Science Of Freedom Workbook
Text: "The Philosophy of Freedom" by Rudolf Steiner
Topic 1.6 Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action
1.6 Practical Decision
 It is said that man is free when his reason rather than his animal cravings control his action. Or freedom means to determine one’s life and action according to purpose and deliberate decision.
 Nothing is gained by assertions of this kind. For the real issue is whether reason, purpose, and decision exercise the same compulsion over a human being as his animal cravings.
If, without my involvement, a rational decision occurs in me with the same necessity as hunger or thirst, then I must obey it. My freedom is an illusion.
Worldview Of Rationalism
"accepts that ideas are active in the world."
"grants validity only to those ideas that he discovers outside himself—not to any ideas that he might grasp from his inner self by some sort of intuition or inspiration, but only to those he reads from external things that are real to the senses."
Rudolf Steiner, Human And Cosmic Thought lectures
"It is said that man is free when his reason rather than his animal cravings control his action. Or freedom means to determine one’s life and action according to purpose and deliberate decision."
This statement aligns with the Rationalist view that ideas and reason are active in the world. According to this viewpoint, true freedom comes from rationality and deliberate decision-making. Rationalism prioritizes reason and logic, often at the expense of emotion or instinct. Thus, a person is considered free when they are guided by their rational thought processes rather than by their emotional or primal urges.
"Nothing is gained by assertions of this kind. For the real issue is whether reason, purpose, and decision exercise the same compulsion over a human being as his animal cravings."
This part challenges the conventional understanding of freedom and rationality by questioning if rational thoughts are as compelling as natural instincts. According to the Rationalist perspective, only ideas and thoughts validated by external reality hold importance. Here, the text asks whether reason, when derived from external factors, has the same persuasive power over us as our basic instincts do. This resonates with the Rationalist focus on scrutinizing the validity of ideas.
"If, without my involvement, a rational decision occurs in me with the same necessity as hunger or thirst, then I must obey it. My freedom is an illusion."
This section suggests that if rational decisions are as compelling and unavoidable as natural urges, then freedom is an illusion. If a decision based on reason is as compulsive as a biological need, then one's autonomy is compromised, validating the Rationalist belief that only ideas grounded in external reality should guide our actions.
MODULE 1.6 Practical Decision
□ STEP 1.6 From practical decision, to determined by rational necessity.
We often feel a sense of autonomy when our actions stem from reason rather than unchecked animal cravings. This sentiment is heightened when our life's trajectory seems to be charted out by deliberate decisions shaped by a clear purpose. But this might just be an illusion of freedom. For if our choices arise from an inherent rational necessity, without our active participation, are we not simply obeying an invisible command dictated by logic and reason?
In this module, we question the underlying compulsion of logic and rationality in decision-making. By understanding the nature of our decisions, whether they are genuinely self-driven or steered by the imperceptible forces of logic and rationality, we pave the way to more conscious action.
We are challenged to reconsider where we locate freedom, inviting us to a deeper understanding of our actions and decisions. In the journey to freedom, the choices we make come under the microscope, urging us to reclaim genuine agency in our lives.
Practical Decision: A practical decision refers to a choice made to act according to reason, purpose, and deliberate thought.
Determined by Rational Necessity: This indicates that the choice or decision arises from a logical, unavoidable conclusion, which exerts a form of 'compulsion' that one feels obligated to follow.
Understanding that a practical decision may be determined by rational necessity is vital for 'known action' because it helps us scrutinize the actual extent of our freedom in making choices. When we dig deeper into the origins and compulsions behind our supposedly rational and practical decisions, we may find that these decisions could be just as compulsive as our animal cravings. By questioning this level of freedom, we can understand whether our actions are truly deliberate and freely chosen, thereby aligning more closely with the concept of 'known action,' where decisions are both rationally and emotionally comprehended.
2. LIFE EXAMPLES
Scenario: Tempting Desert
Stage 1 - Practical Decision: A man faces a tempting situation at a friend's gathering. A tantalizing, sugar-rich dessert is placed before him. Despite his instinctual craving, his rational thinking details the negative health impacts of excessive sugar consumption and concludes he should politely decline the dessert.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (rational necessity): On his way home, he reflects upon his decision, realizing that the chain of reasoning—based on the facts and logic—had virtually made the decision for him. The information and logic he had absorbed about health dictated his choice, and he merely followed along, suggesting an illusion of freedom in his decision-making.
Scenario: Logic Of Safety
Stage 1 - Practical Decision: A woman is cruising down an open stretch of road. She feels the adrenaline rush and the instinctual desire to push the pedal harder. But rational thinking, backed by driving lessons and safety statistics, kicks in. She is reminded of the increased risks of high-speed driving, including accidents, fines, and damage, and so she maintains the speed limit.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (rational necessity): She contemplates her decision. While she initially believed she'd made a conscious choice to prioritize safety, she recognizes that rational thought had determined her decision. The logic of safety compelled her decision, hinting that her perceived freedom in the decision was illusory.
Scenario: Maternal Intuition
Stage 1 - Practical Decision: A mother's child wants to join friends on a late-night camping trip in their backyard. Her innate parental instinct screams to protect her child from any potential harm or dangers lurking in the dark. But, after a stream of rational thought considering the neighborhood's safety records, the presence of other parents nearby, and the camaraderie this would instill among the children, she decides to allow her child to participate.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (rational necessity): The next morning, she reflects on her decision. Initially attributing her choice to maternal intuition, she realizes that her decision was shaped more by the data she had regarding neighborhood safety and the logical benefits of fostering friendships. The rational case appearing in her head had steered her decision, making her wonder if her perceived autonomy in the situation was not as genuine as she initially felt.
Scenario: A Stranger's Smile
Stage 1 - Practical Decision: Walking in the park, a man notices a stranger's genuine smile directed at him. Instinctively, he feels a barrier and is hesitant to respond. However, his rational thinking goes over the benefits of social connection and positive reciprocation, convincing him to return the smile and acknowledge the stranger.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (rational necessity): Although he felt he made a deliberate choice to be sociable, he acknowledges that his decision was the rational necessity of a chain of reasoning, influenced by what he had read and learned, indicating that his freedom in that moment might have been more of a mirage.
Scenario: Fashionable Handbag
Stage 1 - Practical Decision: While strolling through a mall, a woman spots a fashionable but expensive handbag in a store window. The immediate instinct to splurge arises. A train of thought appears in her mind endorsing frugality and wise spending, pointing out that she has other bags at home and that saving money is a priority.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (rational necessity): Afterward, she gives herself credit for practicing restraint. But on further introspection, she recognizes that the reasoning voice in her head was the actual driving force behind her decision, suggesting that her sense of autonomy in the decision was somewhat illusive.
Scenario: Fear Of Heights
Stage 1 - Practical Decision: A man visits a skyscraper with an observation deck offering panoramic city views. As he nears the glass barrier, a primal fear of heights grips him. His rational mind, however, informed by engineering facts and safety standards, reassures him that the structure is sound and that the barrier is safe. He manages to move closer and enjoy the view.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (rational necessity): While initially proud of overcoming his fear, he realizes his decision to trust the barrier wasn't just bravery—it was based on the logical understanding of architectural safety standards. The reason and knowledge he had acquired had made the decision for him, revealing that his perceived control in the situation might not have been as genuine as he thought.
3. THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM TOPIC 1.6 QUOTE
"If, without my involvement, a rational decision occurs in me with the same necessity as hunger or thirst, then I must obey it. My freedom is an illusion."
The quote underscores the difference between being a passive recipient of rational thoughts and an active participant in the thinking process. Imagine a software engineer who is trained to solve problems rationally. When faced with a coding challenge, he might think that following a predetermined algorithm or best practice is the most rational choice. In doing so, the decision feels almost involuntary—like obeying the pangs of hunger or thirst. But is he truly free in his decision-making if he doesn't scrutinize why that algorithm is the best fit for his unique problem? Perhaps not. His rationality is 'occurring' in him rather than being an active choice, making his freedom questionable.
Contrast this with another engineer who encounters the same problem but takes a step back. He considers the established algorithm, reflects on its suitability for the task at hand, and even weighs other creative or unconventional solutions. He is actively involved in his rational thinking. In this case, even if he ends up choosing the traditional algorithm, his decision springs from a conscious engagement with his rational faculties. Here, rationality is not a compulsion but a tool he actively wields.
Let's consider the act of choosing a meal at a restaurant. You scan the menu and your eyes fixate on the salad section, guided by the societal belief that salads are the "rational" or "healthy" choice. Without much internal deliberation, you order a Caesar salad. In a way, you're obeying a "rational decision" about health in the same manner you might quench your thirst with water—almost automatically.
Now, let's imagine a different scenario. You look at the menu and think about what you actually want and what aligns with your dietary needs and restrictions. You ponder the nutritional value of the salad, but you also consider how much you might enjoy a grilled chicken entrée or even a pasta dish. After a conscious internal dialogue, you decide to go with the pasta, because you realize it's been a long week, and a hearty meal is what you genuinely want. You are not just passively succumbing to what's "rational" or expected, but making a choice rooted in active, considered thought. In the second scenario, the rationality behind your decision is not an external force that you bow to, but rather something you engage with to make a choice that is genuinely yours.
When rationality operates within you as an unquestioned and irresistible force, akin to biological needs, then your agency in the matter is absent. You're simply riding the waves of pre-determined rational thought.
4. REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR THE PRACTICE OF PURE THINKING
Objective: Experience the joy of soaring into the realm of concepts.
If rationality and logic, guided by facts and data, dictate our decisions without our conscious participation, are we merely spectators in our own decision-making process? How do we differentiate between active agency and passive acceptance when our logical mind charts the course?
5. THE GOAL-DRIVEN RATIONALIST
Daniel had always been a man of meticulous habits. Orderliness was his virtue. His life was the embodiment of to-do list success. He never trusted his emotions. To him, the world outside himself held all the answers. The more data he could amass, the more 'right' his decisions would be. He had no time for intuition, the guiding hand of inner ideals, or the musings of what many called the 'heart'.
Every morning at 6:30 am, he embarked on his morning run, following it with a breakfast that was scientifically optimized for his needs. He quit smoking in his twenties, following a careful analysis of the health statistics. His diet was a careful balance of nutrients and his fitness regime was methodically researched. Financially, he'd made sound, low-risk investments, which now provided him a secure if modest income. Life was, as per his detailed checklist, on track.
However, as the years went by, a nagging emptiness began to creep in. The same streets he jogged, the familiar buzz of his alarm, even the taste of his optimized breakfast— it all felt like a monotonous replay. Life's successes felt hollow. The sense of freedom he once enjoyed through his precise routines now seemed an illusion. It became obvious he was slipping into a mid-life crisis.
At dinner parties, while he could discuss the latest health research or economic forecast, he found himself lost in conversations about dreams, aspirations, and the myriad mysteries of human existence. His factual approach to life had given him answers, but perhaps to the wrong questions. Sarah, a close friend, once said, “Life isn't always about the 5 year plan, Daniel. Sometimes, it's the unplanned moments, the spur-of-the-moment decisions that bring the most joy.” But he didn't understand. Until he did.
One evening Daniel sat on his balcony. He looked out, not to analyze the weather for tomorrow's run, but to genuinely see the world. The shimmering hues of the setting sun, the playful laughter of children playing below, the gentle rustle of the trees – it was a symphony he had missed. He questioned the nature of his freedom, realizing that he had become a prisoner to his own rationality. His life was a series of tasks, not a journey. He had relationships, but did they have depth? He missed out on the serendipity of life, the unplanned joys, and the intuitive leaps of faith.
6. PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF QUESTIONING THINKING
Objective: Adopt an individualistic attitude aligned with principles of freedom.
• Habitual Thought: Recognize and understand habitual thought patterns and biases that may be compelling your decisions without conscious intervention. Practice pausing before decision-making to ask yourself, "Is this my choice, or a habit?"
• Fresh Thought: Instead of immediately going with your first instinct or thought, pause and consider other viewpoints or avenues of reasoning. Actively seeking "fresh thought" ensures that you're not merely operating on autopilot, but actively engaging with and directing your thinking process.
• Critical Evaluation: Challenge the results of your thinking. Evaluate whether the decision was made freely or if it was driven by disinformation, preconceived notions, or external pressure to reach a certain conclusion.
7. CLOSING THOUGHTS
It is a fascinating revelation that while we often pride ourselves on our rational, goal-driven actions, there's a shadowy caveat — an 'illusion of freedom.' Just because our decisions arise from a place of logic and reason doesn't always mean they are borne of our authentic self.
The litmus test for freedom lies not just in making decisions that are theoretically sound, but in questioning the very framework that we rely on to make these decisions in the first place. Advancing from making practical decisions to knowing why you act means deeply questioning the freedom that comes—or doesn't come—with rationality. It's about transcending passive acceptance of what seems logical and engaging our full selves in the decision-making process. This requires a holistic approach that incorporates emotional, ethical, and intuitive dimensions alongside rational analysis.
It's essential not to be solely tethered to these goals at the expense of our broader aspirations. These higher aspirations transcend the tangible, urging us to reach beyond, towards ideals, virtues, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world. They remind us of our humanity, of the boundless skies of possibility that lie beyond mere facts.