New Translation Draft - Chapter 1

"My Philosophy of Freedom presents the wide range of human view-points in a way that leaves the reader free of attachment to any particular approach and able to let the various concepts speak for themselves, as though each were a photograph of one and the same object taken from many different angles." Rudolf Steiner on his book the Philosophy of Freedom p. 97

New translation Preface
New translation Chapter 1
New translation Chapter 2 

Short video clips are being produced for each view and will be added regularly. 


1.0 The Question Of Freedom
Is a human being free in thinking and action, or compelled by an inescapable necessity? Few questions have excited so much ingenuity. The idea of free will has found enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in great numbers. There are those who, in moral zeal, label anyone narrow-minded who can deny so obvious a fact as freedom. They are opposed by others who regard it as totally unscientific for anyone to believe that the lawfulness of nature fails to apply to human thinking and action. The same thing that some describe as the most precious possession of humanity is described by others, just as often, as the most fatal illusion. Endless subtlety has been used to explain how human freedom can be consistent with the laws working in nature, of which, after all, human beings are a part. No less effort has gone into explaining how this delusion could arise. It is clear to all but the most superficial thinkers that we are dealing here with one of the most important questions in life, religion, conduct and science.

1.1 Freedom Of Indifferent Choice
It is one of the sad symptoms of the superficiality of contemporary thinking that a book intending to develop a 'New Faith' out of the results of modern natural-scientific research contains nothing on this question but the words:

“There is no need to go into the question of free will. The supposed freedom of indifferent choice has always been regarded as an empty illusion by every philosophy worthy of the name. The moral evaluation of human conduct and character is not affected in any way by this question."

I quote this passage, not because I think the book in which it is found has any special importance, but because it appears to express the only view that the thinking of most of our contemporaries is able to achieve on this question. Today, everyone who claims to have outgrown the kindergarten stage of science seems to know that freedom cannot consist in choosing, wholly at will, between one or the other of two possible courses of action. There is always, so we are told, a quite specific reason why a person carries out one particular action from among several possibilities.

1.2 Freedom Of Choice
[2] This sounds convincing. And yet, right up to the present day, the main attacks of the opponents of freedom have been directed against freedom of choice. Even Herbert Spencer, whose views are growing in popularity with each day, says:

"That everyone is at liberty to desire or not desire, as one pleases, which is the real proposition involved in the dogma of free will, is refuted by the analysis of consciousness, as well as by the contents of the preceding chapters [on psychology]."

1.3 Free Necessity Of One's Nature
Others also start from the same premise when attacking the concept of free will. Their arguments can all be found in germinal form as early as Spinoza. His clear and simple objection to the idea of freedom has since been repeated countless times, but as a rule cloaked in the most complicated theoretical doctrines so that it is difficult to recognize the simple course of thought, which is the only thing that matters. Spinoza writes in a letter of October or November 1674:

"I call a thing free that exists and acts out of the pure necessity of its nature, and I call it compelled, if its existence and activity are exactly and inflexibly determined by something else. For example, God, though he exists necessarily, is nevertheless free, because he exists solely out of the necessity of his own nature. Similarly, God freely knows himself and all other things, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature that he knows all things. You see, then, that I locate freedom not in free decision, but in free necessity."

[3] "But let us come down to the level of created things, which are all determined by external causes to exist and act in a fixed and exact way. To see this more clearly, let us imagine a very simple case. A stone, for example, receives a certain momentum from an external cause that strikes it, so that afterwards, when the impact of the external cause has ceased, the stone necessarily continues to move. The continued motion of the stone is compelled, not the necessity of its own nature, because it has to be defined by the impact of an external cause. What is true here for the stone is true also for every other single thing, no matter how complex and adaptable to many purposes it may be, namely, that everything is necessarily determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and exact way."

[4] Now please imagine that the stone, while it is moving, thinks and knows that it is striving to the best of its ability to continue in motion. This stone, which is only conscious of its striving and is not at all indifferent to what it is doing, will be convinced that it is entirely free and that it continues in motion for no other reason than because it wants to. This is just the human freedom that we all believe we have, and the reason it appears to be freedom is because people are conscious of their desires, but do not know the causes that determine those desires. Thus the child believes that it freely desires milk, the angry boy that he freely desires revenge, and the coward freely desires to run away. Drunkards believe it is a free decision to say what, when sober again, they will wish they had not said, and since this prejudice is inborn in all human beings, it is difficult to free oneself from it. Experience teaches us often enough that people are least able to moderate their desires, and when torn by conflicting passions they see the better and pursue the worse. Yet they still consider themselves free because they desire some things less strongly, and many desires can be easily inhibited by recalling something familiar that often preoccupies one's mind.”

[5] Because this view is so clearly and definitely expressed, it is easy to discover the fundamental error contained within it. The human being is supposed to carry out an action when motivated by any reason, with the same necessity as a stone that is put in motion by an impact. It is only because the human being has a consciousness of his action that he believes himself to be the free originator of it. In doing so, however, he overlooks that he is driven by a cause which he must obey unconditionally. The error in this line of thought is soon found. Spinoza and all who think like him overlook the fact that a person not only has consciousness of his action, but may also become conscious of the cause which guides him.

Anyone can see that a child is not free when it desires milk, the drunkard is not free when saying things he later regrets. Both know nothing of the causes, working deep within their organisms, that exercise irresistible control over them. But is it right to lump together actions of this kind with those in which a person is not only conscious of his actions but also of his reason for acting? Are human actions really all of one kind? Should the act of a soldier on the battlefield, a research scientist in the laboratory, a diplomat involved in complex negotiations, be placed scientifically on the same level as that of a child when it desires milk? It is certainly true that it is best to seek the solution of a problem where it presents itself in the simplest form. But inability to see distinctions has often resulted in endless confusion. There is, after all, a profound difference between knowing and not knowing the reason for why I am doing something. This would seem to be an obvious truth. And yet the opponents of freedom never ask themselves whether a motive of action that I recognize and understand, compels me in the same way as the organic process that causes a child to cry for milk.

1.4 Independent Of Outside Motives
[6] Eduard von Hartmann asserts that human willing depends on two main factors: motives and character. If we look at people as being all alike, or at least the differences to be negligible, then their will appears to be determined from outside, that is, by the situations they encounter. But if we take into consideration that people are different and a person will make an idea into a motive for action only if his character is such that this idea arouses a desire, then he appears as determined from within and not from outside. A person is convinced he is free—that is, independent of outside motives—only because he must first, in accordance with his character, make an idea imposed on him from outside into a motive. But the truth is, according to Eduard von Hartmann, that:

“Even if it is we ourselves who turn an idea into a motive, we do not do this arbitrarily, but according to the necessity of our characterological organization; that is, we are anything but free."

Here again no consideration is given to the difference that exists between motives that I allow to influence me only after I have consciously made them my own, and those that I follow without any clear knowledge of them.

1.5 Action Resulting From Conscious Motive
[7] This leads us straight to the standpoint from which the subject will be considered here. Can the question of free will be posed narrowly by itself, in a one-sided way? And if not, with what other question must it necessarily be connected?

[8] If there is a difference between a conscious motive and an unconscious urge, then the conscious motive will result in an action that must be judged differently from one that springs from blind impulse. Our first question will concern this difference. The result of this investigation will then determine how we are to approach the freedom question itself.

[9] What does it mean to have knowledge of the reasons for one’s action? This question has been given too little attention, because unfortunately there is a tendency to tear into two parts what is an inseparable whole: the human being. The doer is distinguished from the knower, but the one that matters most is lost sight of—the knowing doer—the one who acts out of knowledge.

1.6 Free When Controlled By Rational Decision
[10] It is said that human beings are free when they are controlled only by reason and not by animal desires. Or that freedom means being able to determine one’s life and action according to purposes and deliberate decisions.

[11] Nothing is gained by assertions of this kind. For the question is just whether reason, purposes, and decisions work with the same compulsion over a person as animal desires. If without my active involvement, a rational decision emerges in me with the same necessity as hunger or thirst, then I can only obey it, and my freedom is an illusion.

1.7 Free To Do What One Wishes
[12] Another phrase is: To be free does not mean being able to will as one wishes, but being able to do what one wishes. The poet-philosopher Robert Hamerling expresses this thought with great precision:

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

[13] Here too, only motives in general are discussed, without taking into consideration the difference between conscious and unconscious motives. If a motive affects me, and I am compelled to act on it because it proves to be the “strongest” of its kind, then the idea 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 compelled to will something, then I may well be completely indifferent as to whether I can actually do it. If, because of my character and the circumstances prevailing in my environment, a motive is forced on me that I find to be unreasonable, then I would even be glad if I am unable do what I will.

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

1.8 Spontaneous Unconditioned Will
[15] What distinguishes humans from all other organic beings is rational thinking. Activity we have in common with other organisms. Searching within the animal kingdom for analogies with human action does not help to clarify the concept of freedom. Modern natural science loves such analogies. When scientists succeed in finding among animals something similar to human behavior, they believe this pertains to the most important question of the science of human nature. An example of the misunderstanding to which this view leads can be seen in a book by P. Rée, where the following remark on freedom appears:

"It is easy to explain why the movement of a stone seems to us necessary, while the willing of a donkey does not. The causes that set the stone in motion are external and visible. But the causes that determine the donkey's willing are internal and invisible: between us and the place where they occur is the donkey’s skull... The causal conditioning is not seen, so it is thought to not exist. Then an explanation is given that the will is certainly the cause of the donkey’s turning around, but the will itself is not conditioned, it is an absolute beginning.”

So, here again, human actions in which there is a consciousness of the reasons for the action are simply ignored, because Rée explains that: “between us and the place where they occur is the donkey’s skull.” These words show that Rée has no idea that there are actions, not of the donkey but of the human being, where between us and the action lies the motive that has become conscious. A few pages later Rée demonstrates the same blindness when he says: “We do not perceive the causes that determine our will and so believe it is not causally determined at all.”

[16] But enough of examples proving that many oppose freedom without knowing what freedom really is.

1.9 Knowledge Of The Motive
[17] Obviously, an action cannot be free if the doer carries it out without knowing why he does it. But what of the freedom of an action when we reflect about the motives? This leads us to the question: What is the origin and meaning of thinking? Once we understand what thinking in general means, it will be easy to clarify the role that thinking plays in human action. As Hegel rightly says, "It is thinking that makes the soul, which the animals also possess, into spirit." Thinking will therefore set its own unique stamp upon human action.

1.10 Driving Force Of The Heart
[18] I do not mean to imply that all our action flows only out of the sober deliberations of our reason. It is far from my intention to characterize as human in the highest sense, only those actions that proceed from abstract judgment. But as soon as our conduct lifts itself above the sphere of the satisfaction of purely animal desires, our motives are always shaped by thoughts. Love, pity, and patriotism are driving forces of action that cannot be reduced to cold rational concepts. It is said that here the heart, the life of feeling comes into its own. No doubt; but the heart and the life of feeling do not create the motives for action. They presuppose them and receive them into their own sphere. Compassion enters my heart when the thought of a person who arouses compassion appears in my consciousness. The way to the heart is through the head.

1.11 Love For The Ideal
Not even love is an exception to this rule. Whenever love is not merely the expression of the sexual instinct, it depends on the thoughts we form of the loved one. The more idealistic the thoughts, the more blissful is the happiness love brings us. Here, too, thought is the father of feeling.

1.12 Love Opens The Eyes
It is said that love makes us blind to the flaws of the loved one. But we can also turn this around and say that love opens our eyes to the good qualities of the loved one. Many pass by these good qualities without noticing them. And then someone sees them and, just for this reason, love awakens in his heart. What else has this person done but perceive what a hundred others have failed to see? Love is not theirs because they lack the perception.

[19] However we may care to approach the subject, it becomes more and more clear that the question concerning the nature of human action presupposes another, that of the origin of thought. So I will turn to this question next.

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  • Thanks Peter for bringing this to my attention.
    So I would change the new translation to this:
    NEW revised: 
    What else has this person done but form a memory picture of  "perceive" what a hundred others have failed to see? Love is not theirs because they lack the memory picture  "perception"

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    • Good job in locating what I think is the biggest translation issue in chapter 1. I have a problem with using mental picture or representation as it is too soon as the term is not introduced and discussed into chapter 4, so the term creates confusion this early. Hoernle solved this problem using "perception". Isn't "perception" a translation possibility? Do you consider his translation as an acceptable possibility within the broad range of the translation profession German to English? If so that would solve the problem without further ado.

      NEW: 1-12 What else has this person done but form a memory picture of what a hundred others failed to see? Love is not theirs because they lack the memory picture.

      Hoernle: 1-12  One, however, perceives them, and just because he does, love awakens in his soul. What else has he done except perceive what hundreds have failed to see? Love is not theirs, because they lack the perception.

      • This person is able to "perceive what hundreds have failed to see", indicating that something about the individual is affecting what he can and cannot perceive. Doesn't this use of "perception" relate to "Vorstellung" in this context?

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          • You are the German language translator, I am an English revisionist, so I am asking whether the Hoernle translation of 1-12 qualifies as a possible interpretation  on the general standard of a translator of German or would most average  translators reject it as outright incorrect German to English?

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              • I know you are a critic, which can be helpful when you find flaws in the new translation, even if you are unable to supply solutions. We can't wait for the perfect translator, nor can we wait another 100 years for someone to present the Philosophy Of Freedom to the world.

            • I found this translation on a translation discussion  forum:
              German: Das Projekt und auch die allgemeine Herangehensweise von XY entsprechen meiner eigenen Vorstellung.
              translation: the project as well as the overall approach of XY corresponds to my own perception.

              • This reply was deleted.
                • I don't have time for translation theory or German language theory as I am not a student of German. I am interested in your insights though, if you have an opinion on anything and are not merely a raiser of questions.

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    • My mouth is open only because my finger is in it. What did Steiner say about placing fingers in one's mouth?

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    • I don't think anyone can oppose a better translation. Do you have any specific suggestions (like providing a specific edit) on how to improve the new translation? 

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