Module 1.7 Ability To Do What You Want

Science Of Freedom Workbook
Text: "The Philosophy of Freedom" by Rudolf Steiner
Topic 1.7 Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

1.7 Ability To Do What You Want
[12] Another argument puts it this way: To be free is not the ability to determine what one wants, but the ability to do what one wants. The poet-philosopher Robert Hamerling has given very clear-cut expression to this thought in his Atomistik des Willens:

“The human being can certainly do what he wants, but he cannot determine what he wants, because his volition is determined by motives! — He cannot determine what he wants? Let us look at these words more closely. Do they make any sense? Is free will to mean the ability to want something without reason, without a motive? But what else does wanting mean, other than having a reason for doing or striving for this rather than that? To want something without a reason, without a motive would mean to want it without wanting it. The concept of wanting is inseparably linked to the concept of motive. Without a determining motive volition is an empty ability: only through the motive does it become active and real. It is, therefore, correct to say the human will is not 'free' to the extent that its direction is always determined by the strongest motive. But it is absurd to contrast this 'unfreedom' with a possible 'freedom of will' that amounts to being able to want what one does not want.”

[13] Here again only motives in general are discussed, without taking into account the difference between conscious and unconscious motivations. If a motive affects me, and I am compelled to act because it proves to be the "strongest" from among other motives, then the thought of freedom ceases to have any meaning. Why should it matter to me whether I can do something or not, if I am forced by the motive to do it? The primary question is not whether I can or cannot do something once the motive has influenced me, but whether all motives work with inescapable necessity. If I am forced to will something, then I may be completely indifferent as to whether I can also do it. And if, because of my character and the circumstances prevailing in my environment, a motive is forced on me that I find unreasonable, then I would be glad if I am unable to do it.

[14] The question is not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how the decision comes about within me.

Worldview Of Psychism
"ideas are at work in the world, and this implies that there must also be in the world some sort of beings in whom the ideas can live."
"Ideas cannot live just as they are in any external object, nor can they hang as it were in the air."
"ideas are bound up with some being capable of having ideas, ideas are connected with beings."
Rudolf Steiner, Human And Cosmic Thought lectures

"Another argument puts it this way: To be free is not the ability to determine what one wants, but the ability to do what one wants."

The concept of Psychism suggests that ideas are intrinsically tied to beings capable of holding those ideas, which suggests that a 'motive' cannot merely exist in the external world or "hang in the air." Instead, it must be rooted within a sentient being capable of consciousness and action. In the first quote, we see an acknowledgement of the deep-rootedness of ideas, or motives, within the individual. It suggests that true freedom isn't just about identifying or wanting something; it's about possessing the ability to enact those desires. In this way, the quote aligns with Psychism by emphasizing the interconnectedness of idea (motive) and the being (individual).

"Without a determining motive volition is an empty ability: only through the motive does it become active and real. It is, therefore, correct to say the human will is not 'free' to the extent that its direction is always determined by the strongest motive."

The second quote furthers this idea. Here, volition alone isn't meaningful; it must be connected with a motive, an 'idea' that is itself tied to a being. The "strongest motive" then essentially becomes the actionable idea within us, which resonates with the essence of Psychism that views ideas as being necessarily connected to beings.

"The primary question is not whether I can or cannot do something once the motive has influenced me, but whether all motives work with inescapable necessity... The question is not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how the decision comes about within me."

The third quote investigates the concept of free will within the framework of motives. It questions whether motives work on us with an inescapable force, or whether we have the agency to choose among different motives. This delves deep into the domain of Psychism by questioning the very nature of the 'beings' capable of holding ideas. It's asking, are we passive receptacles of motives, or can we engage with them in a way that allows us agency?

All three quotes explore the dynamics of how ideas, or motives, are deeply tied to the individual's ability to act, thus encapsulating the key principles of Psychism which considers ideas to be intimately bound with conscious beings.

MODULE 1.7 Ability To Do What You Want

□ STEP 1.7 From ability to do what you want, to determined by the strongest motive.

Many people initially equate freedom with the mere "ability to do what you want." While this perspective offers a sense of liberation, it's essentially superficial and fraught with pitfalls. It's much like being on a boat with sails wide open but without a compass; you may go wherever the wind takes you, mistaking it for true freedom. The danger here lies in becoming a slave to your own impulses. The thrill of immediate gratification may overshadow the need for long-term fulfillment, ultimately leaving the individual entangled in a web of fleeting desires. This belief system is like a merry-go-round of unsustainable happiness, where one continuously chases momentary desires, not realizing that real happiness often stems from mastery, meaningful relationships, and a sense of purpose. Moreover, this narrow view of freedom can lead to an inward, even narcissistic outlook where personal whims overshadow ethical considerations and well-being, impacting one's mental health over time.

However, freedom can and should be deeper than this. The next crucial step toward real freedom lies in becoming aware of the necessity of the strongest motive. Rather than acting out of impulsive desires or external influences, becoming aware of why we want what we want. This recognition serves as a bridge to "known action," wherein our actions are not just products of transient wants but are aligned with a deeper understanding of our motives and values. This shifts us from being mere "doers" driven by the strongest impulse to "knowing doers" who act out of a sense of purpose and self-awareness.

The two states—acting on impulse and being a knowing doer—contrast sharply. The former can be likened to being a leaf blown by the wind, while the latter is akin to being the wind itself, directed by an internal compass and imbued with the power to change direction based on a deeper understanding of oneself and the world.

Ability to Do What You Want: This refers to the capacity to carry out actions in accordance with your wishes, desires, or intentions according to your talent and means.

Determined by the Strongest Motive: This means that your volition or decision-making is controlled by the most compelling reason or motive present at the time, often regardless of whether you are consciously aware of it or not.

Known Action
Questioning the "ability to do what you want" by recognizing it may be "determined by the strongest motive" is crucial for 'known action.' When you think you are acting freely by doing what you want, you may not be aware that your choices are actually being shaped by the strongest motive influencing you at the time. This examination of how motives drive your actions is essential in understanding the limits of your freedom. If you are aware that your decisions and actions are determined by the strongest motive, you can work towards achieving greater self-awareness and possibly gaining more control over those motives, aligning more closely with the idea of 'known action,' which is informed, deliberate, and understood.

Example: Chef's Ingredients
Stage 1 - Ability To Do What You Want: The person loves cooking and faces the choice of making a simple dinner or something more elaborate. The idea of cooking a luxurious, gourmet meal prevails. A nearby store has gourmet food so they go out and purchase expensive ingredients like saffron and wagyu beef.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (strongest motive): After arriving home, the person realizes that they were primarily driven by the excitement of cooking something elaborate. Now, they recognize that they overspent, affecting their budget. They would be indifferent or even relieved if they could return the items and go for a simpler recipe.

Example: High-Speed Joyride
Stage 1 - Ability To Do What You Want: A teenager is feeling restless and considers different activities to do: a bike ride, a walk, or driving around. They choose the freedom of the rode by taking their parents car on a high-speed joyride on the highway to "let off steam."
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (strongest motive): Partway through the ride, they realize that they were driven by an urge for adrenaline and excitement, ignoring the potential risks involved, including danger to themselves and others on the road. They were glad to slow down and return home.

Example: Spur-of-the-Moment Vacation
Stage 1 - Ability To Do What You Want: The person is considering different ways to spend their weekend: they could catch up on chores, visit family, or take a short vacation. The desire to go on a vacation wins over all other motivations. They find a good deal online enabling them to afford it, so they book the flight and hotel.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (strongest motive): The person suddenly realizes that they didn't actually want to go on a vacation; they were just acting on an impulse. Moreover, this trip could strain their budget and add stress instead of relaxation. They would actually be relieved if the trip got canceled.

Example: Request from Boss
Stage 1 - Ability To Do What You Want: The employee faces multiple options after work: going to the gym, spending time with family, or taking up the boss's offer for overtime. Strongly motivated by the boss's expectation and the prospect of extra pay, they freely choose to work overtime.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (strongest motive): As they begin the overtime work, they realize they've been pushed into this by the boss's persuasive tone and the unspoken expectation of commitment to the job. They understand that the extra hours could lead to burnout and less time with loved ones. They wish they had declined and gone home.

Example: Wife's Request
Stage 1 - Ability To Do What You Want: The husband is relaxing at home with several options: read a book, watch TV, or attend to their wife's request to clean the garage. They freely choose the latter to please their wife and the desire to maintain household harmony.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (strongest motive): While cleaning, they realize that they're doing this to avoid confrontation more than any other reason. They agreed to do it over other possibilities but this is not how they want to spend their time.

Example: Robber's Demands
Stage 1 - Ability To Do What You Want: The person is taking a shortcut through a bad neighborhood and is faced with a sudden choice when a robber confronts them: give up their belongings or risk physical harm. They are highly cooperative and quickly give up their belongings, prioritizing their safety.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (strongest motive): After the robber leaves, they regret giving up their belongings but were compelled by the immediate threat. They feel violated and wish they were not forced to act.

"The question is not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how the decision comes about within me."

This quote challenges the popular conception that freedom is about having the means and the ability to do what one wants. In this context, a person might argue for equal opportunity and access to resources. For example, one could advocate for better educational opportunities, as education often serves as a platform for attaining what one wants in life. Similarly, equal access to healthcare could be argued for, as health is a foundational element that enables individuals to pursue their desires. The motive here is grounded in a social or ethical viewpoint that if everyone has equal opportunities and resources, they have the freedom to achieve similar goals.

However, the quote pushes us to consider a deeper question. Even if we have the means and ability, are we truly free if our decisions are the result of motivations that we haven't consciously chosen, but rather arise from unconscious urges, resentments, or societal pressures? Imagine someone who has the means to buy whatever they want but is driven by compulsive shopping due to societal pressures to 'keep up with the Joneses.' Here, they have the means and the ability to do what they 'want,' but the want itself is not freely determined. It arises from a place of social comparison and perhaps even deep-seated insecurity.

The quote challenges us to explore 'how' our decisions come about. Are we choosing based on our authentic desires, or are we operating on autopilot, guided by motives instilled by external factors or internalized pressures? It raises the question of self-awareness and introspection. Are we making decisions because they align with our core values and authentic selves, or are we acting on impulses generated by societal norms, unconscious traumas, or even biological urges?

Understanding how a decision comes about within you involves tapping into various mental and emotional processes. Here are some decision-making frameworks and processes to help you explore this:

1. Rational Decision-Making Model
• Steps: Define the problem, identify criteria, weigh criteria, generate alternatives, evaluate alternatives, and choose the best option.
• Application: Use this model for decisions that require logical reasoning and when you have time to weigh multiple options.
2. Intuitive Decision-Making
• Steps: Recognize a situation, rely on intuition, and quickly decide.
• Application: Use this when you have considerable experience in a specific area, and you need to make a quick decision.
3. Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model (Participative Decision-Making)
• Steps: Decide the level of team participation, analyze the problem, and make the decision.
• Application: Use this when the problem involves other people and their buy-in or acceptance is important for successful implementation.
4. Cost-Benefit Analysis
• Steps: List down all the benefits and costs associated with each option and compare them.
• Application: Use this method when you need to decide on projects, investments, or any situation where you need to evaluate the return on investment.
5. Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA)
• Steps: Establish criteria, rate the importance of criteria, and evaluate options based on these criteria.
• Application: This is useful for complex decisions where multiple criteria must be considered and weighed against each other.
6. Pros and Cons List
• Steps: List the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
• Application: Use this for everyday decisions that don't require intense scrutiny but still need some thought.
7. The OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act)
• Steps: Observe the situation, orient yourself, decide, and then act.
• Application: Useful for fast-paced, changing environments where quick decisions are needed.
8. SWOT Analysis
• Steps: Identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to each option.
• Application: This is particularly useful for strategic planning or evaluating a new venture.
9. Heuristic Decision-Making
• Steps: Use shortcuts or "rules of thumb" to expedite the decision-making process.
• Application: Useful for routine or familiar decisions where an immediate choice is needed.
10. Decision Tree
• Steps: Use a tree-like graph to signify every possible outcome of a decision.
• Application: This is useful for decisions that have multiple possible outcomes and when you want to visualize the repercussions of different choices.

Understanding these frameworks can help you identify your decision-making style and recognize the forces that compel you to make certain choices. Being mindful of your approach allows you to make more conscious and informed decisions, thus achieving a deeper sense of freedom.

Objective: Experience the joy of soaring into the realm of concepts.
What do you currently perceive as your strongest motive in life? Is it truly your own, or has it been influenced by external factors like family, society, or culture? If all our actions are driven by the strongest motive, can we ever truly make an autonomous decision? Why or why not? Do you believe that becoming aware of your strongest motives can change or influence them?

Tegan had it all—or so it seemed. A formidable force in the marketing world, her talent, good looks, and abilities opened doors. Her life was an enviable mix of boardroom triumphs, fascinating dates, and social events that made most Instagram feeds look dull. At 35, Tegan relished her freedom. She was unattached, unconstrained, and unstoppable. Tegan closed yet another high-stakes project successfully, earning a round of applause at the office. Tonight, she had a date with Alex, an artist, the latest in a string of charismatic men she enjoyed but never got serious with. "Why limit yourself when the world has so much to offer?" she often mused.

A couple of years back, Tegan decided she wanted children. Opting for a sperm donor and surrogate, she brought Emily and Jack into the world. To Tegan, they were another choice she was thrilled to have made, another aspect of a life she could curate as she pleased. Emily, now seven, and Jack, five, began to show signs of behavioral and emotional difficulties. Emily's teacher pulled Tegan aside one day, suggesting perhaps the children were having difficulty in a single-parent environment, compounded by her work commitments and social life.

Then, Mark happened. Unlike the others, Mark seemed serious, emotionally available, and interested in a long-term commitment. For the first time, Tegan hesitated, recognizing that Mark offered the possibility of stability, for both her and her children.

Sitting across from her sister Kate, who led a more traditional life with a husband and kids, Tegan felt uneasy. "What's wrong with wanting it all, Kate?" "Nothing," Kate sipped her tea, "unless 'having it all' leaves you with less than you need."

That night, as Tegan tucked Emily and Jack into bed, she looked into their innocent eyes and felt a pang of guilt. Was her freedom costing them a stable home environment? Was her strongest motive—her pursuit of freedom—disadvantaging her own children?

The following weekend, Tegan took Emily and Jack to the park. As they played, she found herself observing a nearby family: a mother and father laughing with their children. What if it was not just about having the ability and means to do what you want but also about facing the consequences of those choices, especially when they affected innocent lives?

Returning home, Tegan thought about her children and the lifetime they had ahead of them. Sitting alone in her elegantly furnished living room, the weight of her freedom suddenly felt like a burden, its ethical implications glaringly clear. A wave of realization washed over her: her desire to "have it all" had been her strongest drive, a compelling force that condemned her to servitude. That drive for freedom had cost her children a stable environment and may have cost her something just as precious—true freedom, the freedom to choose what's right even when it's hard, even when it comes at a personal cost.

Objective: Adopt an individualistic attitude aligned with principles of freedom.

  • The 5 'Whys' Technique: Whenever you make a decision or feel inclined toward a specific action, ask yourself "Why?" Then, when you have that answer, ask "Why?" again. Repeat this five times. This will often get you to the root, or the "strongest" motive behind your choice.
  • Motive Weighting Exercise: List all the possible motives for a decision and assign a numerical weight to each one based on its importance to you. The motive with the highest numerical value is likely your strongest motive.
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy: Use frameworks like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to assess if your strong motives are rooted in basic needs (like safety or physiological needs) or higher-level needs like self-actualization.

Throughout this module, we've explored the complexities of having the "Ability To Do What You Want," diving deep into the importance of identifying the strongest motive that influences your actions. It's easy to focus solely on the talent, ability, means, and opportunities you have or don't have to perform a specific action. However, this superficial understanding only addresses the "how" of our actions, not the "why."

Taking a step back to examine the underpinning motives can reveal if you're genuinely free in your decisions or if you're driven by compulsions, fears, resentment or unconscious desires. Only by understanding these deeper drivers can you attain a more profound sense of freedom, enabling you to align your capabilities and opportunities with your true self.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs serves as a helpful framework in this regard. Are your actions driven by lower-level needs such as safety and physiological well-being, or are they motivated by the pursuit of higher-order needs like self-actualization? Sometimes what seems like a pursuit of a higher-order need is actually a more basic need in disguise. Questioning your motives through the lens of Maslow's hierarchy can provide valuable insights into your actions and decisions.

The invitation is to move beyond merely pursuing the ability and means to do what you want. Aim to develop an awareness and understanding of the motives driving you. Once you're able to do that, you're not just reacting to life's circumstances; you're actively shaping your own destiny. Freedom is not just being able to act but understanding why you act the way you do. This wisdom transcends mere opportunity and takes you into the realm of genuine self-awareness and, ultimately, freedom.