Introduction - Gertrude Reif Hughes


Introduction to The Philosophy Of Freedom

Gertrude Reif Hughes
Far from being in conflict with freedom, individualism as Steiner presents it is the expression of freedom. In this more profound sense, a free society requires of its members not less individualism but more. But individualism will express freedom, and freedom will accommodate all individualities, only if motives can be brought to a certain level. Steiner’s discussion of motives brings his findings about thinking to new heights of individual responsibility and liberty.

No outside authority, however benign or exalted, can motivate a free deed. Steiner emphatically rejects obedience. It is not an appropriate motivating force for free individuals. If my moral decisions merely conform to social norms and ethical codes, I am just “a higher form of robot.” Instead of trying to obey, I should strive “to see why any given principle should work as a motive.” Even the most high-minded obedience is not free unless I have first decided for myself why this code should govern me at this moment. General standards, no matter how admirable, can perhaps help one develop an inclination toward responsible actions, but they cannot authorize free deeds. Habit, inertia, and obedience are all anathema to free action. It can come only from individually discovered motivation that is prompted by warm confidence in the rightness of the deed itself, not by a desire for its outcome, not even by a concern for its beneficiary.

According to Steiner’s lofty yet practicable ideal, conduct worthy to be called “free” has to be motivated by a particular person’s own intuitions as to what she or he should do in any particular case. A free being asks, What can I myself do and how do I know what is right for me to do in this particular situation?

“Free beings are those who can will what they themselves hold to be right.”

Steiner designed all his books to discourage passive collecting of information and to encourage instead conscious pondering and questioning, particularly of hitherto unexamined notions. The Philosophy Of Freedom offers a mode of inquiry rather than a set of creeds, pieties, or doctrines. His style makes us practice a more active thinking so that we can become aware of its power, vitality, and essentially spiritual nature. His work stimulates our soul’s own activity, stirring our latent powers and strengthening them so that we may eventually become able to think his insights ourselves.

One hundred years ago, at the close of the nineteenth century, Steiner gave to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries a new understanding of an ordinary human capacity— thinking. At the close of the twentieth century, we can become more receptive to the existence of this commonly held, if ordinarily dormant, human ability by developing it. If we don’t use it, we will lose it. The Philosophy Of Freedom shows how and why to begin.

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