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What Is Freedom?

"The complete plan of my book (The Philosophy Of Freedom) can be found in the last chapter of my doctoral dissertation, Truth and Science (Practical Conclusion)". 1918 Rudolf Steiner quote from Brief Reflections on the Publication of the New Edition of 'The Philosophy of Freedom'

Truth and Science

Practical Conclusion


Hoernle translation

THE aim of the preceding discussions has been to throw light on the relation of our personality, as knower, to the objective world. What does it signify for us to possess knowledge and science? This was the question to which we sought the answer.

We have seen that it is just in our knowing that the innermost kernel of the world manifestly reveals itself. The harmony, subject to law, which reigns throughout the whole world, reveals itself precisely in human cognition.

It is, therefore, part of the destiny of man to elevate the fundamental laws of the world, which do indeed regulate the whole of existence but which would never become existent in themselves, into the realm of realities which appear. This precisely is the essential nature of knowledge that in it the world- ground is made manifest which in the object- world can never be discovered. Knowing is — metaphorically speaking — a continual merging of one's life into the world-ground.

Such a view is bound to throw light also on our practical attitude towards life.

Our conduct is, in its whole character, determined by our moral ideals. These are the ideas we have of our tasks in life, or, in other words, of the ends which we set our selves to achieve by our action.

Our conduct is a part of the total world- process. Consequently, it, too, is subject to the universal laws which regulate this process.

Now, every event in the universe has two sides which must be distinguished: its external sequence in time and space, and its internal conformity to law.

The apprehension of this conformity of human conduct to law is but a special case of knowledge. Hence, the conclusions at which we have arrived concerning the nature of knowledge must apply to this sort of knowledge, too. To apprehend oneself as a person who acts is to possess the relevant laws of conduct, i.e., the moral concepts and ideals, in the form of knowledge. It is this knowledge of the conformity of our conduct to law which makes our conduct truly ours. For, in that case, the conformity is given, not as external to the object in which the action appears, but as the very substance of the object engaged in living activity. The " object," here, is our own Ego. If the Ego has with its knowledge really penetrated the essential nature of conduct, then it feels that it is thereby master of its conduct. Short of this, the laws of conduct confront us as something external. They master compulsion which they wield over us. But this compulsion ceases, as soon as their alien character has been transformed into the Ego's very own activity. Thereafter, the law no longer rules over us, but rules in us over the actions which issue from our Ego. To perform an act in obedience to a law which is external to the agent is to be unfree. To perform it in obedience to the agent's own law is to be free. To gain knowledge of the laws of one's own conduct is to become conscious of one's freedom. The process of cognition is, thus, according to our arguments, the process of the development of freedom.

Not all human conduct has this character. There are many cases in which we do not know the laws of our conduct. This part of our conduct is the unfree part of our activity. Over against it stands the part the laws of which we make completely our own. This is the realm of freedom. It is only in so far as our life falls into this realm that it can be called moral. To transform the actions which are unfree into actions which are free — this is the task of self-development for every individual, this is likewise the task of the whole human race.

Thus, the most important problem for all human thinking is to conceive man as a personality grounded upon itself and free.

another translation>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The aim of the preceding discussion has been to throw light on the relationship between our cognizing personality and the objective world. What does the possession of knowledge and science mean for us? This was the question to which we sought the answer.

Our discussion has shown that the innermost core of the world comes to expression in our knowledge. The harmony of laws ruling throughout the universe shines forth in human cognition.

It is part of man's task to bring into the sphere of apparent reality the fundamental laws of the universe which, although they rule all existence, would never come to existence as such. The very nature of knowledge is that the world-foundation, which is not to be found as such in objective reality, is present in it. Our knowledge, pictorially expressed, is a gradual, living penetration into the world's foundation.

A conviction such as this must also necessarily throw light upon our comprehension of practical life.

Our moral ideals determine the whole character of our conduct in life. Our moral ideals are ideas which we have of our task in life, in other words, the ideas we form of what we should bring about through our deeds.

Our action is part of the universal world-process.

It is therefore also subject to the general laws of that world-process.

Whenever something takes place in the universe, two things must be distinguished: the external course the event follows in space and time, and the inner law ruling it.

To recognize this law in the sphere of human conduct is simply a special instance of cognition. This means that the insight we have gained concerning the nature of knowledge must be applicable here also. To know oneself to be at one with one's deeds means to possess, as knowledge, the moral concepts and ideals that correspond to the deeds. If we recognize these laws, then our deeds are also our own creations. In such instances the laws are not something given, that is, they are not outside the object in which the activity appears; they are the content of the object itself, engaged in living activity. The object in this case is our own I. If the I has really penetrated its deed with full insight, in conformity with its nature, then it also feels itself to be master. As long as this is not the case, the laws ruling the deed confront us as something foreign, they rule us; what we do is done under the compulsion they exert over us. If they are transformed from being a foreign entity into a deed completely originating within our own I, then the compulsion ceases. That which compelled us, has become our own being. The laws no longer rule over us; in us they rule over the deed issuing from our I. To carry out a deed under the influence of a law external to the person who brings the deed to realization, is a deed done in unfreedom. To carry out a deed ruled by a law that lies within the one who brings it about, is a deed done in freedom. To recognize the laws of one's deeds, means to become conscious of one's own freedom. Thus the process of knowledge is the process of development toward freedom.

Not all our deeds have this character. Often we do not possess knowledge of the laws governing our deeds. Such deeds form a part of our activity which is unfree. In contrast, there is that other part where we make ourselves completely at one with the laws. This is the free sphere. Only insofar as man is able to live in this sphere, can he be called moral. To transform the first sphere of our activity into one that has the character of the second is the task of every individual's development, as well as the task of mankind as a whole.

The most important problem of all human thinking is: to understand man as a free personality, whose very foundation is himself.

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© Tom Last 2017