An important concept in The Philosophy Of Freedom is the existence of a universal world of ideals. Mathematics shows that there is a universal conceptual world of ideals we can perceive within and a particularized world that expresses those ideals without. Because we gain knowledge in two ways, thinking and observation, we face a duality. But thinking reconciles the separation when it adds the conceptual ideal, such as circle, to a particularized circle in the world. It is easy to see this in mathematics, but this also applies to everything else.
1. It is Science
The Philosophy Of Freedom is not philosophy as such, but rather a description of Rudolf Steiner's experiences on the way to freedom. It does not give a definition of freedom that we merely memorize, but points to a place where freedom originates --the conceptual realm of universal concepts-- where free thinking, pure and unbiased, can be experienced.
“What I was really trying to do in The Philosophy of Freedom, was to locate freedom empirically, and thus put it on a solidly scientific basis.”
2. It is Freedom
Moral freedom is achieved when we bridge the gap between our perceptible unfree nature (built up by nature, society and religion) and the concept of free individuality (ethical individualism) through the course of one's development with the expression of our ideals in life. To become a free individuality we need to have a clear understanding of what free individuality is. POF 9-11
True freedom is only achieved when knowledge and morality are united. (morality informed by knowledge) POF 10-1918 Addition
3. It is Thought Training
The book is intentionally composed in a certain way to broaden and deepen the readers thinking. Each chapter expresses a variety of views leaving the reader free to arrive at their own conclusions. It is independent thinking so we cannot rely on familiar terms and images but must instead make an effort to “intuitively” grasp the universal concepts pointed to by the words. This training in the realm of universal thought is the thought training required to attain freedom.
“The primary purpose of my book is to serve as thought training, training in the sense that the special way of both thinking and entertaining these thoughts is such as to bring the soul life of the reader into motion in somewhat the way that gymnasts exercise their limbs.”
“A personal God is nothing but a human being transplanted into a Beyond.”
5. It is not Anthroposophy
Near the end of his life, Steiner suggested that The Philosophy of Freedom would outlive all his other works. It stands on its own completely independent of his later spiritual research and organizations,
“You will find nothing at all in The Philosophy of Freedom that is derived from clairvoyant communications of spiritual science.”
“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.” POF, 1918 Preface to the Revised Edition
Intelligence continues to decline
Now we finally know why we struggle so much to comprehend The Philosophy Of Freedom. Since the time of its writing in 1894 Western IQ's have dropped a staggering 14 points. Researchers looked at intelligence studies going back to the late Victorian Era (1884) and find that the Victorians were substantially more intelligent than modern Western populations.
The Victorian era, measured on a per capita basis, was the height of innovations in science and technology with the highest number of scientific geniuses (Rudolf Steiner).
Our brains are actually becoming smaller. IQ studies show people in the UK, Denmark and Australia have become less intelligent in the past decade. You don't need science to verify that Americans are becoming stupider.
What is the cause? Modern life has become easy without the need to ever think. Casual entertainment like video games and television impede our development by keeping us away from skill-building activities.
True? Science disagrees about the video games. (video)
Video games for cognitive development
While television is passive entertainment, video games are not. Good video gamers require intense concentration, keen perception, brilliant strategy and quick reactions. Scientific studies have shown that the challenge posed by action video games improves cognitive functions, motor control, overall perception, increases grey matter and our ability to learn new things. (I enjoy rattling the cage of Waldorf dogmatists)
Multitasking and cognitive development
Does modern multitasking develop cognitive skills? A neuroscientist and expert on attention at MIT says: “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.” Multitasking prevents deep, creative thought as we switch back and forth. As a result, thoughts are more superficial.
Just spotting an email is enough distraction to reduce your IQ by 10 points as your mind wanders from your task.
Exercise body and mind
We all have recognized that modern life requires regular exercise for a healthy body. People are only beginning to realize life also requires regular thinking exercise for a healthy mind.
Knowledge of cognitive processes and thought training
For a healthy body we learn about how our body works by studying its processes like nutrition, digestion etc. and we exercise. It is the same with thinking, we learn how it works by studying the cognitive processes like perception, knowing etc. and exercise with thought training. We can increase our intelligence these two ways: thought training and learning about the cognitive processes. This is what Rudolf Steiner's path to freedom is about, as described in The Philosophy Of Freedom. By studying the cognitive processes and applying what is learned along with disciplining thinking we can improve our ability to know.
The Philosophy Of Freedom is the result of "independent" thinking meaning we do not have the comfort of immediately relating familiar terms to what is being discussed. After we struggle to the meaning of the terms we find it all makes perfect sense. This is because the terms used point to experience rather than merely abstract philosophy.
We discipline our thinking with thought training which deepens our knowing. This is practiced by “withdrawing awhile to enter into the conceptual realm of pure thought.” POF 0.7 The study of The Philosophy Of Freedom is to enter the "conceptual world of pure thought". Keeping our thinking sharp is a requirement for a healthy mind and is achieved with the challenging study of this book.
“The primary purpose of my book is to serve as thought training, training in the sense that the special way of both thinking and entertaining these thoughts is such as to bring the soul life of the reader into motion in somewhat the way that gymnasts exercise their limbs.” Rudolf Steiner
Study Of The Philosophy Of Freedom
Both of theses practices of learning about thinking and deepening it can be done at the same time by studying the book! You learn what it means to "know" and discipline your thinking at the same time when you study The Philosophy Of Freedom (without multitasking). It will require effort just like physical exercise does, but you will soon notice you are getting more “insights” into things than before.
See New Study Guide.
If you are interested in Rudolf Steiner but don't really fit in with the Anthroposophist crowd you may be an Ethical Individualist. Lets compare an Anthroposophist with an Ethical Individualist.
First lets give a little background of the two phases of Steiner's life. Rudolf Steiner was a respected scholar and Humanist before he turned to spiritual science, known today as Anthroposophy. In 1894 Steiner presented a humanist philosophy of life called Ethical Individualism. As late as 1918 Steiner affirmed, "The purpose of The Philosophy Of Freedom is to lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life."
Throughout his life Steiner continued to recommend The Philosophy Of Freedom, and said it would outlive all his other work and be the book for which he will be remembered.
Who is an Anthroposophist?
This article is not a satire of Anthroposophists but is real. A highly respected and widely referenced site about Anthroposophy asks the question, “Who, exactly, qualifies for the label 'Anthroposophist'?” The article presents several possible definitions of an Anthroposophist and then tells you if it will suffice.
Broad definition: Anyone who finds value in Steiner's work.
No: This is an overly broad definition because it might include people who “disagree” with Steiner.
Consumer definition: Anyone who consumes the practical results from Steiner's insights such as Weleda beauty products, biodynamics or Waldorf education.
No: Such consumers can hardly be called “followers” of Rudolf Steiner.
Student definition: Someone who studies Steiner's works.
No: A number of hostile critics study Steiner's works.
Warm enthusiasm definition: Someone who feels a warm enthusiasm as they study Steiner's work.
Yes, almost: If they feel a warm enthusiasm, then they are part of the way to being an Anthroposophist.
The anthroposophy site poses another question in the effort to define an Anthroposophist by asking, “Who would Anthroposophists recognize as their own?”
Who would Anthroposophists recognize as their own?
Qualified: A true Anthroposophist accepts the whole of Steiner's teaching and not just portions of it. (over 30 books and 6000 lectures)
Disqualified: Those who pick and choose bits and pieces of Steiner's work to make a part of their own philosophy. (like only the principles of Waldorf education)
Qualified: A true Anthroposophist has a continuing life long enthusiastic support for Anthroposophy.
Disqualified: Those whose enthusiastic support was merely an anthroposophy phase of their life.
The anthroposophy site now comes to their concluding definition as to who an Anthroposophist is.
The True Anthroposophist
Definition of the True Anthroposophist: Those who have a continuing life long enthusiastic acceptance of the whole of Anthroposophy.
From my experience of Anthroposophists, I would have to agree that this is a very fair and honest definition of who a true Anthroposophist is.
Now I will pose a question. Under this definition of who an Anthroposophist is, does the True Anthroposophist qualify to be an Ethical Individualist?
Does the True Anthroposophist qualify to be an Ethical Individualist?
Qualified: Ethical Individualists do not follow a leader as they know one must make their own way on the final ascent to freedom. POF 0.0
Disqualified: True Anthroposophists are “followers” of Rudolf Steiner.
Qualified: Ethical Individualists do not accept a truth until they fully comprehend it. They no longer want to believe; they want to know. POF 0.3
Disqualified: True Anthroposophists must accept the whole of Steiner's mostly incomprehensible teachings (over 30 books and 6000 lectures).
Qualified: Ethical Individualists start with their own personal experience and from there ascend to a knowledge of the whole universe each in his or her own way. POF 0.4
Disqualified: True Anthroposophists have categorized and preserved Steiner's work to be continuously studied and uncritically revered as valid for all time.
Are you an Anthroposophist or an Ethical Individualist?
Steiner's most important work
I think this website can take some credit for the bold text pronouncement as we have been broadcasting this message since 2005. Before that, the standard repeated message was that The Philosophy Of Freedom was one of 4 basic books of Anthroposophy that also included Theosophy, Knowledge Of The Higher Worlds, and Occult Science.
Wilder Publications is a rogue publisher that is not controlled or associated with Anthroposophy. For them to proclaim The Philosophy Of Freedom to be "Steiner's most important work" means that this has become part of main stream public knowledge established outside of the PR outlets of Anthroposophy. Mission accomplished!
Why is it Steiner's most important work?
The next point that needs to enter the public domain is why it is Steiner's most important work? Anthroposophy's talking points always direct the attention away from the freedom philosophy, and directs it toward Steiner's later clairvoyant spiritual science, Anthroposophy. Whenever the philosophy is mentioned the talking point is,
"The Philosophy of Freedom forms the philosophical basis for his later writings." (later writings are Anthroposophy) wiki link
This statement is the death of any interest in The Philosophy Of Freedom. Nobody wants to read an abstract philosophy that gives you nothing other than philosophical support for something else.
The title was even changed to Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path to make it sound more spiritualistic.
It is about science, ethics and how to change the world
If you read the book you find that it is about science, attaining certainty in knowledge rather than belief in doctrines, groups or spiritual leaders. It is about ethical individualism and how to change the world. It is not abstract philosophy but gives descriptions of cognitive processes and life experiences that lead one to free thinking and free action. Rather than being told what to think by an organization, it shows how to stand on your own feet and think for yourself.
The Philosophy Of Freedom is written in an individualist anarchist mood that emphasizes the individual and their will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems. This is obvious in the original first chapter, "The Goal Of Knowledge" that Steiner considered the preface. Is this why any institution or leadership would surely have little interest in this book?
Its not about clairvoyance
There is nothing to be found in it to directly support the clairvoyant ability to perceive spiritual worlds, and certainly nothing to support the content of Anthroposophy. You can make a stretch by calling the intuition commonly involved in acquiring knowledge "clairvoyance".
The link that is commonly made to relate it to Anthroposophy is the recognition of a non-physical universal world of ideas that could open the possibility of some kind of higher knowledge. This is true. True, just as the discovery of quantum randomness opens the possibility of free will. My point is that its support of Anthroposophy is not why The Philosophy Of Freedom is Steiner's most important work.
It is a philosophy of life
Most people (99.999%?) will never have an interest in understanding the philosophical basis of Anthroposophy, but each of us have a life and we want a better world. In 1918, while immersed in Anthroposophy, Steiner gives the intended purpose,
"The purpose of The Philosophy Of Freedom is to lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life." link
This is the point that this website (philosophyoffreedom.com) will be declaring to the world until it becomes part of the public domain of knowledge. This is something that will bring The Philosophy Of Freedom the interest it deserves.
The Philosophy Of Freedom is the result of applying the methods of science to introspection observation. For us Rudolf Steiner is not some mystical clairvoyant master with psychic powers authoritatively handing down deep truths we can only accept on faith. For us who study The Philosophy Of Freedom he is a fellow scientist of the mind who describes inner experiences that are within our capacity to recognize. The Philosophy Of Freedom is written for us, normal people with normal abilities. It is not even really a philosophy book, philosophy is merely used by Steiner to describe human experience.
We have the level of competence to evaluate what he called a science of freedom as peers when we turn within to observe our thoughts, feelings and willing. A "science" of freedom requires peer review. That is something we can do. You can see how you are qualified to be a peer of Rudolf Steiner by going to the "Thought Exercises" page where you will find over 70 exercises related to the descriptions found in The Philosophy Of Freedom.
Here is a new exercise that has been added called "An Exploration Of Motives" by Tim Nadelle. You can see it is not hard to create your own exercises if you want to fully experience what is being discussed in the book.
An Exploration of Motives
The following exercise and its sequel were inspired by the content of the first chapter of the Philosophy of Freedom. Pertinent quotes from chapter one are as follows:
“If there is a difference between a conscious motive of action and an unconscious urge, then the conscious motive will result in an action which must be judged differently from one that springs from blind impulse. Hence our first question will concern this difference, and on the result of this enquiry will depend what attitude we shall have to take towards the question of freedom proper.” POF 1.5
“The question is not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how the decision comes about within me.” POF 1.7
An Exploration of Motives
1. Look into your recent past and identify two different actions which you took…
- one which resulted more from impulse
- one in which you were, to a greater extent, conscious of the motive for your action
2. In each case, how did the decision to act unfold within you?
3. How did the character of the motive behind the two actions differ?
Over the course of the day, make an effort to become aware at times when you are about to take action arising from an unexamined motive. Pause before acting and recognize the motive. Consider whether a different motive might more appropriately meet the needs of the situation.
By Tim Nadelle
"The first thing that my contemporaries found unpalatable in my book The Philosophy of Freedom was this: they would have to be prepared first of all to fight their way through to a knowledge of freedom by self-disciplined thinking." If you don't know what freedom is you will be unable to realize freedom because freedom is not an inborn idea, the idea of freedom must first be gained and understood before it can be realized by incorporating it into your life. Since this is a science of freedom it applies to everyone just like global warming does whether you believe in it or not. Steiner's concept of freedom can be found in other sources, a piece discussed here and another part there. All the ideas in POF are discussed elsewhere, separately. After finding the pieces you will still need to fit them together properly. Within POF you find the full concept of freedom with all the parts organized into a whole, but you still have to fight to understand it. You have a good chance if you know nothing of anthroposophy.
The greatest barrier to understanding POF are the revisions, omissions and explanations of anthroposophists. It really is a scandal. If you began with the original version and had no other reference than Steiner's pre-theosophy work (pre-1900) most wouldn't have a problem. Every truth I get is a correction of an anthroposophy misunderstanding about POF. There misleading translations and misdirecting summaries have set me back a decade. The book can be won through simple reading comprehension if you work with the original 1916 Hoernle edition. That translation still needs basic translation cleaning up and will be done some day.
Anthroposophists distort POF to fit their theory of clairvoyance that for some reason none of them seem to ever achieve (except Steiner, but he was born with it). The science of freedom is not compatible with the vague mysticism of spiritual clairvoyance. A great example of the clarity of the original version is the beginning of Chapter 9 in the original Hoernle edition that explains the relation between ones Conceptual System and Knowledge & Action. Most of this was deleted in the other editions.
9. THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
 THE concept "tree" is conditioned for our knowledge by the percept "tree." There is only one determinate concept which I can select from the general system of concepts and apply to a given percept. The connection of concept and percept is mediately and objectively determined by thought in conformity with the percept. The connection between a percept and its concept is recognized after the act of perception, but the relevance of the one to the other is determined by the character of each.
 In willing the situation is different. The percept is here the content of my existence as an individual, whereas the concept is the universal element in me. What is brought into ideal relation to the external world by means of the concept, is an immediate experience of my own, a percept of my Self. More precisely, it is a percept of my Self as active, as producing effects on the external world. In apprehending my own acts of will, I connect a concept with a corresponding percept, viz., with the particular volition. In other words, by an act of thought I link up my individual faculty (my will) with the universal world-process. The content of a concept corresponding to an external percept appearing within the field of my experience, is given through intuition. Intuition is the source for the content of my whole conceptual system. The percept shows me only which concept I have to apply, in any given instance, out of the aggregate of my intuitions. The content of a concept is, indeed, conditioned by the percept, but it is not produced by it. On the contrary, it is intuitively given and connected with the percept by an act of thought. The same is true of the conceptual content of an act of will which is just as little capable of being deduced from this act. It is got by intuition.
 If now the conceptual intuition (ideal content) of my act of will occurs before the corresponding percept, then the content of what I do is determined by my ideas. The reason why I select from the number of possible intuitions just this special one, cannot be sought in an object of perception, but is to be found rather in the purely ideal interdependence of the members of my system of concepts. In other words, the determining factors for my will are to be found, not in the perceptual, but only in the conceptual world. My will is determined by my idea.
The conceptual system which corresponds to the external world is conditioned by this external world. We must determine from the percept itself what concept corresponds to it; and how, in turn, this concept will fit in with the rest of my system of ideas, depends on its intuitive content. The percept thus conditions directly its concept and, thereby, indirectly also its place in the conceptual system of my world. But the ideal content of an act of will, which is drawn from the conceptual system and which precedes the act of will, is determined only by the conceptual system itself.
An act of will which depends on nothing but this ideal content must itself be regarded as ideal, that is, as determined by an idea. This does not imply, of course, that all acts of will are determined only by ideas. All factors which determine the human individual have an influence on his will.
Here are names for the kinds of thinking discussed in the first 7 chapters in Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy Of Freedom. With every shift in the level of consciousness, what we call thinking undergoes a change. In chapter 1 a rational debate occurs about whether we are free or not. In chapter 7 various theories of cognition are discussed, then Monism is show to remove all the limitations of cognition making wholistic thinking possible.
Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action
RATIONAL THINKING Level of consciousness - will
Rational debate is a discussion about what we should believe. Both sides give arguments for some belief and defend that belief from objections.
Chapter 2 Desire For Knowledge
SPECULATIVE THINKING Level of consciousness - feel
Speculative thinking expresses human curiosity about the world. It transcends experience, but the chapters one-sided views lack experience of the world or the inner connection.
Chapter 3 Thinking in Understanding The World
REFLECTIVE THINKING -Level of consciousness - thought
Reflective thinking is reflection on thinking itself, on the mind and its activities. It is based on contemplation and introspection.
Chapter 4 The World As Perception
REACTIVE THINKING Level of consciousness - perception
Thinking immediately reacts to our observation by adding a preconception, and we consider the object and the preconception as belonging together forming our world of first appearance.
Chapter 5 Knowing The World
CRITICAL THINKING Level of consciousness - concept
We refute our initial impression of the world with critical thinking to discover the concept that corresponds to our perception.
Chapter 6 Individuality
INDEPENDENT THINKING Level of consciousness - mental picture
Independent thinking individualizes the universal concept by forming mental pictures.
Chapter 7 Are There Limits To Cognition?
WHOLISTIC THINKING Level of consciousness - cognition
Wholistic thinking endeavors to remove the limits of cognition in order to integrate all the parts into a whole.
How is Rudolf Steiner trending on the web? The Google trend chart below shows him sinking from year to year faster than the Anthroposophical Society. I came to the conclusion in 1989 that unless Steiner's Philosophy Of Freedom was presented to the world in a contemporary way it would disappear, but I didn't go as far as predicting the disappearance of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner's work needs a rebirth from outside the Anthroposophical Society as this graph has disqualified them as the rightful heirs of Steiner.* If The Philosophy Of Freedom can be renewed all of his work has a chance, as freedom is the core understanding of his work.
Movements like Waldorf education may continue but they will become merely another institutionalization of the original living impulse as long as freedom is not understood. A few Waldorf self-appointed authorities already have seized the name "Waldorf" and made themselves its owner to enforce Waldorf dogma.
I have an important message for you if you are waiting for someone else to stand up for freedom. Not enough people are involved at this time to make much difference. Most anthroposophists are better at driving people away with narrow-minded Steiner doctrine than broadening his work. And his work hasn't been presented in a way to make it relevant to daily life.
The good news is that a few dedicated people could make a difference. Dedicated means that the first time you get your feelings hurt you don't quit. It means that the first time you realize how ignorant you are to think you can explain Steiner's principles you have enough courage to keep trying. It means that when you realize nobody else seems to give a damn and you yourself are no guru who can enlighten anybody you keep going. I suppose you have to be the kind of fool who says give me and others freedom or give me nothing.
*The Anthroposophical Society in America has appointed a new position of Director of Development to move the society forward.