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A thought selected as a basis for action, untruly

Question by JW:

I have a concern about the overall argument of the Philosophy of Freedom.

Suppose the argument goes something like this. We are free just when our actions are permeated with thinking. Thinking is what insulates our actions from the causal nexus. For if an action has a cause, then it is not free. But in thinking we can find reasons for acting, concepts. 

What should we say about our thinking itself? It too should be capable of being free or unfree. When is it free? It is free when we understand the reasons for our thoughts, or the connections between them. This happens when we select a thought on the basis of its content. Is this process of selection free? Not necessarily. It depends how it is done. What if it is done untruly? Then we have a thought that is selected as a basis for action, untruly, and this provides the appropriate condition for the action to be free.

How can this be?

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  • There is no free or unfree thinking.
    Free or unfree are concepts and just as any other concept they are grasped through thinking.
    At the moment of grasping you are living in freedom.
    I hope this helps a bit :)

    • Thank you Alexandros. That does help!

  • Thanks Tom. That's a help. I'm not quite sure what I was thinking. I don't know any more what I meant by saying that the selection of a concept might be done "untruly". What could that mean?

    What I was after was the idea that the selection of concepts for some percept or as the basis of an action is just as much an action as any other. So it is fee or unfree. And from there I went to the thought that in the case that it is unfree, we have the condition for a free action satisfied, but on the basis of an unfree one. 

    • Actually, there may not be free or unfree thinking. Thinking, when it is done, would always be free. That would mean we have thinking or non-thinking as the basis of action. Maybe this is why Steiner spends all of chapter 3 describing how the activity of thinking is unique.

      Also, Steiner makes a distinction between the selection of a concept of a percept and the selection of a concept as a basis of action.

      Universally valid concepts that express the inner core of the world.

      Individually valid concepts that express the inner core of our being.

      An unfree person recalls past experience, what someone else has done, or what God commanded as the basis of action. A free person thinks and makes an original decision using purely ideal (logical) reasons to select a particular concept out of his whole world of concepts. POF12-0

      • Which do you mean? 'There may not be free or unfree thinking' or 'Thinking, when it is done, would always be free'? Both can't be true. If the latter is what you mean, then the problem is there. For the thinking to be free, it must be backed by thinking, and so on ad infinitum, which is clearly impossible. But if the former, then there is something which is not free ('There may not be free thinking') that when injected into action produces freedom. But this is hard to accept. Besides, isn't the idea that freedom is to be found in thinking?  

        • Thank you for challenging my understanding. After reviewing our discussion it seems to me that what you are saying is that our thinking is not free if it is determined by the content of our thoughts, the concepts and conceptual connections.

          When I are fully conscious of thinking and understand the content I are a participant in guiding the process. Thinking does not happen without me being fully involved. My reasoning would be free from influences outside thinking, but my 'I' would be standing within the content of thought and determining its course within the rules of reason.

          Then there is the intuitive aspect. My thinking may follow the content of my thoughts and be lead by the concepts and connections in a certain direction. Then every so often I experience an intuitive flash of insight that originates a new line of thought. Through all of this I am fully involved as the guide.

          The Philosophy Of Freedom has two editions, the Hoernle English translation of the original 1894 German and the 1918 revised edition commonly available translated by others. In the revised edition, after Steiner had become a spiritualist, he refers repeatedly to the intuitive experience of thinking.

          • Well, no, I don't think that the fact that thinking is guided by the content of our concepts implies that it is not free. Why would that follow? It would make all mathematical and logical thinking unfree! 

            The question is rather whether a particular act thinking is indeed an act, which I think it is, and I think Steiner does too, and, if it is, whether it is a free one. Suppose it is free. Then there must be a further act, by Steiner's account of what a free act, which is roughly, he says, that it is brought about by an act of thinking. But then there must be an infinite chain of acts of thinking. So suppose the original act of thinking is not brought about by an act which is free. Then it is hard to see how the original act is itself free.

            Do we freely choose our thoughts? If we can, then we have an infinite regress. If we do not, it is hard to see how those thoughts lead to free acts. 

            • If an action has a cause, then it is not free.
              Thinking is what insulates our actions from the causal nexus.
              In thinking we can find reasons for acting, concepts.
              The free selection of concepts is an act based on the conceptual content and connections.
              This content would be the result of a previous act of thinking and so on ad infinitum, which is clearly impossible.
              To escape this chain would be for arbitrary or unfree thinking, which would satisfy the condition for free action, an uncaused action.

              From childhood we gradually form concepts that correspond to the objects that surround us. We gradually build up conceptual content through experience. At some point in child development we develop self-awareness and awareness of thoughts. Then we develop the conscious intentional thinking of a scientist connecting concepts that correspond to objects. Even later we enter what Steiner calls the 'exceptional state' to consciously study our thought and intentionally 'think about thinking'.

              I'm not an academic so I have major gaps in my philosophical knowledge but the way I see it, according to the development of thinking our acts of thinking don't seem to require infinite regress.

              The definition of freedom cannot be an action without a cause. We act because we have a reason or intention to act. The question is how does the reason come about. If we have full knowledge of the reason by reflecting upon it, the reason does not compel us so our action is free.

              • The last point you make is that a reason does not compel us, so it is free. Reason is non-compulsion. But reasons do sometimes compel, don't they? 

                • In Chapter 1 Steiner makes a distinction between the compulsive urges of a child and the motives of a statesman or diplomat whose motives are recognized and understood.

                  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. POF 1-3

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