originator. In doing so, he overlooks the fact that he is driven by a cause which he must obey unconditionally. The error in this train of thought is easily brought to light. Spinoza, and all who think like him, overlook the fact that man not only is conscious of his action, but also may become conscious of the cause which guides him. Anyone can see that a child is not free when he desires milk, nor the drunken man when he says things which he later regrets. Neither knows anything of the causes, working deep within their organisms, which exercise irresistible control over them. But is it justifiable to lump together actions of this kind with those in which a man is conscious not only of his actions but also of their causes? Are the actions of men really all of one kind? Should the act of a soldier on the field of battle, of the scientific researcher in his laboratory, of the statesman in the most complicated diplomatic negotiations, be placed on the same level with that of the child when he desires milk? It is, no doubt, true that it is best to seek the solution of a problem where the conditions are simplest. But lack of ability to see distinctions has before now caused endless confusion. There is after all a profound difference between knowing the motive of my action and not knowing it. At first sight this seems a self-evident truth. And yet the opponents of freedom never ask themselves whether a motive of action which I recognize and understand, is to be regarded as compulsory for me in the same sense as the organic process which causes the child to cry for milk.

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